Monday, March 30, 2015

White Wyandottes

Reading Hurd's Modern Poultry Farming reminded me that Wyandottes were one of the most popular general purpose breeds not long ago. Now recognized in nine color varieties, White Wyandottes were poet Robert Frost's favorite. He memorialized one in his poem, A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury.
Her golden leg, her coral comb...
Her fluff of plumage, white as chalk...
She lingers at the feeding trough...
Clearly, they are breeder and veterinarian Don Monke's favorite, too. These lovely birds are his. He is also president of the Wyandotte Breeders of America.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Traditional commercial breeds

In doing some research about Delawares, I consulted Modern Poultry Farming by L.M. Hurd, one of the books in the Rural Science Series, published in 1950. I've got an original copy, but apparently it's available as a modern reprint. That wasn't all that long ago, although it's light years in terms of the changes in the poultry industry. Back in those mid-century days, many breeds we now call Heritage were part of commercial poultry raising on America's farms.

Hurd was a professor at Cornell University, and he thanks his colleagues there for their help in various sections. G.O. Hall is the breed expert. I'll have to follow up with him. The series was published by Macmillan, a major publisher.

I write that to establish that this was no fringe publication. This was information that was the best current knowledge about poultry.

Choosing a Breed is Chapter 3, right after The Business of Poultry-Keeping and Starting a Poultry Business. Hurd clearly felt that the choice of breed was primary in running a successful poultry operation. He advises poultry keepers to "select the one in which the breeder takes the most interest." At this point, poultry keepers enjoyed their birds.

Among Egg Breeds, he lists Leghorns, of course, but not limited to them. He includes Anconas, Hamburgs, Campines and Minorcas as their equals. He mentions three varieties of Minorca (He's probably referring to black, white and buff, not differentiating between single and rose comb) and says they are second only to Leghorns in popularity.
Schilling's portrait of White Leghorns
Black Minorcas

My own favorite Ancona
 Among Meat Breeds,  He says birds often grow to 12 to 14 pounds: Brahma, Black Jersey Giant, Cornish, Dorking and Sussex. He recommends raising them to larger weights, as roasters, rather than as smaller broilers. That distinction is nearly gone today.
These Brahmas are substantial.

Brahmas, he notes, are good layers as well as the leading meat breed. Jersey Giants are the biggest, with capons often reaching 15 pounds. The capon is hardly ever sold in American markets any more, although it used to be a popular feast and Sunday dinner bird.

Hurd isn't done with the two single-purpose breeds. He elaborates on the General Purpose Breeds, in which he includes Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, New Hampshires and Orpingtons. In that category, he finally addresses the Delaware, although not by name. The final group in his chapter is the Cross-Bred Chickens, where he mentions crossing Barred Rock males with New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red females. That crossing was the origin of Delawares, which would be recognized for exhibition in the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection two years later.
Barred Rocks
Delaware, with its distinctive color pattern
A current flock of Delawares

 The variety of breeds that were still in use, and recommended by the best agricultural advice, in 1950 startled me. As the industry has grown and vertically integrated in the past half century, most of those breeds have become rare and in need of attention to avoid losing them altogether, while nearly all America's chicken meat and eggs come from three breeds (Cornish/Rock crosses, Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds). Even those have been so aggressively inbred that they scarcely resemble birds of similar name from those quaint years ago.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Pixie is the Peruvian Basket hen my Speckled Sussex hatched from an egg from Kermit Blackwood. 
A Cuckoo Marans towers over petite Pixie.
She's a vigorous young hen now, and she caught my eye as she was enjoying her dust bath the other day

The sandy soil in our yard is perfect for dirt baths. The other hens enjoy them, too.
Here's the Speckled Sussex and the Ancona.
They can make space for any number. Here's the Blue Laced Red Wyandotte and the Ancona, her comb now back to its full bright glory, with a Welsummer between them.
Top to bottom: Speckled Sussex, Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, Welsummer, Ancona.
Blondie, the White Dorking, takes an independent spot.