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
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