Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween chickens

from Backyard Poultry magazine's Healthy Chickens Bulletin:

A dragon
Little House on the Prairie
Thanks to Brigid for these photos from her 4-H group.

We thought this piece would be relevant, as we know that many of you might be considering dressing up one of your chickens this Halloween or holiday season. This piece published as part of a previous edition of Backyard Poultry magazine, and gives you some safety tips to ensure your chicken won’t get injured during all the fun. Thanks to Wendy Thomas for writing it. Subscribe today by clicking here.

Whether it be for a competition, holiday, or just for pleasure, many people enjoy putting clothing and accessories on their chickens in order to dress them up. If you are going to costume your chickens, advises Brigid McCrea, PhD, associate professor at Delaware State University and extension poultry specialist, for the health and safety of your birds keep the following clothing guidelines in mind:
  • Watch the weight of the costume, as chickens will get flustered if an outfit weighs them down.
  • Along with fabric weight, be careful to not use fabrics that will overheat the bird. Polar fleece is a lightweight material but if worn for a long period, it may make your chicken too warm.
  • Chickens are naturally attracted to the color red and will peck at it; be careful of where red is used in the bird’s costume.
  • Make sure that the chicken can move her wings and that the outfits do not in any way restrict her wing movement.
  • If you are putting something around the chicken’s neck (necklace, bandana), make sure that it is lightweight and does not hang down so low that the chicken could potentially trip over it.
  • Try not to use hats or head coverings. Chickens are prey animals, meaning they are constantly on the lookout for predators who may be after them. A hat restricts vision and won’t be tolerated very long by any chicken.
  • Be careful of beads and hanging decorations that the chicken may be tempted to try to eat them. Likewise, inspect the construction of the outfit to make sure that it does not have loose, dangly threads or that it might fall apart while the chicken is wearing it.
  • Allow for waste to happen (because you know that with chickens it eventually will); either leave the back area open in a costume or prepare the chicken to wear a diaper.
  • Lastly, make sure that the costumes are made from washable fabrics, and for bio-security reasons, wash them after each wearing in order to avoid possible contamination among chickens.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mammoth chickens

Why heritage chickens are better:

By Susannah Locke on

Here are three different breeds of chicken, raised on the exact same diet: Giant chickens with dates
The left-hand chicken is a breed from 1957. The middle chicken is a breed from 1978. The right-hand one is a breed from 2005. They were all raised in the same manner for this paper and were photographed at the same age. Vox added the dates to this image. (Zuidhof, MJ, et al. 2014 Poultry Science 93 :1–13)
The one on the left is a breed from 1957. The middle one is a 1978 breed. And the one on the right is a commercial 2005 breed called the Ross 308 broiler. They're all the same age. And the modern breed is much, much, much larger.
In just 50 years or so, chickens have been bred to be much bigger. The image above comes from a study done by researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, who raised three breeds of chickens from different eras in the exact same way and measured how much they ate and how they grew. This allowed them to see the genetic differences between the breeds without influences from other factors like food or antibiotic use. They recently published their results in Poultry Science.

What breeding has done to your chickens

1) Chickens today are much bigger than those in the 1950s: This one's pretty obvious. The 2005 chicken breed on the right ended up being about four times as heavy, on average, as the 1957 breed on the left — despite being fed the same foods.
2) Chickens today are more efficient at turning feed into meat: The reason for that is that modern-day chickens are more efficient at turning feed into breast meat. The researchers' metric for this was something they called the "breast conversion rate" of grams of feed into grams of breast meat. The 2005 breed was roughly three times as efficient as the 1950s one.
3) Modern chickens also have extra health problems: Previous research has noted increased boneheart, and immune system problems in some contemporary chicken breeds. Health problems could come from several factors, including both unintentional genetic effects and behavioral differences such as diet and carrying around all that extra weight.
4) But the growth of chickens has helped make chicken a popular food: Over the past few decades, chicken has become a much cheaper food. And Americans have been eating more of it. (The price of poultry has risen at about half the rate of other consumer goods from 1960 to 2004.) In 2013, Americans consumed more than 83 pounds of chicken per person.
Chicken consumption 5
According to the Poultry Science paper, our ability to breed bigger, more efficient chickens had played a big part in that.
Hat tips to John R. Hutchinson and Francie Diep for calling my attention to this paper.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chickens and You Training

Pat Foreman is holding her Chickens and You Training this month! I'd recommend her class just to get to know her. She's lively and knows her chickens. If you are looking for a way to get started or want to expand on your flock knowledge, sign up here.

Primary Series–10 Classes
Begins Tuesday, October 21th, 2014, 7:30pm EST

"We guarantee that after completing the Primary Series, you will understand how to raise, keep and employ chickens to help feed yourself and your family for the rest of your life!"

After completing classes, and passing an exam, participants are awarded the Backyard Chicken Keeper Certification (with a diploma suitable for framing). Advanced classes and projects lead to the coveted Master Backyard Chicken Keeper Certification.

Text book for the primary series is City Chicks: Keeping Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Creators, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers, by Patricia Foreman.

LIVE ONLINE COURSES Facilitated live by popular author & speaker Patricia Foreman

• Convenient access of online training from wherever you are with a computer or phone.

• Receive class notes with copies of all slides for clear understanding of concepts, designs and systems.

• 24/7 replay of class sessions.

• Real time video streaming and chat during class.

• Chat room opens 1/2 hour before class and remains open after class for student interactions.

• Small classes for maximum participation.

• Available international through your computer & VoIP, or phone access.

• Continue connecting with other Chickeneers on a private Chickens and YOU FaceBook group. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Black Chickens

Lisa Munniksma blogs for Hobby Farms about black chickens, with a Halloween touch.

It's cute, a little offbeat. I acquired a black chicken this year, a Peruvian basket chicken, a diminutive bantam-size pullet. She has that glorious purple-green sheen on her glossy feathers. In temperament, she's rather wild. Smart, and stands up for the flock -- She stood outside and called the loudest alarm when a bobcat came by.
Peruvian basket pullet Pixie

 She's as big as she is going to get, compared with Standard Dorking Blondie. 
She was hatched from one of the eggs flown here from a farm in New Jersey. The other three that hatched were males and had to go back East, where they now live in Vermont. She missed them terribly and it took her a while to get over losing them. She didn't integrate into the flock for a while. Now, she is more sociable with the others. She eats with them instead of being easily bullied away and settled in with them all for a dirt bath the other day.

She hasn't started laying yet. I'm not sure whether she swill be a good layer or more seasonal, like a wild bird. That remains to be seen.

2 Spooky Chickens No Real Farmer Can Afford
Fibromelanosis is a phrase causing big interest among chicken keepers—or a big-money interest, anyway. Those fuzzy-looking Black Silkie bantams are common to the U.S., but two other breeds exhibiting fibromelanostic traits—all black tissues, from feather to bone—are quite rare. The Ayam Cemani, hailing from Indonesia, and the Swedish Black Hen, from Scandinavia, look like they're ready for Halloween.

Both breeds have been imported by rare-chicken breeder Greenfire Farms in Midway, Fla. Owner Paul Bradshaw, who has been working with rare breeds since 2007, is attracted to these chickens because of their "un-chicken-like, exotically beautiful and vaguely sinister appearance.” He continues: "In a world of beige Ford Fiestas, the Cemani are black Lamborghinis.”

They're priced like Lamborghinis, too. As of October 2014, a pair of the Ayam Cemani sells for $1,999 and two Swedish Black Hens for $1,000 to $2,000. There are just a few breeders in the U.S. Greenfire Farms sells a few dozen a year and has about a dozen adult birds of each breed. Ewe Crazy Farms in Southern Georgia maintains six breeding Swedish Black Hens and might have 40 to 50 individuals on the farm at any time as replacement breeding stock and animals for sale.

Neither of these breeders have eaten the meat from these birds, but Ewe Crazy Farms owner Bryce Everett says, "I do have several friends who have tasted the meat and describe it as having a slightly gamier flavor compared to regular chicken. Most compare the taste to game birds, such as dove, quail or pheasant.”

Ayam Cemani

The Ayam Cemani—which means "completely black chicken” in Javanese and Indonesian—is from Indonesia. The USDA has banned the import of chickens from Indonesia, but Bradshaw was able to get his Ayam Cemani from a breeder in The Netherlands. According to Cemani Farms, a breeder in Indonesia, Ayam Cemani are renowned as having mystical powers in their native country.

Like many Asian chicken breeds, such as the Aseel and the Malay, the Ayam Cemani has a game fowl-like appearance. Its feathers are black with a metallic-green and -purple sheen, and the black coloration continues to the skin, muscles, bones and organs. The average weight is only 2¼ to 4 pounds.

Hens lay about 60 eggs per year. They go through a laying cycle of 20 to 30 large, cream-colored eggs, and then they stop laying for three to six months.

Swedish Black Hen

Called Svart Höna in Swedish, Swedish Black Hens are super rare. According to the Greenfire Farms website, a national poultry census confirmed fewer than 500 Swedish Black Hens in Sweden. Developed in a Nordic climate, Swedish Black Hens are cold-hardy and do well free-ranging.
"The Swedish Blacks (or Svart Höna) actually were not originally in my line of sight during the first [rare-chicken] import,” says Everett, who has been working with rare poultry since 2012. "My main concern was importing various colorations of English Orpingtons, and my contact providing the Orpingtons happened to also raise Svart Höna. One step led to another, and I eventually imported both eggs and adult Svart Höna from England after seeing photos of the stock. I was really lucky to find a breeder who was willing to export stock despite these birds being extremely rare, even in Europe.”

Swedish Black Hens have the same fibromelanosis trait that makes their feathers, skin, muscles and bone black, though some individuals have a mulberry-red skin. The birds weigh only 5 to 7½ pounds, and hens lay 140 cream-colored eggs per year.

Making the Investment

A price tag like the ones on these birds is scarier than an all-black chicken costume on Halloween.
"Like most pursuits, the more sophisticated and knowledgeable you become about your interest, the greater lengths you must go to in order to satisfy it,” Bradshaw says. His typical customer is a sophisticated chicken fancier who is drawn to the black chickens’ exotic look.

Everett only sells Swedish Black Hens that are high-quality representations of the breed to others who are interested in breeding the chickens.

"I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have stepped forward and offered assistance in preserving rare breeds by breeding and showing,” he says. "As more people get involved, the rare breeds have a chance to become established in the U.S., which helps move these birds off the 'endangered' breed list.”

A word of caution before spending a few thousand on a starter flock: Breeders may claim to be selling a certain rare breed, but you should do your research and verify the integrity of the breeder. "The single most important piece of evidence to support their claims would be a valid USDA import permit showing the origin of their breeding stock,” Bradshaw says. "Buyers should always ask for a copy of this permit.”

Even if an all-black chicken isn’t the next animal you’ll be adding to your farm menagerie, learning about rare breeds, like the Ayam Cemani and the Swedish Black, can open to your eyes to a whole new (and colorful) world of livestock.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pure Poultry

Victoria Redhed Miller followed her path from urban life to an old farmhouse miles from 21st century comforts. She finds a lifestyle that suits her and brings us all along in her memoir, Pure Poultry: Living Well with Heritage Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks of how this city girl goes off the grid.

She and her husband move to his family farm after he retires from his city job. That’s the first indication of their willingness to step outside the mundane and take a chance. The old place needs work and is far from the Seattle they have called home. They step out into the eastern Washington countryside, willing to do what it takes.

And it takes chickens, ducks and turkeys! She’s a novice, but soon gets up to speed on the chickens she acquires, from a retiring farmer and later, more deliberately, by choice. She learns the advantages of heritage breeds for small flocks: good foragers, hardy in all weather conditions, willing to brood and raise the next generation.

Thankfully, she’s also a thoughtful diarist, keeping track of what happens and how it works out. She keeps good track of her poultry experiences, too. That’s invaluable for improving breeding and monitoring costs. Breeder records are crucial to heritage flock keeping. The records are testament to how each breeding works out. She tracks egg production and feed costs.

She’s willing to do what it takes, and open to new experiences. When a local restaurant wants to buy her eggs, she’s ready with the required state licensing to sell eggs legally. She brings with her a capable background that helps her navigate new experiences.

Chopping her own wood for heat and canning her garden and flock surplus immerses her in sustaining the small farm. From her experiences, she draws some general principles to conclude her book: Purebred birds are more sustainable: Shorten the food chain; Challenge the ‘Get Big or Get Out’ adage; and Have fun!

As a newcomer to poultry, she learned by doing. From that experience, she created a Poultry from Scratch Worksheet. It’s a useful tool for anyone without experience considering poultry. Going over her questions and pondering the answers – What do I plan to do with hens who are past their prime laying years? How much time am I willing to spend learning about poultry health issues? – will spark the family discussion that needs to be part of entering into small flock poultry raising.