The genetics and history of chicken breeds is a fascinating subject and the more one looks into it the more really surprising things one finds out. For instance, so many of the breeds which are purported to come from exotic places seem to have their origin here in Britain. I assume that this was a sales pitch. If you could say that your new breed of back garden chucks came from Shanghai or Lima, or even just Russia or Poland you would get more buyers.
Of course I am not implying that there aren’t any exotic breeds. That would be ridiculous; but many breeds as we know them now were standardized in Britain and bear little relation to the strain that was first imported. We can see the same thing all happening again in America, where ‘exotic’ British breeds have been changed out of recognition, and now in our global society, the name has to be Americanized to differentiate it from the original British breed. In many of the oldest breeds, sadly, the actual origin is shrouded in mystery.
A momentary aside, with a general thought: – Britain is the great Breeding Nation! We have produced the highest proportion of the successful breeds of dogs cats horses pigeons and all farm animals and poultry that are found in the world today. Just. But for some reason we seem to have largely lost interest and other nations are taking over with better commercial breeds.
A breed really isn’t a static thing. There are subtle changes even when chicks are moved to a different breeder. This is why we have standards. A chicken must conform to the breed standard to be accepted as the breed, even if it can be proved that it has been bred on pure for generations. If breeders do not select the characteristics and breed on from their best birds, the flock would eventually revert to common barnyard fowl.
Here is a Barbu D’Anvers cross cockerel. It differs from standard in that A it lacks the lift at the back of the skull, B it is too big C it has the wrong colour legs, but the most interesting difference is D- too dark. This lovely deep black used to be the standard colour but over the years most of the black has been replace by buff. This was a particularly interesting bird because there was no dark coloured bird in his breeding. The colour seems to be a genuine ‘throwback’ to an older version of the breed.
Conversely it is often possible to pick out of a mixed barnyard flock a chicken that conforms perfectly to the standard of one breed or another. This is called a phenotype. I don’t know that many breeders would allow one of these ‘lookalikes’ into their flock. It would add new vigour especially to a rare inbred species, but the downside is that many or even all of the offspring would be non standard, and even if the flock was in general improved, non standard birds would keep cropping up for generations.
So people who fall in love with, and strive to perfect and show a breed, are conservative and very aware of even the tiniest difference in birds which other people would consider identical.
Power to their elbows! I think it is a wonderful thing to keep a breed and work it up to perfection.
The trouble with me is I am far too whimsical for my own good. I try to think of and do things that nobody has thought of or done before. Why would I even believe that there are such things? ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ they say. But are they right? Does the world, history, fashion, really go in cycles, or is the movement progressive, more helical than circular? Or perhaps wanting to create a new breed instead of trying to perfect one of the breeds I am fond of, is simply a question of cash. Good stock costs money, but picking up a few interesting looking chucks and experimenting doesn’t. Unless one counts the feed! For every decent bird I want to add to the breeding program there are ten that I want to get rid of, and I can only market them as back gardens.
Here is a mixed clutch of young birds, mainly cockerels from last year, showing a relatively new breed, the Sablepoot, bottom right, which was the only pure bred bird there. I had the egg from next door. But I found that I got the best vulture hocks (which Sablepoots also have as standard) from my ‘sport’hen Hockney. Two of the birds in the picture are showing them clearly.
Me, I just love experimenting. I loved lucky dips and surprise presents at Christmas and birthdays, even though they were less expensive than the things I knew I was going to get. I love beachcombing and going to boot fairs and jumble sales because you never know what you are going to find. It’s the same with chicken. Every chick I breed at the moment is wildly different. Unexpected colours and shapes are cropping up all over the place. In the six that hatched a week ago every chick was a different colour.
Well yes, this variation is normal for any mixed flock . And I know I will have to select a line and breed on. Right now I am looking for interesting and spectacular birds to create that line. Once it has begun to settle down I shall probably lose interest, but at the moment the one big question is have I ‘fixed’ the crowns?
One of my three oldest crowned pullets has made an adorable little nest, very neat, with a perfectly positioned little clutch. I have a feeling the eggs won’t be good because the little crowned cockerels which are slightly younger, may not be covering yet, but if she wants to sit on them I will let her, and if the hatch is successful I will have the answer this year to the question- do the crowns breed on? Crests of course are an easy thing to fix, although it will take some work getting them all the right shape. But there is a possibility that the unexpected success I have had this year with the crowns is only due to the crossing. It’s a good job I don’t bite my nails.
Here is a picture of the first mixed hatch this year. A very early start! Hmm,