Category Archives: Free range

A Chicken Poll

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BuyingPoultry.com – A Kickstarter Campaign

A free buying guide that takes the guesswork out of finding alternatives to factory farming.

CHOOSE BETTER.

Have you ever looked at a food label and thought, “Sounds good, but I have no idea what this means?” You’re not alone!

With so many food choices and claims out there, it’s hard to know where to get real information. What do Cage FreeFree RangeNatural, and Organic even mean? Is there a difference?

Our food choices have a huge impact on the world. People are purchasing food with increasing concern for ethical and social issues. Consumers are demanding more locally, humanely, and sustainably-produced animal products and plant-based alternatives.

That’s where BuyingPoultry.com comes in!

For the past four years, we’ve been working with high-welfare poultry farmers and animal welfare experts to create BuyingPoultry.com—a free buying guide that takes the guesswork out of choosing the most humane and sustainable poultry products and plant-based alternatives.

Buying Poultry will list every poultry producer and poultry certification in the United Sates and also tell you how they treat their animals, their employees, and the environment.

With BuyingPoultry.com, you’ll be able to see who’s best and who’s worst in the U.S. and in your local grocery store. We’ll list what each company can do better and make it easy for you to add your voice to the cause. We’ll also give you information about the best plant-based alternatives and where you can find them.

Best of all, it’ll be FREE and easy to access on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. 

Seems like a great idea, right? We think so too.

But creating a free tool that is comprehensive, authoritative, and functional isn’t as easy as it sounds. We have an amazing team of animal welfare experts and digital ninjas assembled to make Buying Poultry a reality.

Now all we need is your support!

Rebirth of the Guinea Hens

Brian Stauffer

There don’t seem to be enough great articles written about poultry at the moment, and especially the less obvious game breeds like quail and guinea hens!  Fortunately, I found a brilliant writer and this great article about keeping and raising Guinea Hens by Mark Bowden, which I know you’re all going to love.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY is not for sissies. It has now been more than a year and a half since my wife, Gail, and I first brought a box of chirping, week-old guinea fowl home to our small Pennsylvania farm, and began diligently rearing them. We built them a luxurious coop, and provided them with warmth, food, drink, and 16 acres to roam.

Deer ticks were infesting our acreage, thanks to a Malthusian proliferation of their white-tailed hosts, and we were assured that the guineas would make short work of the little bloodsuckers. An organic solution! We never got a chance to see if it worked, because when our rambunctious flock of 25 was turned loose, the birds proceeded to defy all predictions of guinea-fowl behavior—that they would not wander far from the coop; that they would establish a predictable daily routine; that they would return to the safety and warmth of the coop every evening; that they would fly up to a tree branch to avoid danger.

Ours made haste to their own demise. They showed no skill or even inclination to avoid the onslaught of neighborhood carnivores, and were thus dispatched, one by one, by foxes, hawks, and that most deadly scourge of local poultry, Amber, the ever-cheerful chocolate Lab who lives next door—a course of events that I documented for this magazine (“The Great Guinea Hen Massacre,” December 2009).

By winter our hand-reared flock had been cruelly whittled down to just two, one white and the other gray (the type is called a “pearl”). We decided to keep our two survivors safely cooped up, and then give them away come spring, hopefully to someone in a more peaceable spot.

It turns out to be hard to give grown guineas away. When the weather grew warm, the two survivors clamored ever louder each day to be turned out. They are insistent birds, and they can make themselves very loud, as in scare-the-horses-and-annoy-the-neighbors loud. We relented one morning, and against our better judgment opened the coop door and bid them adieu.

Then an amazing thing happened. They came back! Not just the first evening, but the next, and the next, and the next. They stayed right on our hilltop property, just as all the books and Web sites promised they would, and just as all their more headstrong feathered brethren had not.

Intelligent behavior in guineas, it seems, is an inverse function of their number, a truth long known about human beings. The large flock was good at only one thing: panic. Confronted with a threat, its members acted out a perfectly choreographed charade of a nervous breakdown, full of fluttering feathers and high-decibel clatter, and then succumbed to whatever had alarmed them.

Our survivors still panicked, but they also evaded. When one of our dogs took off after them, they would squawk with annoyance and fly to the nearest roof or high branch, hurling fowl invective down at their tormentors. Conscious of danger from above, they would move swiftly when crossing a pasture or yard, and mostly keep to tree lines, tall grasses, or brush. These two, the white and the pearl, almost a year old, seemed to have figured things out.

We still refused to name them, anticipating their certain extinction, but despite ourselves by early summer we had grown quite attached. I loved to see their wattled, bobbing heads pop up unexpectedly from our gardens, or watch them flee in loud panic when the lawn mower scared them from a thicket. There is something innately comical about them. Sure, two birds weren’t enough to be useful for tick control, but they were a charming and (in their own way) beautiful addition to our farm.

Then the pearl stopped coming back. One night it was just the big white waiting outside the coop, and we assumed the worst. It was a sad but unsurprising turn. Except, the next day, the pearl reappeared, frantically racing around with the white, as if feeding in double time. That evening, again only the white waited outside the coop. The answer was apparent. The previous summer’s massacre had fortuitously left us with a male and a female. Our pearl was a girl. She had built a nest somewhere in the woods, filled it with eggs, and was now sitting on them.

Every scrap of intelligence about guineas, who are native to much of Africa, assures you that their offspring are not likely to survive in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Eggs and newly hatched keets need a steady dry temperature of 95-plus degrees, the experts say. Besides, the hen, exposed outdoors overnight for weeks on end, is, to borrow an expression, a sitting duck.

So we stalked the pearl one afternoon, crawling through underbrush and lurking behind trees, following her to the hidden nest. It was on the ground in a deep thicket of grass and brush, so cunningly placed that had we not watched her wriggle into the spot, we might have stood right over it without seeing it. Twenty-two eggs were in her nest.

I shooed her off with a broom, which she pecked at valiantly, while Gail collected all the eggs. The pearl was vocally unhappy about the theft for about 30 seconds, and then promptly went off in search of her mate. They went right back to their old routines. We went to the local grain-and-feed store and bought an incubator.

The pearl built and filled four nests last summer. She laid upwards of 80 brown-speckled eggs. We incubated three of the batches, enthusiastically but inexpertly. I had ambitions for replacing the entire original lost flock, but we ended the season with 14 new birds. The coop was once again a noisy, lively place.

It wasn’t easy. Some of the keets popped right out of the egg after 28 days, as though arriving on time at the train station. Once out, most were hardy and fast-growing. But nature is neither clean nor perfect. Some got stuck in their eggs and didn’t make it, so we listened to them chirp plaintively for days, trapped and dying. We learned the hard way that helping them out is ill-advised—if they can’t make it out of the egg, they are usually doomed.

A few of our hatchlings arrived damaged. One was born with the long orange toes of one foot curled. Taking instructions from a Web site, I straightened the toes and taped them firmly to a small square of cardboard. The keet stomped around unhappily on the makeshift flapper for about five hours, and—voilà! Straight toes! But even after the foot was fully restored, he remained suspect, for some reason, to his fellow hatchlings, a fact that was not immediately apparent.

We now had three groups of birds. There were the older two, the parents. Then came the first batch of offspring, hatched in early July, whom we now considered teenagers. And we had a batch of toddlers, hatched in early September. As with all the other issues we faced in this saga, we turned to our not-so-trusted adviser, the Internet, for how best to integrate younger birds with older ones in the coop.

Some Web sites stated flatly that it was best to introduce the younger birds when they were still small, because they would naturally submit to the authority of the teenagers and adults. If you waited until they were more mature, the new birds would be more likely to fight back, which could get ugly.

Others argued that the right way was to place the smaller birds in the coop inside their own cage, so that the flock could get used to them over time without being able to attack them.

We initially opted for the first approach, which went fine for all except the one white keet whose foot I had straightened. There was nothing different about him anymore to my eyes, but the teenage birds attacked the little guy mercilessly. I found him one afternoon jammed into a corner of the coop with his head hidden in a narrow opening between a pipe and the wall, where the other birds could not get at him. I rescued him and nursed him back to health.

I then attempted, with him, the second approach. I put him back inside the coop in his own cage. He was in with the rest of the flock, but they couldn’t attack him. This apparently just built resentment, because when, after a few weeks, I decided to let him back out, the teenagers waited until I left and then pecked the poor little guy nearly to death. I found him bloody and unconscious, with what looked to be a hole pounded into the top of his head.

He survived, and I ended up giving him away with the one bird that hatched out of the third batch of eggs we recovered. The newly hatched sibling seemed to think his older brother was hunky-dory, and they got on famously. Both are reported thriving.

As for the dozen new guineas we kept, we don’t plan to let them leave the coop until the spring, when they will be about the same age their parents were when they demonstrated a knack for survival. We are hoping they will follow the example set by their elders—the eternal hope of parents everywhere.

The two adult guineas, the male white and female pearl, have names now. Our son Ben dubbed them Adam and Eve, although we prefer the more pedestrian Mr. and Mrs. They are inseparable. Next summer, when we turn their offspring loose, we do not plan to hunt down every last nest and egg, nor do we plan to go through the sordid business of incubating and integrating another batch.

We are instead going to test the theory that guineas cannot successfully breed in the wild in these parts. Internet advice has been iffy about everything else. My money is on the birds.

Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/rebirth-of-the-guinea-hens/308375/

Homes4Hens

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Kathryn and Michael Vogelenzang

In 2009 Home4Hens was founded by Kathryn and Michael Vogelenzang in Dumfries and Galloways to become the first chicken rescue and rehoming organisation in Scotland.

Their mandate was simple, to give commercial laying hens a future after farming. Their aim, to help to provide a free-range retirement for ex-laying hens otherwise destined for slaughter.

”We launched our hen rescue after collecting 6 hens to keep as pets from a local farm. Within 30 minutes of watching the hens explore their new lifestyle we realized that we wanted to do more so we returned the following day and brought home 20 more hens! The urge to provide a better future for ex-commercial hens grew with our enjoyment of watching them and so we decided to launch Homes4Hens.”

PictureHome4Hense buy ‘commercially spent’ hens from UK farmers who support the work of the charity.  The girls are treated to a health check up, ensuring their best care and attention before releasing them to loving homes.

If you choose to re-home a few hens from Home4Hens we’re sure you will find it as rewarding an experience as we do. Not only are you providing commercial chickens with a well earned retirement and saving them from slaughter but they also reward you with great eggs and great entertainment.

Website: http://www.homes4hens.co.uk/index.html

Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Homes4Hens-Battery-Hen-Rescue/311860965493589?fref=ts

Lesson 777 – Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard – interview

This is a great blog by Wendy Thomas about the ethical chicken farmer Forrest Pritchard and his new book Gaining Ground.

Lessons Learned from the Flock

gaining groundHey folks, there’s a new farming/organic living book out that is generating a lot of buzz. Written by Forrest Pritchard (and with a foreword by Joel Salatin) Gaining Ground is the true story of how a young man chose to take on the task of literally saving the family farm by turning it into an ethical and profitable way to make a living.

It’s a great story filled with ups and downs, humor and life lessons. In short, it’s the kind of book that makes you feel good after reading it. That’s the kind of story that I love most to read.

You can tell me about an adventure and I might read your book, but tell me how that adventure changed you and what you learned as a result and chances are, your book will make it to my reading list. Gaining Ground falls in the latter category, it…

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Kindergarten Class Rescues Ducklings

This is a story about some extremely lucky ducks, rescued while they were still in their eggs and now nurtured by a kindergarten class in Lynn. And the children are getting almost as much out of the experience as the ducklings.

They’re the latest addition to the kindergarten class at St. Pius V school in Lynn. Eight ducklings, just two days old. “I think they’re cute and, like, amazing,” says six-year-old James Kelly Smith. It’s even more amazing they survived. Last month a mother duck laid her eggs under a bush at the school, but nature intervened.

“There was a dog around and apparently it scared the mother duck a bit,” says kindergarten teacher Cherie Maestranzi. The mother duck took off. “We were concerned, because it was a chilly April night, that the eggs wouldn’t survive,” adds Maestranzi.

Seven hours passed, and at nine o’clock that night, teachers brought the eggs to the kindergarten room where there was an incubator usually used to hatch chickens for a class project. It worked. And two days ago, eight ducklings were born. “When they hatched it was kind of cool and exciting,” says six-year-old Riley Maguire. Her classmate Allison Marino adds, “I like the ducks because they’re fluffy.”

Out of the incubator now, a light bulb keeps them warm. And for the past several weeks, the kids have been learning about their new classmates. “They have oil on their feathers so they don’t get water on them,” says kindergartner Aviana Panacopoulos. Five-year-old Jonathan says, “They lay eggs in a nest made of sticks.”

“The best part is that the little children are experiencing the wonder of it,” says their teacher. And the kids are ready to pick names. Some possibilities: Fred, Emily, Quack, Jack and Lack.

Recently the mother duck returned to the school grounds, so they’re hoping they can reunite the ducklings with their mom.

Source: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/05/24/lynn-kindergarten-class-rescues-ducklings/

Gapeworm a perennial problem for game bird producers

With gapeworm a perennial problem, most producers of game birds are well aware of the need to worm on a routine basis. But sometimes that routine is nowhere near frequent enough.

Gapeworm a perennial problem for game bird producers

With gapes one of the biggest threats to game bird rearing, the need to keep on top of gapeworms is a major priority. Unfortunately, gapeworm has the shortest pre-patent period of all the common poultry worms – able to reproduce and cause the bird to eliminate worm eggs in just 18-20 days from the point of infection. That means treating every three weeks to keep worm burdens down in both the birds and their environment, a tougher regime than is even needed in most commercial poultry units.

This year, the problem of parasitic worms may be even more acute: NADIS parasite forecasts have highlighted that rainfall has consistently been running well above average for the last quarter. This means it’s likely that worm eggs in the environment have been protected in mud and not destroyed by desiccation or exposure to sunlight, potentially allowing more infective worm eggs to survive into the spring this year. Being more strategic about worming is an essential, given this raised level of risk.

An infected bird can produce many infectious worm eggs that build up in the environment. After a few years, or months in some instances, the soil can become heavily contaminated, increasing infection pressure. So, if the same rearing pens are used every year and worms are not adequately controlled, then there’s a potential parasite time bomb ticking away.

Source: Elanco Animal Health