Wednesday, December 31, 2014

APA National

The American Poultry Association Ohio National Poultry Show in November brought out some amazing birds and their dedicated breeders. Jeannette Beranger, program manager for The Livestock Conservancy made this video of some of them.More photos are posted here.

Happy New Year! This is a good moment to reflect on the past year and look forward to new goals in 2015. I'll be writing a new book, a new version of the Field Guide to Chickens. I look forward to learning more about the many heritage standard breeds and those that are not recognized by the Standard but nevertheless play a role in family life.

I'm enjoying the two Marans pullets my Wyandotte hatched this past year. Thus far, their eggs are ranging from 4 to 7 on this chart, but one early egg was purple. One started out laying double yolk eggs,  but that has settled down. The adventure of chickens!

I'm asking around locally to locate people who need chickens, so that I can let my broody hens set and hatch chicks this year. My coop is full, so I can't keep any more, but I'm finding future homes for them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Heritage Breeds podcasts

Jeannette Beranger, program manager for The Livestock Conservancy is making short podcasts about heritage breeds in general and chickens in particular. They're free and provide insights into why heritage breeds are important and how to improve your flock. 
This Fayoumi hen thrives in Egypt's hot, dry climate.

Conserving those heritage breeds is important, because those locally adapted breeds hold the genes that resist disease, tolerate extreme conditions such as drought, heat and cold. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is working to help local people maintain their herds and flocks of heritage breeds. Keeping heritage breeds makes you part of that history. 

Local breeds are the cornerstone of food production in rural countries. An egg a day is a significant addition to a poor child's diet.
Michelle Conrad's Russian Orloff is comfortable in the cold.

The Heritage Breeds podcast is brought to you by The Livestock Conservancy. In this podcast series you’ll meet the animals, breeders, and people working to save them from extinction. Visit to discover how you can get involved.

Introduction to Heritage Breeds
Protecting nearly 200 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction.
What are Heritage Breeds
Discover more about Heritage Breeds and which ones are considered to be the traditional livestock breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These...
Getting Started with Heritage Breeds
Choosing a breed to work with is often the most rewarding and fun part of getting involved with heritage breeds. Linking your own interests, abilities, and facilities with the needs and status of the breed is exciting. Making sure the...
Pickin' Chickens - Part 1 &Part 2
Gather the knowledge you need for Pickin’ Your Chickens. Heritage Breed Poultry expert Jeannette Beranger will introduce you to breeds from around the world. Discover more about the English, Continental, American, Asiatic, and Oriental...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


 Jeannette Beranger, research and technical programs manager for The Livestock Conservancy, has acquired Crevecoeurs! These show their pure bloodlines in their red rather than white ear lobes. The white ear lobes are evidence of Polish crosses.

How's this for a stylish pullet?
These young cockerels are growing out beautifully.
Jeannette says he's having a Bad Hair Day, but I wouldn't mention it to him.
These youngsters are active and enjoying their perch.
I reported on her project in August. This lovely group bodes well for 2015, and saving this historic breed.

Note the unusual V-shaped horn comb. Crevecoeurs share this shape comb with Houdans, Polish, La Fleche and Sultans.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Toulouse Goose

My article about Toulouse Geese is in the December2014/January 2015 issue of Backyard Poultry.

Ah, the romance of the French! The Toulouse Goose, with its whiff of French cooking and its impressive size, is the very symbol of poultry history and cuisine. “For many people goose and Toulouse are synonymous,” says Dave Holderread in his classic The Book of Geese.

Jeannette Beranger of The Livestock
Conservancy's Toulouse Goose
That massive size makes keeping them a bigger commitment than a whole flock of bantams. They need pasture and water. They live 20 years or longer. Fewer breeders are keeping these masters of the poultry world. The rewards are in knowing these wonderful birds and being part of conservation of a classic breed.

“For someone with the space, they are a breed to go with,” said Jeannette Beranger, research and technical programs manager for The Livestock Conservancy. “If you can accept the challenge, you can have an impact on conservation.”

Don’t confuse the standard Dewlap Toulouse with commercial Toulouse. Commercial or production Toulouse are developed from a market cross of Dewlap Toulouse with another breed. They grow fast and are in good supply. It’s the classic Dewlap that is waning in numbers.

The Gray Toulouse was one of the original breeds included in the first APA Standard of Excellence in 1874. A buff variety was developed and recognized more than a century later in 1977.  The Standard dictates 26 pounds for a mature gander and 20 pounds for a mature goose, but males often top 30 pounds. That makes for a hefty table bird but won’t work in a breeding flock. Breeding birds have to stay in slim shape to be successful in mating to produce next year’s flock.

Frank Reese Toulouse in Kansas
“Males need to slim down and burn off the keel,” said International Waterfowl Breeders Association president James Konecny. “The keel can get in the way when breeding.”

Keeping them on pasture helps them stay slim. Geese are herbivores, almost to the point of being picky eaters. That quality made them useful on the farm as weeders. Because they would eat only the grassy weeds, they were used to “grass” the cotton, tobacco, wheat and oat fields. 

“There’s no better food for geese than grass,” said breeder Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. He’s raising 200 for the Christmas holiday market this year.

Reese adds fish meal and oil to their diet as winter approaches. He feeds them alfalfa hay and native prairie grass hay in the winter.

Train them to feed in their shelter, so that they will come back at night and be protected from predators. Toulouse, as large as they are, can’t waddle away to escape from predators.

Feathers on the left and center. Down on the right.
Water is important for geese, but a pond isn’t necessary. They can be happy bathing in a kiddie pool or a cattle trough. A natural or man-made pond can be an asset, though. Natural wetlands grasses and water lilies are some of their favorite foods. Make sure the pond is large enough to accommodate the number of geese using it.

Cold weather doesn’t faze geese. Their down is the warmest material known. There’s a market for it, for use in comforters and jackets. Geese can survive through a blizzard, hunkering down and letting snow cover them. Mr. Reese provides windbreaks to protect his geese from weather but otherwise lets them wander.

All that down can make hot weather more of a problem. That’s where shade and cool water can give them relief.

Konecny is rebuilding his flock after farming his 50 breeders out to colleagues for a move last year. He’s got six pairs and 11 young geese back. He finds them good layers with good fertility, hatching goslings that grow fast. Diet needs to be thoughtful, limiting protein when the wings are developing to avoid slipped wing and angel wing. He occasionally tapes a wing that’s developing poorly, to brace it to grow straight. He’s got the experience to know how and when to do that.

Toulouse geese aren’t a project for the novice. Start with a smaller breed, such as one of the medium or light geese, such as Romans or Pomeranians. They’re also on The Livestock Conservancy’s Critical List.

“Toulouse Geese are a project for somebody who is in it for the love of it,” said Mrs. Beranger

Beyond roast goose

Lucio Damiani, in his Foreword to The Goose: History, Folklore and Ancient Recipes, calls it “a walking larder… an animal that embodies the flavor of the past in every sense.” His book includes recipes that go beyond roast goose to goose ragout, goose sausage and goose salami.
“I pull his book out for the holiday season every year,” said Mrs. Beranger.

Save the goose fat! It’s one of the best parts, and can be used in cooking and baking. Mrs. Beranger pierces the skin and roasts hers on a rotisserie, collecting the fat as it cooks. Goose naturally bastes itself. She uses the fat to make confit, preserving meat in fat. “It’s liquid gold,” she said.

Mr. Reese harks back to his mother’s recipe, stuffing the goose with turnips and sauerkraut and roasting it in apple juice. His mother used the goose intestines to make German sweet sausage. To feed the large extended family of as many as 40 people, she would sometimes split open a goose and lay it over a turkey, to baste the turkey breast as both roasted.

“We use everything but the honk,” she used to say.