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    Breeding for Dual Purpose.

    Click on photographs to enlarge.

    Keeping a breed that lays well and that will produce a cockerel for the table has been an on-going activity for poultry keepers for many years and I am no exception. To be able to table a well built bird for a meal, knowing that bird had a free-range natural lifestyle (or as natural as possible under available conditions) is very satisfiying.

    WELSH BLACK X WELSH BLACK First year cock.

    Breeds such as the Sussex and Dorking were bred for just that and in thoses days the strains were bigger than today. Now I’m afraid you will not find many pure breeds that will be worthwhile as far as converting grain to meat by the time they have reached maturity. Birds taken on to that stage will be a totally different taste and texture to the chickens you buy in a supermarket. Supermarket birds are dispatched at around 60 days from hatching,some even younger. The birds I take to the table are free-range and carry more dark meat on the legs being bred usually from a first cross traditional breed.

    The commercial poultry industry is a massive . There are ‘super hatcheries’ that handle hundreds of thousands of chicks a day, all automated and high tech. It’s a multimillion £/$ industry.

    Over the last 50 years there has been vast amounts of money invested in breeding poultry that either lay eggs or are table weight ready in a few months all these birds were bred for commercial production millions and millions of them all across the world.

    They are examples of what man can do to a creature, if there is any money to be made doing it. You cannot get anywhere near the weights on breeds bred for the commercial market using traditional breeds and if you want a quick table bird get them, but somewhere along the way ethics must come into what you consider a suitable life for a bird you intend to eat.

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    Dark Indian (Cornish) Game.

    Keepers have been using an Indian Game crossed with another heavy breed for years, the main reason being the amount of breast meat this breed carries and thats what all the commercial strains are based on, but in my opinion the reserch and developement programmes have gone to far. Birds that just eat and in some cases are reluctant to get up and roam around because of the weight they carry are not my idea of ethical farming/rearing.

    Over the years I have bred most crosses using an Indian Game Cock penned with a heavy breed hen and they were fine, but I wanted something that looked like a breed in it’s own right. I had a number of Australorps and a surplus of good Indian Game.

    2 Year old Australorp Cock.

    Instead of usual use of an Indian Game as the male line, I used an Australorp cock and penned him with just one Dark laced Indian Game hen that was from a good laying strain I had improved over the years by only breeding from the best layers. Australorps are top layers and the cock I used was from a good line, so I knew he would carry good egg numbers into the gene pool from this mating. I used just one hen to start this project, so I would be sure the foundations of the breed were sound and get a 50% split of genes from both birds and be able to correct any bad points that may crop up in later generations.

    The resulting chicks were all jet black with rose type comb. To make the assessment I hatched 26 chicks, all from the one hen under broodies or in the incubators and only 2 eggs failed to hatch, both got broken under a broody, but were fertile.

    The chicks grew on well with no loses. They feathered up fast and went out of the brooder onto grass and grew away well and as they were all black and born in Wales I called the Welsh Black Fowl.

    At 28 weeks they had grown well and I took all but 3 of the cocks for the freezer. They plucked easily and dressed out at around 7lbs. I only fed them on a corn diet and free-range.

    The pullets were very good layer and giving at least 5 eggs a week in lay.They are a calm easy going breed and the only slight downside is her habit of going broody. The eggs were of a good size and buff in colour.

    Australorp x Indian Game = Welsh Black Fowl.

    Welsh Black 1st year Cock.

    The following year I penned a sibling mating (*Brother-Sisters*). I chose the best cockerel out of the bunch and mated him to 3 pullets. The chicks were again strong growers and came out mainly black with some dark Indian markings on some of the pullets and a couple of gold hackeled cockerels that were a lot larger than the rest. All but 2 had rose combs and those 2 had single combs and all had slate coloured legs brought in by the Australorp.

    Welsh Black x Welsh Black Cockerels.

    Welsh Black x Welsh Black.

    The following year this cock was mated to 2 Indian Game.

    The intention was to improve a strain of Indian Game that were bigger and laid more eggs. I knew I was stuck with the pullets going broody, as the genes for ‘sitting’ were fixed from both sides of the original mating and I had not selected to remove that trait. For now I was happy with what I had done and waited another year to see what this mating would bring.

    I set 40 eggs that season and had very good results. They hatched looking like dark Indians and again grew away and feathered up fast, ( a gene factor that luckily had carried through from the Australorp side). The birds were a good size, even though I’d bred them back to a smaller bird on the female side,I guess the large size of the male balanced them up.

    I sold quite a number of these as breeding groups or stock cockerels and kept 16 pullets and just 1 cockerel.

    Improved Indian Game Cockerel @10 months.

    Improved Indian Game pullet @10 months

    The photo of the pullet has a mature pure Indian Game Cock behind her.

    This strain were now.

    Australorp X Indian Game. 1st gen.

    Welsh black X Welsh Black. 2cnd gen

    Welsh Black X Indian Game. 3rd gen

    This season the Cock on the left is penned with 4 Welsh Black Hens.

    The best 4 of the pullets are penned with a pure Indian Game Cock.

    As you can see they are a lot larger than pure Indian.They lay a lot more eggs that are bigger. The feathering is softer and all have slate legs. I will not breed out the leg colour, as it will in the future indicate the birds are not pure Indian Game.

    Improved Indian Game pullet.

    They are calm and easy going, obviously following the Australorp as they are really friendly birds.

    They still have the tendency to go broody, but if your looking to raise a few birds for eggs and meat having a reliable sitter saves a lot of messing about with incubators and heat lamps.

    I hope this years birds will retain the size across the breast and tighten up on the feathering. Next season I shall have two pens of chicks to choose from to take the project just a bit farther.

    You must be aware that I only breed from the best birds and some don’t measure up, these are used for table birds in the case of the males and eating egg layers if they are females.

    Pure Indian Hens.

    The pullet in the photograph is where I want to be with this breed. Good shape,deep body and strong on her legs. Well feathered and a nice girlie head not course or heavy. Being wide across the bottom indicates capacity for laying as thats where it all happens from.  A tight rear end is a sign of a poor layer. I’m not fussed about the markings as you can’t eat the feathers, but I do like the way they have held the lacing.

    I can still breed from all the pens that went into this project, as I still hold the lines that bred each stage in separate pens.

    If you have Indian Game and any of the heavy breeds you can try this. Breeding birds such as these kept many a family in poultry meat and eggs for generations.

    Please realise that running the growers on to select the next generation needs space and accomadation and you will never get anywhere if you neglect the feeding, houseing and care of your birds. They will at maturity (About 18-20 weeks)  crow and if that is going to be a problem for your neighbours get hold of some commercial hybrids, as they are ready for the freezer before they are old enough to make a racket and annoy everyone within earshot.

    Sibling Mated..(*Brother-Sisters*)  It is usual when line breeding to mate the pullets back to the father or uncle to fix points or genes. I mated Brother to sister to see how diverse the genes in the breed were.

    David Harris.

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