Friday, February 27, 2015

Five breeds that inspire me

When I got involved with chickens, I didn’t know a Cochin from a Leghorn. As my chickens grew and I learned, different breeds resonated with me. That’s usually the way it works with chicken people. As they develop as fanciers, certain breeds emerge as their favorites.

White Rosecomb Dorking hen and Colored Dorking rooster
Dorkings lead my list. Roman mosaics show chickens that are distinctly Dorkings, with their five toes and large tails. Dorkings came to England with the Roman invasion, acquiring their name from an English market town. Their ample bodies speak to me of strength and confidence. Their presence through the centuries assures their place in history.

Terry Reeder's Silver Duckwing Araucanas
Araucanas are known for their blue eggs, but their historical significance suggests chickens in the American continents long before Columbus brought them from Spain. They are rumpless, with fewer vertebrae in the spine and no tail. Definitely different from other chickens. Their differences indicate that they are distinct from European chickens, descending from chickens that arrived in South America on canoes from Polynesia centuries earlier.

Jim Ward's lovely Dominique rooster
Dominiques are the first American chicken breed, beautiful barred feathers on chickens that established themselves in our nation’s early days. They are good mothers and reliable brown egg layers. I like to think of them scratching for bugs in early settlement barnyards.

An Egyptian Fayoumi hen
Fayoumis are Egyptian chickens harking back to the days when pharaohs ruled and gods arose from the Nile. Their history includes infusions of Junglefowl from India, a gift from traders seeking to find favor with the powers of the day. Beautiful and hardy, they may have natural immunity to avian influenza.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Buff Cochins by Sewell

A historic article. It wasn't illustrated when I acquired it, although it likely was in the original.  I add three of Sewell's drawings of Buff Cochins, taken from the 1898 Reliable Poultry Journal's compilation, The Asiatics:
Standard Bred Buff Cochins by Sewell

An Ideal Cochin Female Shape, comprising the best points of several live models.

An Ideal Cochin Male Shape, comprising the best points of several live models.

By F.L.Sewell (1912)

The magnificent race of Buff Cochins has always attracted popular admiration, ever since the ‘hen fever days” of more than half a century ago, when her majesty, Queen Victoria, took a genuine interest and pride in them at her own aviaries. About that time they did more to en­courage interest in poul­try exhibitions in Eng­land than did any other race of domestic fowl, and what were then con­sidered fabulous prices were paid for them. At the beginning of the ‘90’s, when the new Mad­ison Square Garden opened its arena to Amer­ica’s greatest poultry ex­hibition, the Cochins en­joyed another boom. The full-feathered Buff Coch­ins of England being at­tractively exhibited, created a genuine sensa­tion and became the popular aristocrats of the show for several succeed­ing seasons. Some of the older fanciers will recall what big prices were paid to English breeders to tempt them to part with their finest show birds and how garlands of roses and carnations fes­tooned the winners that captured the leading prize ribbons. An interesting era in Cochin history In Amer­ica is recalled when turn­ing over old numbers of New York show cata­logues. In 1892, all Buff Cochins competed simply as “Buff Cochins”. The incoming of numerous full-feathered Cochins from England the follow­ing winter prompted Mad­ison Square Garden show managers to arrange two divisions for Buff Cochins; one for “American” and another for “Full-feathered”. At that show, February, 1893, there were 52 Buff Cochins in the American single classes and 48 in the full-feathered single classes. Exhibition pens competed together. This rule of staging the Buff Cochins in two divisions was continued until 1896. Since then all Buff Cochins have been staged in one division. In 1892 the greatest collection of full-feathered Buff Cochins that had ever left England were purchased at an expense of $1,625.00. The collection consisted of three cockerels at $200 each, five pullets at $125 each, two cocks at $75 each and five hens at $50 each. The old birds had been sold by the expert, who bred them for sums similar to those paid for the young birds, to a well-to-do amateur, who valued them at $500 each, but on going abroad he parted with them at the more moderate prices. One of the cockerels and one of the pullets are illustrated herewith, see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2. The cock bird, “Wonder”, Fig. 6,  was one of these cockerels that won sec­ond as cockerel and first as cock at New York.
This collection included the most magnificent spe­cimens that England ever produced and were all of one blood line that came from a yard that pro­duced the purest colored birds of the truest, most imposing Cochin type. This superb team won all but one first prize in the winter of 1893, and in February, 1894. The young birds produced from matings of the fowls from this collection won all firsts and all seconds competed for, assuring our American fanciers that nothing finer could be obtained. They were, in fact, the grandest full-fearhered Buff Cochins of that per­iod. This team was per­sonally selected for the yards of Adams, Perdue and Young; on account of the special fancy and en­terprise of Thomas Young, a wholesale flor­ist of New York.
At this time many fine full-feathered Buff Coch­ins were also imported by Sharp Brothers, of Massa­chusetts, and by Dr. J. J. Hare, of Canada. These importations of England’s best made further im­portations unnecessary, but American breeders have bent their energies toward selecting and modifying these wonderful Cochins to American ideals. The best American Buff Cochins up to 1890 were much inferior in exhibition qualities to the best full-feathered birds Imported from England. Since then the principal change that can be noticed, effected to please the American conception of a Cochin, is the shortening of the legs. American fanciers have always had the idea that sufficient length of legs to give height to the bird detracts from their ideal of a globular form. This in a large degree is true. However, it must be remembered that without sufficient length of thigh and surface of leg muscles, the greatest length of side fluff with leg and toe feathering can hardly be attained. The two im­ported English males illus­trated herewith, (See Fig. 3 ), had feather­ing extending from the feet 8 inches in length. They were not the progen­itors of handy barn-yard scratchers, but were a show themselves that would bring joy to the heart of any proud fancier who loves to see such a  display of golden magnificence stride across his lawn or pose majestically before admiring visitors of poultry exhibitions.
For several years, fol­lowing the importations of full-feathered English Buff Cochins from 1890 to 1893, the ruling fashion was for “full feather”. Some of those first pro­fusely feathered birds were immense in appear­ance. As we noted else­where, the very largest quantity and length of thigh, fluff and leg and toe feather seemed to demand a type of Cochin with considerable length of leg, and while the fashion for extreme length of feather prevailed, the ideal of roundness in the Cochin type was somewhat dis­torted. The cock imported by Sharp Brothers and shown at Boston in 1898, see Fig. 3), well illus­trates the extraordinary quantity of plumage that was developed on this sec­tion of the bird, provided the bird had it in his blood and had sufficient surface upon which it could grow. We show two hens, Fig. 5, exhibited at New York and Boston, 1903 and 1904, also a cock and hen exhibited about 1904, see Fig. 4.
In 1907, at Boston, they exhibited another cock (also imported), that showed a change toward the present fashion of roundness with the plumage more equally dis­tributed throughout the sections. The bird was broader in proportion to its height and the legs were no longer than necessary to move himself about handily and with a degree of dignity in his pose. A comparison of these two cocks quite clearly illustrates the change of type effected from the beginning of the ‘90’s to 1907.
Long legs in the Cochin, even to gain the extreme length of leg and toe feather, never seem to rule long in Cochin fashion. As some fanciers of the breed express it, “They do not like to see much daylight underneath the Cochin.” The extreme in shortness has also been developed, and while as a show room curiosity its appearance excites comment and occasionally may even win ribbons, such ex­tremes do not remain popular long. Such specimens do not move about freely—often they become very lazy and inactive. There is a happy medium for the ideal type of Cochin, one that will not be too coarse and slow to mature or indisposed to forage, but one that will preserve all the vitality of the ancient Asiatic and prove, as they have with some fanciers who study their proper management, to be productive and pro­fitable as well as exceed­ingly showy. Those who have watched the devel­opment of several of the popular, large Buff varie­ties that the past twenty years have brought forth, realize what a large de­gree of success in attain­ing the new Buff varieties must be credited to that ancient prepotent blood of this very old Oriental race with its stamina and vigor of constitution and its tendency to clear buff color.
It may interest those now rearing full-feathered Cochins to recall a few things we observed at the successful yards we visited in Heiston, England, in the autumn and again in the winter of 1892 while selecting the team of Cochins for Thomas Young, Jr. Many fanciers who have bred in their yards the full-feathered Cochins with the ambition of ex­hibiting them at the win­ter shows, have discovered to their disappointment, that a large part of the great wealth of feathering that grows outward from the feet and toes of the most excessively plumaged specimens and that would, if all turned out well, make the most sensational show birds, is broken off. The best show Cochins seldom reach the show pens in full possession of all the feathers that devel­oped on them, simply be­cause they were allowed to be lost. Why pay the price for stock that will develop sensational show points and select and breed and feed to in­crease this stock and its show qualities after it is obtained, and then house and yard these magnificent fowls in such a manner that their fine feathers will be crushed and broken and lost? Herewith is presented a simple device (see Fig. 7 ) that proved effective at the Heiston yards to keep birds from crushing the fluff and toe feathering against the walls and fences and against the sides of the houses. It is a light bracket fastened to the fence or wall, that extends out about six inches, and it supports a round, slender, hard-wood rod at about the height of the middle of a full-grown fowl’s wing. This prevents the birds from crushing the long fluff and foot feathers against walls and fences. Another place where Cochins crush their plumage is when roosting on the perches at night against the wall, if the roosts extend there for support. Often they crush their long fluff against each other when several are allowed to use the same perch. Besides this we have seen cases where mice had crawled up on the perch where show specimens were roosting and bitten from the birds and carried away quantities of fluff with which to build their nests.
On account of these experiences Mr. Harris had made individual perches for his best show Cochins. (See Fig. 8). These were simply flat boards about six inches wide and one foot long fastened to stakes that were driven into the earthen floor and which extended about one foot high. He did not bed his exhibition birds on straw or any litter of that sort and he called attention to the fact that scratching would rapidly break and wear away the plumage from the legs and feet. His object was to pro­duce and protect every feather that nature allowed. He put emphasis on the constant necessity of protection of fancy points when they were so valuable to show room competition.
In these yards the Cochins spent the several weeks of their final de­velopment and conditioning inside cool , airy houses. Each of his best birds had a separate partitioned pen of four by six or seven feet floor space. The light was modified by white-washing the moderate sized windows. This care was taken so that direct sun rays should not fade out the richness of color. The floor of these individual pens was earth, loosely pulverized  and perfectly dry to a depth of six or more inches. This earth I noticed was very light in weight. It was a dark grayish sand and dry as if finely ground peat had been worked into it. When I first saw the place, some of the best birds were wallowing in it, enjoying a genuine dust bath. I in­quired if it did not injure the feathers or the color of the plumage and my attention was called to the lightness and dryness of it. Mr. Harris said that that kind of “earth” did not in­jure them. Apparently their condition was improving while kept upon it. These birds, it must be borne in mind, were being expressly kept and conditioned for exhibition. They were reared in yards about one-half shaded by trees for the restful com­fort of the birds and to prevent fading of the plumage. The yards were mostly covered with short-cut green turf. No rubbish or anything of like nature was allowed about that in any way could break or injure the plumage. No one ever passed or entered the pens that would frighten or induce the fowls to run. I asked if it was considered beneficial to the strength and vitality of the stock to rear the young birds for the first few months of their lives on a more free open range where they would be tempted to run and take more vigorous exercise than in the rather restricted quarter acre. He assured me that they never want­ed to see birds in plumage go faster than a brisk walk,
His birds were very large and he wanted their full, excessive plumage to impress the beholder with their immense size. His constant aim was to develop the birds’ plumage so as to increase that impression. He wished to have every feather grow outward to allow the fluffy undercoat to expand and increase the “round­ness.”
“Fowls that hold their plumage close from whatever cause never ap­pear so large as those that develop fluffy outstanding feathers, even when they are little, newly-hatched chicks,” he went on to explain. “When it becomes necessary to catch them, we avoid placing the hands around them closely, from the upper side, but lift them from underneath only steadying them from the top. We take the greatest of care never to cause fright in a little chick any more than in an older one. We fear that if a bird gets in the habit of contracting its plumage that it will cause it to grow ‘tighter’ in feather. Loose, open, straight-out fluff we must have from start to finish if our Cochins are to fill the coop and ap­pear the biggest possible.“When we take them up to the Palace show we get them into their pens the night before judging day so they will have plenty of time to settle down, spread out and feel per­fectly at ease. A scared Cochin be­comes a tight-feathered Cochin. We stay with our birds and see that no one touches them with a ‘judging stick.’ A tap of the judging stick makes a Cochin draw in its plumage and look an inch or more smaller, and believe me, I do everything possible to develop them and keep them as big as I can, for that goes a long way toward success in showing Cochins.” When this team of Cochins were sent to the Cunard Steamship “Etru­na,” on which I returned with them, Mr. Harris had special hampers made of good, strong willow, upon the inner sides of which were additional bent frames of light, springy willow that kept the birds several inches away from the sides and allowed the long foot feathering to extend so that very little of that immense growth was broken. (See Fig. 9). This unstinted care was expensive, but it went a long way toward pre­serving these beautiful, full-feathered Cochins in all their magnificent plum­age for their truly sensational ap­pearance in New York when full-feathered English Buff Cochins were the leading attraction at Madison Square Garden twenty years ago.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Chicken advocates push Tyson politics back

In response to the situation described in the story below by BOB STUART,, from the News Virginian, local chicken advocates have organized.

Farmer and author Joel Salatin says the industry won and farmers lost.
“What happened tonight is a special protectionism to the industry that the citizen then has to be dependent on the industry and can’t extricate ourselves in liberty to be self-reliant,” Salatin said. “I would suggest that people do it anyway. They’re not going to take us all to jail. I would encourage civil disobedience. I think it worked well for Henry David Thoreau and I think we’re in a day where we need to practice some civil disobedience.”

So in response to help out Augusta friends, the Shenandoah Valley Poultry and Garden Club is offering to let any August resident that would like to “Chicken sit” to keep 4 hens. It they get busted they can honestly say that they  don’t own the chickens and the flock-ette isn’t living there—just visiting. The Rockbridge Feather Fanciers will relocate the flock—no problems. This information comes from Pat Foreman, author of City Chicks, testifying before the board in the photo below.

VERONA — Augusta County Supervisors rejected an ordinance Wednesday that would have allowed the keeping of backyard chickens in rural residential and single family residential districts.
Supervisors voted 5-2 against the ordinance with only Supervisors Marshall Pattie and Tracy Pyles supporting it. Supervisors who opposed the ordinance expressed concerns about the threat of disease to commercial poultry operations. Augusta County is a major poultry producer, and many of its farmers supply commercial poultry companies.

Middle River District Supervisor Larry Wills said he also was concerned about the burden of the increased chicken presence on the county’s animal control operation. “It will put a tremendous burden on animal control,” Wills said.

Wayne District Supervisor Jeff Moore said poultry is a major employer across the Shenandoah Valley.
“I can’t support (the ordinance),” said Moore, who spoke of the potential impact on jobs.

Concern from most supervisors was linked to fear of the birds contracting the avian flu and potentially spreading the disease. But unless these backyard chickens came into contact with a bird from the commercial flock, there would be no way for that to take place. Additionally, after the outbreak of bird flu in Virginia during 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes an effort to monitor poultry flocks in commercial operations.

Pyles said chickens are permitted in about 95 percent of Augusta County, including areas zoned for agriculture. He said the ordinance considered Wednesday night would have offered benefits to people. “They are not as noisy as dogs,” said Pyles of chickens. He also said chickens can be a source of food, and can provide some of the same recreational benefits as gardens. “It’s a productive and useful hobby. I don’t see any downside to it,” he said.

Augusta County is one of the few municipalities in the area that doesn’t allow backyard chickens of some type in residential neighborhoods. Waynesboro has an ordinance allowing the birds, as does Charlottesville.

A parade of speakers during a 90-minute hearing on the ordinance offered support for the ordinance.
Among the speakers was Carleen Layman, a Waynesboro resident who has backyard chickens at her residence. “I want my friends in Augusta County to have them,” she said.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Broody hens

Broodyness means your hen wants to set on eggs for the next 21 days, until they hatch. She wants to be a mother! She will take over one of your nest boxes and tuck in for the duration.

She settles herself down, fluffing out her feathers so that she can cover the maximum number of eggs. All broody hens think big when it comes to being a mother. She'll stay there all day and all night. If you approach her, she lets out a chirping yodel of alarm. She'll peck your hand if you reach under her.

Lady Fanny, a Speckled Sussex, loves to be a mother.
She'll probably get up once a day, to get a drink of water and take some light refreshment, and poop. Then she's back on the nest, whether there are any eggs in it or not. You can remove her from the nest, lock her out, dunk her in cold water, and she'll persist. Eventually, if she doesn't have any eggs to hatch, she'll get up and resume her usual place in the flock.

I like to get some fertile eggs and let my broody hens be mothers. It's a natural behavior and the hen clearly enjoys it. It seems difficult to us, but what do we know? One observer described broodiness as "a state of continual bliss." Writer Eva Le Gallienne described her impression of what's going on with hens in her 1949 novel, Flossie and Bossie. She imagines one practicing arpeggios.
The illustrations by Garth Williams capture their broody essence.
The eventual reward is the joy of motherhood.

Many chicken owners don't want broody hens, because they stop laying while they are brooding. Obviously, they can't be laying more eggs while they are incubating a clutch. Broodiness cuts down on egg production. So broodiness has been bred out of many breeds, which are then called non-sitters. Heritage breed flock owners usually value it. It's an instinctive behavior that allows hens to keep the flock going.

Hens, like other birds, look for some number of eggs that signals a clutch ready to be hatched. Usually, it’s eight to twelve eggs.  That’s the reason hens often take turns laying in a single nest. They are looking for that magic number.

One of the marvelous things about hatching eggs is that although an individual hen will lay one egg a day, she will keep on laying until she gets a clutch before beginning to incubate them. Then they all hatch together. This seemed like a miracle to me until I understood how they arrange it. When the hen is off the nest, the egg is too cool for the embryo inside to begin developing. The eggs patiently wait for her to settle on them and warm them up to about 100 degrees. Some hens pluck feathers off their breats, to get that warmth closer to the eggs.

The broody hen will turn the eggs several times a day. That prevents the embryo from sticking to the inside of the egg. 

All this is much easier for the hen to do for humans to replicate with an electric incubator and egg turner. Hens are best suited to incubating eggs.