SAY WHAT? YES. CHICKENS. POULTRY. Cluck-cluck. Cockadoodledoo. Because, dear readers, what better way to usher in the Year of the Rooster than to appreciate these birds in all their splendour. And these are some pretty splendorous beauties we ─ or at least I ─ never knew existed until well…now.
Most of the rarer ones are not bred for the dinner table obviously (we’ll run another article on 8 ‘Did-You-Knows’ about Chickens u just gotta know later, we’ve always taken these chooks for granted haven’t we?) but rest assured, most are prized as ornamental showpieces with the most stupendous show breeds fetching premiums worth thousands. So they are not due for the pot at any time soon. In fact, some of these birds are so rare they are on the endangered species list and are thus, very valued and carefully procreated and reproduced to ensure they never lose their place in this world. Serious!
Did you know that there’s even a club in England called the Poultry Club of Great Britain? Founded in 1877, the registered charity was established to safeguard the interests of all pure and traditional poultry breeds including chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. As guardians of the ‘British Poultry Standards’, the Club plays a crucial role in protecting stock bloodlines over the generations. They also hold judging and championship shows with national certificates such as Best of Breed, just like dog and cat shows. So you see, poultry aficionado-ism is very serious stuff! And, the Poultry Club of Great Britain is not the only such club in the world ─ there are many others in other countries set up to do the same.
But let’s get on with the show. Here we go:
The Onagadori is an ancient Japanese breed that dates back to the 1600’s. These are birds with tails that molt only once every three or more years. Thus they can achieve exceptional tail lengths from 12 to 27ft ─ in metres, that’s close to 9m! The breed was developed from another long-tailed Japanese chicken, the Shokoko, and originated in the Kochi Prefecture of Japan.
Apparently, great care is taken in the feeding and housing of the roosters which are confined to perches to encourage tail growth. The tails are tied in loops using silk strips to maintain them.
2 The Phoenix
“The Phoenix are chickens with long but shorter tails than the Onagadori because Phoenixes molt each year or every-other-year. They tend to have wide, rigid sickle feathers of two to five feet in length and saddle feather of 12 to 18 inches. The Phoenix chicken breed is a result of European attempts to maintain long-tailed fowl from imported, Japanese chickens.
The first president of the National German Poultry Association, Hugo du Roi, is credited with the creation of the Phoenix breed. The long-tailed birds imported before 1900 represented a small population of chickens with delicate constitutions. Mr du Roi made the decision to outcross to try and invigorate this small population and keep alive long-tailed fowls in Europe. It is worth speculating that the name “Phoenix” was given to the resultant chickens to acknowledge the seeming “rise from the ashes” of their soon lost parents.” Excerpt from www.vancats.ru/Kuri_Porodi_feniks.htm
Phoenix chickens have been found in America since 1924. They are recognized by the American Poultry Association as a standard breed.
3 Belgian Bearded d’Uccle Bantam
The Belgian Bearded d’Uccle (pronounced dew-clay) are also known as Belgian Bantams, Belgian Bearded D’Uccles, Belgian Bearded Bantams, and Mille Fleurs and originated from the town of Uccle, just outside Brussels, Belgium. The breed came into being in the early 19th Century and was created by a Belgian man by the name of Michael Van Gelder. These chickens have a distinct look and are characterised by their beards and feathered feet and legs. Belgian Bantams are considered True Bantams (chickens that are a quarter to one third the size of regular chickens) and are thus, small birds. They are calm and non-aggressive too and make great pets.
“Shear elegance” is the word used to describe these rare, brilliant, pure white chickens with plumage: red across the shoulders and back, red breast with white flecks in the Red Shouldered variety; long flowing type long saddle feathers and sickle feathers dragging the ground. These tails are not easy to care for especially since they are white and are easy to dirty or damage on the wrong kind of ground, and these are not large chickens. The males only weigh up to 3kg with the females about half the weight and if they are bantams (as explained above for definition of smaller chickens) then even lighter and tinier.
Apparently this species of poultry is not very friendly to humans and chickens alike (read: aggressive) and have poor egg-laying abilities. But they do tend to make good mothers. Obviously suited as showbirds, the chickens were imported to France in 1864 by a French missionary and have a history that purportedly traces back to Japan although in confirming its origin, Japan says it never had a chicken called a Yokohama in their country.
5 The Polish
Can they see where they’re going? That is the million-dollar question.
For the Polish, it’s crazy hair day everyday! In England, they are known as Poland. Whatever the name, they are all characterised by their bouffant ‘hairdo’ which sometimes, maybe all times, impedes their vision. These chickens come in a different variety of colours ─ golden, silverlaced, white crested blue, white crested black, buff-laced etc etc. Even the chicks are born frazzled as you can see in the pic above! Apparently, they are one of the oldest- known pure breeds dating back as the 16th Century and probably originated on the Continent itself, but nothing is truly known about its origins.
6 The Silkie (and Silkie Bantam)
We’ve all heard of the Silky Terrier in the dog world. It’s a small dog that’s cute but not exactly fluffy as it has long, silky tresses that glisten. But in the chicken world, the Silkie (spelt like this) looks like the above collage of them ─ a fluff ball of white or multi hues that are more poodle-like and “teacup” sized (if equated with the dog world) if they are bantams.
Apparently, this is a Chinese breed with origins tracing back to China (hence the other name for the bird is: Chinese silk chicken). So the Silkie fowl as opposed to the Silky terrier, is the “lapdog” or the “lap kitten” of the chicken world. It is interesting to note, that the earliest surviving written account of Silkies comes from Marco Polo, who wrote of a “furry chicken” in the 13th century during his travels in Asia.
The Silkie chicken has characteristic fluffy plumage said to feel like silk and satin, hence the name. The breed has several other unusual qualities, such as black skin and bones, blue earlobes, and five toes on each foot, whereas most chickens only have four. It’s polydactyl.
Silkie hens are great layers, are very broody (meaning: want to hatch eggs and raise chicks all the time), make great mothers (are known to adopt baby ducks if given the chance), are the most docile breed of the chicken world and therefore, are ideal as pets. Silkies are unable to fly, have two distinct varieties: bearded and non-bearded and in the American Standard of Perfection, the standard male weight for the bantam Silkie is 1 kg (36 oz) and for the female, 907 g (32 oz).
7 Ayam Cemani
Black is beautiful and in the case of the Ayam Cemani, everything about the specie is black. From its tongue to its beak, comb, wattles, feet, nails to its feathers and skin, even organs like eyes and internal ones and muscles are black. Are the eggs black?
Er…no. The eggs are cream coloured with a slight pink tint. Sorry to disappoint. But despite its fierce colouration, these guys are apparently friendly but non-broody meaning to say the hens are not very maternal and rarely bother to hatch their own eggs.
The “magic” in the Cemani is that they have a dominant gene that causes hyperpigmentation called Fibromelanosis which makes the chicken entirely black. Simply put, it is excess pigmentation gene resulting in the spillover everywhere.
But these unusual birds are highly sought after – both as trophy birds and also for their meat and eggs. In the US where they have been exported to, they fetch a handsome price of USD$2500 per fowl according to Wikipedia.
Here’s a story in the UK’s Daily Mail in 2015 which reports the Cemani, also dubbed the “Lamborghini of Poultry” (ahem) are priced at US$200 (£130) for their one day-old chicks of unknown sex, according to a Florida-based company called Greenfire Farms which sells them. See video below:
Ayam Cemani of Green Fire Farms, USA
But why go all the way to the US when the ORIGINAL and the Best Ayam Cemani is next door in Indonesia? Here’s a video from www.cemanifarms.com, Indonesia: (By the way, you will hear in the video, the sound of the Laughing Chicken. They laugh just like humans, yikes! The farms exports that breed too. Its not the Cemani laughing ya?)
Ayam Cemani of Cemani Farms, Indonesia
8 Ayam Serama
Let’s keep number 8 to Malaysia!!! Fatt Fatt Fatt! Heh heh! After all, this is OUR original breed!
Weighing in at only 500gm and measuring no taller than 6 inches (15cm or so), the Serama (in Malay ─ Ayam Serama), also called the Malaysian Serama (obviously) is a bantam breed originating in Kelantan within the last 50 years. So it’s a pretty “modern” predilection for us.
Apparently the breed was achieved through the crossing of Japanese and Malaysian bantams. Another story says the birds were a gift of some small chickens by the King of Thailand to a local sultan in ancient times. Small chickens have always been popular pets here and are often referred to as “ayam katik” (pygmy chickens) and “ayam cantik” (pretty chickens).
The modern breed however is attributed to the efforts of Wee Yean Een from Kelantan, who named the breed “Serama” after Rama, the title of the Kings of Thailand.The breed was first exhibited in 1990. But in the Asian bird flu epidemic of 2004, many birds were culled.
There are no written standards for the breed I’m afraid although there is an overall guide on scoring and judging for competitions here. The prize for the winning birds can be quite a bit of money.
Chief characteristic of the bird, apart from its size and shape is the STRUT. Chest out, shoulders back and head thrown back in a proud stance with a carriage of pomp and circumstance. The overall personality is that of a small brave, bold chicken with a persona of a fearless warrior or toy soldier. Go see the videos included below:
Ayam Serama Berharga RM13,000
Pertandingan Raja Serama Tasik Kenyir 2016
The Frizzle is all about those curls. Curled or frizzled plumage that whorl outwards and don’t lie flat so it gives these chickens a bed-head look (like they just jumped out of bed with hair in a mess). According to Wikipedia, the Frizzle is thought to have originated in Asia (Southern Asia, Philippines, Java) as frizzled chickens have been reported from the Far East since the 18th Century.
Frizzles, say many of its its lovers like backyardchickencoops.com.au, are a docile, gentle and quiet chicken breed that are kept primarily for the show ring. The bantam variety are much more popular than the larger type.
The colours varieties include white, black, blue, buff and silver-grey. They have a good temperament and are generally hardy birds.
And finally, lets get to the giants in the chicken world ─ The Brahma.
Weighing in at 5.5kg (12lbs) for the males and 4.5kg for females (9.9kg), these stately, massive birds with the upright carriage are good egg layers of 55 to 60g (Grade AA) brown eggs. Their temperament is calm and they are raised primarily for meat although many are kept for shows and exhibitions.
Brahmas, some standing at almost 40inches tall, are often called the “King of chickens” for obvious reasons. They have feathered legs and feet with profuse, fluffy feathering and have a calm, dignified deportment when they walk ─ almost like a king holding his arms behind his back surveying his kingdom and palace. It’s a fancy breed which is quiet too and that makes them a suitable pet with high “huggability” quotient! That, and the fact that one of its breeders at http://countrysidenetwork.com says he has never come across a mean-spirited Brahma. Most are friendly and trusting.
Originally from India where they were bred for meat, Brahmas, which come in three colours of dark, buff and light, were developed in the United States from very large birds imported from Shanghai. Actually, they were once known as Shanghai birds. The Brahma was the principal meat breed in the US from the 1850s until about 1930 until commercialisation of this particular fowl ran out of favour. And thankfully so too.
Found this story fascinating? Read more wondrous tales of the Chicken-and-Egg here.
Some may be good for your health
And to end our show today, watch Poultry in Motion….
The Beauty of Heritage Chickens