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May 26, 2020

Rooster Tales: Resplendent Chickens Food for Fiji

Fiji Rose Comb
Fiji Rose Comb

The colorful roosters are coming into their own high season here at the Happy Chicken farm.  It is a time for rebuilding and improving the flock to meet community needs for baby chicks, as the country is shut down due to Corona virus and imported chicks are not being flown into the country from New Zealand.  Fiji normally imports over 20 million fertile eggs and day-old chicks and provides poultry and eggs to the South Pacific region.

If you've been following the hen and rooster tales recently, you'll recall our flock has taken some hard hits and suffered severe set-backs....so much so that we've had to sell off most of our six flocks and to rebuild the nucleus of our superior breeders from the chickens that were not affected.

In Fiji we call the foraging chickens "jangli chickens" - a Hindi word, as we have a lot of people of Indian descent here. The word jangli means "wild", and wildlands in India are known as "jungle".  Everyone  says that jungli chicken tastes so good, not like the mass produced (unhappy) ones raised on big poultry farms. The fresh eggs are also wonderful and of all colors- cream, brown, green and even light blue! 
Choosing Mr. Right Rooster:
We tried for seven years to bring in heritage chicken breeds from overseas, but it proved impossible, so we worked to create a productive dual purpose (for both eggs and meat), mixed breed of chickens.  We started by selecting the best local roosters we could find and crossing them with imported shaver brown egg laying chickens, which were one of two types of chickens allowed into the country from overseas (the other breed proved unusable).  Every year we raised up at least a hundred mixed breed chickens, and from that we sold off the smaller roosters and hens, and kept the biggest and the most beautiful.  So we produced a very productive mixed breed of chickens for the communities over time and it got better with each passing year.  
A good hen lays eggs for three years, but in mixed age flocks, (which most are), the farmer usually can not tell how old each hen is, so it is just a guessing game for retiring hens from the flock.  So we are now trying to create specific breeds of chickens, so that the farmers can know how old their hens are. That way they will know which ones to select for culling (4+ year olds).  Researching on the Internet, we found that for some breeds, the hens and roosters do not look anything like each other- so it's challenging, yet fun.  I am now dividing the chickens up into reasonable breeding groups, based on the closest heritage breeds I can find photos of.  We have some real beauties here at the farm, and I include some photos below of the new breeding groups I have created.  From these groups we will collect the eggs and hatch the chicks and raise them up and then further select for size and color and egg production, and after three years, we might get some very good breeds for the country.  
That is what my grandmother taught me, and really the only way to manage a multi-year flock.  I looked online yesterday at chicken breeds to try to figure out what some of my interesting chickens must be related to.  Norflok Gray, a very rare breed, seems to have somehow gotten to Fiji long ago, also Welsummer.  I can get Sussex and Australorps and Rhode Island Reds, and Anconas, or something that looks similar. One of the breeds is a black rose comb chicken with small red markings around the neck.  With these beautiful mostly gold and red roosters, I get what seems to be one of my best layer birds, but these hens often want to set and hatch their eggs. I need to take some good photos of each group. 
The hardest thing is to choose the right rooster for the hens of a particular sort, because the hens and roosters do not look anything like each other in many breeds.
  
If I create the breeds, will people keep them true to form? Or does it fall apart when I am gone?
 
Addressing Looming Food Shortfall Due to Covid-19 Import Restrictions:
Even more important development is that the chicks of the egg chickens that are needed to maintain the egg industry in Fiji are no longer available in Fiji as the cargo flights are so few. Thus in 9-12 months a shortage of eggs might develop.  We do not know how long this situation will hold, but it might be for two years?  Without chickens and eggs the poor coral reef fish will have no chance, so our time has come.  How can we produce more high quality egg birds in larger numbers?  
At the moment, we culled out 75% of our chickens late last year, as we had 
had diseases and I was too involved with the corals, plus the hatchery manager resigned as she has a baby. So I am only getting about two dozen eggs a day, up from one dozen last week and only half a dozen the week before that.  I have about 70 hens, and so I will be getting 4-6 dozen eggs per day by the end of June.  
I called Pranil, a local egg farmer on the coast who I know, as he has 330 young brown egg layer hens. I had wanted to buy 20 of them for crossing with some of my best roosters, but what ended up happening is that I have given him five of my best super roosters as barter. Next he will give me ten dozen fertile eggs per each rooster, or a total of 50 dozen eggs, which I will hatch and begin distributing to the farmers as a 1/2 to 3/4 egg bird cross.  Three of ten roosters hatched from a green egg, so I expect some olive egg layers. 
Out of the cross, which is the result of dark brown + blue color gene, I will also grow up 50 or so of the chickens. That way I can see how fast they grow and how many eggs they lay etc. for comparison. If they do really well, then we will have layers of 3-4 colors available for free-range small egg farmers.  That would really help give the poor farmers a boost.  
So fingers crossed that this will work out for maximum benefit for all.
We are also giving out the wonderful coconuts to the farmers and especially those with happy chickens. 5,000 coconut seedlings (back-ordered from 2 years ago & when mature will boast magnificent coconuts) is a lot to deal with.
The chickens all seem healthy now and we sold off 60 of the smallest roosters as they were fighting. At least 7 of the best ones went into breeding on other farms- I could not see people eating those good ones. I still have too many, but how to part with such good stock?  Saving them for when I find a farmer like Pranil with some good hens to cross them with sounds like a plan.

Our Reigning Super Star Rooster:

Let me introduce our prince of a rooster, Salusalu, so named because his showy neck rings give him the appearance of wearing a flower lei.  He's plump, he's feisty, he's LOUD, he's irresistible, and I find him to be a spirit lifter and interesting company when I go about my morning seed scattering chores.  He's so dominant that he gives me confidence the stock will gain increased hardiness during his reign.

Now there have been some mysterious happenings out at the chicken yard.  For starters, Hurricane Harold blew through Fiji with a force not foreseen by anyone.  The rain was pelting us for days prior and the wind was steadily becoming stronger.  I had made my way out to board up the chicken keeper's house, as an extra precaution, and found I could not make headway back to my house.  I retreated to shelter with the chickens and our three geese.  Who knew what might happen, when POW, the neighbor's roof blew off.  Even the tree where the horse was tethered teetered and fell, but the horse had enough sense to get clear.  In all the commotion, it was difficult to assess damage.

Next followed nine days without main power, and our cistern of stored water was running down.  Luckily, our hatchery has solar power, and that's where we recharged our phone batteries to stay in touch with the outside world.  

Last week, I lost two roosters.  I thought they had been stolen, but turned out this was not the case.  The crafty fellows had ducked under a tear in the fence.  Often I use what's on hand for repairs, so I proceeded to fix the spot.  Why not re-enforce with the thorns of a bougainvillea?  It soon became evident that what started out as a good idea, lacked a great deal in application.  Yes, the fence was fixed, but I came away with my hands and face pierced and considerably worse for wear.  In one of my better moves, I hired some neighbors to help with the bigger hurricane clean-up tasks.

Happy Chicken land is disease free and gearing up to a return of full chicken levels of 300 chicks per week.  A big unknown in the food security of Fiji is whether New Zealand will become Covid-19 free.  This is critical because factory bred chickens from there account for 20 million per year.  We know these imported standard chickens are not well suited to our tropical climate, but for the present they account for a huge portion of the market.  Our methods using natural foraging and supplementing with some other nutrition from unused parts of the coconuts is far superior, but the scale is small.  Our plan is to continue breeding and sharing heat hardy, more self-sufficient chickens suitable for supplying villages and culturally the best way to go.

We are ever grateful to all you have done to make this vision of tropical happy chickens a reality.  Your generosity has kept the breeding program alive during some bumps and now your help is bringing the production levels safely back up to capacity.  

Salusalu (Flower Lei) Rooster
Salusalu (Flower Lei) Rooster
Salusalu Hens
Salusalu Hens
Salusalu Chickens - Creating a New Breed for Fiji
Salusalu Chickens - Creating a New Breed for Fiji
Fiji Rosecomb Chickens Make Excellent Mother Hens
Fiji Rosecomb Chickens Make Excellent Mother Hens
Feb 18, 2020

Climate-Change Clock Ticks Faster - To Save Coral Reefs We Must Act Faster!

Christmas Island Super Coral Nursery
Christmas Island Super Coral Nursery

A late happy 2020, and a big thank you- "Vinaka vakalevu" to all of our special supporters from around the world.

Greta Thunberg recently reminded the world at the Economic Summit in Switzerland that the climate-change clock is not only still ticking – rather it is speeding up!  She doesn't want percentages cut, nor 5-year or 20-year plans, she wants the carbon emissions to be net zero- NOW. 

But doesn’t this sound extreme?  Impractical perhaps, yes, but no, not extreme.  I share Greta's concerns because I am on the frontline in the collapse of this precious planet- I see the coral reefs bleaching and dying from water that has become so hot in our summer that it is uncomfortable to swim in.  Just this week our southern summer (Feb = Aug), bleaching has returned to our Fiji sites.  My dear friends, this global warming problem is very real- yet it is difficult for most people to get their heads around.  Carbon pollution is more of a threat than any pandemic, because it is hidden, slow moving, and long-term, and because it impacts all species on the planet, not just our own. 

While I have little hope that our leaders will do what needs to be done quickly enough to prevent even more grave consequences, I do have hope for coral reefs, because there is something that we can do to save them right now, even in the face of rapid climate change. Admittedly, what we do may seem miniscule when compared to the scale of coral reefs, but we are doing is proving a concept that can then be multiplied a thousand fold and that will help keep hundreds of coral species from going extinct in the coming decades. Already we are helping reefs maintain coral cover in the warming seas in six countries.  

Over the past four years since the project began, the coral rescue work has spread from Fiji to Kiribati, Tuvalu, French Polynesia, Vanuatu, and now to Samoa.  An amazing movement is beginning to form that you are part of, and so we thank you for joining in.  We all have a choice: sink into apathy and despair, or join together, dive in, arise and move forward with positive actions and hope!   While there are many positive and transformative movements that we can and should get involved with to help save the species and ecosystems of the planet, it is truly precious that we have become a positive and hopeful movement for saving the coral reefs, involving the youth and others in many sites. 

Each project site starts by assessing the situation by field scoping and in consultation with government, local fishers, and the reef owning community. Where possible, a comprehensive coral reef restoration and management plan is facilitated or supported, including no-fishing areas, a coral restoration plan, and COTS removal activities.  For reefs mostly killed by bleaching, the focus is to search for 'super corals', bleaching-resistant survivors, for sampling and propagation within coral nurseries. If the main reefs are still largely intact, the focus turns to searching shallow tide pools and closed lagoons for heat adapted corals. These 'hot pocket 'corals exist at the upper thermal tolerance limit for corals, and so they are often killed out in mass bleaching events, and so our collection of samples of each of these corals represents a coral rescue.  Once these 'super coral candidates' grow big in the gene bank nurseries, if a major bleaching has not hit during the growth period, we trim off small pieces for further testing in containers of hot water, to confirm their bleaching resistance.  Once a coral has been confirmed as a super coral, we then begin trimming off branches for outplanting, to restore damaged reefs and to create patches of hot-water adapted corals, to be ready for when mass bleaching kills most of the other corals. We do not advocate replanting entire reefs, but we rather we create diverse patches of adapted corals where natural reproduction can occur, and from where bleaching resistance can spread naturally throughout the coral reef system.

A major advancement in spreading the strategy happened last year, with two international training workshops completed, and another ten-day workshop will begin just next week.  Over 70 have been trained so far in advanced coral gardening for climate change adaptation, which is a major advancement:  30+ from Fiji, 5 from Papua New Guinea, 3 each from Samoa and Malaysia, and with one each from Vanuatu and New Caledonia, plus others from Australia, USA, New Zealand, Spain, Netherlands, and Israel.   

During the September workshop, participants dedicated our newest coral nursery to a special person- we named the nursery the "Greta Thunberg Coral Nursery"  A bouquet of super corals is now dedicated to a super person, at a super important time.

SPECIAL THANKS TO EVERYONE!

PS: Giving a special Valentines Day "THANK YOU!" to our special volunteer in Seattle, USA, Nancy Clark, who has tirelessly worked to help thank donors, edit reports, etc.  Nancy helped us double our contributions on GlobalGiving this year!    She wants me to remind you that the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day is this coming this April 22nd.  Donations made on that day will help us attain a high ranking as a Climate Action Fund participant, and donations on that day will receive a special match!  Good Thinking Nancy! 

The "Greta Thunberg" Nursery in Fiji, Sept 2019
The "Greta Thunberg" Nursery in Fiji, Sept 2019
Nadiri Community Site, Fiji Nov 2019
Nadiri Community Site, Fiji Nov 2019
Pink Pocillopora Super Corals, Kiritimati
Pink Pocillopora Super Corals, Kiritimati
PNG Trainees Conducting Their Own Training in PNG
PNG Trainees Conducting Their Own Training in PNG
Loloma levu to Nancy Clark, our special volunteer!
Loloma levu to Nancy Clark, our special volunteer!
Jan 28, 2020

Happy Chickens Provide Food Security For Climate-Challenged Pacific Islanders

Happy Chickens make Happy Children
Happy Chickens make Happy Children

Looking Back:

As we welcome a new decade 2020, it's fitting to pause and reflect how Happy Chickens started as our first GlobalGiving project for Corals for Conservation.  Looking to our neighbors here in Fiji, we saw communities impacted by food shortages and suffering the rampages of diabetes--the highest death rate due to diabetes in the entire world.  Meanwhile, the coral reefs were being severely impacted with the effects of overfishing, higher temperatures causing corals to bleach and die, horrifically severe cyclones, and floods.  Taboo no-fishing sites had been set aside to allow the fisheries to recover, but closing the fishing grounds compounds food shortages in the beginning, as it takes three years or more before the restored fish stocks begin spilling over to the fishers.  A reliable low-cost protein source was needed.

I turned to my childhood, growing up in North Carolina, and remembering what my grandmothers had taught me about raising free-range chickens, housing, feeding, keeping them secure from predators, and breeding them, and I realized that a workable solution for the communities was to breed and provide village-adapted chickens that are good foragers- happy to be pecking about during the day on grass, worms, and local feeds like coconut and cassava. The introduced mongoose had eliminated most local chicken flocks two generations ago, and so most local chicken raising knowledge had died out with the chickens.

With determination, Happy Chickens were bred with care, and they improved with each passing year, until they finally became one of the most sought-after commodities in the town market.  We have now provided over 35 thousand day-old chicks to farmers and communities, at-cost, below cost, or free of charge, depending on the economic condition of the farmer.  If a community went through a happy chicken workshop, they were rewarded with chicks and feed and housing materials.  I now am known as "the chicken man" in the communities surrounding our farm, and I am often stopped in the market to discuss people's chickens and how big and nice they are and how many eggs they are producing- it is clear that the chickens have made a big difference to the communities and to the farmers.  I receive warm handshakes and sometimes even hugs from the children. In other areas of the country and on the coast, I am better known as "Tui Lase" or "the coral man".  Strange how chickens and corals belong together!

Happy Chickens has also played a key role in our Climate Action Fund effort.  This past year, when Corals for Conservation was awarded GlobalGiving's high honor of being one of the first of five organizations chosen for special Climate Action- Happy Chickens was in the wings.  Island villagers could live on eggs and chickens while they were letting the coral reef, river prawns, and forest birds rest.  It was truly a case of empowering local actions for the bigger picture of small actions to save the planet while improving human and animal health both, and becoming more effective with each passing year.

However, we were recently challenged and have had to slow our work down.  As we were having our chickens tested for export throughout the region, Fiji Biosecurity identified a rather serious chicken disease in one of our eight chicken flocks, and as a precaution, in November we were forced to reduce our flocks by selling off 2/3 of our hens, as they might be disease carriers.  It broke our hearts to say goodbye to our favorite birds.  We made the difficult decision to close the hatchery until we could guarantee that the chicks we produce are disease-free once again. We now have a lot to do to improve the cleanliness of the flocks and to prevent another disease from coming in.  Next month Fiji Biosecurity will return to test the chickens, and if they give the 'all-clear' we will proceed to re-open the hatchery.  Starting with quality rather than quantity, we will build up once again.

Looking Ahead:

Once we attain a disease-free flock, we will not only start the hatchery back up, but we will finally be able to export chicks to Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, and all the other island nations that cannot access such productive village adapted breeds of chickens.  No one has chickens like these!  Our plan to export regionally was how the disease was identified in the first place!

By May or June, we expect to be ready to carry out our community workshops once again, with five villages on the wait list, either with no-fishing areas already, or in the process of setting some of their coral reefs aside for recovery.  And yes, I expect to be back in the market once again, selling off surplus chicks to the farmers in order to break even, and in general making a spectacle of myself to the delight of the children and everyone who come in with their parents from the villages and farms every Saturday.  Any personal sacrifice is small in relation to all the good this Happy Chicken program has done in the past, and most certainly will do in the future.

Vinaka Vakalevu Kemuni, Nai lolma nei Taiose!

Thank you very much to all, sending love from Grandfather Ose

Over a dozen Happy Chicken workshops so far!
Over a dozen Happy Chicken workshops so far!
The Moala incubator hatched out hundreds of chicks
The Moala incubator hatched out hundreds of chicks
We also have provided over 700 baby ducks
We also have provided over 700 baby ducks
Climate change impacts communities but we can help
Climate change impacts communities but we can help
The Happy Chicken Man
The Happy Chicken Man

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