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One of our Members, Mr. Dave Kozakiewicz shared this article with us from a well known Poultry Breeder, Judge, and geneticist, Dr. Clive Carefoot.
Breeding For The Future
Improvement, Not Just Preservation:
In common with many civilised societies the poultry fancy is in danger of becoming obsessed with a longing for "former glories". The current, almost paranoic, desire to preserve rarity irrespective of quality. Without intending any disrespect to the fancier who wishes to preserve breeds which do not appear to ever be firmly established, when one looks at many of the rare breeds one can immediately see why they are rare. The author would be amongst the first to defend the right of any fancier to take up whatever breed he fancies, or to create one of his own should he so desire: but one questions the ultimate result of the preservation cult.
The breeder wishes to improve, not to preserve, unless of course he has been fortunate enough to have created a strain of perfect birds already. For the rest of us, the striving to perfection provides the interest which fuels our incentive. History is only important where it provides clear examples of where one can improve one's stock. Unfortunately distance lends enchantment to the mind and eyes of many senior fanciers. They have built up reputations for the skills of, and birds produced by, former fanciers which reference to the photographs of their stock dispels. What is gone is over. The future quality stock is to breed aggressively with the intention of improvement. If every breed had but a handful of breeders competing fiercely, quality would almost certainly improve dramatically. Consequently the urge to collect breeds of poultry, as some collect postage stamps, does little to improve the breeds kept. In opinion of the author the fancier wishing to keep rare breeds alive would be more effective if he concentrated mainly on one or two such breeds, hatched and reared plenty; he could then distribute his surplus stock widely so ensuring comservation. On the other hand if a breeder only breeds a handful of chickens, by and large his strain deteriorates. He has no surplus and may even have to buy in to keep going. Consequently, a conservationist best serves his aims not by having pens of many sorts of rare breeds, but by keeping a few breeds so that large numbers of chicks can be hatched. In this way the future of the breed is prolonged whilst at the same time the quality of the stock should improve. Of course, but surely this is the aim of the conservationist. Rarity is not a virtue in itself; indeed when one sees an outstanding bird one realises that rarity is indeed a vice. The author wishes he had many more good as his best bird.
With the rapid escalation of volume of travel abroad there is a strong desire by many fanciers to import the ready made article. It is obviously quicker to import a strain than to breed ones own. No one can agrue that the origin of a particular strain is relevant provided the birds within it conform to the accepted Standard of Perfection. Unfortunately in most breeds the ideal varies from country to country. Therefore in the vast majority of cases the imported birds are not in compliance with the requirementts of their own country. Even so they can sometimes be most useful for blending in with the existing strains.
Importers should under no circumstances attempt to convince fanciers that their imported stock complies with the British standard if it does not. It is completely unfair to existing breeders to attempt to alter the standard to suit the new imports. Recently this has happened with the self blue necked blue-laced Wyandottes being imported and trying to replace the correctly laced necked local strains. They partially succeeded because a superior type, but have recently lost ground. Similarly the gold-laced variety were presented, but never very successful due to the best of the existing gold-laced females being excellent in hackles and type.
A further example is the importation of the American coloured barred Plymouth Rock bantams from the country of Europe. Because these are pure for the barring gene, all males have twice the width of the white bar the standard requires. They are far too light and lose very many points for colour; even more so when one considers they have barring of light and dark grey instead of bluish-white and beetle-green.
It is far easier for the importer if the breed he imports had not previously been standardised in his country. He then has a free hand to establish the standard as identical to that appertaining to the country origin. Many long established breeds have been first imported in this way and then developed over the years to attempt to match the ideal. The breeds have then had a measure of popularity related to their ability to attract new fanciers. In turn the skill of their breeders in improving these emergent breed attracts even more breeders to them. Nothing attracts like success. If the breeders breed attractive birds there will be even more breeders attracted to them attempting to breed even better birds to win prizes and so the overall quality should improve.
The imported breeds should therefore be able to command a good following if they have any place in their adopted country. If they cannot it seems to be pointless to attempt to preserve them by means of the label of rarity; particularly when they may be well established in their country of origin.
Unless a new breed, or a new variety of an existing breed, has some major difference to cause it to become attractive, it is doomed to have little support. In the United Kingdom there seems to be but one breed which is popular for each of the various colour or markings, black and white excepted. When one mentions a particular color pattern, one breed immediately springs to mind as being far more popular and as a consequence nearer the ideal than its rivals in other breeds. But the less popular colours of various breeds are not labelled "rare" and therefore not considered by conservationist as worth preserving.
Quality: The Best Form Of Preservation:
The whole point is that the production by a skilful breeder of high quality birds of a particular variety will attract sufficient interest to ensure preservation and, one hopes, improvement. Failure of a fancier to produce quality stock will be more likely to deter other fanciers and relegate the breed onto the endangered list. If the conservationist attained a sufficiently hight standard of stock within a particular breed it would take care of itself. In practice, high quality stock is the rarest poultry of all. The breeders of rare breeds would be serving their chosen breeds well if they improved the quality of them.
The life of poultry is quite short. Consequently buying winners, importing them, or keeping stock so rare that there is little or no competition is only a stop-gap measure. Long term the fancier should see the wisdom of breeding his own strains, thereby creating something special. In the opinion of the author, growing stock is immeasurable. It is not only success, but the starting point from which one begins to think of the next year's breeding pens and the likely improvements of the strain. The successful breeder is forward looking, always seeking to improve and begrudging unfertile eggs laid by his best hens during prepartion for shows. Indeed he almost certainly restricts the showing of his best birds to a few major shows; preferring to use them in the breeding pen instead of the show pen.
To the creative breeder the present is a stepping stone to a greater future; the past is now immaterial. It is the desire to obtain chicks from his best birds, to see these chicks develop and to select a new set of breeding stock with which to repeat the process, which provides the motivation of a poultry breeder. To the top few breeders of exhibition stock breeding is not a hobby, it is an obsession.
It has been the aim of this book to provide the creative breeder with information which may be helpful in his search for perfection and to set him thinking about possible improvements which he may have thought impossible, or never even thought about. Much help has been offered by way of information provided by the work of professional poultry geneticists whose search for knowledge has led to many discoveries. However, by breeding highly inbred closed flocks, pure for many genes, the fancier has provided stock to these geneticists which has enabled the latter to find and identify the effects of many genes. Consequently the observations relating to the factors involved in the search for prefection act as information to researchers. In the future some poultry geneticist may well work in conjunction with fanciers, since each can provide knowledge to the other.
The future will bring increasing pressure on the fancier to vaccinate his birds against various diseases prevalent in large commercial flocks. He would be well advised to breed resistant strains by breeding from the survivors, since oncea vaccination policy is started it cannot be stopped. When one buys a puppy or a kitten, one pays one's money and is immediately give a vaccination certificate and told to visit the Vet regularly to prevent the animal from becoming diseased. One can imagine the horror on a prospective poultry fanciers face if he was told to take his birds to the vet also. But if vaccination becomes policy, this is exactly the fancy which will be created. Few fanciers will wish this to be the future and consequently can only rely on the skill of the breeders to create resistant strains.
The goals of future poultry breeders will no doubt vary from those of the present, but the methods of attacking their problems cannot. As the knowledge of inheritance is expanded furhter information will become available, but the piecemeal attack described throughout this book is the only way ahead, since it is a direct consequence of the method of inheritance of various factords required to be assembled together to make a perfect bird. It is up to the creative breeder himself to decide his goal. The author wishes him the persistence and the good fortune to achieve success.
Finally a breeder's goal need not neccessarily be to breed an exhibition strain. Since a good proportion of the proteins manufactured by the fowl go into the feather and other inedible regions such as the rump and the wing ends, it is possible to save this protein in the tropics of incorporating genes for feather-lessness (naked), wingless and rumpless into a strain of broilers. If one could also find a gene for suicidal self-eviscration at about twenty weeks of age penetrating in only ninety percent of the afflicted stock one could save labour as well!! But the author hopes he doesn't have to judge these amongst the rare breeds!
We do not have a show winner to show off this month! If you are a Member and have one to share, send it in! We want to see your winning birds!