Saturday, March 29, 2014

Beauties of the chicken world

Here's some great chicken pictures from a photographer in Singapore. These beauties came as a surprise to him. Guess he's missing out on the poultry world!

When we think of animals living the fast-paced, vain and competitive existence that accompanies the pageant lifestyle, we normally think of over-fluffed dogs or highly accessorized ponies, animals that exude a natural strength, dignity and poise. Chickens? Not so much.
But a smile-inducing and surprisingly hypnotic photo series entitled "Cocks: The Chicken Book" is putting all our chicken-based assumptions to shame. Shot by Singapore-based photographer Ernest Goh, the series focuses on Ayam Serama chickens, an ornamental breed of bird cherished for their build, poise and showmanship. In Malaysia, these particularly classy chickens compete in beauty pageants where they are judged on looks and attitude, from the quality of their stance to the bravado of their wing and comb.
"I chanced upon the chicken beauty pageants while on another photo expedition to a farm in Malaysia," Goh wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "But when I arrived at the farm I found that the farmer had retired and sold the business and was not around. I managed to track him down and found him grooming his chickens at a chicken beauty contest. That was when I discovered this little known culture."

"As a photographer, I am always interested in photographing the human condition," Goh writes in his statement. "But this human condition does not exist in a vacuum as we share the natural world with animals. My interest in photographing animals is a natural extension of my interest in the human condition, because we are all inextricably linked to each other. We cannot exist without the other."
Even if, like us, you were previously living unaware of the existence of chicken beauty pageants and the bizarre wonders they hold, it's not hard to identify a human spirit inside Goh's winged subjects. Through the ruffled plumage and puffed chests, you can almost make out a perturbed and pompous little human underneath.
As enjoyable as it is to anthropomorphize Goh's feathery friends, it's just as enticing to admire the otherworldly creatures in all their alien glory, accepting their neon beaks and webbed claws on their own, utterly other, terms. See the prize-worthy creatures here and check out Goh's Facebook to learn more. Bonus: you can take a peek at how the peculiar chicken pageant competitors live day-to-day in the video below.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pastured Poultry

SARE always has good ideas and information. They also offer producer grants, if you are working with heritage breed poultry. If you have gotten such a grant, I'd like to hear from you, what your project is and how it's working. 

Every year, SARE's four regional programs provide grant funding to scores of cutting-edge farmers, ranchers, researchers and educators for projects that aim to improve the sustainability of American agriculture. To get a glimpse of some of these innovators at work, check out the latest edition of SARE's biennial report, 2013/2014 Report from the Field.
Faverolles enjoy the shade on a sunny day in California. 
Download or order free print copies of 2013/2014 Report from the Field now.

Some highlights:
  • Georgia farmer Jonny Harris is partnering with University of Georgia researchers to verify what he has learned from decades of personal experience - cover crops improve the soil and benefit his business (see page 9).
  • Missouri farmers interested in growing elderberries - a high-value specialty crop worth up to $25 per pound - are now better equipped to do so, thanks to market research by a University of Missouri team that generated important production and financial planning information (see page 7).
  • With traditional methods of handling dead livestock either becoming more costly or falling under closer scrutiny, a team of researchers from four Western states developed in-depth training materials on livestock composting, an alternative disposal method that holds promise for achieving environmental protection, economic sustainability and job creation (see page 13).
  • An educational program in West Virginia spurred a seven-fold increase in the number of high tunnels in the state, giving farmers a new way to increase their on-farm income while providing communities with more locally grown produce (see page 18).
Report from the Field is a full-color, 20-page publication, complete with 12 inspirational profiles and tips for getting more information. It relates stories of innovation from every corner of the United States in key areas of American agriculture: soil health management, local and regional food systems, specialty crop diversification, and season extension, to name a few. Report from the Field also includes updates on funding allocations and priority activities in each of SARE's four regions.
Download all editions of SARE's Report from the Field for free, and order free print copies, by visiting the Learning Center. To learn more about print orders, visit the WebStore.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chickens in the Agrihood

From the NY Times: 
GILBERT, Ariz. — In many American suburbs, outward signs of life are limited to the blue glow of television screens flickering behind energy-efficient windows. But in a subdivision of this bedroom community outside Phoenix, amid precision-cut lawns and Craftsman-style homes, lambs caper in common green areas, chickens scratch in a citrus grove and residents roam rows of heirloom vegetables to see what might be good for dinner.
The neighborhood is called Agritopia, and it’s one of a growing number of so-called agrihoods, residential developments where a working farm is the central feature, in the same way that other communities may cluster around a golf course, pool or fitness center. The real estate bust in 2008 halted new construction, but with the recovery, developers are again breaking ground on farm-focused tracts. At least a dozen projects across the country are thriving, enlisting thousands of home buyers who crave access to open space, verdant fields and fresh food.
“I hear from developers all the time about this,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit real estate research group in Washington, D. C. “They’ve figured out that unlike a golf course, which costs millions to build and millions to maintain, they can provide green space that actually earns a profit.” Not to mention a potential tax break for preserving agricultural land.
The hub of the community is a small square overlooking the farm where the market is open Wednesday night. Credit Laura Segall for The New York Times
Sixteen of Agritopia’s 160 acres are certified organic farmland, with row crops (artichokes to zucchini), fruit trees (citrus, nectarine, peach, apple, olive and date) and livestock (chickens and sheep). Fences gripped by grapevines and blackberry bushes separate the farm from the community’s 452 single-family homes, each with a wide front porch and sidewalks close enough to encourage conversation. A 117-unit assisted- and independent-living center is set to open this summer.
The hub of neighborhood life is a small square overlooking the farm, with a coffeehouse, farm-to-table restaurant and honor-system farm stand. The square is also where residents line up on Wednesday evenings to claim their bulging boxes of just-harvested produce, eggs and honey, which come with a $100-a-month membership in the community-supported agriculture, or C.S.A., program. Neighbors trade recipes and gossip, and on the way home can pick up dinner from one of a few food trucks stocked by the farm.
“Wednesday is the highlight of my week,” said Ben Wyffels, an engineer for Intel who moved here with his wife and two sons two years ago from another Phoenix suburb, attracted by the farm and the community’s cohesiveness. “To be able to walk down the street with my kids and get fresh, healthy food is amazing,” he said, and has helped steer his family toward kale and carrots and away from chicken nuggets and hot dogs.
This way of life does not come at a premium, either; Mr. Wyffels, like residents of other agrihoods, said his home cost no more than similar houses in the area. And because the Agritopia farm is self-sustaining, as farms are in many of these developments, no fees are charged to support it, other than the cost of buying produce at the farm stand or joining the C.S.A.
Agritopia was among the first agrihoods — like Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga.; Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Ill.; South Village in South Burlington, Vt.; and Hidden Springs in Boise, Idaho — established just as the real estate market collapsed. They have emerged intact, with property values appreciating and for-sale signs rare.
At Serenbe, all 152 homes are occupied and its 3 restaurants draw tourists from surrounding states. Builders are adding 10 custom homes, with plans to break ground on at least another 20 by year-end. The 7-acre organic farm, soon to expand to 25 acres, lured Vikki Baird, a fund-raising consultant, who moved to Serenbe last summer from the affluent Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta. She had divorced, and said she was looking for a “healthy place” to settle. “You walk down the street, open your bag and say, ‘Give me what’s fresh this week,’ ” Ms. Baird said.
Newer developments include Willowsford in Ashburn, Va., which opened in 2011 and was named the National Association of Homebuilders’ 2013 suburban Community of the Year, largely because of its 30-acre farm and a culinary consultant who regularly teaches classes in how to prepare whatever is in season. The Kukui’ula community in Kauai, Hawaii, opened in 2012 and has a 10-acre farm in addition to a clubhouse, spa and golf course.
“As a developer it’s been humbling that such a simple thing and such an inexpensive thing is the most loved amenity,” said Brent Herrington, who oversaw the building of Kukui’ula for the developer DMB Associates. “We spend $100 million on a clubhouse, but residents, first day on the island, they go to the farm to get flowers, fruits and vegetables.”
Mr. Herrington regularly fields calls from other developers who want to incorporate farms into their housing projects. At least a dozen new agrihoods are underway or have secured financing, including Bucking Horse in Fort Collins, Colo.; Skokomish Farms in Union, Wash.; Harvest in Northlake, Tex.; Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County, Calif.; and Prairie Commons in South Olathe, Kan.
Their success or failure may depend on hiring the right farmer. Agritopia went through four before finding the right one.
“This type of farming is hard and requires an incredible ability to multitask,” said Joseph E. Johnston, the developer and a resident of Agritopia, which sits on what was once his family’s farm. “I’m not sure most developers have the patience to really see it through and make it work.”
Though Mr. Johnston’s father planted four kinds of commodity crops, like cotton and corn, a community farmer must plant a vast variety of highly perishable, organic (or at least not chemically treated) crops, then market them to residents and sell the excess at farmers’ markets and to local chefs. Agritopia sells to 20 highly regarded chefs, including Charleen Badman (a.k.a. the “Vegetable Whisperer”) of the restaurant FnB and Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco.
“You have to be an excellent grower but also good at customer relations, business projections and labor controls,” Mr. Johnston said. “There’s no manual or anyone at the county extension service to tell you how to do this.”
For guidance, many developers are turning to suburban farm consultants like Agriburbia in Golden, Colo., and Farmer D Organics in Atlanta, which assist in choosing farm sites, building the requisite infrastructure and hiring farmers who work for salary or in exchange for housing and proceeds of whatever they harvest.
“The interest is so great, we’re kind of terrified trying to catch up with all the calls,” said Quint Redmond, Agriburbia’s chief executive. In addition to developers, he hears from homeowners’ associations and golf course operators who want to transform their costly-to-maintain green spaces into revenue-generating farms.
Driving the demand, he said, are the local-food movement and the aspirations of many Americans to be gentlemen (or gentlewomen) farmers. “Everybody wants to be Thomas Jefferson these days,” he said.
Take L. B. Kregenow, a lawyer who with her husband, David, a doctor, has contracted to build a home in the Skokomish Farms community southwest of Seattle.
“I’m a foodie and interested in animal husbandry and cultivating my own wasabi and mushrooms,” Ms. Kregenow said. But she also likes to travel, which she said makes living in an agrihood ideal. “For me, the serious downside of farming is doing it on your own means, doing it 365 days a year,” she said. “But in this scheme we will have a farm without all the responsibility.”

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chickens startle scientist with their smarts

 Carolynn L. Smith and Sarah L. Zielinski did some research on chicken intelligence and were surprised to find how smart they are. It gratifying to see chickens getting some recognition.  Their report was published in the February 2014 issue of Scientific American.  

"In the animal kingdom, some creatures are smarter than others. Birds, in particular, exhibit many remarkable skills once thought to be restricted to humans: Magpies recognize their reflection in a mirror. New Caledonian crows construct tools and learn these skills from their elders. African grey parrots can count, categorize objects by color and shape, and learn to understand human words. And a sulfur-crested cockatoo named Snowball can dance to a beat.

"Few people think about the chicken as intelligent, however. In recent years, though, scientists have learned that this bird can be deceptive and cunning, that it possesses communication skills on par with those of some primates and that it uses sophisticated signals to convey its intentions. When making decisions, the chicken takes into account its own prior experience and knowledge surrounding the situation. It can solve complex problems and empathizes with individuals that are in danger."

One chicken in particular was so clever they couldn't create a latch she couldn't open. This revelation comes as no surprise to those of us who  have observed chickens closely,  but it's good to see chickens getting attention in the top rung of science publications.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Making news in California

Thanks to Charmaine Coimbra for writing up this nice profile of me. She took photos with her new camera. She's a photojournalist as well as a writer, and enjoying her new equipment.

She also elaborated on a Yahoo site, with 10 Reasons You Might or Might Not Want Backyrad Chickens.

Spring is coming, and both are great ways to share the word on chickens.