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