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How a P.E.I. man’s champion chickens are preserving heritage breeds

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Trevor MacDonald from Murray River, about 55 kilometres southeast of Charlottetown, proudly holds up one of his newest chickens — a silver spangled Hamburg that he hopes will be a contender in next year’s poultry shows.

This particular breed originated in northern Europe hundreds of years ago. “It was the first breed I had when I started as a kid and you kind of get attached,” MacDonald said. 

“There’s six colours of the breed,” he said. “I’ve raised all six colours of them one time or another and just the shape and the symmetry and the colour, all those things together have made it one of my choice breeds over all these years.”

‘I’ll buy mature breeding stock and then raise the chickens from them and then at the end of the year, go through them, and pick out the good ones,’ says MacDonald. (Pat Martel/CBC)

MacDonald, who’s a substitute teacher, has about 150 fancy chickens and 50 show pigeons in his coop. But it’s the chickens that stole his heart long ago. 

He started showing them at local fairs 40 years ago. “I got into it as a kid. My dad had a few, a couple of great uncles that were into it at that time and some cousins.” 

‘These were the only breeds’

Although silver spangled Hamburgs may look good, they don’t lay a lot of eggs like their commercial cousins. But MacDonald is unapologetic. “These were the only breeds that were … on the family farm a hundred years ago.

“They don’t have a place in modern day commercial agriculture because they don’t grow fast enough,” MacDonald said. “They don’t lay enough eggs in the run of a year like the commercial strains do.” 

This dark brahma bantam has fluffy feathers growing around its legs. (Pat Martel/ CBC)

MacDonald is doing his part to keep the heritage breeds alive. “If it weren’t for the purebred breeders, these breeds would be a thing of the past.” 

MacDonald knows what judges look for in a show breed. After all, he’s been showing his birds at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto for 36 years — a reminder of a time when chickens were valued not just for the number of eggs they laid, but for their inherent beauty.

‘There’s no money made in this game,’ says MacDonald. ‘When you look at the bills at the end of the year, it’s a hobby. It’s been a fun one for a long time.’ (Pat Martel/CBC)

‘Nice comb on him, nice head’

Over the years, MacDonald’s chickens have strutted home with dozens of ribbons from competitions in Canada and the U.S. 

He gently strokes the feathers of his contender, pointing out some its outstanding features. “Judges are going to be looking for size, the shape of the breed. Nice comb on him, nice head.

“The comb should be pointed at the back like he is, and nice and wide at the front with the little bumps on top.” 

‘Thirty-six years in a row at the Royal and very few Islanders have shown any exhibits at the Royal for that many years, so it’s something to be proud of,’ says MacDonald. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The show judges follow written standards, even giving points for the proper leg colour. “Slate blue and that’s the required colour,” MacDonald said. “Some have black legs, some have yellow legs. This breed calls for blue so they have to be the blue legs.”

And there’s more.”The tail and the feathering should all have these nice rich spangles on them, these black tips on the feathers all the way through, so all those things combined, the judge is going to compare him to the next one in the pen.”

While silver spangled Hamburgs are MacDonald’s favourite breed, he likes to try new ones. He’ll buy mature breeding stock and then raise the chickens from them.

‘These were the only breeds that were the on the family farm a hundred years ago,’ says MacDonald. (Pat Martel/CBC)

“This one I picked up at the Royal, so I’ll use it as a breeder for next year.”  The chicken has fluffy feathers growing around its legs, “Somebody got the idea of breeding for certain characteristics and that became a characteristic of the breed.”

MacDonald never tires of going to the fairs. It’s his 36th year in a row at the Royal. “Very few Islanders have shown any exhibits of any kind at the Royal for that many years, so it’s certainly something to be pretty proud of — to be part of it for so long.”

‘They taste a little bit better’

One of the questions MacDonald gets most from a curious public stopping by his booth during fairs is whether his fancy chickens taste as good as their commercial counterparts.

“Some would argue they taste a little bit better, because they’re home-raised, they’re not pushed through the system.”

‘It’s 40 years ago since I started showing chickens,’ says MacDonald. ‘My dad had a few, a couple of great uncles that were in it and some cousins and we all kind of got at it.’ (Pat Martel/CBC)

MacDonald added that the chicken you buy at the store was probably only eight weeks old when it was killed while his chickens that don’t go on tour are about eight months old when they’re eaten.

But the show birds that join the travelling team usually don’t end up on the table. “Once they get old, they’re going to get tough.”

‘I had about a dozen pigeons at the Royal and they placed very, very well — as well as the chickens did,’ says MacDonald. ‘I’ve shown pigeons for probably 35 years.’ (Pat Martel/CBC)

So is this a hobby or a business for MacDonald? 

“Business? Are you kidding? No, there’s no money made in this game. It’s a hobby, that’s all it ever is,” he said.

‘Not a money-making proposition’

“If you’re going to have healthy livestock, you gotta feed them well,” he said. “Certainly, it’s not a money-making proposition when you look at the bills at the end of the year.

“It’s a hobby. It’s been a fun one for a long time.”

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Ottawa unveils funding for poultry and egg farmers hurt by free-trade deals

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Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share due to two recent free-trade agreements will soon have access to $691 million in federal cash, Canada’s agriculture minister announced Saturday.

Marie-Claude Bibeau shared details of the long-awaited funds in a virtual news conference.

“Today we position our young farmers for growth and success tomorrow,” she said.

The money follows a previously announced $1.75 billion for the dairy sector linked to free-trade deals with Europe and countries on the Pacific Rim, one that came into effect in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The dairy sector funds were to flow over eight years, and the first $345 million payment was sent out last year.

But on Saturday, Bibeau announced a schedule for the remaining payments that will see the money flow over three years — beginning with $468 million in 2020-21, $469 million in 2021-22 and $468 million in 2022-23.

Bibeau said the most recently announced funds for dairy farmers amount to an average farm of 80 cows receiving a direct payment of $38,000 in the first year.

Payments based on formulas

David Wiens, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said the money will help farms make investments for the future.

“I think particularly for the younger farmers who have really struggled since these agreements have been ratified, they can actually now see opportunities, how they can continue to make those investments on the farm so that they can continue on,” he said.

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Employee of Ottawa Metro store tests positive for COVID-19

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Metro says an employee of its grocery store on Beechwood Avenue in Ottawa has tested positive for COVID-19.

The company says the employee’s positive test result was reported on Nov. 25. The employee had last been at work at the Metro at 50 Beechwood Ave. on Nov. 19.

Earlier this month, Metro reported several cases of COVID-19 at its warehouse on Old Innes Road.

Positive test results were reported on Nov. 2, Nov. 6, Nov. 11, and Nov. 19. The first two employees worked at the produce warehouse at 1184 Old Innes Rd. The other two worked at the distribution centre at the same address.

Metro lists cases of COVID-19 in employees of its stores and warehouses on its website

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Tinseltown: Where 50-year-old ‘tough guys’ become youngsters again

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Audy Czigler wears glitter like a Pennsylvania miner wears coal dust. It’s on his face and hands, in his hair and on his clothing. It’s an occupational hazard that he says he just can’t get rid of.

And when he’s sifting through job applications from people wanting to work at his Tinseltown Christmas Emporium on Somerset Street W. in Hintonburg, the glitter is a consideration. For he’s not looking for people who can simply endure it; no, he’s screening for people who revel and carouse in glitter, for those for whom the 10,000th playing of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is as refreshing as the first, for those who believe that the 12 days of Christmas last 365 days a year. The believers.

Sure, he has heard the voices of skeptical passersby on the sidewalk outside his shop, especially in the summer months when visions of sugarplums have receded from many people’s minds.

“I hear them out there a few times a day,” he says, “wondering how a Christmas store can possibly survive year-round.

“I want to go out and tell them,” he adds, but his voice trails off as a customer approaches and asks about an ornament she saw there recently, of a red cardinal in a white heart. Where is it?

There’s scant room for sidewalk skeptics now, crowded out by the dozens of shoppers who, since October, have regularly lined up outside the store, patiently biding their time (and flocks) as pandemic-induced regulations limit the shop to 18 customers at a time.

Once inside, visitors will be forgiven for not first noticing the glitter, or even the rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside playing on the speakers. For there’s no specific “first thing” you notice. The first thing you notice is EVERYTHING — a floor-to-ceiling cornucopia of festivity, reminiscent perhaps of how the blind man in the Gospel of John may have felt when Jesus rubbed spit and mud in his eyes and gave him sight for the first time.

https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/tinseltown-where-50-year-old-tough-guys-become-youngsters-again

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