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

Your Chickens - - Contents -

‘T’ is for Type


It could be said that the only thing th­ese breeds have in com­mon is that they do not sit eas­ily within any of the other breed groups of lay­ers, meat, game, or dual pur­pose. This is not to say that all the mem­bers of this group type have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics. In fact many do share some of key as­pects of those breed groups; some are light and flighty and make ex­cel­lent lay­ers, oth­ers have strong game bird ori­gins and at­tributes, whilst oth­ers, such as the Brahma, are huge docile birds, who were at some time used for meat.

What many of the breeds have in com­mon, though, is that they carry hered­i­tary fea­tures that are of­ten unique to that spe­cific breed, be it beards, feather pat­tern, or length of leg. It is th­ese fea­tures that are a di­ag­nos­tic of the breed iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and its ori­gins. It would, how­ever, be im­pos­si­ble to pro­vide a gen­eral pro­file of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of this group of birds be­yond say­ing that they are ‘showy’. They of­ten have a high main­te­nance ap­pear­ance and this can be a labour of love for the keeper, but, if man­aged cor­rectly, they can epit­o­mise what it was like to keep and breed poul­try dur­ing the Hen Fever of the nine­teenth cen­tury.


True Ban­tams, in the main, tend to be or­na­men­tal birds, and have a ‘showy’ char­ac­ter. They are not known for their egg lay­ing qual­i­ties, but given the right con­di­tions they will pro­vide a rea­son­ably steady sup­ply. A num­ber of the breeds in this group also show a propen­sity to­wards go­ing broody, and make ex­cel­lent mothers, with the cock­erels of­ten help­ing in the rear­ing of the young. As such, it is safe to con­clude that this type of poul­try is more as­so­ci­ated with the ex­hi­bi­tion scene than the house­hold econ­omy. It is on th­ese points that they dif­fer from those ban­tams that are sim­ply a minia­turised ver­sion of a large fowl breed. Those types of ban­tam tend to ex­hibit char­ac­ter­is­tics sim­i­lar to their larger cousins, though many

breed­ers would say they show a lit­tle more ‘at­ti­tude’ to­wards the keeper. This is pos­si­bly brought about by the fo­cus on breed­ing pri­mar­ily for size to the ne­glect of tem­per­a­ment. As the true ban­tams have no large fowl coun­ter­part, the dis­po­si­tion of the breed group is more de­fined, and usu­ally re­sults in a proud stature and a bird that eas­ily be­comes used to be­ing han­dled.


Within the ex­hi­bi­tion scene the ‘rare breed’ refers to those breeds of chicken that don’t have a club fol­low­ing of their own. As such, they are grouped to­gether as rare breeds, and are man­aged in the UK by the Rare Poul­try So­ci­ety. Out­side of the ex­hi­bi­tion cir­cuit a rare breed tends to be de­fined at a coun­try, con­ti­nen­tal, or global level, and the def­i­ni­tion re­lates to the num­bers of the par­tic­u­lar breed within the spec­i­fied ge­og­ra­phy. This refers to the group of tra­di­tional chicken breeds that have de­vel­oped through many decades of care­ful breed­ing. The def­i­ni­tion varies ac­cord­ing to dif­fer­ent coun­tries and dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tions, plus they are also of­ten re­ferred to as “Her­itage Breeds”. This is, per­haps, a more ac­cu­rate ti­tle, as it is widely held that in or­der to fit within the pure/her­itage breed cat­e­gory a va­ri­ety must have ex­isted, and been a rec­og­nized poul­try breed, prior to the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tury (pre-1950). This is per­haps one rea­son why ‘new’ breeds can strug­gle to be ac­cepted by breed or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Other cri­te­ria for a breed to be con­sid­ered pure or her­itage is that it must re­pro­duce through nat­u­ral mat­ing, have a moder­ate or slow growth rate (and not that of a com­mer­cial broiler), have the ge­netic makeup to live what would be con­sid­ered an av­er­age life­span for a non-com­mer­cial chicken, and be ca­pa­ble of sur­viv­ing out­doors in nat­u­ral con­di­tions.


This group con­sists of any off­spring that are the prod­uct of a mat­ing be­tween a cock and a hen of two dif­fer­ent breeds. It is a gen­er­al­iza­tion which more usu­ally refers to the ‘ac­ci­den­tal’ mat­ing of two dif­fer­ent breeds, rather than an pre­med­i­tated mat­ing that was in­tended to in­tro­duce a ge­netic trait into a more com­pre­hen­sive, long-term breed­ing pro­gramme.


Un­like with the group above, this tends to re­fer to the off­spring pro­duced from in­ten­tion­ally cross­ing two dif­fer­ent breeds of chicken. Th­ese chick­ens may them­selves not be pure breeds, but a gen­er­a­tion of hy­brids them­selves. Hy­brid breed­ing tends to be per­formed with a spe­cific end game in mind. This could be for the pro­duc­tion of fast-grow­ing bird for the ta­ble, an im­proved egg layer, etc.

As hy­brids are the re­sult of mat­ings be­tween two dif­fer­ent breeds (or hy­brids), then the prog­eny will not breed true and re­pro­duce repli­cas of them­selves and in or­der to achieve the same re­sult in terms of off­spring the orig­i­nal mat­ing needs to be re­peated.


Th­ese are chick­ens specif­i­cally de­signed for egg or meat pro­duc­tion. They are in­vari­ably lab­o­ra­tory de­signed with one of ob­jec­tive in mind: to cre­ate the max­i­mum amount of prod­uct at the most ef­fi­cient feed con­sump­tion rate within a fixed pe­riod of time.

ABOVE: A Bra­ban­ter or­na­men­tal fowl LEFT: A true ban­tam - the Ja­panese

TOP: Owl­beards are clas­si­fied as rare and have no UK club ABOVE: A com­mer­cial strain LEFT: A pure breed Ger­man Lang­shan

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