Iowa legislators hatch a plan to stymie stores’ switch to cage-free eggs

Companies from McDonald’s to Walmart have recently flocked to cage-free eggs, fueling a national sales boom for a product many believe is more humane.But in Iowa, the country’s largest egg-producing state, there are fears that the trend has gone too far. And last week, lawmakers there passed an unusual bill that would require many stores to stock eggs from caged chickens , a move designed to stop retailers from phasing them out.Although the law would apply only to stores’ Iowa locations, it is intended to address a growing national dilemma. The country’s largest grocery chains have committed to cage-free eggs, sending shock waves through the industry — but consumers aren’t buying like they were expected. Supporters of the bill argue animal welfare groups have shamed grocery stores into offering a product consumers don’t want. They have framed the legislation as a counterweight to welfare groups’ growing influence.Those groups, meanwhile, have accused lawmakers of shilling for Iowa’s agribusiness interests.“This is definitely one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen in my years monitoring these sorts of bills,” said Cody Carlson, a staff attorney with the animal welfare group Mercy for Animals. “The idea of forcing private businesses to sell a specific product is pretty unprecedented.”The new legislation would not literally force stores to sell conventional eggs — though people involved in drafting the bill say it could eventually have that effect. As written, the legislation requires that stores carry conventional eggs if they participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.That won’t have much immediate impact on retailers, said Michelle Hurd, the president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association. Under current rules in Iowa and other states including California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois, WIC Continue Reading

As demand rises for home-hatched eggs, Millburn to regulate hen owners

While the final language of a measure regulating live poultry is still being ironed out, Millburn officials are hoping it won't ruffle too many feathers.Following complaints coming out the Glenwood neighborhood of Short Hills, Millburn’s Township Committee tasked a sub-committee with determining suitable ways to regulate local poultry.“I’ve seen or received pictures of chickens marching around people’s houses, and coops made of cardboard,” said Committeewoman Jodi Rosenberg. “We’d like to make it a little more tasteful for our chickens.”No formal ordinance has been made public by Tuesday, but Rosenberg, who is on the chicken-regulating detail, outlined the following rules anticipated to be a part of the ordinance: No male chickens, aka roosters No slaughtering chickens Coops cannot be within 20 feet of a property line Chicken permits required  Neighbors’ consent required for new chickens Only three to four chickens allowed Eggs for personal use onlyRosenberg made clear during the Township Committee’s Feb. 6 session that anyone who allows noisy hens will be fined in keeping with the municipality’s noise ordinance.“If chickens are clucking too loudly in the morning because the owners aren’t letting them out, they could be fined $1,000 for a violation of the noise ordinance,” maintained Rosenberg. Local: Will it fit? Millburn mulls a developer's proposal Previously: Should Millburn allow chickens? Some cry fowl Millburn’s measures come amid what Victor Alfieri, a Wayne resident who has become a leading North Jersey expert on raising hens, characterized as a massive increase in raising hens.“It has exploded from Washington, D.C., all the way up to Maine,” said Alfieri, who in 2012 lobbied Wayne’s Township Council to legalize hens. “There are families all over the East Coast that are raising Continue Reading

Roosters’ fertility problem hits U.S. chicken supply, causes spike in poultry prices

The world's largest chicken breeder has discovered that a key breed of rooster has a genetic issue that is reducing its fertility, adding to problems constraining U.S. poultry production and raising prices at a time when beef and pork prices are already at record highs. The breed, Aviagen Group's standard Ross male, is sire through its offspring to as much as 25 percent of the nation's chickens raised for slaughter, said Aviagen spokeswoman Marla Robinson. Sanderson Farms, the third-largest U.S. poultry producer and one of Aviagen's largest customers, said it and Aviagen systematically ruled out other possible causes for a decline in fertility before determining a genetic issue was at the root of the problem. The issue is hitting an industry that is already suffering from a short supply of breeder birds. The U.S. Agriculture Department last month reduced its U.S. chicken production forecast for 2014, predicting only a 1 percent increase in poundage from 2013, well below the long-run annual average of 4 percent. The agency predicted 2015 production would be up only 2.6 percent. The limited growth in output is occurring as foreign demand for U.S. chicken is on the rise. U.S. exports of poultry for meat are projected to reach 3.4 million tons in 2014, up from 3.1 million last year. SENSITIVE BIRD Aviagen, owned privately by EW Group of Germany, provides breeding stock - hens and roosters - to Sanderson and other chicken producers, which then breed the birds and hatch their eggs to produce meat. Sanderson last summer first identified an unusual reduction in chick output involving the Ross breed. Mike Cockrell, Sanderson's chief financial officer, said about 17 percent of eggs laid by Aviagen hens mated with the rooster breed failed to hatch. Typically, the failure rate is about 15 percent, he said. Sanderson gradually eliminated a number of other potential factors, including the temperature in hatcheries and the source of corn fed to Continue Reading

Where to find baby animals at zoos and aquariums

Fuzzy, wobbly and innocent.Baby animals kill us with their cuteness.Spring time spells cuteness overload for area zoos and aquariums.More and more babies will be born as the season progresses, but some of the early newcomers include a baby Little Blue penguin and a loggerhead sea turtle hatchling, both at Adventure Aquarium; cute-in-their-own-way baby squid and fish at Jenkinson's Aquarium in Point Pleasant Beach; and an astronomically cute baby gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo, with another baby gorilla expected this summer. At Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, there are adorable African pygmy goat kids and, heaven help us, three baby giraffes, the Bambi's of the Savannah.It's too much to bear.For starters, how can the staff at Six Flags Great Adventure be expected to get any work done when there are all these baby goats around? The goats snuggle and nibble their human caretakers. They bleat. They actually frolic, for crying out loud.At about 4 months old, African pygmy goats are almost stuffed-animal cute. We visited them at Great Adventure on a balmy late-February day and killed a lot of time just watching them on their little playground, complete with plastic, toddler-style slides and other playground equipment. The kids played like human kids do — climbing, sliding, running around in circles.Diana Costanzo, a safari supervisor at Six Flags, watched them with the practiced eye of a kindergarten teacher monitoring recess. And, again, much like human kids, the little goats are resilient, tumbling and bumping into each other and never seeming to be bothered by that."They like to climb at all ages," said Alicia Chebra, another safari supervisor at Six Flags "But, yeah, when they're little like this, they're pretty active. We have different yards for them and a hill to play on, for them to jump on, for enrichment."Well, then, consider these goats profoundly enriched.  And they're ready for visitors, too. Friendly as heck, Continue Reading

Phoenix history: Getting a bit of that ‘old Phoenix feeling’

Several years ago my nephew, Rick Hammontree, wrote a short story titled "The Feeling of Old Phoenix."“I’m a third generation Phoenician. I was born at the same hospital my Dad was … old St. Joe’s, where my Gramma had her childhood illnesses tended to."I grew up around 23rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road.  At the risk of sounding like a geezer, when we moved there, I was 5 years old, and Camelback Road was the northern city limits.  My older brother used to take me over to a huge cornfield to shoot birds. That cornfield became Chris-Town Mall."Anyway, the feeling of old Phoenix was in that walk to the cornfield. These days, when I’m hungry for that feeling of old Phoenix, I get my fix by getting my mom or some other 'home-grown geezer' and we have an 'old Phoenix' day.  Wherever we go, we drive the old way and look for the things that haven’t changed and play a game called 'Remember What Was There?' ”A co-worker, Bob Frankeberger, also shared with me his memories of a childhood in the same area of old Phoenix:“My Dad was an accountant, and our lot had flood irrigation and a barn (actually a shed and chicken brooder) with a vegetable garden, chickens and a goose, which the neighbor across the street gifted me, as he had a pecan grove on his property guarded by geese."Actually he gave me a fertile egg the size of the little bantam hen that hatched it and the baby towered over the mother hen as it waddled after her."Dominating the neighborhood extending from the quarter section bordering the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Camelback to the quarter section adjacent to the intersection of 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road was the dairy farm of Chris Harri."Harri was a Swiss farmer who moved to the Valley in 1904.  He owned and farmed 360 acres.  In the mid-1950s, he would sell a large portion of his land to Del Webb, a developer. It would become Chris-Town Continue Reading

2017 Summer Guide: Best zoos and Aquariums

No doubt, you'll be seeing a good bit of wildlife on the boardwalks this summer.But on those days when only a real shark or giraffe will do, there are zoos and aquariums to provide you with a change of scenery.For children, this is an easy sell. What kid doesn't want to see a penguin waddle or hear a lion roar? Young adults may be surprised to learn of 5K races and craft beer tastings offered amid the fauna.And for all ages, zoos and aquariums provide education and spark a sense of wonder about creatures of the land and sea.Here are 11 great places to go animal-watching:1. Adventure Aquarium, 1 Riverside Dr., Camden. 856-365-3300 or adventureaquarium.comOpen daily, all year. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $28, $21 for children 3 to 12. Parking is $10.Sharks, frogs, turtles, penguins and lots of fish fill the tanks at Adventure Aquarium. Be sure to visit Button and Genny, the aquarium's two hippos. They may swim over to you and greet you underwater.You can also feed the sting rays. Purchase a tray of dead fish and hold a piece for the rays to grab. You can pet them, too.New for Memorial Day Weekend is a "Shark Awareness" program. Visitors can learn more about the world's most misunderstood predator and how to help save sharks in the wild. All donations collected during the weekend, May 27 through 29, will benefit OCEARCH, an organization that tracks sharks in the wild and gives scientists access to wild sharks for biological studies.Much of the aquarium is designed for children. A June opening is planned for "Splash and Bubbles," an attraction based on the PBS KIDS children's series. Beginning in late June, guests can watch a "Splash and Bubbles" 3-D movie, meet the characters and see the real animals represented in the show on exhibit, all included with regular admission. WATCH: Cuteness alert: Baby giraffes at Six Flags Great Adventure!Also new this year is "Piranha Falls," a multisensory Continue Reading

Fowl play: Bronx neighbors are staging a coop at urban chicken farms

"Today is my first day as a chicken farmer!" crows Lily Kesselman, who is cradling a speckled hen in a lush garden where rows of bell peppers, collard greens and string beans are flourishing on a late Indian summer afternoon. Behind her, 14 more biddies scratch the dirt in their freshly dug run and explore their coop built by Kesselman and her peeps just the week before. Neighbors rotate through the hen house to coo over their new feathered friends before signing up for shifts to feed the birds and clean the coop. Pretty bucolic for the South Bronx, no? It gets better: The 4½-month-old hens, a crossbreed of Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn, were hatched from eggs tended by public school students as part of the Queens County Farm Museum's 21-Day Eggs-periment program. The farm then reared the chicks before donating them to the Friends of Brook Park in Mott Haven, where community members and "chicken deputies" from local schools will now take over caring for the flock. "These are New York birds, through and through," says Owen Taylor from the Just Food organization's City Chickens Project. Taylor launched the City Chickens Project in 2005. It provides training, materials and chickens to help make fresh, locally grown food accessible to New Yorkers. They've set up 14 chicken coops from Bedford Stuyvesant to East Harlem over the past six years as chicken-rearing has become an increasingly popular part of the urban farm movement. More than 530 members have also joined the New York City Chicken Keepers Meet-up group online. "Raising chickens in New York City is not unusual," says Taylor. "It's legal, it's sanitary, and if anything, we're going back to normal, to the city's agricultural roots, when everyone used to own their own chickens." Kesselman first hatched the idea for a backyard chicken run more than a year ago as she became more involved in the Brook Park community garden."I am very dedicated to my Continue Reading

Stray chicken came first, then the eggs, for accidental urban farmer Patricia Arnao

Patricia Arnao knew little about raising poultry when a large black chicken with a ribbon around its leg suddenly appeared last winter on her Washington Heights doorstep. "She lays an egg almost every day," the artist said of Henrietta Van Bon Bon, who she suspects escaped a religious ritual at a nearby cemetery. Arnao is among the growing number of eco-conscious New Yorkers eager to scramble up their own farm-fresh, humanely hatched eggs. Hens, which are legal to keep in the city, also produce excellent fertilizer, eat bugs and add a touch of the country to a city yard. But while a majority of the city's chicks are mail-ordered from one of the dozens of U.S. hatcheries, animal advocates warn that the process of shipping day-old baby hens in dark cardboard boxes without food or water is anything but humane. "They are unprotected from weather and rough handling and are treated exactly like airplane luggage - left in compartments with no temperature controls on planes that frequently have layovers and delays," said advocate Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns. For years, UPC has worked to convince the U.S. Postal Service to stop shipping live animals. It is the last remaining major carrier to ship day-old chicks across the country. Northwest Airlines stopped shipping baby chicks in 1995, after about 300 died en route to Ohio after being exposed to rain. Most mail-order hatcheries, such as McMurray in Iowa, require a minimum order of 25, because chicks need one another's body heat to survive their two- or three-day journey. Some companies, such as, will ship as few as three chicks per order. MyPetChicken founder Traci Torres says she is able to ship fewer chicks by using a box smaller than the industry's standard-sized carton still used by most hatcheries. Regardless, Davis maintains safety is not about the number. Postal Service regulations say chicks must arrive within 72 hours from when they are Continue Reading

Great Eggs-pecation in Red Hook: Brooklyn man hatches plan to raise hens in backyard for slaughter

He's a real Red Hook ranchero. This summer, Declan Walsh of Red Hook became the first known private resident in Brooklyn to raise hens for slaughter, according to Just Food, a nonprofit group that works to develop a sustainable food system in the New York metro area. Walsh has raised chickens for their eggs in his backyard for six years - its legal to raise hens inside city limits - but this was his first batch of birds raised solely for their meat. "I just wanted to go to the next stage, to see what it was like to raise them to be eaten," said Walsh, 41. Walsh, the director of community outreach at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, ordered 50 broiler hens from a farm in Texas in June. As soon as they hatched, the day-old chicks were shipped via U.S. mail to his Van Brunt St. home. "The post office knows us now," said Walsh. "They come around because they hear the boxes clucking and chirping." The tiny hens lived in a plastic kiddie pool lined with newspaper in Walsh's basement for two weeks. Then, with his backyard already cluttered with egg-laying chickens, Walsh and his wife, Maria Mackin, moved the chicks to a coop they built on a neighbor's property. After 55 days, the chickens were ready to be eaten. Walsh took them to a local slaughterhouse. "We raised you. We kill you and we eat you," Walsh said of the birds. "That was the deal. You get a good life while you're here and we get a good meal out of it." Walsh estimates he spent about $15 per hen this summer, more than double the average cost of whole chickens at area supermarkets. "There's no way you can compete with the factory folks in terms of price," he said. "But my birds have a real local flavor." Area residents are enjoying the fruit's of Walsh's labor as well. Last week, 35 people flocked to the Red Hook restaurant Home/Made for the first public sampling of his hens. Home/Made co-owner Monica Byrne used 17 of the backyard birds to create a menu that Continue Reading

Iowa farmers find niche in exotic birds

Iowa leads the nation in egg production with roughly 50 million hens that lay nearly one in every five eggs consumed in the United States — nearly 12.5 billion eggs in 2015. That's big business.But there's another side to Iowa's poultry industry — a much smaller side — represented by a handful of farmers catering in exotic birds.Dennis Fett and Debra Joan Buck operate a 4-acre peacock and peahen farm south of Minden, a town of 589 people in Pottawattamie County. They have 80 birds — India blue, white, black shoulder and cameo varieties — that have produced 800 eggs this year. They work directly with customers who want the colorful birds as pets.“I don’t know how many people get to do this,”  Fett said. “I’m pretty lucky.”It's a part-time job for the western Iowa couple. Fett will start his 42nd year teaching elementary music this month at Boyer Valley Community Schools in Dow City. Buck works part time at a church in Minden.Throughout the summer laying season, Fett and Buck ship eggs to buyers across the country. Six eggs cost $88. The 800 eggs sold so far in 2016 represent a "breakout year" for the farm, which has been in operation since the 1980s. Sales dipped to a low of 400 in 2007 and a 2014 tornado killed many of the couple's birds. This year, Fett said they are still receiving orders, and with the laying season coming to a close next month, he expects they will have to turn away orders before they run out of eggs.Fett and Buck ship unhatched eggs. Buyers must keep the eggs in a 99-degree incubator until the peachicks hatch, which typically takes around 28 days. The couple also sells eggs to hatcheries that sell newly hatched peachicks to customers who don't own an incubator.The couple also operates the Peacock Information Center, an online store where they sell peafowl feathers, instructional books on Continue Reading