Garden Diary - August 2010

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Thursday, 26 August 2010
Fowl at the Fair

This northwestern portion of New Jersey is far away from urban Newark and Trenton in more than simple geography. While driving down summer roads I may need to slow down for tractors towing hay wagons, see enormous round bales in the fields, pass sizable soy bean, wheat, or corn fields. If there is a farm stand selling corn, then the field is sweet corn. Otherwise, I'm told, it's likely field corn for animal feed. The farm stands may also be selling eggs from pastured chickens. Sheep graze in pastures. There's one place I occasionally pass, with Oreo cookie cows, as I have nicknamed their black and white belted Galloway cows. So a fair that goes back to the county's agricultural roots is very much a part of daily life and not an artificial construct. And now that it is late August it's time for the Hunterdon Country 4-H Fair.

What's 4-H? It stands for head, heart, hands, and health, and the mission is to engage youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. Here in the United States it is a program of the United States Department of Agriculture administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The organization has over 6.5 million members in the United States, from ages five to nineteen, in approximately 90,000 clubs. Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of its history, 4-H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and technology programs. The diverse variety of Hunterdon County 4-H clubs include both beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, horses, herpetology, bird watching, dog obedience, raising Seeing Eye puppies, shooting sports, remote control cars, and more.

As I have a new one-day class on backyard chickens to teach in March 2011 at the New York Botanical Garden I've been seeking area chicken keepers with modest flocks. When I read a notice in the local newspaper that the Fur 'n Feathers 4-H Club was, for the third year, raising Rhode Island Red pullets for sale it caught my attention. Reasonably priced at six 10-week old pullets for $50, additional birds at $10 each. This year the fund raiser will go towards purchasing a watering system for the poultry cages at the fairground poultry building. I called - not to buy chickens but to see if I could come and photograph. Indeed yes!

Anita and her three boys are very much involved with 4-H. Here are some of the 300 pullets being raised
for sale, the 50 that are housed on their property. They also have several coops of primarily bantam chickens,
some of which will be shown at the fair. And Anita's planning on offering some of those birds for sale also.
What I didn't know was what's involved in preparing chickens for the fair. And "involved" is the right word.

First, you wash them. Tepid water with a little baby shampoo. The birds seem very relaxed about this.
Anita thinks it is because they get so soggy and heavy with the water that they cannot struggle very much.

Next, a simple pedicure to remove poo and dirt from their feet. If their nails seem too long they'll be clipped.

Finish off with two rinses. If the chicken is all white it is allowable to put a little bluing in the final rinse
for that extra bright appearance. The wash water looks like that old saying, "Too thick to drink but
too thin to plow." Lastly cage the birds in small carry cages to dry in the sun. Hair dryer is last resort.

At The Fair

There's a table set up with a chicken, a rabbit, and a Guinea pig on display. People can ask questions,
see the critters up close, even touch them. Of course Fur 'n Feather members are there to supervise.

A charming, fascinating display of hatching eggs. Takes careful advance planning so eggs will be hatching
over all five days of the fair. After each chick completes the arduous effort to break out of its shell and
dries off, it is moved to a brooder set-up with heat lamp, food and water. Below is a new chick, still with
a so-called "egg tooth" at beak tip, used to break its way out of the shell. Chicken eggs incubate for 21 days,
and it takes anywhere from 6 to 24 hours for the chick to work its way out of the shell on the 21st day.

Let's Look at Some Chickens

Here's a Gold Laced Cochin pullet. Fancy feathers, feathered feet.
A pullet is a young hen that has not yet undergone its first moult.

This attractive birds is a Silver Spangled Hamburg. They lay white eggs.

The Silver Seabright is a true bantam. There is no corresponding large fowl to which it is related.

The Silver Laced Polish is a breed of chicken considered outstanding as an exhibition bird. Love
those head feathers! Fortunately they are so attractive, as they're too light for use as a meat bird,
are not a prolific egg producer, and are poor are rearing chicks. This cockerel (that's the term for
a rooster under a year old) was for sale, priced at $25.

Here's yet another variation on white and black. You'll notice it is not a chicken.
These were the only turkeys on display this year. They're Royal Palm, known
in the UK as Crollweitzer or Pied. At 15 to 20 pounds for a mature tom, and
just 10 to 12 pounds for a hen, they are considered quite small for turkeys.

This elegant bird is a Modern Game bantam cockerel.
Purely an exhibition bird, Modern Game were developed
after cockfighting was outlawed in the UK, in the mid 19th
century. Today they are bred to epitomize the visual appeal
of the gamecock. Bantams weight just about one pound.

This IS a chicken. A white Silkie, to be precise. Interestingly, their skin, flesh, and bones are black.
Silkies come in other colors. I saw blue (sort of a dark smoke color) and black birds at the fair.
Noted for their calm and friendly nature, Silkies are popular as pets and good mothers for raising chicks.

So many poultry breeds. If you want a better look at the diversity of chickens, ducks, turkeys and more, a good site is The Poultry Page. And if you want to purchase chicks, ducklings, poults (baby turkeys), keets (baby Guinea fowl) and more, visit the web site for McMurray Hatchery.

Keep in mind that you'll need a place to keep your backyard flock. When I kept chickens Paul designed and built The Chicken Hilton for me. There are ready-made options, as I saw while walking around the fair -

A modest size coop suitable for a few standard size birds

A very well designed coop and run, complete with options.

At this price, the hens would need to lay a serious number of eggs to justify the outlay.

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