Review of the Year: Ten of 2015’s Biggest Poultry News Stories

Even if you only keep a few birds as pets or for an egg supply for the kitchen it is worth keeping up to speed on what is happening within the commercial side of our ‘hobby’

c/o The Poultry Site

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL – An editor’s selection box of some of this year’s news stories that have had the biggest impact on poultry production and trade around the world.

Source: Review of the Year: Ten of 2015’s Biggest Poultry News Stories – The Poultry Site


Campylobacter: tests fail to show organic chicken has higher infection rate | Environment | The Guardian

Food Standards Agency says its focus is on reducing levels of the bug rather than focusing on farming methods

Source: Campylobacter: tests fail to show organic chicken has higher infection rate | Environment | The Guardian

How to be a right ‘plucker’

The first few hatches of the year are about due for the table now and a question I’m frequently asked is about plucking the birds and the best way to approach it by hand so here goes.

Removing the feathers from a chicken is best done as soon after despatch as possible. This is because the carcass will still be warm, meaning the feathers will come away more freely.

1. Hang the bird upside down against a wall, as this will help stop the bird swinging around as you work on removing the first set of feathers.

2. The extremities (wings and tail) will cool fastest so feathers from these areas should be removed first with a sharp downward tug. It can be hard work on these areas, and gloves may be required to ensure grip is maximised.

3. Once those feathers are removed it is often easier to have the bird hanging from a ceiling hook, so it can be turned freely.

4. Next, remove the thigh and breast feathers being careful not to tear the skin underneath.

5. Finally pluck the back feathers out. The resulting carcass will probably still have a slightly ‘hairy’ look due to the presence of fine feather filaments; these can be removed by singeing with a cold yellow flame.

Now the bird is ready for dressing and roasting… if however you don’t intend to roast the bird whole or in parts then don’t bother plucking it, just skin it instead. And again unless you are planning on portioning it then avoid the need to eviscerate by simply scooping of the breast fillets and removing the legs, thighs (and wings if you want). This can be a little wasteful however it does save a lot of effort.

20 week old Ixworth cock (and just about ready for the pot)

20 week old Ixworth cock (and just about ready for the pot)

Worst protein source for climate change..Chicken or Cheese?

As a mixed meat eating and vegetarian household we quite frequently debate the ethics of food and food production, not in an attempt to convert each other but because putting aside the ethical motivations surrounding the eating of meat, both forms of ‘diet’ create a demand on the planet, and both have the capacity to unsustainable. Recently one such discussion had us posing the question that assuming the very best current practices regarding environment protection and ethical treatment of animals were being adhered to then as a source of protein, which is more environmentally costly; dairy products such as milk and cheese, or eggs and meat from chickens?

The Dorking. Better for the environment than Dutch Edam?

The Dorking. Better for the environment than Dutch Edam?

There are so many variables at play in the production of diary versus poultry protein that I was glad I stumbled across an interesting piece of research the performed by the Environmental Working Group. They looked at the lifecycle total of greenhouse gas emissions for common protein foods and vegetables and expressed them as kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalents per kg of food product. Unsurprisingly the production of lamb meat and beef sat at the top of the pile producing 39kg and 27kg of carbon respectively per one kg of product. It also came as no surprise that lentils sat at the opposite end producing 0.9kg per one kg of product. What did surprise me though was where diary sat in relation to poultry.

Eggs generate 4.8kg of carbon per kg of food and chicken meat sits around 6.9kg of carbon per kg of food. Milk came in at an impressive 1.9kg and in fact creates less of a carbon footprint than broccoli at 2kg and potatoes at 2.9kg per kg of food. But what of cheese? With a whooping 13.2kg of carbon per one kg of food produced it ranks amongst the highest in terms of carbon footprint when analysing the common protein foods sitting above pork, turkey and fish. Needless to say this threw up all manner of side debates but it does serve to illustrate that things are not always as they might appear.

Chicken & Egg by Andy Cawthray and James Hermes | The Womens Room

The first review of the new book and hopefully the first of many positive ones too 🙂

Chicken & Egg by Andy Cawthray and James Hermes | The Womens Room.

Chickens As Pets?

Forgive me but I must have a little rant. Ok I know, I do rant quite frequently in the columns I write for, but the clocks spring forward this weekend so the safety valve of sodding off outside and cutting logs when something gets up my nose will beat ‘blogging off’ on here

Are chickens pets? Yes they can be, but if you eat the eggs they produce then you must NEVER forget they are livestock and a farmed animal.

So why the rant? It’s spurred on by a blissful ignorance I keep seeing exhibited, and in fact almost lauded by some chicken owners.  It is the ignorance which seems to side step the very basic premise that if a hen produces an egg ,which you then introduce into the food chain, means you have to be careful what you put into the hen as its feed. It is that ignorance which declares because they are ‘my pets’ such rules surrounding their feed doesn’t matter, and to hell with the stupidity of those who make up the rules. Granted blanket unconditional bans tend to be introduced in order to eliminate risk, and somebody with a modicum of intelligence can usually apply a bit of logic and work out a way around it, however it would appear such intellect is lost in the case of the great dried mealworm debate….

Whether your flock is free ranging, living in a fixed run, or even restricted to some level of indoor penning, you wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall, or one buzzing by for that matter. Chickens by their very nature are excellent foragers, and intelligent enough to work out there is frequently food value to be had from any small passer-by. Sit and watch your flock on summers evening when the midges are low, and you see the hens actively pecking and plucking at the air around them. Insects are a natural part of the omnivorous chickens diet, and in fact a part of many a wild birds diet too (hence the reason you can buy insect products to put on the bird table).

Products such as dried mealworms however are deemed unsuitable for feeding to chickens. Yes, you read that correctly, you would be breaching current legislation if you were to feed dried mealworms to your flock.

I looked into the reasoning and primarily it is down to the fact that dried crustaceans and dried terrestrial invertebrates (eg mealworms) when imported to the UK fall under with regulations of EU 142/2011. Within this document  it states the “the competent authority may authorise the importation of certain materials for purposes other than feeding to farmed land animals (except for feeding to fur animals) provided there is no unacceptable risk for the transmission of disease communicable to humans or animals”.

Given my previously published opinions on the feeding of kitchen scraps then it would be fair to assume that my view would be “obviously another example of EU madness” and that “I would be compelled to agree with the e-petition and campaign to have the ban be lifted” as one email to me stated. Well I don’t.

Why? Two reasons immediately spring to mind. Firstly the basis of the argument to have the ban lifted seemed to be that poultry kept in the back garden are not farm animals but domestic animals, in other words not livestock but pets. Wrong. If you keep chickens and those chickens lay eggs and you eat those eggs then they are farm animals.

This doesn’t mean you can’t care for them as pets, but it does mean you need to be very aware that the eggs you eat will be influenced by what you feed your ‘pets’. Which leads me into my second reason.

I keep chickens because I get a level of confidence in knowing where at least some of the food my family eats comes from. So why would I feed imported dried mealworms that are produced using an unregulated process, where I have no confidence (or come-back) that they are dried using a treatment sufficient to destroy pathogenic organisms such as salmonella? I wouldn’t.

In fact when you consider the lack of control around the manufacture of such “feeds” it does beg the question as why it’s ok to feed them to wild birds when quite frequently ‘said wild birds’ will come into contact with domestic poultry (but there lies another tale!).

Just in case you are sitting there thinking “he’s off on one making much ado about nothing” then consider this; in the next 12 months it is distinctly probable the EU will authorise the use of insect protein for use as feed for pigs and chickens. Research and Development funds have already been diverted towards this as a possible viable alternative to importing soya.

Should the result of this research mean that a clean, pathogen free protein source becomes available as a poultry feed then I’ll look into it further. Until then you won’t find me buying and feeding unregulated, and risk laden products to my chickens.

To those who do, heed this.  If  your poor feeding techniques and arrogance towards the basic concepts of growing food results in the poultry equivalent of a ‘mad cow disease’ then you are no better than those who created that particular problem. This time though there would be far more flocks than herds at risk, and a significantly higher number of stock owners baying for blood, and my voice would be one of them.


Chicken & Egg – My new book has arrived

Yesterday’s post delivery saw the arrival (pre-release) of my new book. This time I teamed up with American poultry specialist and associate professor James Hermes to create a book that looked specifically at eggs and egg laying breeds.Cover

Just as with “The chicken; a natural history” Ivy Press have created another striking book which is enhanced significantly by the fantastic free flowing artwork of illustrator Kate Osborne. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with both James and Kate, albeit it a completely ‘virtual’ collaboration, and I hope they are both as pleased with the result as I am.

If you have been involved in writing a reference book then, unless you are self-publishing, it can be not unlike writing for a magazine. You put the words together, you suggest images and captions, you edit and amend gallies and mock ups, but in the end you don’t really know what the final product looks like until you have it in your hand. Ivy Press described themselves as ‘makers of beautiful books’ which, inspite my being an author of two of their books, I can honestly say they do.

I wonder what my third title might be about…. Chickens perhaps? Oh go on then… 🙂


Insects could replace soya in poultry feed – Farmers Weekly

There is a certain potential in this idea… but is it one of those things that leaves itself open to exploitation by those more interested in profit than problem-fixing? Time will tell

Insects could replace soya in poultry feed – Farmers Weekly.