Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All I want for Christmas....

This holiday season, the ALBC staff had a little fun answering the following question:
If you could have any heritage breed for Christmas, what would it be?

Anneke with Dutch Belted Oxen
Anneke Jakes, Breed Registry Manager:I’d have a Dutch Belted cow because of my heritage (and current registry work with them), but also because it would really look great on my lawn – of course I’d be better off with Lakenvelder chickens – same good looks and heritage, but easier to handle and could provide me with eggs, it would however not be able to mow my lawn! (Dutch Belts)

Angelique Thompson

Angelique Thompson, Operations Manager:A Dexter cow because they are cute and fuzzy and not listed as a “banned” breed on my apartment complex lease. I think Lucy ( my dog) would enjoy. (Dexters)

Ryan Walker with Randall Oxen

Ryan Walker, Membership Services Manager
I would choose a Runner duck just like the one we saw at Conner Prairie. That little guy had the best personality and I was amazed that he liked to be petted so much. It was fun to see him “take charge” of the barn and make sure the other animals were on their best behavior for visitors. (Runner ducks)

Jeannette with Poitou

Jeannette Beranger, Research and Technical
Programs Manager
I’d get a Poitou donkey. I find them to be one of the most charming and likeable creatures I have ever encountered and with my current coyote dilemma, a Poitou could earn its keep on the farm as a guardian. It’s a pie in the sky wish but, the fact is that if it weren’t for my fondness for Poitous, I might not  have found myself working for ALBC today. (Long story but true….) (Poitou donkeys)

Chuck Bassett

Chuck Bassett, Executive Director 
My choice would have to be a flock of Buckeye chickens. They are great dual purpose birds, easy keepers, and I love the way they look. They are also one of ALBC’s best conservation success stories. (Buckeye chickens)

Michele with Choctaw horse

Michele Brance, Donor Information Manager
Marsh Tacky or Choctaw horse – I’ve always wanted a horse and I’ve liked the horses of these breeds that I’ve been around. I especially love the grullo color. I saw a Choctaw mare at Debbie Hamilton’s farm that was steel gray with black points, mane, tail, dorsal stripe and primitive markings on the legs. I still remember how she took my breath away, and if I’m going to have a horse, I’d like a horse that would take my breath away each time I looked at it!
(Choctaw-Colonial Spanish horse)

Jennifer with Guinea hog

Jennifer Kendall, Marketing and Communications Director
I'd probably start with something fairly small ..... although my long-term goal would be to have a draft horse. Maybe a little Spanish goat would be good for this Christmas. They have a rich history, are a manageable size, and they can do my lawn care this Spring. (Spanish goat)

Alison Martin

Alison Martin, Research and Technical Programs Director
This Christmas I would select a heritage breed not for myself but as a Christmas gift.  My mother lives on some of the last undeveloped land in southern California.  It was a working cattle ranch from the time the Spaniards arrived until around 1980.  Without active grazing, the brush has grown and invasive star thistles are found throughout the pastures.  Mom’s land is less than 60 miles from San Clemente Island as the seagull flies, so I would get her a flock of San Clemente goats to manage the invasive plants (and a goat herder to manage the goats). (San Clemente Island goats)      

Monday, October 24, 2011

ALBC on the West Coast

In September, ALBC technical staff Jeannette Beranger and Alison Martin visited ALBC members in California and Nevada and attended the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California.

First on our trip were visits to two master breeders of Native Milking Shorthorn cattle in Fallon, NV.  Fallon is a high desert town about 70 miles from Reno and averages less than 9 inches of rain per year, falling mostly between November and May.  Driving out to Fallon we marveled at the stark hills, the grasses dry and golden in late summer, contrasted in places by irrigated alfalfa fields of emerald green.  We watched a band of wild horses across the valley pick their way down a rocky hillside toward the river.  Cattle ranching in this area requires careful pasture management.  We expected to find hardy animals on the two ranches, and we were not disappointed.

Our master breeders were father-son team Ron and Norris Albaugh, and Jack Barnes.  Jack and Ron have both been raising and breeding Milking Shorthorns since the 1940’s, and their careful attention to the quality of their breeding stock really shows.  More recently, Norris Albaugh’s breeding decisions using the Gearld Fry method have taken the Albaugh herd to an even higher level of uniformity and productivity, and allowed improvements in calving ability and parasite resistance.  Both ranches focus on beef production first, but emphasized that bigger calves are not always better, instead favoring cows with slightly smaller but rapidly growing calves.  In order to achieve that rapid growth, they select for milking and mothering ability.  The Albaughs leave calves on the cow as long as 10 months to take advantage of the rich milk their cows produce on pasture.  Barnes favors easy tempered cows that are so laid back that they share mothering duties with calves grabbing a sip wherever they can.  The Albaugh ranch lies near the Carson River, so they are able to irrigate their pastures for a purely grassfed operation.  At Barnes’s smaller ranch he supplements with hay.  Both ranches have found receptive markets for their meat and breeding animals.  During the visit ALBC staff documented the wisdom of these master breeders for inclusion in Breed Profiles and other outreach documents.

After a detour through Tahoe, we drove over the Sierra Nevada and made our way to Santa Rosa for three days at the National Heirloom Exposition.  It is fitting that the expo was held at the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, home to famed plant breeder Luther Burbank (1849 – 1926), who was responsible for introducing more than 800 new varieties of plants.  This year

Californians from across the state brought their pigs, sheep, chickens and cattle to the event.  We were fortunate to share space for two days with ALBC member Christina Nooner and her team from Sunshine Sanctuary for Kids and Horses.  They brought two beautiful Santa Cruz horses:  Enshalla (age 3 months) and her uncle Cochise, who adopted the filly when she was orphaned shortly after birth.  There are fewer than 30 breeding Santa Cruz horses remaining, so it was a great opportunity to tell their story while we talked to visitors about the importance of preserving rare breeds.  About 150 birds were on display at the expo and APA judge Walt Leonard selected a handsome Buff Orpington rooster as the winner of the poultry competition.  Turkey breeds were well represented at the show, and Magpie, Welsh Harlequin and Indian Runner ducks were among the waterfowl attendees.

In pens under spreading oaks we found Shetland and Navaho-Churro sheep.  The Shetland is a small, fine-boned sheep prized for its fine, soft, strong wool.  Shetland sheep come in several colors, so the sheep and their wool products attracted much attention from fiber artisans.  Navaho-Churro sheep are remnants of the once widespread Spanish sheep populations of the Southwest.  Spanish missionaries and rancheros established the first flocks as sources of meat and wool.  After the Spanish-American war, American ranchers established flocks of “improved” sheep breeds such as the Romney that were more common in the rest of the country.  However, remnants of the Spanish flocks remained, most notably among the Native American populations for whom sheep rearing fit well into their agricultural lifestyle.  The famous Navaho rugs continue to be are woven with the wool of the sheep now known as Navaho-Churro. 

While in Santa Rosa, we visited the home of Carole Coates, a breeder of San Clemente goats.  This rescue story put ALBC on the map in the mid-80’s as we partnered with other groups to ensure that breeding animals were kept together following the last removals of goats from San Clemente Island.  The Coates’ small flock of San Clemente goats is helping to expand the breed and includes a Santa Catalina doe from a related bloodline.  The goats were happy to demonstrate their foraging ability with yard clippings including thorny branches of blackberry and rose.  A noxious California weed, yellow star thistle, is readily consumed by goats, and Coates is considering putting her goats’ appetite to use in the brush clearing business.

All in all, the time we spent in California and Nevada was a great opportunity to connect with what is on the minds of heritage breeders in this part of the country and reminded us of the diverse environments that influence the breeds we work with.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Just Another Day at the Office...

ALBC had a special visitor in the office last month – of the reptilian kind. A Black Rat Snake found its way in overnight and showed up in the kitchen, assumingly looking for breakfast. Breed Registry Manager Anneke Jakes was the first to meet our scaly friend, nearly stepping on it when turning the lights on for the day. Unfortunately, before the staff was able to catch the snake, it slithered its way behind the counter and out of reach. After some brief contemplation, it was decided that we would simply have to wait for the critter to reappear on its own will before catching it.

The day’s business resumed until the afternoon when staff were packing up materials near the front door of the office. Membership Services Manager Ryan Walker caught a glimpse of the snake out of the corner of his eye lounging nearby on some boxes recently received in the mail. Apparently it had made its way stealthily past everyone while they were at their desks to the front of the office.

Luckily, Research & Technical Programs Manager Jeannette Beranger had previous experience with snakes and leaped into action. Before joining ALBC, Jeannette had worked as a zookeeper for the Roger Williams Park Zoo and cared for a 20 foot Boa Constrictor, so our little Black Rat Snake was no problem for her.

After donning her gloves, she reached down to nab our friend, which wasn’t going to give up its lounging spot easily. The snake wrapped itself around a bookshelf in an attempt to keep Jeanette from grabbing it and after a brief struggle; it decided to take a different route. The snake came loose in Jeannette’s hands and curled back around as if to give her a wink, then slithered out onto the ground across the office and the race was on.

Jeannette ran after the snake, diving to the ground and catching its tail while Executive Director Chuck Bassett stepped lightly on the back of its head to gain control of the animal. Jeannette then carefully picked up our friend, took it outside, and released it into a lot nearby. “It’s hopefully resting happily by the bakery out back now”, said Jeannette; “There is never a dull moment at ALBC”, said Jeannette.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Just In! New APA Standard of Perfection

The ALBC staff was delighted to receive the new 2010 APA Standard of Perfection earlier this week. The APA Standard is the "bible" when it comes to chickens. Much of ALBC's work is focused on ensuring that breeds are bred to certain standards, and for chickens the APA Standard is it!

The Standard is a valuable tool in the office. Whenever I can't find the book on the shelf, I know I can find it on the desk of one of our technical staff members. We often evaluate our images of chickens and poultry against the pictures provided in the Standard to help us determine whether or not an image is a quality representation of the breed. The Standard is also a great tool when we are answering questions from members or breeders. For example, people will ask how much a particular breed should weigh at market weight or they will ask what colors are acceptable. The Standard is our "go to" resource for helping people with these questions.

It seems silly, but around this office we get giddy over the Standard. Congratulations to APA for getting this new and updated publication into the hands of breeders!

Click here to purchase a copy from APA.

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Exciting Farm-to-Fork Event Benefitting ALBC

Join the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Harvest Moon Grille on Monday, August 15 for an exciting event featuring heritage breeds, the farmers that raise them, and their tasty treats! Harvest Moon Grille is celebrating our culinary and agricultural heritage with their second dinner in a Guest Chef Series. This dinner will feature Guest Chef Charles Taft – foodie, farmer, and Vice Chair of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. ALBC staff will also be on hand to help raise awareness about the value of rare breed animals to our agricultural system.

The Harvest Moon Grill menu that night will showcase rare and endangered breeds of livestock, as well as heirloom varieties of vegetables. The menu will include Delaware chickens, St. Croix lamb, and Tamworth hog. The special meal is $55 per person (excludes tax, gratuity and beverages), with a portion of the proceeds being donated to ALBC. Other donations are welcome to help ALBC carry out its important mission. Reservations suggested. This special menu will be available from 5-10pm.

ALBC is excited to visit with friends, members, and supporters in the Charlotte, NC area. What a neat opportunity to taste rare breeds, meet the farmers who raised them, and enjoy a meal made from the farmers' hands. Farm to fork takes on a whole new dimension with this special dinner!

Harvest Moon Grille is located in Charlotte, NC.
235 N. Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

To make reservations, call (704) 342-1193.

Friday, July 1, 2011

In Honor of Independence Day

An American Hereo: Randall Lineback cattle
Historians suggest that Randall Lineback cattle may have been used in one the most important operations in the American Revolution. In 1776, George Washington and his fledgling army had surrounded Boston with the hopes of capturing the city from the British. However, Washington’s army had no heavy artillery and they faced a heavily armed and entrenched British force. Henry Knox, a young soldier, was sent to the seized Fort Ticonderoga in New York to retrieve cannons and artillery. The story goes that he arranged for eighty yoke of New England landrace oxen and their drovers to pick up the artillery on sledges at the southern end of Lake George and to haul tons of deadweight over the hills and valleys of New York and western Massachusetts. Without the Randall Lineback cattle, the cannons would have never made it to Boston where they were used to liberate the city from British control. Learn More

The Swamp Foxes’ Steady Stead: Marsh Tacky (Colonial Spanish) horse

During the American Revolution, Marsh Tackies were used by many of the troops of the famous “Swamp Fox”, Francis Marion. Known as the “Father of American Guerrilla Warfare,” Marion not only was a great tactician but his troops inadvertently had the additional technical advantage of being mounted on horses superbly adapted to the rough and swampy terrain of the region. British troops mounted on larger European breeds may have been at a disadvantage in trying to maneuver in the dense and wild swamps of the lowlands. Learn More

A Founding Father’s Legacy: American Mammoth Jackstock donkey
The American Mammoth Jackstock was developed in the earliest days of the United States, and is an integral part of American agricultural history. America’s own George Washington was one of the innovators that helped to develop the breed. In fact, in 1788 Washington began offering his Mammoth jacks for stud service. Learn More

These breeds helped save America, isn’t it time we help save them?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Christmas Goose in July

By Jeannette Beranger
Our family has always had a taste for something different on the holiday table and the Christmas goose is among one of our favorites. As our family farm continues to grow, we thought that perhaps adding geese to our property would be a boon for our holiday festivities. Because we didn’t want to dive head first into any major goose production, we started slowly with only three goslings and chose the American Buff breed based on its reputation for being an amicable bird. They arrived on our farm in the steamy month of July. We thought long and hard about what to call the youngsters since they were very likeable creatures whose ultimate fate was for the table. We decided upon Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year as a constant reminder of their purpose on the farm.

Even as newly hatched goslings, their natural curiosity made them want to know everything that was happening around them. When the time came to introduce them to the outdoors, we carried them from their enclosure to the pasture so they could forage under the watchful eyes of the family (and the nearby Great Horned owls.) It became quickly apparent that we were approaching this task all wrong since the normally calm and tame birds seemed to be very “put out” when handled and moved. It was then that my husband, who was born and raised in France, remembered how his grandfather would herd geese on his farm with a couple of sticks and guide them on a walk through the field.

When the time came that the American Buff goslings were no longer the size of an easy meal for the owls, the birds stayed out on pasture full time and in the evening they were locked in a “goose tractor”. They lavished the green grass and to supplement they were fed a waterfowl grower feed accompanied by an ample supply of water next to their feed pan so they could dabble the food directly in it.

For wading opportunities, we came up with the idea of using a bed liner from a pick-up truck that we placed on a small hill in order to create a pool with a shallow end on one side and a deep end for the birds to wade in and out of easily. The American Buffs loved the pool and water consumption was minimal compared to larger baby pools that are often used by folks raising geese. Also we learned that it is important to make sure the food is far away from the wading pool so that the geese do not dabble food in the wading area and foul the water twice as quickly as they would otherwise. Incidentally, much to our annoyance, the pool also served as a great evening perch for the Great Horned owl that would come down at night to take a drink and peek at the geese in their tractor.

Time passed quickly and soon the holiday season approached. The plan was to keep the birds until the weather got cold and they put on an extra fat for the winter. This is the optimal time for processing the holiday bird so that it has ample fat and will cook properly.

As farmers, we are always mindful of an animal’s purpose on our farm and each one is respected and well-cared for up throughout its life. We eat them knowing they had a great life that few animals in industry would have and that we go above and beyond to provide a good quality of life that expresses itself in the bounty on the table. Raising a small flock of American Buff geese for the holidays is not for the soft hearted as they are such likeable and amicable creatures. But for those interested in holiday tradition and an extraordinary dining experience, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn why the goose was aptly named by chefs as the “prince of poultry."

For more information about the American Buff goose, visit www.albc-usa.org.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Journey of a Thanksgiving Turkey: Part Two

The irony is not lost on this farmer that the second leg of these turkeys journey to Thanksgiving began on another holiday...Easter.  Yep, these turkeys hatched on Easter Sunday.

Here you can see in the first photo they have just hatched and are ready for the small temporary brooder in the incubator room.  There they will continue to dry out and fluff up, strech their legs from being in that egg, and have their first meal...Easter Sunday dinner of starter crumbles...yum!

Here you see the same turkeys on Tuesday as they get moved into the big brooder.  They will stay in the big brooder for the next few weeks until they grow their feathers and are strong enough to handle life on the lush green pastures of the farm.
Stage two of the jurney is underway, the poults have hatched very successfully and are in the brooder.  I'll post an update from the brooder after the birds have grown up and have some feathers.  Stay tuned for the brooder update and then it's on to the third leg of the journey...life on pasture...    

Friday, April 8, 2011

Turkey Season

In my neck of the woods the statement 'Turkey Season' refers to hunting wild turkeys.  However, on my farm it means collecting and hatching eggs for the eventual Thanksgiving Holiday season.   I will be blogging over the course of the season about the process of going from breeding flock to Thanksgiving dinner as a turkey farmer.

I have raised several heritage breeds of turkey in the past (Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Midget White) but I fell in love with the Black turkeys.  Now the Black turkey is the breed of choice on my farm.

The Black turkey is listed on the ALBC conservation priority list as 'Watch' status... http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/black.html

In managing my breeding flock of about 30 birds, I keep them out on open pasture until February when I know it will soon be time to start collecting eggs for hatching.  At that point the birds are moved into portable hoophouse structures where they are secure from predators and the eggs are clean and easy to collect.  This year the turkeys began laying a bit late and kept me waiting until the first of April before they really started to lay well.  That delay was starting to become a concern because with turkey production for the holiday market you have a short window of opportunity to hatch your poults in, if you hatch too late in the season then your birds do not have enough time to grow and mature to the desired market size. 

I like to hatch as early as possible in the season and don't hatch turkey eggs after early June.  Any later than June and the birds don't have time to grow to a good market size and put on a little fat.  A minumum of 24 weeks is what I am looking for as far as a grow out time.

So this seasons hatching egg production began a few weeks ago and we are collecting eggs for us to hatch out as well as to sell to a local/regional hatchery that specialized in heritage poultry breeds.  When we collect the eggs we are looking for clean eggs that are not oddly shaped.  We then store the eggs in a controlled manner until we have enough to set in our incubator or send to the hatchery.
Once we have a two week supply of eggs collected it is time to package them for transporting them to the hatchery.  Hatching eggs are fragile in more ways than one.  We do not want to have the eggs broken in transporting them, nor do we want them shaken up too much, disturbing the potential hatchability of the egg.
The eggs are carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed inside an egg carton with the small end down. 

The cartons are then taped shutand placed in a box with generous ammounts of packaging material to further protect them during shipping.  Ideally they will be shipped with the box upright.  Once the eggs arrive at the hatchery they are allowed to sit and rest from all the motion for a day and then placed in the incubator to hatch.
Once in the incubator the waiting and monitoring begins.  A precise balance of temperature and humidity must be maintained for the next 28 days while the embryo develops and turns into the turkey poult.  On day 25 the turning of the eggs will stop and they will be placed in the hatching tray for 3 days.  On or about day 28 the poults will hatch out of their eggs and beging the next phase of their journey towards Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned for the next blog post following our turkeys journey to Thanksgiving dinner...hatching and brooding of the turkey poults...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Java Chicken Recovery Project

Java chicks - just hatched!
ALBC is currently conducting a Java Chicken Recovery Project. The goal of the project is to utilize established breeding and selection protocols to assist in recovering breed production characteristics for the Java chicken using a pasture-based system of husbandry. Central to this project is to restore the Java to the APA Standard of Perfection for the breed to identify and select for the four distinct color types and to select for rate of growth and egg laying without compromising physical health, fertility, or breed standard.

Today the Java chicken is listed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List as “Threatened”. A “Threatened” status means there are less than 1000 breeding birds and less than 5000 birds globally, with seven or fewer primary breeding flocks.

The Java wasn’t always an endangered breed, in fact, it was once a highly preferred breed and was widely seen at poultry shows and on homesteads all around the country. The Black Java saw its true peak of popularity from the mid to late 1800s as a market chicken. The reason for the popularity was the black feathering, which required the pin feathers be meticulously removed, this translated as a measure of the quality of plucking and processing.

First set of Java chicks being picked up by the farm
that will grow out and work with ALBC on
selection and breed improvement.
Javas eventually lost favor, but ALBC is working to bring this second oldest American breed back into the limelight. This morning, our first group of Java chickens was picked up by the family that will be growing them out for the project. A number of “growers” are working on the project to help increase numbers and diversity. Stay tuned for more updates about the project!

For more information about the how to selectively breed for production standards go to the ALBC website http://www.albc-usa.org/EducationalResources/chickens.html

For information about the Java Recovery Project contact ALBC at 919-542-5704 or Steven Moize at smoize@albc-usa.org

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Partnership Hatched

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) is pleased to announce a new promotional partnership with Tractor Supply Company (TSC) that will raise awareness of endangered and heritage poultry breeds.

Beginning in March 2011, over 1,000 Tractor Supply stores across the country will participate in the annual Chick Days program. This year, the program will include a number of heritage breeds of poultry, many of which are considered endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

“This partnership will bring awareness to a critical issue facing the American agricultural system – dwindling diversity and the subsequent loss of many breeds of livestock and poultry,” said American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Executive Director Charles Bassett. “For ALBC, this is an opportunity to educate Tractor Supply’s current and future customers by providing them with the support and information necessary to raise endangered poultry breeds.”

As part of the partnership, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has provided research, information and technical expertise, helping Tractor Supply to share the message of heritage breed conservation with their customers.

“Heritage breeds are the original backyard chicken,” said Jeannette Beranger, Research and Technical Program Manager for ALBC. “It makes sense for hobby-farmers, ranchers, and even suburban and rural homeowners to take interest in these breeds. These are the breeds of our grandparents and great-grandparents – and they are disappearing.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 21 percent of livestock breeds worldwide continue to be at risk of extinction. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is the only organization in the United States working to stop the extinction of these breeds – ensuring the future of our agricultural food system.

“We are proud to be associated with ALBC,” said John Wendler, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Tractor Supply Company. “The popularity of backyard flocks in America has spurred demand for additional information and support. As the leading farm and ranch store, our relationship puts TSC in the unique position to help those interested in raising poultry to get started successfully while raising awareness of the diversity of breeds out there, many of which are in need of conservation.”

In 2011, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy listed over 188 breeds of livestock and poultry on its Conservation Priority List, a list that designates population levels for endangered domesticated breeds. Twenty-nine poultry breeds were listed as critically endangered, making the TSC partnership an even more important step in the promotion and conservation of heritage breeds.

For more information about endangered poultry breeds, visit http://www.heritagechicken.org/

For more information about TSC’s Chick Days program, visit http://www.tractorsupply.com/


About the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy:
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect over 180 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. Included are donkeys, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. Founded in 1977, ALBC is the pioneer organization in the U.S. working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. ALBC’s mission is to ensure the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

About Tractor Supply Company:
Tractor Supply Company is the leading retail farm and ranch store brand in America. Founded in 1938, Tractor Supply Company operates more than 1001 stores in 44 states supplying daily farm and ranch maintenance supplies to a targeted customer base. The Company’s stores are focused on supplying the lifestyle needs of recreational farmers and ranchers. The Company also serves the maintenance needs of those who enjoy the rural lifestyle, as well as tradesmen and small businesses.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Talking Waterfowl With Metzer Farms

By Jeannette Beranger
ALBC Research & Technical Program Manager

In January, my work at American Livestock Breeds Conservancy took me to California to lecture at the Ecofarm Conference in Monterey. As luck would have it, I had an extra day to take a side trip to visit the noted waterfowl producer, John Metzer, at his farm in Gonzales, not far from the conference site. Because ALBC continues to develop the production selection materials for these species, it was an opportunity not to be missed while in the area.

John’s father had brought the hobby of waterfowl production to the Metzer family over 30 years ago. When John graduated from college, he thought he could turn his dad’s hobby into a full-time business which he began in 1972. With much work, his endeavor has proven successful and the farm has become one of the largest hatcheries for waterfowl in the U.S. Currently Metzer Farms works with 17 breeds of ducks including a number of endangered breeds including Rouen, Khaki Campbell, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayuga, Welsh Harlequin, White Runner, Black Runner, Blue Runner, and Chocolate Runner ducks. There are 12 breeds of geese managed on the farm including the endangered Toulouse, Chinese, Pilgrim, Buff, African, and Roman Tufted and Classic Roman geese. Egg production on the farm ranges from a winter time low of about 2,500 eggs per day to an impressive spring high of about 7,000 eggs per day.

Upon arrival at the farm, I was greeted by John at his office and we immediately began a tour of the facility beginning with the incubation rooms. In 2008, new Jamesway incubators were installed in the facility replacing the old incubators, some of which were over 50 years old. The new incubators were a big step for the facility because each incubator can hold 35,000 eggs at a time! These incubators differed from the old ones in that they are used as “single stage” incubators. This means that all of the eggs in each are of the same age and are due to hatch together at the same time period. With this system it is easier to manage the changing needs of eggs as they mature without disrupting the needs of younger or older eggs that may be in the same incubator. John has been very pleased with the new incubators and has seen a 4-18+% increase in hatchability with the most dramatic improvement being found with the hatchability of the geese eggs. To learn more about single stage incubation results, read John’s article at http://www.metzerfarms.com/Articles/SingleStageIncubation.pdf .

As we finished touring the incubation facility, we moved out into the farm and were greeted by hundreds of ducklings on pasture. The area was filled with Pekin ducklings whose bloodlines originated overseas in France. The Pekin is the breed most commonly used for meat in the U.S. and is one of Metzer’s biggest sellers. We moved from the Pekins to some of the areas that housed some of the rare breed ducks and  we came upon the largest groups of Buff and Swedish ducks I’d ever seen. The Buff duck is an attractive, dual-purpose duck with the ability to lay up to 150-220 eggs per year. It grows quickly and can be ready for market within 8-10 weeks. Its light pin feathers do not show on the plucked carcass so this breed makes for an excellent table bird. Swedish ducks are medium-sized birds that weigh between 6 1/2 and 8 lbs. They provide well-flavored meat and up to 100-150 eggs per year. They are known to be a calm breed and are found in several colors including Blue, Black, and Splash. The multiple colors arise due to heterozygosity in their color gene. With this in mind, if a Blue Swedish duck and drake breed, the ducklings are typically 50% Blue, 25% Black, and 25% Splash. The American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection only allows for the Blue Swedish. The Buff duck is listed as “threatened” and the Swedish is listed in the “watch” category of ALBC’s Conservation Priority List.

Beyond the duck enclosure, there were the pens that held an impressive collection of geese ranging from the small and delicate Chinese to the massive Dewlap Toulouse geese. Chinese geese are among the best layers and are desirable as “watchdogs” that will be the first animals on the farm to alert farmers of intruders on the property. This breed is in the “watch” category of the CPL and is a popular choice for small farms. At Metzer farms, they can be found in the Brown and the White varieties.

An interesting breed included in the Metzer collection was a flock of Classic Roman geese that came from the noted waterfowl breeder, Dave Holderread. Over the years, the Tufted Roman has become more popular in North America but it is the non-tufted, classic variety that is the original form of the breed. Few of this variety remain in the country and Metzer Farms is in the process of building numbers within their breeding flock before they will be able to offer goslings for sale. Roman geese are considered critically endangered.

Other rare breed geese on the farm included the Pilgrim and the American Buff. Both of these breeds are American in origin and a great choice for backyard flocks. The Pilgrim goose is an auto-sexing breed meaning that males and females can be distinguished after hatching. Male goslings are silver-yellow with light-colored bills and females are olive-gray with darker bills. As adults the males are white and females are mostly brownish-gray with some white on their bodies and faces. American Buffs are known for their gentle disposition. Because of the light color of their pinfeathers, they dress out cleanly and make a great table bird for the holidays. Both breeds are considered critically endangered.

Visiting with John was a rare opportunity to see such numbers of endangered waterfowl. As time grew short, the visit came to an end and I was on my way back to North Carolina, but not without some great images and useful food for thought on large scale incubation.

To learn more about Metzer Farm visit http://www.metzerfarms.com/ and for more information on endangered waterfowl visit American Livestock Breeds Conservancy at http://www.albc-usa.org/.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heritage Chickens Go High-Tech

In response to the chicken movement sweeping the United States, Mother Earth News and Funny Farm Industries recently launched the Pickin’ Chicken app, a downloadable iPhone application that will help everyone from full-time farmers to backyard chicken enthusiasts research breeds from their iPhones, iPads, or iPods.

Keeping chickens is becoming as mainstream as having a cell phone, so why not make chicken breed information easily accessible to the technologically savvy? The new application features an illustrated guide to more than 75 chicken breeds and 100 varieties with 250-plus photos. Users can find the ideal chicken breed for eggs, meat, personality, or any combination based on results from 14 searchable characteristics.

ALBC worked with the creators of the app to include the ALBC conservation priority status of any endangered chicken breeds. When a user opens a profile for a specific breed, the CPL status is listed, and they are linked through to the ALBC website. This is a great way for ALBC to reach a new generation of chicken fanciers.

If you have an iPhone, you can download the app for $2.99 from the Reference section of the Apple App Store. Not an iPhone user, check out ALBC’s Pick-A-Chick chart to review similar breed selection information.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fell Pony Breed Type Article

The January/February issue of the ALBC News has a great article about the Fell Pony and how the breed type is changing due to the various jobs it is expected to do. The author of the piece, Jennifer Morrissey, suggests that this change in breed types is "ok" so long as the original type is preserved. As agriculture changes, breeds are adapting to new demands which often means the breed type evolves. Morrissey looks at the impacts of this shift in breed type, and what it means for conservation.

This is just one of many articles that is regularly published in the bi-monthly ALBC News. This newsletter is a full-color, 20-page piece that features articles about rare breeds of livestock and poultry. Learn from the experts and the newbies! To get the ALBC News delivered to your door, join the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.