Poul­try Peo­ple

Co Ty­rone-based Ryan McLaren is a re­spected poul­try breeder, ex­hibitor and show judge who has en­joyed plenty of suc­cess on the show cir­cuit with his cock birds, finds Jeremy Hob­son

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Ryan McLaren and his show win­ners — male and fe­male

How did you first be­come in­ter­ested in chick­ens? Hav­ing grown up on a farm, I’ve had chick­ens al­most all my life. I’ve been breed­ing pure-bred poul­try since the age of seven, be­gin­ning with tra­di­tional breeds, such as the Sus­sex.

What breeds do you keep now? I keep too many to list them all. I ex­hibit along­side some very good friends — and do so un­der the show name Adams and McLaren. We keep an ar­ray be­tween us, but my favourites are White Wyan­dottes, Black, Buff, Mot­tled and Cuckoo Cochins, Buff Or­p­ing­tons, Brah­mas, Kraienkoppes and Red­sad­dled Yoko­hamas.

As an ex­hibitor, have you found that your cock birds win more prizes than your hens? Not nec­es­sar­ily. Gen­er­ally a good judge will place the best bird ir­re­spec­tive of sex. If any­thing, I’ve found that the fe­males from my yard tend to prove them­selves in the show pen bet­ter than the males. We have been known to en­ter 250 birds at shows here in North­ern Ire­land and one man’s favourite could be dis­liked by an­other — which is of­ten the case.

As a show judge, what at­tributes/ char­ac­ter­is­tics seen in an in­di­vid­ual cock bird would make you want to take it home? The best birds al­ways have at­ti­tude, by which I mean that a bird shouldn’t be shy in a show cage. The best cock in your yard could look the worst in the show pen — it’s the birds that come from your yard and look bet­ter in the pen that you need to look out for. A chicken doesn’t win un­less it wants to. It re­ally is that sim­ple.

Un­less they want to breed from their birds, do you think it’s nec­es­sary or ad­vis­able for the av­er­age back garden chicken keeper to have a cock bird in their flock? Per­son­ally, I wouldn’t ad­vise back garden keep­ers that they need to keep a cock bird. A lot of time peo­ple like the idea of hav­ing Na­ture’s alarm clock 20 yards away. How­ever, not ev­ery­one’s neigh­bours would agree with this. The other prob­lem with hav­ing a cock bird is that it pro­vides the ex­cuse to hatch chicks, but gen­er­ally half of these or more will be males and not ev­ery­one knows what to do with all these ad­di­tional cock­erels.

At a show, do you ever hear the gen­eral pub­lic ad­mir­ing cock birds more than the hens be­cause of their colour­ing and at­ti­tude? Of course. The sheer size of many of the large fowl on dis­play at­tracts at­ten­tion. That’s why I’m so keen on the Brah­mas, Cochins, Or­p­ing­tons and Wyan­dottes, as a male of these de­mands your at­ten­tion if they are true to stan­dard.

When it comes to se­lect­ing a breed­ing pen of birds, how im­por­tant is the qual­ity of the cock bird you choose? Would you, for ex­am­ple, ever put a medi­ocre male with top qual­ity hens if he had some good at­tributes, but wasn’t quite to Poul­try Club stan­dard? The cock bird can make or break your breed­ing sea­son. If your male doesn’t fer­tilise eggs then you have no chicks. I tend to try and breed a fault out of the birds if I no­tice it the sea­son be­fore. So yes, I would some­times use a cock bird with a par­tic­u­larly good trait ahead of a su­pe­rior bird on oc­ca­sions.

Does liv­ing in North­ern Ire­land re­strict you when it comes to seeking out fresh blood to add to the gene pool of your ex­ist­ing flock? I’ve been for­tu­nate to have gained good friends on the main­land who have been only too happy to help when we have needed to add fresh blood to our lines. We also sup­ply main­land keep­ers with stock. It’s some­thing that has to be done to keep the gene pool fresh.

Ryan McLaren at Saint­field Show

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