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Sep 17, 2020

Happy Chickens Re-Imagined for Fiji Food Crisis!

Free-roaming kids & animals with Austin in shade
Free-roaming kids & animals with Austin in shade

Happy Chickens has been re-branded & re-imagined to meet the demands of the growing food crisis in Fiji.  We are still your favorite chicken project on GlobalGiving that you have known and supported these past five years, but now our mission has expanded to answer the need during the pandemic.  The world is at a standstill here in much of the South Pacific--island nations that we have helped with coral & food security workshops have halted ties to keep safe from the still spreading contagion.  Kiribati, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, for the most part Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia have closed off air traffic and shipping.  This is necessary because these nations have severely limited hospital capacity and historically the villages have no way to stop the spread.  There are no closed houses for quarantine isolation, only the traditional communal living which has afforded survival for generations.

Happy Chickens is ramping up to answer the call for food security in Fiji.  Even though our hatchery program has provided over 30,000 free or at-cost chickens, our yield must be increased to supplement the diets of so many.  No one knows when the high volume poultry shipments from New Zealand can resume.

Before I detail our newest developments at the sustainable, permaculture farm, let me show some of our happy scenes photographed by my son Akka and shared via blog by my wife Kim:

 These cocks squaring off:

Feathers are about to fly.

Looks like a big fight was about to happen. But what really happened is that one rooster chose to de-escalate matters by pretending to eat. ha ha.

Akka shot over this photo which he identified as “two white ducks that are always together.”

 

Best buds – whatever species they are.

I’m pretty sure that it is a pair of ganders.

Right now Austin is getting quotes from businesses with diggers because he landed a government grant for fish ponds! Akka and wife Monica are going to be raising some gigantic tilapia – as high quality Fish Food is part of the grant. The idea is that people raise the first batch of tilapia with government help, and then reserve part of the fish sales to pay for the high quality food for the next batch of fish. Grow, sell, repeat. If we can make this work, we can pass it on!

 

2015-09-04 avocado flower  Cr

 

The avocado tree is making flowers.  Akka adds this photo which shows some of the flora of our farm.  Woot woot – I guess we may be getting our own avocados soon.

Now returning to our re-branding to meet today's emergency situation in Fiji, here are some key elements from our GlobalGiving project page:

Challenge

Tourism, Fiji's biggest employer, has collapsed, forcing tens of thousands of unemployed to return to their villages. Many have resorted to farming and fishing, but lack skills and resources for sustainable practices. Coral reefs, already stressed by climate change, are becoming over-fished. Free range village chickens integrated into farming are a good alternative, but Fiji is dependent on imported chicks, and airfreight has slowed, resulting in a critical shortfall of baby chickens.

Solution

We have crossed local chicken breeds with imported breeds to produce highly productive birds well-adapted to local tropical conditions. Our answer to the crisis has been to ramp-up our Happy Chicken hatchery to >300 chicks/week and to train farmers to produce their own chicks, as well as to train communities in organic farming, with chickens integrated as a key element. With an alternative protein source, some coral reef areas can then be set aside within no-fishing "tabu" recovery zones.

Long-Term Impact

The cyclones destroy important traditional food sources. Improved island-type chickens are excellent foragers and reproduce well on their own, resulting in restored chicken flocks and lasting change. By offering housing & training for youth at our permaculture farm, we are starting a positive chain with our improved island-type chickens. As the world crisis tightens its grip on Fiji, we share seeds, root crop cuttings, and superior coconut seedlings, resulting in feeding >30,000 rural poor.

What began as a partnership and a shared vision with local farmers, indigenous communities throughout the South Pacific, and plain hard work by my extended family, has become one of the key components of addressing the food crisis in Fiji.  Our methods are inspired by the wisdom of my North Carolina ancestors regarding free-ranging chickens and breeding, and are enhanced by local tropically suited practices.  Happy Chickens is now achieving governmental recognition and may one day build upon that international humanitarian attention from agencies like the United Nations and the disaster relief arm of GlobalGiving.

All of this progress and the vision of a better future is sponsored by you!

Sincere thanks for believing we all can make a difference,

Austin Bowden-Kerby and my entire family here at Happy Chickens

 

 

 

Jun 17, 2020

In a Virus Free Fiji - the Coral Work Resumes!

Sarah and Keleni and Friends with Super Corals
Sarah and Keleni and Friends with Super Corals

Virus Free Fiji--A Victory for Communities and the Corals

FINALLY we are able to get moving again.  With the COVID-19 virus now absent from Fiji, the shut down has at last been lifted. We are now back in our Fiji sites and working hard. These sites went through a bleaching and a hurricane during the lockdown, with no one to maintain them.  Fortunately, the nurseries did amazingly well; all five coral nurseries and reef restoration sites withstood this onslaught of Mother Nature, with relatively minor damage.  The coral nurseries now contain thousands of bleaching resistant “super corals”, which are trimmed periodically to produce seed fragments for use in replanting patches of coral reefs after major bleaching kills the corals.

Here's a fascinating Corals 101 Fact: When we made the five nurseries, we saw astounding numbers of baby corals appear in the coming months, which researchers now say is related to the coral larvae being attracted to the smell of corals, and so we apparently created a strong settlement signal with our nurseries!  So restoring the corals to a reef does not mean replanting the whole reef, but only to create a settlement signal with a few patches of concentrated corals.  

For these Mamanuca Island sites, Corals for Conservation has been in a partnership with Plantation Island Resort for five years now, and the reefs around the resort have over time become a model training site, with the resort assisting with transport to the island, boats for the coral work, budget accommodation, meals, and free training venues.  We have so far trained 38 Fijians to become professional coral gardeners, and two of these coral gardeners (Sarah and Merekelini), both University Marine Studies graduates, have worked as professional coral gardeners and guest marine educators at the resort for the past two years.  Unfortunately, these women were laid off without pay in March due to the temporary closing of the resort, as Fiji stopped all incoming flights and all tourism.  The resort was badly damaged by the cyclone, and all inter-island transport banned, so we were unable to do any coral related work.  Once the ban on transport was lifted in early May, the resort went into intense action to repair the damage, so we were not yet able to come back in.  When the major repairs were completed, the resort graciously invited me back, plus they brought the coral gardeners back on for two weeks of intensive coral work, which has just now been completed.  Amazing progress was made: 1,000 corals were moved to safer waters free from "killer algae" smothering. We are all exhausted and nursing coral cuts-- I even sustained  a bad toxic Crown of Thorns starfish poke to the finger. 

Even though the resort is closed and without income, Plantation Island Resort has nevertheless agreed to provide housing, meals, boats for the work, and bi-weekly transport to and from the main island for our coral gardeners, if C4C can pay these two hard working women their wages. These stewardship efforts are so essential for the progress of critical reef restoration and nursery sites.   We are writing up our results as a technical report and will be back soon, hopefully with a group of local trainees.   

Professional Coral Gardeners Key to Reef & Resort Partnerships

While every resort has gardeners for the land, our goal is that all reef using resorts will take on coral gardeners for the sea, to care for the natural resources and to help the coral reef survive into the future. The coral gardeners work to counter any negative impact that tourists might have, while educating the guests, and helping the coral reef adapt to the warming waters caused by climate change.  Our goal is for “Professional Coral Gardener” to become a certificate level profession and to create a hundred or more new jobs for bright young Pacific Islanders, so that pockets of coral reefs survive and thrive into the future under the care of loving and skilled hands. 

As part of this initiative, and parallel to the strategy with the resorts, we work with indigenous reef-owning communities, considering them as a major part of the solution.  We help by addressing poverty-driven overfishing of resources, and stimulating the restoration of fish and other marine resources, creating marine resource management plans, no fishing areas, and alternative livelihoods.  The chiefs are interested in working with the tourism industry and government to create a permanent marine park for conserving the area, and C4C is facilitating this process.    

Healthy coral reefs provide abundant fish, sandy beaches, and are a vital tourism resource.  The biggest threat to the survival of coral reefs is Global Warming, as the ocean is becoming hotter with each passing year.  Hot water causes the corals to become sick and to lose their colors- a process called bleaching.  However, some corals are resistant to this bleaching, and can tolerate the hotter water.  The reefs around Plantation Island Resort are very shallow, and have proven ideal for selecting hot water adapted, bleaching resistant  “super corals,” and our nurseries are filled with a diversity of these amazing corals. 

In partnership with the resort we have so far carried out three local workshops starting in 2016. Since 2019, we have run three international “Coral Gardening for Climate Change Adaptation” workshops, attracting over 75 people from as far away as Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand.  We are now going ahead and preparing to host our next series of Fiji-focused coral gardening training workshops at the resort, starting as early as July for Fiji. Then as flights reopen in the region, we plan to include regional trainees due to high demand for the program.  We are submitting proposals to raise additional funding for this work, and the resort is willing to lower their charges to  break-even cost, to help keep the resort functional.

During the Crisis Time an Opportunity to Re-invent Tourism Industry

This crisis is the best time to re-invent the tourism industry to become more sustainable and to better protect the environment. The tourism industry of the South Pacific greatly depends on the coral reefs, yet the old ways were damaging the environment.  Coral gardening, if it is done by properly trained professionals, and as part of a wider conservation plan (and of course using the super corals), can help the corals survive into the future, while providing meaningful livelihoods for Pacific islanders.

JULY 15TH IS GLOBAL GIVING'S NEXT BONUS DAY:  GIFTS FROM $250 TO $1,000 RECEIVE A 30% TO 50% MATCH.  

Every gift is precious at any time.  Your thoughtful donations continue to restore life to ensure a dynamic, thriving reef seascape--one of our planet's richest ecosystems.

Here's a link which includes a fun minute video from Northern Lau by Vatuvara Foundation:  Watch--it's just like being with us> https://www.vatuvara.org/blog/2020/6/8/coral-restoration-in-northern-lau-for-a-healthy-and-safe-ocean?fbclid=IwAR05rltlFqB0tkTyNAbd9BYvtwZJPSUBOUj__kxYlW5hCPWtZr1EZ3mVEHM  

Thanks for helping make this important work a reality,

Austin

Transporting corals to the new algae-free nursery
Transporting corals to the new algae-free nursery
Volunteer helpers: Beka, Jope, and Joni
Volunteer helpers: Beka, Jope, and Joni
Securing mother corals to the nursery table
Securing mother corals to the nursery table
Mother corals will be trimmed to restore reefs
Mother corals will be trimmed to restore reefs
Team Coral:  Keleni, Tevita, Austin, and Sarah
Team Coral: Keleni, Tevita, Austin, and Sarah
May 26, 2020

Roosters and Coconuts to the Rescue

Fiji Salusalu Rooster
Fiji Salusalu Rooster

The colorful roosters are coming into their own high season here at the Happy Chicken farm- time for rebuilding and improving the flock to meet the increasing need for baby chicks.  The country is shut down due to Corona virus and imported chicks can no longer be flown into the country from New Zealand. Fiji normally imports over 20 million fertile eggs and chicks per year, providing poultry and eggs to much of the South Pacific region, but this crisis is affecting air transport. 

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 local chickens "jangli chickens" - a Hindi word, as we have a lot of people of Indian descent here. The word jangli means "wild"- the same word root as "jungle".

Breeding and then 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 our own productive dual purpose (for both eggs and meat), mixed breed of chickens.  We started by selecting the best local jangli roosters we could find and crossing them with imported shaver brown egg laying chickens, which were the only egg chickens allowed into the country from overseas.  Every year we raised up at least a hundred of these mixed breed chickens, and we sold off the smaller roosters and hens, and kept the biggest and the most beautiful.  So over the past ten years or so, we have produced a very productive mixed breed of chickens for the communities..... and the breed has gotten better with each passing year primarily through selecting the best roosters from each generation.

A good hen lays eggs for three years, but in mixed age flocks, (which most flocks are here), the farmers cannot 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, and so they will know which ones to select for culling (those that are ~4 years old). That is what my grandmother taught me, and really the only way to manage a multi-year flock.

Each breed is based on a unique color or form.  On researching 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 deciding which roosters to pair up with which sorts of hens, as I divide the chickens up into reasonable breeding groups, based on the closest heritage breeds.  We have some real beauties here at the farm, and I include some photos below from two of the new breeding groups.  From these groups we will soon collect the eggs and hatch the chicks and raise them up and then further select for size and color and egg production.  We hope that after three years, we will have created several good breeds for the country. 

I looked online yesterday at chicken breeds to try to figure out what some of my interesting chickens must be related to Norfolk Gray chickens, very rare breed, which seems to have somehow gotten to Fiji long ago. We are calling these gray/white fringed chickens "Saluasalu" chickens which means "flower lei".  Many of the happy chickens look somewhat like the Welsummer breed, and others.  In time we hope to produce breeds that look like Sussex, Australorp, Rhode Island Red, and Anconas.  One of the new breeding groups is a shiny greenish black rose comb chicken-some with small red markings around the neck, and with beautiful gold and red roosters with a glossy greenish black tail.  The Rose Comb birds are one of my best layers, but these hens also often hide their eggs in the bushes. The disappear for three weeks, only to reappear with a dozen fuzzy chicks following behind. For local farmers, these chickens will be important for hatching out their own chickens, and the rose comb eggs can be substituted for any eggs.

Addressing Impending Food Shortfalls Due to Covid-19 Import Restrictions:

Besides significant damage to the local farmers and village comunities from two cyclones since our last report, the most important development is that there is a developing shortage of imported egg laying chickens, which are required to maintain the egg industry of Fiji.  The imported chicks are no longer available, as the cargo flights are so few. In 6-9 months a shortage of eggs is expected to develop, and this situation might last for up to two years. W ithout egg producing chickens and abundant eggs, coral reef fish and river prawns will be targeted and could quickly become overfished. Our challenge now is how can we produce more high quality egg producing chickens in larger numbers- and quickly in the hatchery? 

With the culling of most of our hens last year, we are now getting only eight dozen eggs per week for hatching, not enough to scratch the surface of the needs.  So I called Pranil, a local egg and organic vegetable farmer on the coral coast, as he has 330 young brown egg layer hens, and I proposed to buy 20 of his hens for crossing with some of my best roosters, as I had five surplus breeding roosters.  What ended up happening is that I have given him five of my five best super roosters as barter, and 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.  Subsequent eggs from Pranil's farm will be hatched in our incubators and the chicks will split 50/50 between Pranil and the Happy Chicken project.  The eggs produced from these Fiji egg layer chickens will be of mixed colors, as three of the breeding roosters hatched from a light blue egg, they will father hens which lay olive green eggs, as dark brown + blue = olive green.  I will grow up 100 or so of these chickens, to see how fast they grow and how many eggs they lay etc for comparison with imported egg layers.  Assuming that they do really well, we will then have multi colored layers available for free-range small egg farmers.  That would help give the poor farmers of Fiji a boost.  So fingers crossed that this will work out for maximum benefit for all.  The first eight dozen of these eggs went into the incubator just yesterday.

Coconuts as Chicken and Human Food: Another long term vision is finally coming true!

After placing an order and paying for improved coconut seedlings four years ago, the seedlings finally arrived at the farm just two weeks ago!  The 5,000 coconut seedlings came by boat and truck all the way from Taveuni Island, three hundred kilometers distant.   When the trees mature in only five or six years, the they will bear magnificent large coconuts the size of soccer balls.  So we are also giving out these wonderful coconut seedlings to communities and to farmers of our happy chickens. The coconuts make excellent chicken feed, as well as human food plus numerous useful products, such as virgin coconut oil, vegan coconut cheese, toddy sugar, toddy vinegar, and soap.  We have begun training communities in production of these products, using coconuts already growing at the farm.

Salusalu Hens- Real Beauties
Salusalu Hens- Real Beauties
Fiji Rosecomb Rooster and Hens
Fiji Rosecomb Rooster and Hens
Pranil and brother and their organic farm
Pranil and brother and their organic farm
Happy Rooster and Imported Egg Layer Hens
Happy Rooster and Imported Egg Layer Hens
Coconut Seedlings by the Truck-load
Coconut Seedlings by the Truck-load
 
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