Mail Call: May/June 2014

1 / 4
The November/December 2014 issue of GRIT Magazine featured a beautiful rooster on the cover.
2 / 4
Vinson Watts, perhaps a Beefmaster, and Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes made up the Kurles' bounty.
3 / 4
Petey the English Shepherd is a wonderful companion and chore-mate.
4 / 4
Juan the donkey takes good care to support Sassafras the pygmy goat.

Rare Chicken Breeds

The November/December 2013 issue featured a beautiful rooster on the cover, prompting several readers to write in asking about the breed. We tasked poultry expert and author Don Schrider with getting to the bottom of it. Editors

When appraising a chicken to assess its likely breed ancestry, we look at the characteristics of the bird, as these will help us unravel the mystery. In the case of this beautiful rooster, we can tell he is a “he” because of the curved and pointed sickle feathers in his tail. The next two things that stand out are his color and his shape. This rooster has the classic “Golden Duckwing” color pattern and is pretty well-defined, meaning the different color sections are clearly separated. His shape, also called “type,” is classic of the fighting, or “Game,” breeds: He has lots of muscle in the front and less mass in the rear; his tail is up, and his look is commanding. We can also see that he has a very broad skull, pale eye color, white legs, a short and stout beak, that his beak appears yellow, and that his comb appears to either be rose, cushion or walnut in shape; we cannot see how the comb terminates in this photograph, though. We can also notice that his body sits a little low on his legs and that he appears a little chubby compared to most Game breeds.

So, what do we have here? When we sum up all the characteristics, we cannot find any one breed that this rooster would likely represent. He comes close to matching with Old English Game and with American Game breeds. But some of his traits rule purity out – in particular, the comb and type combination does not match with any known breed. The comb, stout beak, and light eye color hint at a dose of an oriental Game breed in his ancestry. The slightly chubby appearance and the fact that he’s sitting lower on his legs may both be due to age — and we can tell he is a few years old because of the length of his spurs and the condition of the scales on his legs. The best conclusion we can make is that he is largely composed of a Game breed — if pure Game, then he is of an old fighting line, not recognized as a breed; otherwise, he is the result of a cross among two or more breeds, including at least one Game ancestor. But we do know he is a beautiful rooster and a good representative of the beautiful Golden Duckwing color pattern.

Don Schrider
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Don Schrider is a nationally recognized poultry breeder and expert. He has written for publications such as Backyard Poultry, Mother Earth News, Chickens, and Poultry Press, and the newsletter and poultry resources of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. He is also the author of a revised edition of Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys.

Cast-Iron Cookware

I read the article about cast-iron pans (All About Cast Iron Cookware) and enjoyed it greatly. Some of my skillets date back to the late 1800s. I only use them and my enamel and granite ware pans. I am constantly looking for more cast-iron pieces and only buy them if they are made in the USA. I love to rehab old cast iron. My favorite piece is a 12-inch skillet that is only used for cornbread. Thanks for educating people about renewing cast-iron pans.

Rita Skaggs
Chillicothe, Ohio

How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

I use the electrolysis method. It works great, and there is less chance of cracking or warping your cookware with heat. You probably have everything you need out in the garage. The process only requires a plastic tub, a battery charger and some scrap metal — and maybe some washing soda. If you search online for “electrolysis and cast iron,” you can find directions and videos on how to safely perform this process.

After cleaning good as new, it is time to season your cast iron. I’ve tried several things, and the best one is pure beeswax. Your cast iron will act like it has a nonstick coating, and cleaning is a snap.

Greg Burris
Alvarado, Minnesota

Seasoning cast-iron pans with beeswax is a great idea, Greg! Thanks for sharing. Cast-iron cookware is definitely a hot topic of discussion among our readers. — Editors

Tomato Tips

We just got the March/April issue of the magazine, and the Our View editorial, Pondering Grafted Tomatoes, caught my eye. Attached is a photograph (see Slideshow) from 2009 of my tomato plants in my small backyard garden. You can see three plants in the photo, each in a barely visible cage made from concrete reinforcing wire. The plant on the left is a Vinson Watts heirloom. I cannot remember the plant in the middle, but most likely a Beefmaster hybrid. On the right is a Super Sweet 100 cherry. There are three more identical plants behind these three. That is all I have room for in my garden. The rest is cucumbers on a tent-shaped trellis — again made from concrete reinforcing wire. Some of the cukes grow up the trellis, and some I leave on the ground. My tomatoes always grow up and out the top of the 5-foot cages. As you can see, picking can get to be a lot of crawling around the thick plants.

I don’t have any secrets to growing the tomatoes. I just use Fertilome Root Stimulator when I transplant them into the garden (put at least half the plant into the ground). Then I place the cages over them and stake the cage with a metal pipe.

During the growing season, I feed them tomato fertilizer or general purpose garden fertilizer. I run a soaker hose for water. I know I should use more organics, but just haven’t taken the time to do the research. The harvest has always been very good. We don’t can them anymore, so the neighbors get a lot of free tomatoes. One year I used an ice cream bucket to pick the cherry tomatoes. I counted the tomatoes in a half bucket, then kept track of how many I harvested from one plant. By the time the first hard freeze hit, I had picked more than 1,200 cherry tomatoes from one plant and estimate a couple hundred leftover when I pulled out the plant for fall cleanup. I can’t even begin to imagine how much 1,200 cherry tomatoes would cost in those little containers at the supermarket!

Thinking of those tomatoes is starting to make me drool. When the tomatoes and cucumbers are ripe, many of our suppers will consist of sliced tomatoes and cukes with a little Italian dressing or balsamic vinegar. Yummy!

Chuck and Vicki Kurle
Mankato, Minnesota

Calling All Collies

I always like to see an article on using dogs to work livestock (All About Herding Dogs), but almost all fail to mention farm collies. A farm collie or two once decorated most every farm porch, a vantage from which he could keep an eye on his domain and alert or take action if a lamb strayed, or if a hawk appeared looking for a chicken dinner. These landrace dogs were probably ancestors to some of today’s herding breeds.

I have owned Australian Shepherds and/or English Shepherds for nearly 45 years. The English Shepherd fits better on my small acreage with its variety of livestock. Currently, we have a young dog we named Petey. Like all youngsters, he enjoys exploring life and trying out new things. He makes winter chores easier with his antics and his help. When the chores are done, he is content to sleep on my feet while I knit. He is a natural therapy dog, seeking out those who would benefit from a wet nose and warm fur.

I would encourage anyone wanting canine help with a small farm and diverse livestock to investigate farm collies; they are wonderful dogs!

Jan Bishop
via email

Adopt a Dog

The story on farm dogs (Best Farm Dog Breeds) was a good article, but I would like to add that mixed-breed dogs can be good at many of the same things purebred dogs are, plus may have fewer health problems in general. I would like to stress whether you get a purebred or mixed-breed dog, please get your dog from a shelter and save a life. Many dog breeders raise dogs in terrible conditions and are just about the money. There are too many good dogs in shelters looking for a home to buy from breeders.

Gary D. Jennings
Clifton, Tennessee

Young Farmers Inspire

Hey there! I was quite pleased with your article in the January/February issue about the Stanton brothers from Missouri (Brothers Raise Free Range Eggs on Large Scale.) As an aspiring young farmer, I was thrilled that you showcased two young men and their humane egg-laying business. I’m often asked a lot of funny questions in regards to being ethical as well as business savvy. Thank you for showing that farming can be both. I am honored to be entering the same industry as the Stantons, and I look forward to many more celebrations.

Katey Wietor
Romeo, Michigan

We agree with you, Katey, and hopefully the article inspired and encouraged others like you. The Stanton brothers are certainly noteworthy, and their operation extraordinary. — Editors

Beware of the Coffeetree

After reading the letter regarding the Kentucky coffeetree in your March/April issue, we would like to make your readers aware of a problem our family encountered with such a tree.

Our daughter’s family lives in northern Illinois. Their 40-pound dog was playing in their yard when she found a large pod on the ground. She tossed it around and chewed on it, as dogs do, before it was taken away from her. That night, she began persistent vomiting and diarrhea. The vet who checked her out said she had gotten into something toxic. Remembering the pod the dog had been playing with, my daughter called their neighbor to ask what kind of tree it came from. The answer was a Kentucky coffeetree.

The neighbor did some research, then called back to say that the seed pods can be quite toxic to animals, even to the point that a large quantity of pods that have fallen into a water tank can poison cattle. According to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “The leaves, seeds and pulp are poisonous and have affected sheep, cattle, horses and humans. Sprouts eaten in the spring have produced toxicosis. Pods and seeds on the ground eaten in the fall or winter have produced poisoning. Leaves, young sprouts and seeds with the gelatinous material around them contain the toxin.”

After several days in the vet clinic having her kidneys flushed — and a bill of $1,000 — the dog recovered. In checking around, our daughter discovered that these trees are used quite extensively in yards and common areas where they live. These ornamental trees hold their seed pods all winter and are quite attractive.

We felt that your readers should be aware of this potential danger from the seed pods on these trees so they don’t have to experience the chance of losing a pet or having a large vet bill.

Pat Periso 
via email

Life on the Farm

Here’s a photo (see Slideshow) of our donkey, Juan, and our pygmy goat, Sassafras, who climbed on top of her goat house and onto Juan’s back. They are quite the pair. Thanks for letting me share it, and I love your magazine!

Brielle Coleman
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

Thanks for sharing this image, Brielle. It’s the little moments that make a slightly less-convenient lifestyle all the more worthwhile. We love seeing interesting livestock photos from our readers! — Editors

Share Your Thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with high-resolution photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at

Need Help? Call 1-866-803-7096