1902 Encyclopedia > Poultry


POULTRY. The term "poultry " (Fr. oiseaux de basse cour) is usually regarded as including the whole of the domesticated birds reclaimed by man for the sake of their flesh and their eggs. The most important are the Common Fowl, which is remarkable as having no distinctive English name, the Turkey, and the Guinea-fowl, all members of the family of birds known as Phasianidx. The Pheasants themselves, belonging to the restricted genus Phasianus, are not capable of being domesticated, and the Peacock is to be regarded rather as an ornamental than as a poultry bird. The aquatic birds which are strictly entitled to be con-sidered domesticated poultry are the Duck and the Goose, two species of the latter having been perfectly reclaimed.

The common fowl belongs to the restricted genus Gallus, of which four wild species are known,—the Bankiva Jungle fowl (6?. ferrugineus), the Sonnerat Jungle fowl (G. sonnerati), the Ceylon Jungle fowl (67. stanleyi), and the Forked-tail Jungle fowl (67. furcatus). The range of these species is given under FOWL (vol. ix. pp. 491-492). The origin of the domesticated breeds is ascribed by Dar-win, Blyth, and other naturalists to the Bankiva fowl, much stress being laid on the comparative want of fer-tility in the hybrids produced between this species or the domesticated breeds and the other three forms of wild Galli, but it is probable that this want of fertility was due in great part to the unnatural conditions under which the parent and offspring were placed, as, if bred under more natural conditions, there is no difficulty in rearing these hybrids or in breeding from them with the domesticated varieties. The number of distinctive breeds of the domesti-cated fowl has very greatly increased of late years, owing to the emulation excited by poultry shows. Darwin, in his Variation of Animals, &c, under Domestication, enumer-ated thirteen principal breeds with numerous sub-varieties, but several very distinctive races have come into notice during the last ten years, varieties having been formed by careful selection that may be relied on for reproducing their own distinctive peculiarities in the descendants, and hence constituting what are regarded by fanciers as pure breeds. The classification of the known varieties is not an easy task; each is capable of interbreeding with every other, and so great an intermixture of local races has taken place that the arrangement of the breeds is as difficult in poultry as in dogs.

Game Fowls.—Game fowls differ less from the wild Bankiva than any other variety; they are, however, considerably larger, and carry the tail more erect than the wild birds. In some parts of India sportsmen find it not easy to distinguish between the wild and the domesticated birds. Game fowls in England have been long cultivated not only as useful poultry but on account of their com-bative tendencies, which have become so intensified by care-ful selection that they have extended even to the other sex, and hens have been not unfrequently fought in the cock-pit. The comb in the Game is single, the beak massive, the spurs strong and very sharp. There is a tendency towards the assumption of the female plumage by the males, and distinct breeds of "henny" Game are known. The peculiarity is not associated with any loss of com-bativeness, the birds being highly valued for their courage and endurance in the pit. Economically considered, Game are highly esteemed for the table on account of their plump-ness, the amount of the breast-meat, owing to the size of the pectoral muscles, being very great, from which cause, combined with their hardihood, they are most valuable for crossing with other breeds, as the Dorking. English-bred Game have been reared of many varieties of colour, retain-ing in all cases their distinctive peculiarities of form. Within the last few years Game fowls have been reduced in size by selective breeding, and the exceedingly minute Game bantams have been produced with the distinguishing characters of the larger breed. During the last twenty years Game fowls have been considerably altered in form, owing to the influence of poultry shows,—the legs and necks having been greatly lengthened. This has been accomplished by careful selection in breeding and not by crossing with any other breed.

Malayan Fowls.—The Malayan type has been long recog-nized as of Eastern origin. The birds are of large size, close and scant in plumage, with very long legs and necks. The Gallus giganteus of Temminck, which he regarded erroneously as a distinct species, belonged to this group, as did the Kulm fowl and the Grey Chittagong of the United States. The Malays are of savage disposition. Several smaller breeds of a somewhat similar type are known as Indian Game; some of these, as the Aseels, are of indomitable courage. Until the arrival of the so-called Cochin breeds from the north of China, Malays were the largest fowls known in Europe and were employed to impart size to other varieties by crossing.
Cochins.—This type, which must be regarded as including not only the birds generally so called but also the Brahmas and Langshans, is of very large size, some of the males reaching the great weight of 16 or 17 R>. They are distinguished by a profusion of downy plumage, with small wings and tails; they are incapable of long flight, and the pectoral muscles are consequently but feebly developed. The Cochins originally imported from Shanghai were of several colours ; some of the grey birds in America were crossed with the grey Chittagong, the Brahmas being the result of the cross, and they have been long since established as a pure breed, faithfully reproducing their own type. The Langshans are a more recent importation; since their introduction they have been bred by careful selection for eating, and have fuller breasts and less abun-dant plumage than the older-known Cochins and Brahmas. Recently a sub-variety of Cochin has been raised in America by crossing with a cuckoo-coloured breed long known as Dominiques. These have become fashionable under the name of Plymouth Rocks. They are cuckoo-coloured, viz., each feather is marked with transverse grey stripes on a lighter ground, and, as in all cuckoo-coloured breeds, the cocks are of the same colour as the hens; their legs are not feathered, and the plumage is not so loose as that of the more typical Cochins. They are admirable layers, but the intense yellow of the skin lessens their value for the table.

Spanish.—The Spanish or Mediterranean type is well marked. The birds are of moderate size, with large single erect combs and white ear-lobes. In the black Spanish the whiteness of the ear-lobe extends over the face, and its size has been so greatly developed by cultivation that in some specimens it is 6 or 7 inches in length and several in breadth. Closely related to the Spanish, differing only in colour of plumage and extent of white face and ear-lobe, are the white and brown Leghorns, the slaty-blue Andalusians, the black Minorcas, &c. All are non-incu-bators, the desire to sit having been lost in the tendency to the increased production of eggs, which has been de-veloped by the persistent and long-continued selection of the most fertile layers.

Hamburghs.—The Hamburghs, erroneously so called from a name given them in the classification adopted at the early Birmingham shows, are chiefly breeds of English origin. They have double combs and small white ear-lobes. There are various sub-varieties. Those with a dark crescent-like mark on the end of each feather of the hen are termed Spangled Hamburghs. Others are of uniform black plumage. A somewhat similar breed of smaller size, with each feather of the hens marked with trans-verse bands of black on a white or bay ground, is termed Pencilled Hamburghs ; they were formerly known as Dutch everyday Layers. These breeds are all non-sitters and lay a remarkably large number of eggs.

Crested Fowls.—The crested breeds have long been cultivated on the Continent and are admirably delineated in the pictures by Hondekoeter and other early Dutch artists. In Great Britain they are erroneously termed Polish. The development of the feathered crest is accompanied by a great diminution in the size of the comb, which is sometimes entirely wanting. The wattles also are absent in some breeds, their place being occupied by a large tuft of feathers, forming what is termed the "beard." In all the crested breeds there is a remarkable alteration of the cranium, the anterior part of the skull forming a prominent hollow tuberosity which contains a very large part of the brain. This portion of the brain-case is rarely entirely ossified. There are numerous sub-varieties of crested fowls. The best-known breeds in England are the spangled, with a dark mark at the end of each feather. This mark often assumes a crescent shape, the horns of the crescent sometimes running up each margin of the feather so as to form a black border ; feathers so marked are termed " laced " by poultry-fanciers. There are also white Polish and a buff variety. A very distinct sub-variety is the black breed with a white crest on the head and large pen-dent wattles. A variety with the arrangement of these colours reversed was formerly known, but it has now be-come extinct. Some of the larger breeds of the west of Europe are closely related to the Polish. The Crève-cœur is a crested breed of uniform black colour ; it is of large size and of great value for the table and for egg-produc-tion. The Houdan is a black and white breed of very similar character. In some breeds the form of the body and structure of bones of the face closely resemble those of the Polish, but there is an absence of the feathered crest, the crescent-shaped comb becoming more largely deve-loped ; such are those known as Guelclers, Bredas, and La Flèche, the latter being the best French fowl for eating. A small white-crested variety, profusely feathered on the legs, was received some twenty years since (1864) from Turkey ; they are now known as Sultans. The crested breeds are all non-incubating.

Dorkings.—The Dorking type includes fowls that have for many generations been bred for the supply of the London markets. They are all fleshy on the breast and of fine quality. The Dorkings have an extra toe, a mon-strosity which leads to disease of the feet. The Surrey and Sussex fowls are four-toed. The coloured Dorkings were greatly increased in size some few years since by crossing with an Indian breed of the Malay type. The birds of the Dorking type are fair layers and good sitters. They are rather delicate in constitution and are chiefly bred in the south of England. Crossed with the Game breed they furnish a hardy fowl, plumper than the Dorking and larger than the Game, which is of unsurpassed excellence for the table. Mating a Dorking cock with large Game hens is found to be the most advantageous.

Silk Fowls.—These constitute a singular variety, in which the barbs of the feathers are not connected by barbules and the entire plumage has a loose fibrous ajjpearance ; similar variations are found amongst other species of birds, but are soon lost in a wild state. The silk fowl best known is that in which the plumage is perfectly white, whilst the skin, cellular tissue between the muscles, and the periosteum covering the bones are a deep blue-black, the comb and wattles being a dark leaden blue. The birds are admir-able sitters and mothers, and are much valued for rear-ing pheasants, being of somewhat small size. Though of remarkable appearance when cooked, they are of good quality. In crosses with other breeds the silky character of the plumage is generally lost, but the dark skin and intermuscular cellular tissue remain and greatly lessen the value of the birds in the market.
Frizzled fowls are birds in which each feather curls outwards away from the body. They are common in India, but are not adapted to the climate of Britain, as the plum-age offers an imperfect protection against wet.

Rumpless fowls are those in which the coccygeal vertebrae are absent; there is consequently no tail. By crossing, rumpless breeds of any variety may be produced. They are not desirable to cultivate, as, from the structural peculiarities, the eggs are very apt to escape being fertilized.

Dumpies or Creepers are birds in which the bones of the legs are so short that their progression is consider-ably interfered with. The best known are the Scotch dumpies.
Long-tailed fowls, under the various names of Yokohama or Phoenix fowls, or Shinotawaro fowls, are singular varieties recently introduced from Japan, in which the sickle-feathers of the tail are 6 or 7 feet long. In Japan they are said to assume a much greater length. One bird in the museum at Tokio is stated to have sickle-feathers 17 feet long; but examination is not permitted. In other respects the fowls are not peculiar, resembling the birds of the Game type.

Bantam.—This term is applied to fowls of a diminutive size without any reference to the particular breed. By careful selection and crossing with small specimens any variety can be reduced to the desired size. The Chinese had in the summer palace at Peking small Cochins weighing not more than 1 lb each. Game bantams of less size have been established during the past twenty-five years. The Malays have been reduced to bantam size within a very few years, as have the crested breeds. The Japanese have long possessed a dwarf breed with enormous tail and comb, and with very short legs. One of the most artificial breeds is the Sebright bantam, named after its originator. This bird has the laced or marginal feather of the Polish combined with the absence of male plumage in the cocks, so that it may be described as a hen-feathered breed with laced plumage. When perfect in marking it is of singular beauty, but is not remarkable for fertility.

In breeding the domestic fowl for useful purposes it is desirable to follow to a greater extent than is usual the natural habits and instincts of the bird. The wild fowl is a resident in forests, coming out to feed in the open; in addition to green vegetables and fruit it lives on grain, seeds, worms, grubs, and insects, which it obtains by scratching in the soil; it roosts in the higher branches of trees, and the hen deposits her eggs on the ground, usually in a concealed situation, laying one egg every other day until the number is com-pleted, when she sits for twenty-one days. On the chickens being hatched they do not leave the nest for twenty-four or thirty hours, being nourished by the absorption of the yolk into the intestinal canal. When they are sufficiently strong to run after the hen she takes them in search of food, which she obtains by scratching in the ground or amongst decaying vegetable matter.

A domesticated hen allowed to make her own nest in a hedge or coppice always brings out a much larger, stronger, and healthier brood than one that sits in the dry close atmosphere of a hen-house. Wherever the nest is placed it should always be made of damp earth so as to supply the requisite moisture and cool the under surface of the eggs as compared with the upper. When hatched the chicken should not be removed for twenty-four hours, feeding not being required. The first food should be egg and milk—equal parts— beaten together and heated until it sets into a soft mass; this may be given with a little canary seed for the first day or two, or millet or wheat; newly-ground sweet oatmeal is good, but pungent rancid meal very injurious. The chickens do much better if the hen is allowed to scratch for them than when she is shut up in a coop. If a coop must be used it should bo so constructed as to include a plot of grass and be moved daily. The perches in a hen-house should be on one level, or the fowls fight for the highest. All should be low, so that in flying down the breast-bone and feet may not be injured by coming violently in contact with the ground.

Keeping poultry without an extended range in which they can obtain a large portion of their own food is not desirable, nor has the establishment of poultry-farms, in which large numbers of birds are kept in one locality, ever under any conditions been attended with success. In all cases in which a large number of fowls are congre-gated together the ground becomes contaminated by the excrement of the birds; the food is eaten off the soiled surface ; disease breaks out amongst the adults ; and rearing chickens successfully is out of the question. There are no poultry-farms in France, the eggs and chickens being produced by the peasant-proprietors. In England many poultry-farms have been started, but none have ever proved successful. Poultry-rearing is an industry adapted to the small holder, to the rearer for home consumption, or as an adjunct to the work of a large farm, but as an industry of its own it is never likely to be worked to advantage. There is no difficulty whatever in hatching any number of chickens, but when the young birds are crowded together and are living on tainted soil they invariably be-come diseased and die with extreme rapidity. The conditions of a crowded poultry-run necessarily resemble those of an army encamped without due sanitary precautions, which cannot be adopted in the case of the birds. The inevitable result is that they perish of diseases of a typhoid character which are quite beyond the power of the owners to control or alleviate.

Turkeys.—The origin of the domesticated turkey is probably of a composite character; by Mr Gould and other naturalists this bird is generally regarded as having been derived from the Mexican species Meleagris mexicana; but this has recently been crossed with the North-American M. gallo-pavo, w7ith great advantage as to size and hardi-hood. The varieties of the turkey differ chiefly as to colour. The principal English breeds are the bronze or Cambridgeshire, the black or Norfolk, the fawn, and the white. Of these the first, especially when crossed with the American, is the largest and most desirable.
Turkeys are not so extensively raised in Great Britain as in France, from a prevalent opinion that they are very delicate and difficult to rear ; this idea arises in great part from errors in their management and feeding. The chicks, when hatched after twenty-eight days' incubation, should be left undisturbed for twenty-four or thirty hours, during which time they are digesting the yolk that is absorbed into the intestinal canal at birth. No attempt should be made to cram them; their first food should consist of sweet fresh meal, soft custard made with equal parts of egg and milk set by a gentle heat, and, above all, abun-dance of some bitter milky herb, as dandelion, or, much better, lettuce running to seed, on which they can be reared successfully with very little food of any other de-scription. The young turkeys progress much better if the hen has the range of a small enclosure from the first than if she is confined to a coop; thus reared they are much hardier than when cooped and corn-fed, and not so susceptible to injury from slight showers; but a damp locality should be avoided. Turkey-hens are most per-severing sitters, and are employed ÍH France to hatch successions of sittings of hens' eggs. Turkeys can often be most advantageously reared by cottagers, as one or two hens only can be kept, one visit to the male being sufficient to fertilize the entire batch of eggs. The young-turkeys find a larger proportion of their own food than fowls, and with a good free range cost but little until they are ready for fattening for the table. In places where the opportunity serves they may be allowed to roost in the trees with great advantage. Some wild flocks treated like pheasants are to be found in several of the large parks in Scotland as well as in England.

Guinea-fowls. — The Common Guinea-fowl (Numida meleagris) is a native of eastern Africa, from whence it has been carried to many parts of the world, in some of which, as the West Indian Islands, it has become wild. It has also been reared in a half-wild state in many English preserves ; under these conditions it flourishes exceedingly, but has the disadvantage of driving away the pheasants. In any dry locality guinea-fowls may be successfully reared5 provided they have a good range and trees in which they can roost. The hen lays an abundance of eggs, which are generally hidden. The birds are useful as furnishing a supply of poultry for the table in the interval that ensues between the time when game are out of season and that before chickens arrive at maturity. On a dry, sandy, and chalky soil and in a warm situation they are reared with ease, but are quite unsuited to damp cold localities. The continued vociferation of the hen-birds renders their maintenance near a house very objectionable, as the cry is continued throughout great part of the night. Several variations of colour exist, but they do not require any detailed description.

Ducks.—All the varieties of the domesticated duck are descended from the Common Mallard or Wild Duck, Anas boschas, a species which, though timid in its wild state, is easily domesticated, and suffers changes of form and colour in a few generations. The most important breeds are—the Rouen, which, retaining the colour of the original species, grows to a large size; the Aylesbury, a large white breed with an expanded lemon-coloured bill; the Pekin, a white breed with a pale yellowish tint in the plumage, and a very bright orange bill; two breeds which are entirely black. The smaller of these, which has been bred down to a very diminutive size, is remarkable for the extreme lustre of its feathers and the fact that its eggs are covered with a dark black pigment, which becomes less in quantity as each suc-cessive egg is deposited. It is known by the equally absurd names of East Indian, Labrador, or Buenos Ayres duck. The larger black variety, the Cayuga duck, has been recently introduced into England. Decoy or call ducks are small breeds of a very loquacious character, which were originally bred for the purpose of attracting the wild birds to the decoys. Some are of the natural colour, others are white. Amongst the less known breeds are the Duclair ducks of France, evidently the result of crossing white and coloured varieties. Among the breeds differing in structure may be mentioned the Penguin duck, so called from its erect attitude, the Hook-billed and the Tufted ducks, &c, but these are not of practical importance. For table and mar-ket purposes no breed surpasses the Aylesbury; its large size, great prolificacy, early maturity, and white skin and plumage cause it to be reared in immense numbers for the London markets. By good feeding the ducks are caused to lay in the winter months, when the eggs are hatched under Cochin or Brahma hens, the young ducklings being reared in artificially-warmed buildings or in the labourers' cottages; they are fed most liberally on soft food, soaked grits, boiled rice with tallow-melters' greaves, and in ten or twelve weeks are fit for the market; if killed before moulting their quills, which they do when about twelve weeks old, they are heavier than afterwards and much better eating. When ducklings are required for the early spring markets the old birds must be fed most freely to cause the production of eggs in cold weather, corn being given in vessels of water, and the birds must be shut up at night, or the eggs will be laid in the water, where they sink and become putrid. Duck-rearing is a very profitable industry, very high prices being paid for ducklings in the early months of the year. The so-called Muscovy duck is a Brazilian species, Cairina moschata, which is not reared for the market, although the young birds are edible. The drake not unfrequently mates with the common duck, and large but sterile hybrids are the result.

Geese.—The domestic goose of Europe is undoubtedly the descendant of the migratory Grey Lag Goose, Anser cinereus, from which it differs chiefly by its increased size. Although domesticated since the time of the Romans, it has not been subject to much variation. The most im-portant breeds are the large grey variety known as the Toulouse, the white breed known as the Embden, and the common variety frequently marked with dark feathers on the back, and hence termed "saddlebacks." There has also been introduced from the Crimea since the Russian war a variety in which the feathers are singularly elongated, and even curled and twisted ; this breed, which is termed the Sebastopol, is of small size and more important as a fanciers' breed than from a practical point of view. In some countries a second species is domesticated; it is usually termed the Chinese, knob-fronted, or swan goose, Anser cygnoides. Though perfectly distinct as a species, having a different number of vertebrae in the neck and a loud clanging voice, it breeds freely with the common goose, and the hybrids produced are perfectly fertile, the late Mr Blyth asserting that over a large tract of country in the East no other geese except these cross-breds are ever seen. Geese are much more exclusively vegetable-feeders than ducks, and can only be kept to profit where they can obtain a large proportion of their food by grazing. The old birds should not be killed off, as they continue fertile to a great age. Geese are readily fattened on oats thrown into water, and the young, when brought rapidly forward for the markets, afford a very good profit. The Chinese, if well fed, lay at a much earlier date than the common species, and, if their eggs are hatched under large Cochin hens, giving three or four to each bird, the young are ready for the table at a very early period. The nest, as in all cases of ground-nesting birds, should be made on the earth and not in boxes, which become too dry and over-heated. In breeding for the market or for the sake of profit, the very large exhibition birds should be avoided, as many are barren from over-fatness, and none are so prolific as birds of fair average size.

In this article the Pea-fowl (see PEACOCK, vol. xviii. p. 443) has not been included, as, although long since domesticated, it is to be regarded rather as an ornamental than as a useful bird, and in congenial localities in which it can avail itself of the shelter of trees it requires no manage-ment whatever beyond feeding, nor should the slightest interference with the sitting hen be practised.

Pigeons.—All the different breeds of pigeons which are known to the fancier have descended from the wild blue Rock-dove, Columba livia, and return to the coloration and form of the wild original if allowed to interbreed without interference. When reared as articles of food pigeons are generally treated most disadvantageously; with due care and proper management six or seven couples of young can be raised from each old pair during the year, and a continuous supply of young birds for the table can be depended on. The ordinary pigeons' houses are most objectionable, the birds being exposed to rain and extremes of temperature at all seasons. To be reared successfully pigeons should be housed in a room or loft, with shelves 9 or 10 inches in width running round the walls about 10 inches apart; each shelf should be divided into com- partments not less than 16 inches long; this arrangement gives room for a nest at each end and enables the old birds to go to nest again before the young are able to fly. If coarse earthen saucers or nest-pans are used the young will be kept out of the dung, which is ejected over the sides and can be easily removed. They are first fed with a secretion from the crops of the parents, and afterwards with dis- gorged corn; when required for the table they should be killed before the old birds cease to feed them, as when they begin to feed themselves they lose weight, become thin, and are much less marketable. To obtain a con- tinuous supply of young pigeons the old birds must be well fed with grain and pulse; clean water and a supply of old mortar rubbish mixed with salt should be always access- ible ; the loft and nest should be kept clean and well ventilated, and the birds have free access to the open air. The breed should be of fair size, the blue rocks being too small to be of full market value as dead birds, though in great request for pigeon-shooting, and, unless a consider- able number are kept so as to prevent close interbreeding, some birds from other lofts should be introduced occasionally. The numerous fancy breeds and those employed for conveying messages (see vol. xiii. p. 159 and p. 581 supra) do not fall within the scope of this article. (W. B. T.)

The above article was written by: W. B. Tegetmeier.

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