Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pat Foreman makes chicken news

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 7:55 am, Wed May 29, 2013.
As someone who knows chickens, talks to them — yes, talks to them and listens — and is a great advocate for what they mean to the food supply, the environment and human health, Pat Foreman is somewhat underwhelmed by Richmond’s new backyard poultry regulations.
The much-talked about regulations do indeed permit residents to keep hens in their backyards, but only four of them and at the price of an annual $60 fee. However, she acknowledged, it’s a start.
“It’s a beak in the door,” she said with a laugh.
Foreman, a scientist, author and chicken whisperer, laughs a lot. So does Lisa Dearden, her partner in a venture they call Chickens and YOU Training Series. They are most serious about the importance of chickens as a sustainable food source — “My personal belief is that chickens are at the center of the local food movement,” Dearden says — but they happily inject their message with fun and puns when they talk about their favorite bird.
Dearden said they have “hatched a plan that’s still incubating” of promoting an “Occupy Backyards” movement, creating a “million-chicken march” and “bringing more and more people under our wings.”
 “It’s no yolk!” said Dearden.
 “Coops can have only two doors,” explained Foreman, who attends fairs and festivals accompanied by a chicken with a pleasant disposition she’s named Oprah Hen-free. “If they had four doors, they’d be sedans.”
 Somewhere a rim-shot was heard.
 “We crack each other up,” Dearden said.
 The humor helps play into their overall mission of “changing the chicken archetype,” Foreman said, with the fervor of a holy mission. They teach classes and hold workshops and are starting something called Coop Corps America, a cross between Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity that will provide chicken coops for residents who need help starting their backyard flocks.
 “We’ll know we really succeeded when we go into any major town in America and see more chickens than dogs or cats,” Foreman said. “It’s happening. The chicken movement hasn’t even begun to crest. Every single community and town is talking about chickens. It’s really gone nationwide.”
 What is it about the chicken?
 Foreman has researched and raised chickens for more than two decades, and she marvels at their “skill set,” beyond their obvious role as a convenient, protein-rich food source. She talks about putting chickens to work as recyclers that turn a diet of grass clippings, weeds and kitchen scraps into fresh eggs. They devour insects — Dearden said she had no Japanese beetles last year after turning the birds loose all over her small farm — and create rich compost.
“They’re the enablers of local agriculture,” said Foreman, who raises about 40 chickens in the rural hillside community where she lives near Buena Vista.
An Indiana native, she studied pharmacy and agriculture at Purdue University, earned a master’s degree in public affairs, was a Fulbright Scholar and worked as a science officer for the United Nations in Austria.
Her first experience with chickens as a focus of her professional attention came in Vermont, where she was working with a foundation trying to start a community-supported agriculture farm in a flood plain where the soil was too sandy for growing much of anything. They brought in a “chicken tractor” — a bottomless, portable cage of chickens — and moved it around. The birds ate and pooped, scratched and foraged — that is, they did what comes naturally to them — and gradually enriched the soil to the point it became fertile enough for crops.
Foreman was so impressed, she co-wrote a book about chickens and healthy soil (“Chicken Tractor”) and then another about raising “micro-flocks” in backyards (“City Chicks”). For years, she has traveled the country extolling the virtues of chickens, on scales small and grand. Her point: a few chickens in backyards here and there, raised and treated properly, can make a big-picture difference in the future of communities and the planet.
“Those who pooh-pooh local integrity food on the spurious notion that it can’t feed the world have not looked at Pat Foreman’s numbers,” said Joel Salatin, an Augusta County farmer and a leading voice of the alternative farming movement whose Polyface Farm is a pioneering model in the renaissance of locally produced food.
“She is probably America’s leading advocate for home-centric flocksters,” Salatin said in an email. “With delightful good humor and irrefutable science, Pat’s vision is to not only eliminate half of landfill garbage, but the entire industrial egg industry to boot. As if that weren’t enough, accomplishing those two tasks would increase nutrition … and give families important participatory food responsibilities, which would be far superior to sitting in front of the TV all evening.”
Lisa Dearden came to chickens from a slightly different perspective. She grew up in a small town in Ohio, surrounded by animals: ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and even a pony in the backyard. But no chickens.
She arrived in Richmond in 1988, moved to the suburbs, and worked in sales, marketing and training. However, her life was derailed by a series of traffic crashes that left her with a variety of physical problems. She underwent nine surgeries and spent a year in bed.
“Pretty much my life sort of fell apart,” she said.
As part of her recovery, she created a list of things that caused her stress. One was living in suburbia, so she and husband, James, moved to a wooded refuge in Goochland County — “a healing place,” she said — with fruit trees and gardens she knew little about tending on such a large scale. She took an organic-gardening class at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College that “opened this huge new world for me,” she said.
She started growing her own food and became involved in the fledgling local food movement in the Richmond area more than a decade ago. She has goats, rabbits, alpacas and a llama. She brought her first chickens about eight years ago, and she soon became a believer — “It’s like magic when you look under a chicken” and find a fresh egg, she says — and she’s had as many as a couple of dozen birds at one time. She takes in “rogue” roosters — most cities, like Richmond, don’t allow roosters — and at least one hen from a commercial operation that had been de-beaked, a not-unusual procedure to prevent pecking in crowded conditions. Dearden’s granddaughter named the hen Clover because, as Dearden said, “She’s lucky enough to come and live her days out here on the farm.”
Dearden served as president of the Center for Rural Culture, and helped operate its Goochland farmers market. She now owns My Manakin Market, a weekly farmers market in Manakin-Sabot, on U.S. 250, just west of state Route 288.
She knew of Foreman, having used one of her books, “Backyard Market Gardening,” in a sustainable-agriculture class, and suggested they hold a workshop based on “City Chicks.” A partnership formed, with Foreman providing the science expertise and Dearden the marketing and event-organizing know-how.
However, they both know what they’re talking about, and their approach makes them effective teachers, said Ana Edwards, manager of the Byrd House Market at the William Byrd Community House in Richmond’s Oregon Hill, where Foreman and Dearden taught a series of classes last year.
“They both absolutely live what they love and what they do, and that really comes across,” said Edwards, whose food-related work at the Byrd House includes not only the farmers market, but a community garden. “At the time, we weren’t connecting it to the (Richmond) ordinances so much as sort of a logical trajectory of taking control of the way we eat.”
Gaining a bit of food independence —Foreman and Dearden say in the case of a public emergency it’s nice to know you’ve got a source of nutritious food in the backyard — needn’t be difficult or expensive, they say. A satisfactory coop can be constructed simply and cheaply and much of chickens’ food can come in the form of table scraps. Just provide clean water, sufficient space to roam and shelter from predators, and keep the coop off the ground.
“Then, honest to goodness, the chickens will teach you,” Foreman said. “They’re such easy keepers. I think they’re easier than cats. Once they get to know you, they’ll start coming to you. They’ll talk to you. Mine let me know when they’re out of feed. They’ll send someone up to say, ‘Feed’s out. Come and give us some.’
“You think I’m making this up, but honest to God I’m not.”
The biggest obstacles to backyard chickens, Foreman said, are misconceptions. Chickens don’t cause bad odors, she said, as long as they aren’t confined in a tiny space, and the noise produced by hens is akin to the decibel level of human conversation except for the occasional squawk when an egg is coming out.
Foreman and Dearden said disease isn’t a major issue, as some critics think, although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 reported eight outbreaks of salmonella from live poultry, resulting in more than 450 illnesses (but no deaths), the largest outbreak of human salmonella linked to backyard flocks in a single year. A CDC spokeswoman said the increase can be attributed to an increase in human contact with live poultry. Suggested preventive measures include washing hands thoroughly and not allowing live poultry inside homes or in areas where food is prepared or served.
Avian influenza also is a concern, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the primary risk for backyard poultry owners is exposure to wild birds.
Dearden said chickens teach “valuable lessons about companionship and the pecking order of life and watching out for each other.” She recalled the “back-to-the-land movement” of the early 20th century when residents were encouraged to grow food on a small-scale basis, and Foreman pointed out a 1918 poster encouraging backyard chickens, saying, “Even the smallest back yard has room for a flock large enough to supply the house with eggs.”
“I think we need to go back in time to move forward,” Dearden said, although Foreman acknowledges the challenge in that. “We’ve got three or four generations that have no idea how to handle anything other than dogs and cats,” she said.
But they can dream — and teach.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if you walked in the city of Richmond and people had chickens under their arms like they were walking a dog down the street?” Dearden said. “I think that would be pretty cool.”
(804) 649-6639

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Columbian Wyandottes ready for the table

Heritage Foods USA’s new Heritage Breed Chicken Tour is a great marketing idea. It provides a way for the public to try these old-fashioned chickens and showcases them to a public that’s unfamiliar with the idea of chicken breeds. Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch provides the birds. 

They’re pricey: $46 for two chickens, plus shipping (in my case, to California, overnight shipping would be $43). But the product is out there. Lots of popular products were expensive when they got started. Price will change over time.

As these old breeds get traction in the marketplace, I’m confident that the big change will be as demand inspires more farmers to offer them for sale at farmers’ markets and other local outlets. That will be the breakthrough. There’s nothing sustainable about overnight air shipping, but getting this product recognized and available is the first step. Frank’s birds are available locally in stores near his Kansas farm.

The Wyandotte is a wonderful first choice. Robert Frost wrote his poem, A Blue Ribbon at Amesburyabout one of his Wyandottes. I’ve acquired a Wyandotte pullet this year, and I’m amazed at how she fits the description shown here, in an article from the American Poultry Advocate of 1912.

She appears larger than her Welsummer and Ancona sisters who are the same age, but it could be her soft, fluffy feathers. She’s certainly round.

The Columbian color pattern is striking, but that won’t show up on table-ready birds. Nine color varieties of Wyandottes are recognized, but other colors are raised. My pullet is a Blue Laced Red, not a recognized color, but beautiful.

I’m interested in hearing from any readers who purchase Frank’s chickens. Please share your experiences.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Heritage Foods Sells Traditional Poultry

Heritage Foods USA is proud to announce our historic effort to revive 24 rare, heritage chicken lines and create an alternative market for non-industrially bred chicken.  We are partnering with Frank Reese, the country’s preeminent poultry farmer, to show our customers what real chicken tastes like.
Heritage Foods USA will offer a rotation of 24 heritage chicken varieties every 3 months starting immediately.  Numerous heritage breeds of chicken are on the brink of extinction and we must create a market for them by eating them. Heritage Foods USA is the only place you can taste these special heritage birds today.
Heritage chickens are breeds that have been around since before the industrial era.  Their genetic lineage has been preserved from genetic modification.  Heritage birds grow at a healthy rate, while industry chickens are genetically manipulated to grow at an unnaturally fast rate that is harmful to the skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems of the bird.  Industrial chickens are bred as dead end animals that cannot reproduce or survive on their own. 
Mr. Reese explains, “It is not the antibiotics. It is not the hormones. It is not the feed. It is the genetically engineered animal” that makes the difference in the poultry industry.  If we focus on animal welfare while ignoring the genetics of these birds, we are not changing a thing. 
Mr. Reese’s poultry not only look and taste different from commodity poultry; his birds have double the protein and half the fat.  He told us, “The skinnier the bird, the longer the leg, the darker the meat, the higher the nutrition. The bigger and fatter and plumper it is, the more worthless the meat is.”
Our inaugural breed is the Wyandotte of the Columbian variety.  This very old American breed of chicken was first exhibited in 1890 at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago.  There are fewer than four breeders in America who raise the Columbian Wyandotte to the true old standards, and most have fewer than 25 hens. We hope you will support our commitment to revive heritage chickens and establish an alternative poultry market.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don Schrider's new turkey book

Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, 3rd edition: Breeds, Care, Marketing by Don Schrider, 2013, $19.95
Pages: 320
Size: 6 x 9
Color: Illustrations throughout
ISBN: 978-1-61212-149-9
Order Number: 622149

Don Schrider has done a terrific job of re-writing Storey’s turkey book. Storey has maintained its Guide to Raising series over the years and is a leader in the field, but its turkey book was something of a misfit. The original version was an industry-oriented work that didn’t address small producers’ needs well when it was first published, and the 2000 update didn’t help much. As public interest has grown in small flock poultry production, Storey has stepped up with a book that puts practical information into their hands.

Don Schrider has lots of experience with turkeys, and he shares it with readers in this book. He’s a master breeder and worked as communications manager for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for several years. He’s smart and a nice guy.

He covers all the physical and husbandry basics: buildings and equipment, feeds and feeding, protection from predators. The book’s line drawings do best in this area. Building diagrams and feeder illustrations are clear and helpful. He gives lots of detailed advice about pastured production, which is what most people who buy this book are going to be planning. Those going into industrial-size production will be at universities, taking courses which will connect them to the corporations who have their methods figured out. This book has a different focus.

Chapters on incubation and brooding share Don’s turkey raising experience. He worked closely with Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas on the book, and this section shows it. Frank’s the premier heritage turkey breeder in the country, so his word carries plenty of weight. His advice is specific and clear. Turkeys require some care in hatching and brooding, so his detailed pointers are well taken. Readers won’t come away from this book thinking that they can throw things together and expect a good outcome. They will know that raising turkeys requires knowledge and commitment.

The book’s focus is on the small producer, not the hobbyist. Don includes chapters on killing and processing and running a successful turkey enterprise. His expertise covers the crucial points regarding getting turkeys ready to sell to consumers: turning them into safe food that cooks will seek out. His marketing advice targets the most important thing the small producer has to sell: the story of the farm and the birds that are for sale. That’s the value-added bonus that small producers need to justify the higher price. Consumers will pay more for better food.

There’s a general chapter on health problems. This is such a specialized area that it’s important to have professional advice if you’re starting a turkey production operation. Don covers the basics.

This is an important book for the small flock movement. It puts useful information into the hands of those eager to make changes in our food system and bring production closer to the consumer. It’s a good companion to my How to Raise Poultry, which includes more heritage breed information and photos. HTR Poultry gives the historic and literary background, as well as general information. Don has stepped up with all the specifics to raise successful flocks of them. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Light Geese

I wrote a three-part series for Backyard Poultry magazine on Geese, organized according to the American Poultry Association's categories: Heavy Medium and Light Geese. This is the Light Geese part.

In addition to two domestic breeds, the Light Goose class includes the wild Canada Goose and the Egyptian Goose, which is not a true goose at all.

Goose continues to struggle to win the hearts and wallets of American consumers. The USDA’s most recent figures compare sales in 2002 and 2007, which showed a decline. I’m optimistic that more recent figures would show an increase.

Chinese and Roman Geese

The Chinese and the Tufted Roman are domestic geese, long favored on farms. They are light compared to their heavy and medium cousins, weighing 10 to 12 pounds and standing about three feet tall. They are usually kept for ornamental purposes and make good companions. As Samuel Cushman says in the article included in the 1912 edition of Harrison Weir’s The Poultry Book’s chapter on The Domestic Goose, the Chinese are “more on the bantam order.”

Chinese geese are the best egg producers of all goose breeds. Occasional reports claim more than 80 eggs a year, but 30-40 is more realistic. Geese remain seasonal layers, a legacy of their wild past.

Chinese Geese are good foragers, making them welcome as weeders. Schlitz Goose Farm of South Dakota, which now produces two-thirds of the commercial geese sold in grocery stores, got its start from hatching goose eggs for other farmers, who wanted the geese as weeders for their crops. “In the late 1940's, the geese went to the cotton fields of Texas and California, the strawberry beds of Michigan and the asparagus and mint fields of Washington.  These farmers found geese to be economical and effective labor to weed the fields, as the geese literally worked for food,” according to the farms’ corporate history. Schlitz, which began with heavy Toulouse geese, now raises its own variety of geese, bred for meat production.

Like their larger African cousins weighing 18 to 22 pounds, they are knobbed geese. The knob between their eyes develops to its full size over several years. Although generally males are larger and have larger knobs than females, this is not a reliable way to sex African or China Geese. Both sexes vary too much in size. The Brown have black knobs and the Whites have orange knobs. White Chinese are more popular than the original Brown color variety. Their relation to the wild Swan Goose is apparent in their graceful necks. The Brown variety shows a dark brown stripe down the back.  

Both were separately recognized in the first Standard of Excellence in 1874, but with different weights, separated by only four pounds between African and Chinese geese, according to Willis Grant Johnson’s 1912 edition of The Poultry Book, p. 1103, which gives weights of 20 pounds (now 22) for the African gander and 18 (now the same) for the goose, 16 for a Chinese gander (now 12), 14 (now 10) for a goose.

“Many people prefer a small table goose,” said James Konecny, president of the International Waterfowl Breeders Association. “They want a goose that’s about the size of a big duck.”
Cold weather doesn’t bother them. Their close feathers protect them and may make them appear smaller than their muscular bodies are. Their knobs are subject to frostbite, showing up as orange patches on black knobs, which fade back to black over time.

The hens develop a lobe during laying season, but otherwise they have a slim, graceful silhouette. They have a short body and carry the head upright on a long, arched neck. In 1902, Harrison Weir in Our Poultry and All About Them, considered Swan Goose an alternate name for Chinese Geese, which he said were also known as Spanish, Guinea, Cape and African. “In carriage or deportment it differs widely from the goose tribe in general, being upright and stately, sometimes exceedingly so, with its long crane-like neck erected to the uttermost,” he wrote.

Tufted Roman Geese are named for the round tuft of feathers on their heads. These are photographed by Metzer Farms in California. They have a long European history, going back to Juno’s temple in Ancient Rome, where they were sacred. They originated in the Danube area and are related to Sebastopol Geese. Despite that long history, they were not added to the Standard until 1977.

They have a compact body without keel, lobe or dewlap and make a good roasting bird, despite their relatively small size. The tuft is present from hatching. They are now raised in several colors, although White is the only recognized color. Their eyes are blue and bill and legs and feet may be pinkish or reddish orange.

Only the white variety is recognized, but breeders can’t resist breeding other colors into these popular and hardy geese. Gray tufted geese have been developed but the buff is the most popular.

Unrecognized Breeds

Buff Tufted Roman geese were developed by Ruth Book of Book Farms in Granby, Missouri. She crossed the Buff Goose with the Tufted Roman Goose and selectively bred them to get a buff bird as large as the American Buff goose with the Tufted Roman conformation. Metzer Farms in Gonzalez, California purchased her entire breeding stock and is continuing her work.

“We hope to introduce them throughout the United States,” said John Metzer, owner of Metzer Farms. “Our ultimate goal is to have them recognized as a distinct breed by the American Poultry Association.”

Andrea Heesters of The Netherlands bought some from Metzer Farms and continues to breed them. She finds them affectionate and loyal. “They are curious and talkative and can be very opinionated, although in a nice way,” she says “They are vigilant when they see strangers and make quite a lot of noise at that moment but, in general, they are quiet geese and certainly not noisy.” Their curiosity can lead them into adventures. Mrs. Heesters reports that “One of our ganders, Jules, found it extremely interesting to see how we opened the gate and stood there a few times watching us intensely. A few days later, Jules opened the gate himself!”

Ideally, they should have the same type as the white variety: the same size, with a medium-length neck, a fat head and a short, stout beak. The bill and feet should be pinkish red.

“It should be small, stocky, rounded plump little goose,” said Konecny.

Other unrecognized light geese include Cotton Patch Geese and other traditional American farm geese, such as Choctaw geese. They are local variations that developed from the West of England or Old English geese which probably came to America with early English settlers. These are Tom T. Walker's Cotton Patch geese in Texas.

Shetland geese are the smallest of the autosexing geese, which have different plumage on males and females, making it easy to select birds for the breeding pen. Females are saddlebacked or gray and white. Males are white with blue eyes. So few of these birds are in American breeding pens that the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy recommends that additional birds be imported to increase the genetic pool.

The Classic Roman goose has no tuft. The absence of the tuft disqualifies a Tufted Roman goose in the show ring, but smooth-headed Roman geese are the norm in Europe. Smooth-headed Roman geese are a separate breed. Metzer Farms is developing a flock that will be available in the future.

Dave Holderread has developed the Oregon Mini Goose at his Holderread Waterfowl & Preservation Center in Corvallis, Oregon. They are small geese, bred to weigh four to ten pounds, in white, splashed, belted, saddleback and solid varieties. They mature early and are attracting an enthusiastic following.

Ornamental Geese

Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese are technically not domesticated. They are tamed but still considered wild.
Canada Geese, like all geese, tame relatively easily (as compared to say, a chukar or a peacock). These are from Metzer Farms. Wild flocks may become resident on golf courses and playing fields, where they become a nuisance. They adapt to confinement and breed well. They are about the same size as Chinese and Roman Geese, at 12 pounds for a gander and 10 pounds for a goose. The Eastern or Common subspecies is the one recognized for exhibition, but many color variations exist.

The Egyptian is not a true goose, but a bird between a dabbling duck and a goose. It’s biologically classified as a Shelduck, a subfamily in the duck, goose and swan family. They are the smallest of the recognized breeds and the smallest geese raised domestically, at 5 ½ pounds for ganders and 4 ½ pounds for geese. Egyptian geese were considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians, and appeared in much of their artwork.

Although not recognized for exhibition, the Nene Goose is sometimes kept in captivity. Because of its status as a federally Endangered Species, special permits are required. It’s a small wild goose, related to Canada Geese, typically, weighing around five pounds, females slightly smaller than males. It’s Hawaii’s state bird, but nearly became extinct in the 20th century. Its attractive ‘striped’ plumage (actually, diagonal rows of white feathers with black skin showing through), buff-colored cheeks and black head are distinctive. It’s so friendly and tame that the public is cautioned against making pets of it in its native state. Being too friendly can expose it to dangers, such as becoming road kill.

Goose Eggs

Bakers prize goose eggs for baked goods. They can substitute for chicken eggs but not one-for-one. Weigh them and use the appropriate amount, or figure roughly one goose egg equals two chicken eggs. The white is thicker and won’t whip up as well as chicken egg whites do.

Goose eggs are popular for decorative crafts, called eggeury. They are offered as a separate product, in five sizes, by Schlitz Foods, the supplier for most commercial table-ready goose. Metzer Farms sells its duck and goose eggs, making use of infertile eggs, in ten sizes for goose eggs, seven for duck.

Ukrainian Pysanky is an intricate art of dying eggs with progressive colors in delicate geometric designs. The dyes are applied from the lightest to the darkest, with layers of bees’ wax protecting the lighter colors. They have many mythical and religious meanings. Adriana, a Ukrainian artist in California, relates on her site that the first Pysanky were decorated by the tears of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was taking eggs to Pontius Pilate as a ransom for her son. Climbing the stairs, she tripped, and the Pysanky scattered all over the world.

Eggs can be blown out through two holes, one in each end. Shake the egg and most of the contents will pour out. The rest can be blown out. Repair the hole with spackling or tissue paper and white glue.

“I save all my goose eggs,” said Mr. Konecny. He identifies them by hen and compares them from year to year, to determine how each hen is doing.

The bible for raising geese remains Dave Holderread’s The Book of Geese: A Complete Guide to Raising the Home Flock, of Holderread’sWaterfowl Farm and Preservation Center in Corvallis, Oregon. My book, How to Raise Poultry, includes color photos of goose breeds in the chapter on geese. John Metzer of Metzer Farms keeps a blog of duck and goose information.