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