Friday, July 30, 2010

Bella's true idenity...we think...

Black Langshan!

Many thanks to Clare at Curbstone Valley Farm for doing so much research on behalf of my little Bella. She suspected Black Langshan as the correct breed for Bella, and she was right! As I said before, Bella was labeled "Brahma" at the Hacienda Hay and Feed, where I got her. But she never developed the Brahma patterned feathers. Instead, she's all black. "Bella Negra", my husband calls her.

So, I called the Hacienda to find out where they purchased the chicks from = Privett Hatchery in Arizona. Unfortunately, they do not have an online catalog, so I called them and asked for one to be mailed to me. And voila:

That's my Bella!

The catalog description is:

"Hen weight-approx. 6 lbs. Introduced from China in mid-19th Century. All black bird with greenish sheen. Lays medium to dark brown egg. Can be broody. Not an economical eater. Cold hardy. Docile, calm, and graceful."

Black Langshans are known for their height...they can grow quite tall for a chicken. They are described as being graceful and curious. Bella fits this description quite well. She's not so "crazy" like Lucy and doesn't whine for treats like her, either. At the same time, she's is interested in me and what I'm doing. And she loves her treats. She also has an elegant walk and a lovely shape.

BTW, Privett has a nice brochure with pictures of all of their breeds for sale.

I'm saving it as a reference chart. The only way to get one is to call them and request it. In case you would like your own copy, the number is 800.545.3368.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My reasons for the urban chickens

Well, I've told you lots about the chickens, but very little about why we decided to raise them...and that's important.

First, the MYTH:

I'm raising laying hens to save money.

This is ridiculous. I'll never save money on this project, and I've known it all along. For example, I spent $575 on their house, which is cuter than my own house. I'm buying them special organic laying feed that costs twice as much as what most chickens get. Obviously, I'll never save money this way :)

The REAL reasons:
1) I'm appalled at how factory farms treat their chickens. It's so bad that Californians had to pass a Proposition in support of farmed animals. Now, hens will have a little bit more room in their cages, at least in CA. I don't want to go into the details here, because it just bums me out. (Suffice it to say, that their lives are still very sad and not appropriate for one of God's creatures. I'm not providing links here because you can just google it.)

2) They are really pretty and funny and make great pets.

3) They create eggs.

4) They create high quality organic fertilizer for my vegetable garden.

The hens are easy to take care of; requiring very little time. But I will say this: They poop. A lot. And not in a box. So, if you are one of those people who is really bothered by poop, then you are most likely not reading this blog. But if you are, beware.

In reality, the poop really isn't that big of a deal for me. It only smells for a few minutes. Once it dries, in an hour or so, it doesn't smell. At my house, the poop is a good thing. It will make the flowers and vegetables grow.

Some thoughts for potential chicken owners:
Stefaneer, at Silician Sisters Grow Some Food, recently posted about an irresponsible chicken owner, who wants someone else to take care of her hens (but do not kill them) once they stop laying eggs. This is terrible. Chicken owners need to be responsible. If you buy an animal, you are committed to it.

If you are considering buying some chickens, I encourage you to:
1) Stop, put down the Organic Gardening magazine (or whatever has cute chicken pictures in it).

Yes, I know those unusual breeds of chickens are really pretty. I want one of each of them, too!

2) Read a book or attend a chicken workshop. Or thoroughly scour the interwebs ( is a good site).
3) I suggest a waiting period before purchasing them. Yes, I'm serious. You really don't want to buy chickens on an "impulse". I waited at least 3 years, but that's unusually long :)
4) Visit some chickens. And ask questions of their owners.
5) Then if you still really want chickens, go for it! They are great.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is Bella really a Brahma or not?

Curbstone Vally Farm recently posted a very in-depth discussion on the history of the Dark Brahma breed. It's complicated, to say the least.

One of my 2.5 month old pullets (Bella) was labeled as a Brahma when I brought her home. She was black and white when she was little:
Bella (the Brahma?) is the one at the bottom of the photo.

But now, she's completely black with only a dot of white on her wing tips. I love how the shiny black feathers look like iridescent green, blue and purple in the sunlight.
It's hard for me to take a good (representative) picture of Bella, since her feathers are so shiny.

Anyway, the Curbstone post has lots of historical pictures of Dark Brahmas, such as this one:

All of the Dark Brahmas were patterned black and white from what I can tell. But Bella doesn't look like that. Maybe she's not a Brahma? Maybe she's not old enough to show her "mature" pattern? (This is what Clare at Curbstone Valley Farm believes, and she's probably right.) I guess I'll just have to wait and see!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shades of grey

At the college where I work there is a pond. Canada geese live around the pond year round. There is also a big white goose that lives there. He has big orange feet and an orange beak, in stark contrast to the numerous grey/black Canada geese. I feel sorry for this white goose because there are no other geese like him around. He's big, kind of fat and cannot fly, unlike the Canada geese. I think he is classified as a domestic greylag goose. Greylags are native to Eurasia and were historically raised for meat. According to this website, the greylag males are white with orange beaks and feet.

Anyway, I've noticed that for the last couple of years, the Greylag goose has been like a "good uncle" to a mated pair of Canada geese. He always helps the pair out by babysitting and watching out for the goslings. But this year, after seeing the goslings down by the pond, I think he was up to something more...a motley crew:
This is dad:
And this is mom:

This Cornell website confirms that Greylag geese can mate with Canada geese.

There are 5 goslings. All are different shades of grey:

I think they are quite beautiful.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Growing girls

Some of the girls, namely, Savannah, Goldilocks, and Buffy are starting to make "hen-ish" noises from time-to-time. Lucy and Bella are still making chick-like chirps. At 2 months old, they are really starting to feather out. One of their favorite perches is the raised bed:

After harvesting the last of the spring Romanesco, I carefully searched the leaves for cabbage worms and ended up with a juicy handful. The pullets loved this treat so much. I made sure to give each girl a couple of caterpillars. If I hadn't, then Lucy would have eaten them all. Wow, that girl loves her treats! She is always the first one to run up to me when she sees me coming.

Along with the bright green cabbage worms, I tossed a medium-sized slug to them. They looked at it, but no go. Then I covered the slug with sunflower seeds to try to tempt them, but still they just ate the seeds that surrounded the slug, but stayed away from the slug. My guess is that since the slug looks suspiciously like the chicken poo, they are avoiding it. I've noticed that the pullets never eat poo...never. The cabbage worms are bright green, and so they are easily distinguished from poo. Smart girls. And people say they've got a "bird brain"...but how many times have you seen a dog eat poo? One more reason that chickens rule!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: How to Pick a Peach

How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons
Interesting take on how to "best" eat from our current food system. It still seems crazy to me that some people might not realize that tomatoes doen't grow in January in the US. But apparently we need to be told what to eat when. But Parsons' book is more entertaining than that. He approaches fruits and vegetables in the same sort of way that I do: as works of art at their best and lumps of coal at their worst. I enjoyed his analysis of many popular produce items. Parsons helps us figure out when selected vegetables are most likely to taste good, as well as how/if to store them. Some of the text was a bit of old news for me, likely due to all of the other information I've read on the topic of food. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. The (mostly) simple recipes were a nice addition, too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Romanesco harvest

I harvested my first ever Romanesco:

Ok, so I waited a little bit too long to harvest this one. I was out of the country for a week, what can I say? But, it didn't really matter because it was delicious, nonetheless. The darker coloring is just the buds turning a little bit purple before they almost open. Here is my second one:

This one was picked at just the right stage, I believe. The head is a little bit "looser" than the ones I see at the farmer's market, but I like them better this way because they are easier to cut up. Each head was about a pound and a half and appeared to be the same size as the "professionally grown" ones. I have to brag on mine though, because they didn't have aphids like all of the ones that I've bought before. It looks like I'm going to be 3 for 3 on my Romanesco planting. The last one is still developing it's head.

Romanesco is my husband's favorite vegetable. The taste is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower, but better than either. Very tender, but crisp at the same time. So, even though they are not very productive per garden space, I've already seeded another 6 plants. They are just so aesthetically pleasing, don't you think?!