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 or line bred from existing stock.
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. Likewise a commercial hybrid layer will produce far more eggs initially, but burn out after the first laying season. A pure bred bird, depending on the breed and strain will out lay a hybrid as it lays for more seasons.
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 that’s what all the commercial strains are based on, but in my opinion the research and development 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 ok but!
What I came to realised was that I needed a cross that would ‘nick’, in other words the genes that both breeds held in their make-up would combine to realise a good all round bird.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the 16th of May I change the cock in the Indian Game pen. I have hatched enough from the Indian Game Cock x Indian Game hens to have breeding stock for next year and at the moment have 26 chicks all doing well with no loses. Come October I shall go through and pick out the best and move the rest on.
The male I have replaced the Indian Game cock with is a superb Welsh Black 2 year old, he was the best bird out of a very good bunch and I have high hopes of this pen producing some good chicks.
It will take about a week before any sperm from the Indian Game cock is dissapated by the Welsh Black, so after 10 days I should be sure the eggs will be fertilized by him. There is a chance that the 4 hens in this run may go off lay due to the attentions of the new cock, but within an hour of his introduction he was wing fanning and at least 3 of the hens came to his call having found a treat to tempt them with.
He was dusted with loose powder and vent checked for excess feathering before I put him in, so that should keep him clear of feather lice for at least 8 days. The hens got the same treatment and the coop was cleaned and disentfected and clean shaving added.
By the 26th of this month I will set a batch of eggs from this pen as a test to see not only if they are fertile but how well the eggs hatch and how strong the chicks grow away.
The growers that have come out of the Improved Indian Game x Welsh Black pen are really strong and I have 5 under a wyandotte bantam that are now out on grass in a run all doing very well.
June 4th and eggs are being produced fertile by the Welsh Black Cock. This season I have only used broodies and there has been no problem finding a bird to set eggs under.
Using the red buckets as nest boxes makes moving a broody very easy,just wait untill after dusk and remove the box and hen into a coop on her own and give her some eggs to hatch.
I usually put 10 under a large fowl and take her out and powder her with louse powder before she is settled in her coop. Fresh water and a grain feed will keep her happy. I never bother to remove a sitter she will come off and feed when she is ready.
I have taken around 40 chicks from the Welsh Black x Improved Indian Game cock and they are mostly coloured white and black as Indians are when chicks. There are a few blacks in them and the difference in feathering up is interesting and needs to be watched. Fast feathering is a sign of a quick maturing bird.
In the first batch I appear to have 2 blue ones, but to early to tell yet what they are going to be like. I have more coops to make before they leave the chick room. One of the sitters a Welsh Black started to lay again while still brooding and as the chicks were inside and almost feathered she was returned to the breeding pen to join the group.