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THE BLUE DUN FOWL.

FoR an acquaintance with and a description of this very neat and pleasing variety I am entirely indebted to the kindness of a valued correspondent, as also for good living specimens of the birds. “The Blue Dun Fowls were first procured by us from Dorsetshire, but I know not from what part. They are under the average size, and rather slenderly made, of a soft and pleasing bluish dun colour, the neck being darker, with high single combs, deeply serrated. The Cock is of the same colour as the Hen, but has in addition some handsome dark stripes in the long feathers of the tail, and sometimes a few golden or even scarlet marks on the wings, which, by their contrast, give the bird a very exotic look. The Blue Duns are exceedingly familiar, impudent, and pugnacious; indeed I strongly suspect this sort to be a variety of, or nearly related to, the Game Fowl, having exactly that shape, and also disposition.

“I have fortunately hit upon a lovely little Hen for you, but the Cock I must apologise for. His colour is unimpeachable, but you must imagine that little crest to be absent, and the comb to be single instead of double. His brother, who fully intended waiting on you in Norfolk, and was exceedingly perfect, was killed by a wireguard being blown down on him. I would send my grown Cock, but I believe it would cause a mutiny among the labourers, who sometimes give him and his wife the greater part of their dinner, he being impudent enough to take it either from their hands or mouths! They have named him Fred. It is the greatest fun to see a Cock of this sort keeping up a playful fight with another, rather his superior, spinning and waltzing about him like a French dancing-master. Without more convincing proof, I do not quite approve of their being called Blue Bantams, as although the breed is certainly small, it is still respectable in size, and the eggs are very fair in that respect. “The Hens are good layers, wanting to sit after laying a moderate number of eggs, and proving attentive and careful rearers of their own chickens, but rather savage to those of other Hens. The eggs are small and short, tapering slightly at one end, and perfectly white. The chicks, on just coming from the egg, sometimes have a ridiculous resemblance to the grey and yellow catkin of the willow, being of a soft bluish grey, mixed with a little yellow here and there. “There is one peculiarity in this breed, which is, that if the variety is kept perfectly unmixed with any other sort, you will seldom obtain more than half the number of the proper Blue Duns, the rest being either black or white. (This would make us strongly suspect that if their history were known, they are themselves but a cross between two distinct varieties or species of Fowls, and that they must themselves eventually disappear, by assimilation to the type of one or other progenitor.) The white chickens, however, are afterwards sprinkled with dun feathers. Perhaps the original sort may have been either black or white, as we know animals will, after many cross-breedings, ‘cry back, as it is called in some counties, to the origin whence they arose. “The Blue Duns are nearly equal to game of any sort for eating. The hackles of the Cock are always in great request for making artificial flies for fishing.”—H. H. The theory that the colour of the Blue Duns results from a combination of white and black (i.e. very dark purple or slate-colour) in the progenitors, as betrayed by the habitual “crying back” of the breed, is confirmed by the fact of the speckled black and white, or grey and white, Spanish, producing whole-coloured slaty-grey birds, though of a darker hue than the Blue Duns, in which the permanency of the tint appears to be equally uncertain. It will be worth while to keep some of the aberrant chickens of the Blue Duns, and record what is the result of their propagation inter se.

THE LARK-CRESTED FOWL.

HERE again, as with the Cuckoo Fowl, is a breed that has been treated with undeserved disregard. Many London dealers might call them Polanders, and indeed many ill-bred Polands have crests inferior to some of these in size. But the shape of the crest, as well as the proportions of the bird, are different. Aldrovandi perceived the distinction. He calls the one “Willatica nostra Gallina, nulli non cognita, tota candida, et instar Alaudae cristata.” “Our farm-yard Hen, known to everybody, entirely white, and crested like a Lark:” the other is his Paduan Fowl. The first, of whatever colour, is of a peculiar taper form, inclining forwards, as Aldrovandi's old-fashioned wood-cut well represents, with a moderate, depressed, backward-directed crest, and deficient in the neatness of the legs and feet so conspicuous in the Polands; the latter are of more upright carriage and more squarely built frame. Set the two side by side, and their discrepancy will be apparent.

Lark-crested Fowls are of various colours; pure snowwhite, brown with yellow hackle, and black. How far these sorts required to be subdivided, has not yet been investigated. The first of these are perhaps of a more brilliant white than is seen in any other domesticated gallinaceous bird. The colour is much more dazzling than that of the White Guinea-fowl, or the White Peafowl. This white variety is in great esteem with many farmers' wives, who will keep it, to the entire exclusion of any other sort. They certainly have a remarkably neat and lively appearance when rambling about a homestead. They look very clean and attractive when dressed for market: an old bird, cleverly trussed, will be apparently as delicate and transparent in the skin and flesh as an ordinary chicken. The feathers are also more saleable than those from darker coloured Fowls. My own experience leads to the suspicion that if they are a little more tender than other kinds raised near the barn door, it is only a little: and I must think them to be in every way preferable to the White Dorkings. In the Cocks a single upright comb sometimes almost entirely takes the place of the crest. The Hens too vary in their degree of crestedness, some not having above half a dozen feathers in their head-dress. If they were not of average merit as to their laying and sitting qualifications, they would not retain the favour they do with the thrifty housewives by whom they are chiefly cultivated.

These neglected varieties are well known to the itinerant Fowl-dealers, who traverse the country in search of chickens to be fatted for market. From them they may easily be obtained at a reasonable price. The best way would be to order a random lot of a score or two, select the best for stock, and consume those which remain. These people value Fowls entirely according to their age, size, and weight. Almost the only exception is, that they will now and then give a trifle more for a handsome, showy, adult Cock bird, particularly if he exhibit marks of Game blood. But the most amusing speculation is to purchase eggs in country towns, from the wives of those small farmers who bring their own produce to market, and take the chance of whatever may be hatched from them. By keeping ten or a dozen sitting Hens, and obtaining eggs from different localities, a sufficient number of various chickens may be obtained in one season to afford the breeder a good opportunity of exercising his discriminating judgment. A very little experience will soon point out which are mere half-breds of well-known sorts, and which show symptoms of belonging to a distinct race, and that long before they have attained their full growth, sometimes as soon as they have issued from the shell. In a harmless lottery like this some prizes are sure to turn up, the only blanks being addled eggs.

THE POLAND OR POLISH FOWL.

CERTAIN Fowls with top-knots are called by the above names, sometimes also Polanders. The Lark-crested Fowls are distinct from these. Whence the title was derived I have endeavoured in vain to trace. Those who doubt the likelihood of any new breed of poultry coming to us from Poland, are inclined to think the word a corruption of some term derived from the poll, or head; the word “polled,” which we now apply to cattle without horns, would be more suitable to Fowls with top-knots. Or, it might possibly be given in allusion to the plica polonica, or Polish disease, in which the hair in the human subject grows into an immense matted mass. Whether the climate of Northern Europe have any tendency to develop the growth of crests, “muffs,” (as in what are called Siberian Fowl, i.e. muffed Dorking), &c., on the heads of Fowls, in a similar way in which that of Angora is said to soften and lengthen the hair of various animals, from the fur of cats and goats, to the hair and beard of men; and whether, poultry being unknown to the Teutonic tribes before their conquest by the Romans, the growth of a top-knot or a muff be the result of an introduction to Transalpine influences, is a speculation which we have no present means of pursuing.

There is no evidence that any breed of Fowls with topknots was known to the ancients; but we first meet with them in the middle ages. Aldrovandi, quoted by Willughby, “in his Ornithology gives us many kinds, or rather rarities, of Hens, 1. A common Hen, but white and copped.” This is the Lark-crested Barn-door Fowl. But Aldrovandi also gives two large spirited figures, each occupying the whole of his folio page, which he calls Padua Fowls, but in which we recognise what would now be called Polands.

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