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Ardchattan parish : Benderloch, Barcaldine, North connel, Bonawe - Past and Present
Kintaline 2016 : we still sell Muirfield Black Rocks but no longer have the old utility pure breeds - please enjoy our information. :
Utility Breeds :Keeping Domestic Poultry : Buying Birds : Explaining the different qualities
produced by Kintaline Poultry Centre, Benderloch, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QS
These pages are part of a growing information resource inspired by, and based on, decades of helping domestic poultry keepers find the right solutions for their situation and our own experience breeding birds to improve selected UK pure breeds. No "out of the box, one size fits all" here. We recognise the individuality of your circumstances and have the experience, and the range of answers, to help you and your birds. It is far from complete please bear with us, and return to learn more.
EXHIBITION ; UTILITY ; PET or UNSELECTED strains of Pure breeds
It can be very confusing to choose which type of birds you want and which breeders to look for.
Within each breed there are varying qualities. The strength of a particular strain that a breeder has depends entirely on how they have chosen to select for each quality. These decisions are based on what they are aiming for. The main two are Exhibition and Utility.
The greatest majority of breeds created have been for their looks. There are over 300 breeds/ colours of pure breeds, and most exist as a result of experimentation on colour or form, which is then settled and a standard set for that breed.
This selection is aiming for perfection in matching the resulting birds to the written standards for the breed. Often the breeders enjoy taking their birds to local and national shows to compete against other breeders, to see how near to their goals they have got.
The qualities are the feather patterning and structure, the shape of the bird, the colours of legs, beaks, etc.
What is much less important is any consideration of the egg numbers, colour, quality or table weights.
In concentrating on the former features, the latter set are frequently lost. So these strains are superb birds, but can be disappointing producers.
For each of the above qualities constant vigilance and careful selection in each generation is required. If not, the strain simply reverts to a mediocre level where its recognisably the pure breed but it has no particular quality about it either in comparison to the Breed Standard or its potential as a strong productive bird.
There are a small number of breeds of both chickens and waterfowl, who were first created, and then maintained for some 100 or more years, to be particularly useful to us.
There are a few more who were incidentally or locally traditionally used many many years ago but were not nationally generally important.
The traits selected for in all these birds were that of egg numbers, colour and quality, and carcase weights, while maintaining a reasonable stamp of breed type. This is done by careful recording of egg numbers laid, critical selection of eggs for incubation, recording the development of the young birds, and not breeding from those who do not make the grade.
The appearance of the birds is less critical; if the bird is raised for meat, the first thing that happens is the feathers come off!!.
In each breed that there is a Utility Strain, there is also a Exhibition strain as there have been more breeders in the latter area than the former for over 50 years now. In fact there are VERY few Utility strains of any breed at all left in the UK. Unfortunately it is the sector that there is the highest demand for in this current boom in poultry keeping.
Most birds, breeders, strains now fall into the last general category :
Pet or unselected
This is where most strains of most birds fit. The current high demand is doing little to improve this situation because any bird can be sold to the unwary novice.
Many people selling birds now are newcomers to the business themselves, and have spent little time talking to older, experienced breeders, or decided to disregard advice given because they do not need to bother with creating high quality foundation stocks before starting to sell birds.
It is easy to get hold of a number of parent birds, start hatching, raise healthy birds which have a ready market. This type of breeding involves no skill or effort, and the results show. The national flock of most breeds in the UK now are sadly mediocre.
An example to illustrate the three strains might be the Rhode Island Red. Many books extoll the virtue of the breed as being a popular prolific layer. Many people have good memories of their grandparents having RIR's who repaid their feed with plentiful eggs and an acceptable carcase in the surplus males. However all of that is entirely irrelevant in the birds that exist right now. The only thing that is important when buying RIR youngsters in the 2000's is exactly what the breeder has been selecting for in the past 5 generations.
An exhibition breeder may well win shows but can have chosen to reduce the egg numbers so their birds put more resources into feathering and condition. There are RIR exhibition strains whose egg numbers have been taken down to 50 a year.
The very few Utility breeders left would be selecting for a bird who can still lay well over 220 eggs, of a decent size and colour, a year, and aspire to get their strain back up to meet the laying standards of the middle of last century when there are RIR's who laid well over 260 eggs a year.
The reality is that 90% of RIR's offered to the new garden / smallholding keeper for egg production are barely capable of 200 eggs a year and most are realistically nearer 150. This is so disappointing when this country was rightfully acclaimed as having the best breeders in the world. Unfortunately most publications and the media celebrities all use out of date information without reference to the current situation. This allows the mediocrity to be perpetuated and for there to be no critical assessment of birds by new keepers. They "just want birds for eggs" - pure breeds who can fulfill this well are the rarest birds we have in this country now.
Tim and Jill Bowis
Kintaline Mill Farm,
Benderloch, OBAN Argyll PA37 1QS Scotland
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