Today we're visiting Melody at White Star Farm, so named because of the great expanse of starry sky way out in the country. Melody has Alpine and La Mancha dairy goats, an old pony named Henry and a variety of dogs, but her focus is poultry. She raises show quality chickens and has a few bronze turkeys as well.
In fact, this is what met me at the gate. The two toms were giving me the evil eye.
|Just a few of the chickens. There's a cat in there somewhere too.|
The chickens hung out in small groups around the house and yard. Melody said she hasn't yet set up the breeding pens for the spring, so most of the birds are free-ranging. She threw out some corn to bring them back into the poultry yard while we visited.
|Henry the pony decided to join the birds for some corn.|
How did you become interested in showing poultry?
Melody: I always loved the county fair. The first year we were married I bought chicks through the mail and raised them. That fall, I entered produce and flowers from the garden and chickens.
|A Dominique bantam|
Why did you choose the breeds you work with?
Melody: Different reasons, for example I chose Anconas because they were so attractive and were said to be a good laying breed. Later I added Dominiques because of an idle comment my Grandma made about her mother-in-law having "tiger striped" chickens. The history of the Buckeyes, the only breed developed entirely by a single woman was interesting, and the Ameraucanas laid blue eggs. In addition to being somewhat rare, all the breeds I have now are very thrifty, easy care and do well in a free range management system. For example, they have clean legs and feet, no feathers [on their legs] to get muddy, and they have very small combs that don't get frostbite. The birds are not so big that they eat me out of house and home, but big enough they can "fend for themselves" and can fly up to roost at night out of reach of danger.
What were your goals when you began, and how have your goals changed?
Melody: When I started, I just wanted pretty birds that laid eggs. Now I still want pretty birds, but I want them to conform to their breed standard. Most of the breeds I have were developed by small farmers who kept chickens almost as an afterthought compared to the "more important" livestock like sheep, cattle and swine so they had to be hardy and they had to be productive. The standards are written to reflect that, specifying how much the bird should weigh, and what it should look like in order to keep them true to type. They are the blueprint for how to breed a healthy, productive bird.
Are there any resources you would recommend for others who are interested in raising or showing poultry?
Melody: At the top of the list is the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection. It has a description and picture of every chicken, bantam, duck, goose, guinea, and turkey that you will find at a poultry show. They are also very active at promoting youth in poultry-keeping. The American Bantam Association is the same way, but specializing in the bantam (smaller size) birds.
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow is about the best book you can get when you are just starting out with birds. Also, almost every breed of chickens and bantams have a special club that sponsor their breed at shows in addition to putting out a newsletter and keeping a list of breeders. Breed clubs have websites and facebook groups and are a great source of information for people new to birds and they do a fine job of promoting their breed. Youth memberships are usually at a reduced rate, but the chance to learn from the "Old Timers" in your breed is priceless.
|Easter egger hen|
What do you enjoy most?
Melody: The people. I've always said you'll find a better class of people in the poultry barn. Really, poultry people are serious about improving their stock, and they like to compete, but in my experience, it's friendly competition. They know that they are just holding these breeds for the future so they are more willing to share advice and good birds with each other.
|This Dominique rooster has placed well at several shows.|
What inspires you?
Melody: Honestly, looking out the window and seeing a little group of chickens going out into the field to forage and knowing that those are the same breeds doing the same things they were doing even before this country was founded is satisfying. There's a lovely sense of timelessness to it. I like to think that 100 years from now there will be another woman standing at her window watching that same breed of chickens scratch and peck, maybe even some that descended from my own birds.
What does a typical day look like?
Melody: Of course I feed and water my birds, and I gather eggs throughout the day. But I also like to take time to just watch them; chickens and turkeys are very sociable and surprisingly smart. A chicken not only recognizes humans, but it can recognize at least 100 of its flockmates. They have complex behaviors and communicate with each other about what's going on around them throughout the day. And they are the closest living relatives of T-Rex, so they're like tiny dinosaurs running around.
What projects are you working on at the present?
Melody: I've taken on a couple of new (actually, very old) breeds that have sadly become rare and as a result, are in danger of disappearing. I'd like to see them bred in enough numbers that they can again conform to the written standard, and hopefully get more people interested in raising them too. I would like to see that happen with all the breeds I have. There are 50 billion chickens in the world, and most are either commercial broilers raised for meat, or commercial laying hens kept strictly for eggs. The diversity of colors, shapes, and sizes that make up the small farm, "old timey" breeds both in this country and around the world are in danger of being lost forever. I like to think that by breeding these birds I'm helping in a small way to keep them safe for future generations to enjoy.
You can visit Melody at her farm's Facebook page.
Other posts in this series:
White Star Farm
Red Sky Farm
Summer Winds Farm
This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.
My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a
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