Q is for Qual­ity

An eclec­tic al­pha­bet of chicken facts with a dif­fer­ence. Com­piler: Andy Cawthray

Your Chickens - - A-z -


One of the best times to pick up new POL (point of lay) stock, both in terms of bird health and from a price per­spec­tive, is late sum­mer on­wards. This may seem an odd time to buy, with most peo­ple prob­a­bly think­ing spring would be the best, but a bird that is 20-25 weeks old in the sum­mer will have been hatched early spring, and will hope­fully have been al­lowed to grow on out­doors dur­ing the warm sum­mer months. It’s also very pos­si­ble that the bird will come into lay be­fore the on­set of win­ter, and sub­se­quently lay through­out the win­ter when older birds are rest­ing or moult­ing. In the spring any bird at 20-25 weeks of age will have spent sig­nif­i­cantly longer in­doors and pos­si­bly un­der ar­ti­fi­cial heat/light for a larger part of its grow­ing pe­riod.

From a price per­spec­tive, many breed­ers will have fin­ished se­lect­ing their stock for the next sea­son and ex­hi­bi­tion breed­ers will have picked out their show team, so there will be a lot of sur­plus stock on the mar­ket from late sum­mer on­wards. A lot of the stock will be high qual­ity, mak­ing the prices more com­pet­i­tive than ear­lier in the sea­son. This pro­vides the clever buyer a good chance of grab­bing a bar­gain too.


Spring is a good time to pur­chase breed­ing stock. Ideally, the birds will be at least 1 year old, will have gone through a moult, and pos­si­bly even have had a short breed­ing sea­son al­ready. Pur­chas­ing in the spring will pro­vide the long­est breed­ing pe­riod, and should en­able you to make an as­sess­ment of their qual­ity and the qual­ity of their prog­eny within the first 6-8 months of pur­chase, prior to the on­set of win­ter. Un­der-per­form­ing

birds, or those that are not breed­ing cor­rectly, can then be re­moved or sold on be­fore the win­ter ar­rives, re­mov­ing the cost of over win­ter­ing the stock.


By def­i­ni­tion, an ex­am­ple of a breed that is deemed as be­ing of show or ex­hi­bi­tion qual­ity is a bird that ex­hibits all the vis­ual ap­pear­ances re­quired for the stan­dard of that par­tic­u­lar breed and plumage type that, at the right time of year, and when pre­pared for an ex­hi­bi­tion, would stand a chance of be­ing placed and re­ceiv­ing a rosette. The key points here are ‘vis­ual ap­pear­ance’ and ‘stan­dards’. Show qual­ity birds meet the re­quire­ments of the show bench, even if they do not nec­es­sar­ily meet the orig­i­nal re­quire­ments or in­ten­tions in the de­vel­op­ment of the breed. For ex­am­ple, an Or­p­ing­ton was orig­i­nally an ex­cel­lent lay­ing bird with good ta­ble qual­i­ties. It is now pre­dom­i­nantly a pro­fusely feath­ered or­na­ment, whose util­ity value has long since been lost in the drive for ex­cel­lence on the show bench.

This is a point worth bear­ing in mind when set­ting out to pur­chase a pure breed, as show qual­ity birds may serve you well in a show but not in the kitchen.


This is stock that will have some de­fect within its fea­tures that would pro­hibit it from tak­ing any hon­ours at a show, but does have the ge­netic makeup and po­ten­tial to be used to breed a show­ing-win­ning bird. It is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that two show win­ners, when bred to­gether, will au­to­mat­i­cally pro­duce many more show win­ners. They don’t, and, in fact, they rarely will.


There is noth­ing wrong with this level of qual­ity if all you are look­ing for are chick­ens that pro­vide a bit of in­ter­ac­tion and per­haps lay a few eggs into the deal along the way. Usu­ally, th­ese are pure breed chick­ens that are sub-show-stan­dard, and shouldn’t be used as part of a pure breed breed­ing pro­gramme. It doesn’t make them any less of a chicken, but it also doesn’t mean they are nec­es­sar­ily pet-like in their be­hav­iour, or docile in their tem­per­a­ment. You still need to make sure you se­lect the right sort of breed if that is what you are look­ing for from your stock.


This is al­most syn­ony­mous with the term ‘dual pur­pose’, as it refers to chick­ens that will serve the keeper well both in terms of eggs and meat. It is worth men­tion­ing here as ‘util­ity’ is a func­tion that is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing recog­nised within the show cir­cuit. The Sus­sex breed, for ex­am­ple, en­joys a buoy­ant show pres­ence when plumage etc are judged, but, in­creas­ingly, the util­ity value of the bird is be­ing con­sid­ered and favoured above its look. If pur­chas­ing pure breed chick­ens with their prac­ti­cal live­stock as­pects in mind, as op­posed to show­ing, then seek­ing out a good util­ity line is im­por­tant (just as look­ing for good layer or ta­ble lines are, if those are the re­quire­ments you have). There is many a show-win­ning Leghorn, a breed renown for lay­ing huge num­bers of eggs, that has had that char­ac­ter­is­tic lost through breed­ing purely for show qual­i­ties


Whilst ‘Ta­ble’ or ‘Meat’ breeds are a de­fined group within pure breed chick­ens, it is pos­si­ble to cre­ate a bird through cross­ing that, whilst not pure, still ex­hibits the re­quired qual­i­ties of the breed type. Such char­ac­ter­is­tics are a broad breast, deep body, a wide flat back, and, ideally, a chicken that grows and feath­ers quickly. Many small-scale keep­ers have made cross­ings us­ing breeds such as In­dian Game in or­der to at­tain th­ese qual­i­ties. The re­sult won’t be a pure breed, and is un­likely to breed true, but it will pro­duce some­thing suit­able for the ta­ble.


It is also pos­si­ble to pro­duce a bird that, through care­ful cross­ing, will pro­duce off­spring that match the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a layer type, but are not in fact a pure breed or ca­pa­ble of breed­ing true. The qual­i­ties of a layer type are the abil­ity to lay over 200 eggs a year (ideally over 280 for the best in­di­vid­u­als in a flock). They should also come into lay as early pos­si­ble, at least by twenty-one to twenty-four weeks of age, and they should be light in frame and body mass.

Ix­worth util­ity stock

Stock reared for au­tumn lay­ing

ABOVE LEFT: Marans make ex­cel­lent lay­ers of brown eggs ABOVE RIGHT: An An­cona BE­LOW: Ex­am­in­ing po­ten­tial breed­ing stock

A Bresse 12-week-old util­ity breed

A spring breed­ing trio

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