Feather Brained

Pickin' Chicken By Mother Earth News: The Story Behind the App

Pickin' Chicken Screen Shot 

A photo of Michelle HernadezI am so very pleased and honored to have MOTHER EARTH NEWS and GRIT Magazine involved the Pickin’ Chicken iPhone app for chicken breed selection. I have shown this app to chicken lovers and novices alike. Once they've played with it, they inevitably ask, “Why a chicken app?” The answer: chickens changed my life.

Nearly three years ago, I started thinking about raising chickens – not knowing what I didn’t know. I read, researched, and figured I would get some chickens so they could eat the bugs in my garden, I could use their poop in the compost pile, and we'd have super-fresh eggs. Past that, however, I did not have too high of expectations from the chickens themselves as smart or interactive animals. How little did I know…

My 2nd batch of chicks, left to right: Barred Plymouth Rock cockerel (hatched at home), Australorp and Ideal 236 pullets. 

Life changed from the moment I brought chicks home. Watching chickens as they forage, interact with each other (and me) and explore the garden is tremendous fun. Chick TV was the best entertainment out there! I joined other chicken-keepers in online chicken forums, swapping stories about our joy in raising chickens. Within a few months, I became a founder of Austin’s Funky Chicken Coop Tour. Shortly after the success of the tour, I became the Organizer for the Austin Backyard Poultry Meetup, a very active meetup with over 750 members. I was well on the road to Crazy Chicken Lady-dom.

Right away, I met a wide variety of people interested in raising chickens. By far the most common question I encountered was, “What chicken is right for me?” I knew from my personal experience there were many reputable online sources on chicken breeds. Different breeds have different characteristics, including their general personalities, tolerance for heat or cold, and the quantity (and color!) of eggs they lay; picking the right breed helps create a successful flock. I like being able to quickly and effectively tailor information and loved the idea of having a portable, paperless, customizable chicken reference with me at all times. The idea of Pickin’ Chicken hatched in the fall of 2009.

Pickin’ Chicken is an iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad compatible) app for selecting the perfect chicken breed(s) for your needs. The app allows a novice to find suitable breeds by answering a few simple questions.

The “Pickin'” intro screen displaying the 1st of 3 egg questions 

For the more advanced or inquisitive chickenist, there is a built-in “Eggspert” search to choose selectively exact combinations from 14 different characteristics, including temperament, climate and housing suitability, growth rate, and broodiness.

The Eggspert screen, showing some of the 14 different options on which to Power Search. 

 The app also allows the ability to filter matches to only heritage or endangered breeds as identified by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, while still offering hybrids in the list of available options.

See all matching breeds or filter to Heritage or Endangered breeds by clicking on the appropriate tab. 

In addition, each breed has a profile page with the option for one or more full body photos. With over 250 photos currently, I’m always looking for another fine-looking bird to add to the collection. If you have a photogenic chicken, the app gives you a way to share your photo under the “More” section.

Pickin' Chicken Catalana details 

Pickin' Chicken more Catalana details 

Catalana rooster.  Thank you, Karen Keb, for sharing a photo of your handsome roo! 

Pickin’ Chicken also offers an editable Favorites library, a Browser function, a Glossary of terms, educational Resources, Tips on chicken care, an integrated Twitter link, and an opportunity to subscribe to a free newsletter. Mother Earth News is also giving you the chance to win your own free chicken coop through the app. How’s that for a complete starter kit?

So what chicken breed is best for you? May you find your perfect chickens with Pickin’ Chicken by Mother Earth News, from a friends’ experience, by falling in love with the cute (feathered) chick in the feedstore, or whatever way works best for your needs. Wishing you well on your chicken adventures!

Additional Information:
Pickin’ Chicken by Mother Earth News is available now through the App Store in the Reference category. Get Pickin’ Chicken by Mother Earth News now!

Find out the latest with Funny Farm Industries at: http://funnyfarmind.com.

[Don't have an iPhone or an iPad? Check out similar information in our Perfect Chickens article here on GRIT.com or at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. – Eds.]

Harvesting a Thanksgiving Turkey

A photo of Michelle HernadezCAUTION: This blog entry discusses the steps for killing a turkey. Reader discretion is advised.

In the United States, we just celebrated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on and give thanks for all the good fortune I have: health, family, friends, laughter, a roof over my head, a shirt on my back, food in my belly. Truly, that is more than many people ever have.

From the culinary perspective, the Thanksgiving celebration often centers on a bountiful meal with turkey as a primary focus. This year, I wanted to be more aware of my turkey’s origins. Instead of buying a shiny, plastic package in the grocery store, I worked with my neighbor to raise “Din-Din,” our Thanksgiving turkey.

Our Thanksgiving turkey, Din-Din

I already raise chickens, ducks, and guineas, but I did not have facilities for raising turkeys. As such, my neighbor generously offered to raise Din-Din with her turkeys, if I could go to a neighboring city and pick up an order of poults for her. That seemed a more than fair deal. I picked up Din-Din at 8 weeks from a local source and raised him for the first couple of weeks of his life at my house. My neighbor did the rearing from that point.

So, to say I harvested “my” turkey is perhaps technically accurate, but it was more of a surrogate turkey situation. However, I did still want to participate in the harvest, as I plan to raise chicken meat birds in the future as part of my flocks.

Harvest day came. I had helped my neighbor harvest her chickens once, so I had some idea of what to expect. It was, nonetheless, a very somber experience. I had a great appreciation and sense of gratitude for this bird giving its life for our meal. It seemed much more “real” to eat a turkey I harvested than going to the local grocery store to purchase already processed meat that in no way resembled its shape in life.

We started by holding Din-Din and thanking him for having a good life. We then held him upside down to calm him and sang him a song of thanks.

Holding the turkey upside down

There seems to be debate as to which way is the most humane for killing a turkey. I’ve heard arguments both in favor of and against both chopping off the head and slitting the jugular. My neighbor uses a killing cone to drain the blood. While the bird cannot provide feedback, I currently have the opinion that this method, when done properly, is humane and a method I am willing to employ.

Turkey in the killing cone

Once in the cone, we made an incision using a sharp knife on the jugular veins on both sides of the neck, just behind the jawbone. We wanted to make sure not to cut too deeply, as this would have severed the windpipe and caused needless suffering. My neighbor continued singing to Din-Din a song of thanks in his last minutes. The blood drained steadily but swiftly. All blood had drained within approximately 3-5 minutes.

We then weighed Din-Din. He came in at close to 16 pounds fully feathered. He was still perhaps a little young.

We scalded the feathers off the body using a scalding tub. You can perform this process in a boiling pot of water. However, my neighbor was processing multiple birds, so the scalding device would save time with the larger numbers.

Scalding tub

When we plucked the feathers from the body, we found that new feathers were still growing. This made for darker, gelatinous “bumps” on the bird. We removed the gelatinous mounds when possible and hoped the others would melt in the cooking process. We then cut off the lower parts of the legs and the head. Both of these parts would be used in stock later.

Uncooked turkey

Unlike the feathers which could be roughly pulled, removal of internal organs required more delicacy. First, we very carefully cut around the anal cavity, insuring not to puncture the intestines, as we did not want to have unprocessed waste on the meat. My husband stuck his hand into the cavity and loosened the internal organs from their bindings. After he pulled out the organs, he cut a small sliver of liver off with the gall bladder. Breaking the gall bladder would have released bile and would have made the meat unappetizing. He separated the organs and sliced open the gizzard to remove grit. Intestines and gall bladder went into the compost pile, but every other portion of the bird was used.

You can see the inside organs of the bird being removed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOgX0jTVFi8 .

Once fully cleaned, we put Din-Din in the refrigerator for 3 days to allow the bird to become tender. Interestingly, if you eat a freshly killed bird straight away, it will be tough. It is best to let it sit at least for the day.

My neighbor made us lunch using the freshly harvested turkeys’ blood as the meal, complete with onions, herbs and bacon. It tasted like a very mild form of liver.

Lunch made from the turkey blood.

On Thanksgiving Day, we roasted Din-Din. He was very tender and moist, if a bit small. (Or is it just that I’m used to everything being jumbo in the store??) We gave thanks again for his sacrifice.

Cooked turkey for Thanksgiving

Guinea Fowl Keet Healthcare

A photo of Michelle HernadezShortly after my husband and I moved to our 5-acre slice of heaven, I saw the most amazing sight. While looking out in our field, I was startled to see odd-looking polka-dotted birds wandering through the tall grass. I stared for a little while at them trying to figure out what on earth they could be.

Were they some kind of wild turkey? Were they vultures? What on earth were these basketball-shaped birds that moved at amazingly fast speeds for their rotund shape?

Adult guinea

As it turns out, they were guinea fowl. I was immediately intrigued and wanted to learn more. I found that guinea fowl are very beneficial to farm life. Unlike chickens, they do not scratch or eat established plants. That isn’t to say they won’t have a sample now and then, but they prefer the insects, grasses and seeds to the plants.

As I read more, I learned that they kill snakes, eat ticks, and, when allowed to free range, are fairly self-sufficient in terms of feed. I was hooked! I wanted my own flock to help me with gardening and pest control.

Last year I got my first guineas as day-old keets. I raised them with day-old chicks. They were quite adorable, I must say.

Young guinea fowl keets and chicks

They grew up healthy and happy. Then, this spring, two of my Guineas had five offspring.

Guinea fowl parents

They came out chipper and looking like their mommy and daddy. One went to my neighbor, and we kept the other four.

Just hatched guinea fowl keets 

Having raised keets already, we used our original setup to raise our second group. We did everything the same … almost. I will explain more on the change in routine later.

I was surprised to see around 10 days of age my keets started walking oddly. They were walking on their haunches. It would be like humans walking on their knees with their feet out in front of them at a ninety degree angle. I also noticed at this same time they were sometimes sleeping with their legs stretched out. I did not have much experience raising keets, but I knew this was not normal behavior.

I began frantically searching Google and posting on forums for causes and cures. I read it was possible that wire floors could make them start walking funny. I tried making “Hobble Braces” out of band-aids to see if it helped. However, I saw no improvement.

I then checked possible diseases. I came up with possibly botulism or a vitamin/mineral deficiency. My instincts said it was a deficiency, since they had started off very perky and alert. Since there were so many possibilities, I was not having great luck finding the elixir for my birds. I went to my local pet store and bought vitamin/mineral supplements for their water. However, their condition did not improve.

I thought back to what I had changed from the first group of keets the previous year and realized I had different feed. I normally feed organic chick starter, but I had some game bird starter I had just purchased while bird-sitting my neighbor’s poults. I had thought it might be nice to start with the higher protein feed in game bird starter since I had just purchased some and had some left over. However, I decided, this may not have been a wise decision.

While not conclusive, I further validated my suspicion when I spoke to my neighbor who had my other keet, and she said it was happy and healthy. She makes her own feed, ground daily.

As I was trying my cures, valuable time was passing. I had changed back to my organic chick starter, but the keets were looking listless. I lost my first keet within a couple of days of the first symptoms. A second keet’s health was declining rapidly. I had posted on forums but the responses focused on hobble braces.

I then remembered a woman in Burnet, Texas, who specializes in raising guineas. I immediately contacted April with H and H Poultry and received a prompt response from her:

"This [condition] is very common in Guineas. It is a vitamin deficiency. Can you please try some Red Cell? The deficiency is selenium (vitamin E). In the summer, when it is very, very hot, feed goes through a loss in selenium because the oils in the soy have a tendency to go rancid, much like grocery store vegetable oil does. ... Additionally, commercial feeds are heat processed. Heat causes oil to be unstable. ... Red Cell is for horses but can be used at the same strength for keets. … [Another good remedy is] wheat or wheat berries ground up fresh and fed to them. Also, wheat germ from the grocery store [can help]. The vitamins in the water are [useful]. You can't reverse the problem but you can stop any more from having problems. Sometimes they will live through it and straighten out a bit and do okay as adults. "

I hurried out to the grocery store and bought wheat germ to get started. I also snipped open Vitamin E capsules and dipped the tip of the keets’ beaks in the oil. Keets can be testy, but these were more willing to accept the treatment in their weakened state. I planned on getting some Red Cell the next day from the feed store.

I was amazed at the change in health within 24 hours. The two remaining keets (1 died the morning of the initial treatments) looked like new birds. They were chipper, alert, and walking on their feet, not their haunches. While this may be old hat for seasoned farm people, this was a miracle to me!

It has been another day since the miracle transformation. I have no guarantees that the keets will survive, but I have great hope based on what I have witnessed. While I wish I had stayed with my chick starter feed, I am hoping my sharing of this experience will help others learn from my mistake. You cannot underestimate the importance of good nutrition.

Chicken Care: Staying Cool in the Sweltering Heat

A photo of Michelle HernadezWe Texans may be babies when it comes to cold, but we know how to handle heat. Well, usually we do.

This year has been a brutal summer with little relief in sight. We are in extreme drought conditions. We already have had triple digit Fahrenheit temperatures for 26 days – and summer is just getting started. We may get some possible relief from La Niña, but that is not likely until late fall.

At least most Texans can escape the heat in air conditioning in their cars, in stores, or at home. But what about the chickens?

It’s been quite sad to see the recent surge in chicken obits posted on the backyard poultry forums in my area. It has been indiscriminating as to the forum poster – some seasoned chicken owners, others new.

I had been concerned about my flock and had already tried some serious measures. If I could have A/C, I thought, I wanted them to, as well. I started bringing my flock in and putting them in large dog crates in our sun room. Between the chickens, dogs, and cat, not to mention the turkey poults from babysitting, the room looked – and honestly, smelled – a bit like an indoor barnyard. Further, cleaning the crates regularly was a bit impractical for my schedule. I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be a practical longer-term solution, so I started thinking about what else I could do to keep my chickens cool.

My birds free-range, but they do go to their coop for laying eggs, eating, and roosting in the evening. Here are my steps for a cooler coop:

Coop shade cloth

1) Secure the coop shade cloth but made sure it allowed air through the wire.

Soil cooled with water

2) Remove any heat-retaining litter such as hay. Cool down soil with water to allow the chickens to dig down for relief.

Clip on fan in chicken coop

3) Purchase and attach small clip-on fans to the inside of the coop. For $10, the fans have been quite handy and durable, with strong clips and adjustable heads. I can also point these fans toward the roost in the evening to give them an extra breeze.

Ice in water for chickens

4) Keep the water cool by keeping it out of direct sun and occasionally adding ice cubes.

In the daytime, the chickens are able to get under my house deck very easily. They prefer to hang out there during the peak heat hours, so I’ve set up a day camp to help out.

Ice packs prepared for the chickens

1) Prepare daily ice jugs from Ziploc quart cylinders and any recyclables around. I scatter these under the deck so that the chickens can stand by or lay on them.

2) Spray down the ground around mid-morning. With the full shade, the ground stays wet throughout the critical hours.

3) Turn on a large vortex fan. The chickens, and even the guineas, love to get in front of it to cool down.

Chicken in fan

4) Supply additional waterers with iced water under the deck. The birds love sipping on this throughout the day. It seems to pep them up.

Happy birds

The birds have looked better overall. They still pant at times, but they forage and seem to find relief in this setup.

For those of you who do have the room and inclination to bring your flock inside during the hottest time of the day, here is a creative solution. Again, this is a short-term setup to keep the birds cool for a few hours, not a permanent coop. Special thanks to Lori Bausman from Austin for the following idea that is lightweight, and offers easy cleanup and storage.

Supplies

• 1 small 3 foot diameter dog/baby pool (Petsmart, $9)
• 10 feet of 24 inch high poultry wire (HomeDepot $7, you'll have a little extra)
•  Zip ties and a hula hoop that we had on hand

Instructions:

1. Bend the poultry wire into a circle that fits inside the pool and zip tied together.

2. Wedge the hula hoop inside the wire circle for stability. The high sides of the pool provide a little extra protection for the bathroom floor - and the pool is easy to rinse out at the end of the day. So, the pool is the floor, the wire is the walls with a hula hoop for stability, and you can put the chickens in and out through the open top.

3. Place a plastic top that goes to a large bin on top in case the chickens decide to fly out. You could also use a 2nd pool as a lid.

Chickens cool in the pool

Hope you and your birds stay cool this summer!

How to Start a Chicken Coop Tour in Your City: A 12-Step Program

This past April, Austin, Texas had our first Funky Chicken Coop Tour. It was an amazing event that brought together chicken enthusiasts from around the entire state! The best part, it was done for free. Yes, that’s right with a $0.00 budget!

Funky Chicken Coop Tour

Do you want to know what you need to do to start your own city chicken coop tour? Here are our tour’s tips and tricks.

1. Keep things simple when you start. There are so many great ideas for a coop tour. Keep in mind that you can always add extra attractions as you get a better feel for what your local chicken enthusiasts would like to see.

2. Gather your dedicated chicken lovers to help with the tour. Volunteers can help with planning, advertising, coop tour inspections, tour-day information centers, and other tasks as needed to support your tour objectives. Look for those persons who are willing to put time and commitment into this labor of love.

3. Determine the purpose of your tour. Are you doing it raise awareness of backyard poultry? It is part of a locavore or sustainability movement? Is it for community building?

Our tour was a mix of “all of the above”. The purpose of your tour will dictate the underlying theme/unity for the rest of the tour activities.

4. Set a tour format. Will it be a guided tour, or will it be self-guided? When and how long will the tour be?

A guided tour will allow the coop owners to know when visitors will come for a fixed time period and could allow coop owners to potentially participate on the tour as a visitor as well.

A self-guided tour will allow visitors to pick and choose the locations of interest in a less defined fashion during tour hours. Our tour had a very successful turnout and feedback as a self-guided tour.

Select a date that allows a showcase of backyard poultry. A tour date set close to related events, such as backyard poultry workshops, gardening tours, or sustainability celebrations is ideal. Consider a length of time to allow visitors to see multiple coops while still allowing the coop owners to have some downtime. If there are many coops on the tour, we recommend between 4-6 hours for the tour length.

5. Decide whether there will be an admission charge. If so, what will it support and/or what costs will it cover?

A free tour opens options up to the widest audience. Further, it is the least complicated from financial tracking and tax reporting purposes. Consider, though, that the wider the audience, the more consideration should be given to issues with large turnout numbers.

On the other hand, a fee, whether monetary or a donation, can support a good cause and also promote public awareness. In addition, fees cover charges for tour conveniences. For instance, in addition to supporting a good cause, proceeds can go towards printed materials, including a map of the participating chicken coops, advertisements for tour sponsors, and basic backyard poultry information.

Our tour was free to the general public with all coop tour information online at http://fccooptour.blogspot.com/. However, based on feedback, we learned that many people like the idea of having a handout or brochure available as part of the tour, so we will be exploring this option further for next year.

We also discovered on our tour that the crowds were large and frequent throughout the day for the whole tour, especially in areas with many coops. We had 1 coop owner and 1 docent/assistant at each site, but we will have a minimum of 2-3 docents in the future to accommodate the turnout.

6. Set tour geographical boundaries. The ideal touring situation is to have high coop density in a small geographical area. That way, people can have variety of coops within a short distance from their starting location. Think green and consider all forms of transportation – walking, cycling, and public transportation, in addition to, or in place of, vehicles.

As a first year, we had coops all around the city. We found the standalone coops on the outskirts often served to support the local area. We hope for more densely populated areas in all areas of our city on our future tours.

7. Determine coop admittance guidelines. You may want to consider basic qualifying criteria. Our guidelines included city ordinance and/or HOA compliance, coop cleanliness, bird health, visitor safety, and available parking for visitors. We had a coop review committee visit each coop prior to the tour to insure it met the criteria.

8. Find community coop tour supporters. Make the event a celebration. Consider including local feed stores, gardening and sustainability clubs, coop designers/builders, farmers markets, local restaurants supporting local business, and anyone else who is a fan of our feathered friend. The supporters can support through donations, advertising, word of mouth, volunteering, and just about in any other way. Likewise, the tour can promote the supporters. Make it a win-win situation.

9. Advertise, advertise, advertise! Make sure to get the word out to solicit coops to participate on the tour. Also make sure to have plenty of notice for the public for your tour. Supporters (see previous item) will often gladly help get the word out. Contact your local media: newspapers, televisions stations, radio, and magazines all are great sources for community events. Also consider online avenues, such as on CraigsList, and social networking venues, such as Twitter and Facebook.

10. Have an online presence. We are in an information age where people enjoy being able to get insta-notification. Have a simple website, blog, or other online tool to provide information on your tour, including tour date, deadlines for coop submissions, photos, maps, and any other relevant tour information. Many tools, such as blogs, let your audience decide how they want to receive update information through a variety of means.

The Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour used Blogger for its first year and posted tour photos through Picasa. See: http://fccooptour.blogspot.com/.

11. Inform your coop tour owners of the tour day game plan. Provide information through in-person orientation, email, or other means to help the owners know what to expect for the big day. Provide tips or suggestions on what they can do to make the tour progress more smoothly.

On our tour, we asked our coop owners to print out signs of our coop tour logo to place in front of their houses for. We also gave them information on what the coop owners’ and their docents’ duties were for the actual tour day. In the future, we would also have information printed, either by the owners, or in a coop tour brochure, of: 1) the coop dimensions, materials, and costs and 2) the breeds, ages, and egg production of their chickens/birds.

12. Have a great tour! You’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to enjoy! Don’t forget to share your thoughts and feedback when the tour is over. This is a great way to get new ideas and help others for future tours.

For more tips and tricks on coop tours, visit The Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour Blog at: http://fccooptour.blogspot.com/ 

HAVE FUN!!