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Dagel's been raising chickens for nearly a decade

By Renae Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 04/11/2013 9:08 AM

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SIBLEY, Iowa — Hannah Dagel has welcomed baby chicks to the family farm since she was just three years old -- a decade ago. Her father, Jeremiah, convinced her mother, Mary, that raising a few chickens would be fun.

Those first few chicks helped build multiple enterprises that keep Hannah and her younger brother, James, busy and learning as they share their poultry knowledge with younger siblings, Rachel and Josiah.

They look forward to the arrival of poultry catalogs. They read through the descriptions of the birds. Often Hannah will add information gleaned from reading dozens of books on poultry. Her birthday wish list always includes a new book.

Hannah is looking for just the right chicken to exhibit at the Osceola County Fair. A member of the Westerners 4-H Club, she has been awarded numerous grand champion and reserve champion ribbons. She plans on participating in more poultry shows this year, beginning with the United Poultry Fanciers Show in Avoca in May.

Show preparation begins months in advance. Hannah practices holding the bird and posing it on a table. It's important that feathers are in prime condition. Some chicken breeds have a more active personality, such as the Sumatra, which is a favorite of hers.

"They are beautiful birds," said Hannah. "They keep you on your toes, as they are capable of flying five miles."

There are about 250 breeding pairs of Sumatra known to exist. They don't lay many eggs. They mostly are raised for show birds. The Sumatra is closely related to the jungle fowl, she said.

Hannah has two bantam Sumatra birds, a hen named Java and a rooster named Vulcan.

The Sumatras aren't the only rare birds on the Dagel farm. When ordering chicks, half the birds are breeds that have a reputation for egg laying. The other half contains ornamental birds from which Hannah chooses her show birds.

She has been working with Modern Game Bantams this year. The long-legged birds were developed in Britain. Hannah has named the rooster Zancos, which is a Spanish word that means stilts.

Keeping an eye out for rare birds, the Dagel family has the Iowa Blue breed. Several hatcheries sold the chicks in the 1960s, but as poultry raising diminished on farms, the number of hatcheries also declined. The bird almost became extinct.

Chickens for show and egg laying are not the only poultry kept on the farm. More than a century old, the barn was originally built by Mary Dagel's great-grandfather, Harm Feldkamp, in 1897. Heritage turkey breeds soon will arrive by mail.

Ducks have captured 10-year-old James' interest. He has Cayuga, Swedish Blue and Runner breeds. A member of the Ocheyedan Indian 4-H club, he has started taming the small ducks in preparation for the Osceola County Fair.

Mary Dagel is happy that her husband talked her into chickens 10 years ago. The children have learned responsibility and more.

"I remember my great-aunt and grandmother having chickens. It has been good to keep that part of my heritage as well as be a part of keeping rare breeds alive," she said.