Poul­try Peo­ple

Jeremy Hob­son talks to Sir Mark Prescott, Bt., renowned New­mar­ket race­horse trainer and well-re­spected game fowl fancier

Your Chickens - - Contents -

With Jeremy Hob­son

When did you first start keep­ing chick­ens – and were the Ox­ford va­ri­eties of Old English Game your first choice? I was first in­volved with chick­ens as a child – it was my job to look af­ter the lay­ers (Rhode Is­land Reds) at our home in Devon and then, on mov­ing to New­mar­ket, I met up with Hart­ley Hawes – an ex­cel­lent stock­man of all things, but par­tic­u­larly Old English Game. He gave me a trio of birds to ‘walk’ and I looked af­ter sev­eral trios for him be­fore get­ting my own.

When Hart­ley died, his son in­vited me along to take some of his stock…. and those, to­gether with birds from Felix Leach, were the nu­cleus of my strain of game fowl which I built up over a pe­riod of 22 years or so.

What is it about OEG that most ap­peals? Their his­tory – apart from any­thing else, no other bird or an­i­mal has given so much to the English lan­guage as have game birds and the old sport of cock­fight­ing: ‘flirting’; ‘com­ing up to scratch’; ‘show­ing a clean pair of heels’ are just some of so very many ex­pres­sions still in use to­day.

Look­ing at your pho­tos, it seems your game cocks were kept teth­ered in ‘teepees’ in the tra­di­tional way… how did you keep your breed­ing pens of birds? Yes, the cocks (or more prop­erly ‘stags’) were kept teth­ered in this way … as to my breed­ing birds, I usu­ally had about 10 trios set aside for breed­ing. With OEG, keep­ing them in trios is far bet­ter than flock-mat­ing. I hatched us­ing both in­cu­ba­tors and broody hens but only re­tained the best spec­i­mens so as to en­sure that I was al­ways breed­ing from the best stock.

Are there any fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences in keep­ing OEG and other breeds of chicken? It’s like the dif­fer­ence be­tween keep­ing a do­mes­tic dog and a wolf. They don’t think the same… and they are more ag­gres­sive than other types of chick­ens. They are noisy too…

You gave up keep­ing game fowl in 1991 – do you still miss them? I do. I loved the show­ing but I couldn’t de­vote the time to them. The horses were tak­ing up more time and the game birds grad­u­ally be­come a chore… and if you can’t look af­ter a bird or an­i­mal prop­erly, it’s best not to try, which is why I de­cided to put my birds up for auc­tion. When I’m old and re­tired, I’ll very prob­a­bly get some again!

Race­horse train­ing must be pretty stress­ful – did you use time spent with your OEG as a time for re­lax­ation? Time with your birds makes you think of dif­fer­ent things… things to­tally un­re­lated to day-to-day work. Also, as you know, chick­ens and sta­bles have also tra­di­tion­ally had a long con­nec­tion and it was good to keep that con­nec­tion go­ing.

Per­haps a silly ques­tion, but are there any sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween your train­ing of a horse and the train­ing of a bird for show? Yes. For both it’s im­por­tant for them to be quiet and con­fi­dent… give them time and don’t rush them; pa­tience is paramount. You’ve got to get both to their peak and to get them to present them­selves well – to stand up and show them­selves to their best ad­van­tage.

Old English Game birds

Sir Mark Prescott, in­set, and with birds in 1991

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