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April 20, 2012

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A Living Relic from the Past – by David Rogers

December 2, 2010
It’s been some time since I’ve made a blog entry. All of the things that come with summer have occupied my time. Tending fowl, both adults and chicks, and caring for the garden all leave me with little time during the warmer seasons. I thought I may resume my entries with some news from the world of long tailed fowl.

Since 1984 one of the most beautiful color phases of non-molting fowl was thought by most to be extinct. There were occasional whispers from untraceable sources that there were still a small pocket flock here or there, but nothing was ever confirmed.

It was early in 2010 that I was notified by my dear friend Toni-Marie Astin that she had been contacted by some good friends living in her state that a family in Alabama was looking for a home for a pullet. She was described as being simply a red bird with a black tail. It was not clear until Toni-Marie herself first saw the pullet if she was red duckwing or something far more rare.

Above – Chou-Akane, photo courtesy of Toni-Marie Astin
When Toni-Marie picked up the pullet from her friends’ residence, she was quite shocked. She called me immediately after the pick up. I could not believe my ears. The pullet was a precious gift who had defied all odds against her in her yet young life. This pullet’s father had died after fertilization. Her mother had died while still setting on the egg. The incubation was carried out by the keeper of the fowl, Mrs. Nakamura. This pullet was the Nakamura’s last surviving bird, named Chou-Akane 蝶茜.

Not only is she a beautiful specimen of Japanese long-tailed fowl, but she is also of the shojo color phase; shojo tane 猩々種, the “orangutan variety”. It had been decades since most people had known of, much less seen, one of these fowl. Toni-Marie raised the pullet at her facility and conducted one breeding by her best non-molting rooster. After this, Chou-Akane traveled by vehicle from Georgia to Indiana by way of Will Lawrence and Micheal Aldridge. Due to their efforts, this rare fowl was not put at risk through the postal service.

I marveled at the iridescent orange-red of the shojo color. It is indeed a spectacular color in its clean state without flecks.

Above – Hakuraikou and myself in the last part of August, 2010. His longest feathers here were only a few inches shy of 7 Ft in length. The longer ones were one year older than the shorter ones. He did not obtain all of his adult feathers in the same year. Most were still in blood-feather. His tail was clipped for breeding in the days following this photo. Photo courtesy of Will Lawrence.

Chou-Akane was bred with Hakuraikou 白雷光, my white non-molting rooster. They have produced 25 offspring to date, three of which are shojo. It looks as though that thanks to the efforts of many, the shojo color phase of non-molting fowl will survive and hopefully overcome what was surely near extinction.

When something so dear seems lost and gone forever, never give up hope. Miracles can come seemingly from nowhere.

Below – A one month old cockerel of the shojo color phase, still with the juvenile pattern showing, from Chou-Akane and Hakuraikou.

So here’s to preservation and finding that which seems lost!

Non-molting Fowl and Feather Texture – By David Rogers

April 1, 2010
When selecting for non-molting fowl, it’s important to select for feather texture. This is just as important as choosing for the quick growth in the adult feathering phase.

Breeders often place too much importance on quick growth of the juvenile feathers from a very early age. Phoenix and other breeds of molting long-tails often exhibit this trait. The trait of fast growing juvenile feathers is preferred in such molting breeds, because feathers that grow very fast while the bird is young often times reach a maximum length of two and a half to five feet and then stop growing.

When it comes to non-molters, juvenile feather growth speed means very little. It is no indication that the feathers will continue to grow. Usually, the opposite is true. Feathers that start out growing very rapidly often times will stop growing very early.

Even pure Onagadori are somewhat slow feathered while young. They may take over two years to completely develop and pick up speed with their feather growth.

Above: The hackle like body feathers of a rooster that, though not pure, shares many Onagadori characteristics. The hackle feathers shown just behind the thigh are growing from the side of the body rather than from the spinal pteryla as with roosters of most other breeds.
Click photo to enlarge.
The birds that take longer to mature are often the better birds, who’s tails will grow much longer than their distant relatives that start out growing much faster in both body and tail feathering.

The important trait to look for early on is not necessarily feather length, but rather feather texture. The tail feathers should be narrow and limp like ribbons. Likewise, the saddle feathers should nearly be as fine as hair; half the width or less as compared to most Phoenix.

Even the body feathering of both sexes should be light, wispy, soft, and even hackle-like on roosters. After one year of age, hackle may even begin to grow on roosters from just behind the thighs on the sides of the body well below the spinal pteryla, from which such feathers would typically grow.

Long feathers also grow from the brow just above the eye. I have seen some lines in which these feathers exist, but they point upwards to the comb. If that is the case, the bird is likely too coarse feathered. Such feathers from the brow should be so light and wispy that they curl and begin to fall over the brow in a manner as to require trimming if they do not stay out of the eyes.

This ultra-light and ultra-soft feathering over the entire body is typically indicative of non-molting fowl. This mutant feathering appears to remain growing for greater periods of time than does wider, more coarse feathering.

Hens that produce such sons often have similar traits themselves. All be it somewhat more subtle in appearance. Typically, the body will be soft feathered and the cushion will be light, fluffy, and mounded quite high. There may even be a mutant type of cushion feather present. It seems that the more mutant, extremely soft feathers in the cushion, the more non-molting saddles there should be on the sons.

Not all of the saddle feathers on some males will be non-molting. There may be two types of saddle hackle on one bird; ones that are near normal and molt and ones that are mutant, narrow, and non-molting. It is important to select for feather traits in both sexes, because often times good hens produce more non-molting sons than do non-molting roosters themselves.

Trimming the Ever-Growing Keratin – by David Rogers

March 1, 2010
Some long-tailed fowl that exhibit extremely quick growth in the tail and saddle feathers may also have faster than normal growth in the toenails, spurs, and at the tip of the upper mandible.

It is important to keep these keratinous extremities from becoming overgrown. Too long of toe nails can impair walking. Overgrown spurs on roosters may unintentionally injure hens during breeding. Hens with too long of spurs may break eggs when sitting down to lay or nest. An overgrown upper mandible will soon impair eating.

Each of these issues is easily taken care of. The only thing to watch for in each of these structures is the quick, a blood vein that runs nearly to the end of each the toenails, spurs, and upper mandible. The quick can be seen easily in lightly pigmented fowl. In darker pigmented fowl, a small flashlight may be used to reveal its location.

Above – A diagram of the quicks. Click photo to enlarge.
Above left – The toe nails and upper mandible may be clipped using the guillotine type dog nail trimmers. The scissor type of trimmers may not cut evenly. The guillotine type trimmers cut evenly in one smooth motion. As mentioned before, stay just beyond the quick. Click photo to enlarge.

Above right – Trimming the tip of the upper mandible. Fowl of a docile temperament readily accept these grooming practices without restraint being necessary. Click photo to enlarge.

Trimming the tip of the upper mandible in this way is not at all like the practice of "de-beaking" commercially grown chickens. Trimming without cutting into the growing part of the beak allows the tip of upper mandible to continue growing as normal. It is perfectly normal for the tip of the upper mandible to constantly grow to allow for wear. It’s much the same principle as rodents’ teeth. If not wore down naturally, it must be trimmed. An emery board may be used to further smooth and round over the newly cut edges.
Spurs are typically trimmed in a different manner. While holding the leg near the spur with one hand, using a sturdy pair of pliers, give a smooth constant twisting motion in a counterclockwise direction. Do not use a jerky motion, pry, or otherwise twist in any direction other than the proper way while holding the pliers parallel to the leg.

The spurs are made up of stacks of cones. They are much like a stack of several funnels. Twisting the outer layer frees it from the inner layer. As the outer layer is removed, it considerably shortens the spur. There may be a small amount of blood, but cayenne pepper powder or a regular blood stopping agent may be used to clot the blood if it does not do so on its own.

Left – While holding the bird in arm and supporting the leg with one hand, the spur may be twisted counterclockwise with the pliers. The outer portion of the spur will twist free. A blood stopping agent may be applied to the tip of the spur.
Click photo to enlarge.

The frequency at which any of these procedures may be required varies according to the fowl and the season of the year. It is important to watch for overgrowth in the discussed areas and not view it as a once-every-two-months procedure, because keratin varies too much in growth period durations.

Below – Birds that have had a spur trimmed may be seen holding the leg up to rest it to relieve some discomfort. For this reason, I only trim one spur at a time. After giving the first one a few days to heal, I then trim the second spur. Click photo to enlarge.

Oiling Your Fowl – by David Rogers

February 1, 2010
While winter still lingers on it may be found that some fowl become dry; especially those housed indoors in barns and other protective outbuildings. The feathers, skin, and leg scales will from time to time become drier than what could be considered ideal. If the condition is left untended the skin may even become mildly flaky.

Above: Uropygial papillae.
Usually a fowl will have a single oil duct, or uropygial papilla. It’s through this upright structure that conditioning oil is secreted from the internal gland. Occasionally, a mutantion occurs that causes the doubling of this structure. This can be expressed as two that are partially fused at the base, or two that are fully separate as shown above on this non-molting long-tailed fowl.
The occurrence of this may depend on the region in which you live. Here in the mid-west US the winter air can become dry during the winter months. The drier air seems to rob the birds’ external surfaces of valuable moisture since they can’t produce enough oil from the duct(s) to entirely replenish it.

Normally, oil is secreted from the uropygial papilla. It is then spread over the skin and feathers while the bird preens itself. In drier than normal conditions, the usual amount of oil secretion may not be sufficient.

If dry skin and feathers become an issue, mineral oil may be applied over all external surfaces of the bird except for the eyes. A pair of clean hands, a lent free cloth, or a paper towel may be used to apply the oil. This not only moisturizes the skin, but also prevents the feathers from becoming brittle. This is especially important for long-tailed fowl that do not molt and replace their tail feathers on a yearly basis. Along with clean and dry living quarters, regular oiling can improve feather condition.

The best time to oil a fowl is in the evening just after having gone to roost. This gives the oil a period to soak in over night before the fowl resumes its daily activities during which dust and ground debris may stick to the fresh oil.

Oiling fowl a day before exhibition will also improve its appearance for showing. Giving the oil a day to soak in will result in the appearance of a natural sheen and brighten the pigment of the face, comb, wattles, and legs.

Whenever oiling a fowl, care should be taken that just enough oil is applied for sufficient benefit without matting the feathers together.

Exception: Breeds such as the Silkie should be oiled carefully. The lack of feather barbs will result in them matting much more easily. The skin of the feet and the face and a few drops placed directly onto the uropygial papilla should be the extent of the treatment carried out on these fowl.

Vegetables for Your Fowl – by David Rogers

January 1, 2010
Most people who have poultry also garden. Many of us know that January brings the arrival of new seed and plant catalogs. It’s a small bright spot in the mid-winter gloominess that holds northern climates captive in a state of deep freeze that’s so conducive of cabin fever.

For many of us these catalogs are the only tangible connection we have with out gardens at this time of the year. Who among us has not spread out nearly a dozen or more gardening catalogs out across the living room floor? For gardeners, there’s nothing else like it; the comparisons of prices and new plant varieties.

This year, while you’re planning out your rows of vegetables, don’t forget to plant something for your fowl. They benefit from fresh produce as an important part of their regular diet just as much as we do.

If I had to choose just two plants to allow room for in my garden for my fowl, without a doubt they would be garlic chives, Nira, (Allium tuberosum) and the giant white radish (Raphanus sativum) known as the Daikon. Nira is a perennial and, while it’s an annual, Daikon is an exceptionally hardy vegetable. When it comes to consumption by fowl, both plants are grown for their greens. Though Daikon may be better known for the use of its root in most Asian cuisine.

Daikon is the one vegetable that I am most taken by. It is an annual, but it continues to produce new leaves right through frosts, freezes, and snow falls. Mine continued to produce until a period of single digit Fahrenheit temperatures in mid-December. Not only is it exceptionally durable for an annual, one would be hard pressed to beat its nutritional value. Gram to gram, it has over twice the amount of calcium as the well known quality of mustard greens.

Daikon greens are said to have amazing nutritional properties. They have
•large amounts of beta-carotene,
•every 100 gm of daikon radish leaves contains 1400 IU of vitamin A; over three times more that found in an equivalent amount of broccoli,
•210 mg of Calcium per 100 gm of leaves, which is almost four times that as found in an equivalent amount of spinach,
•ten times more Vitamin C than lemon,
•three times more iron than liver and eels,
•60 % more Vitamin B1 than pickled black beans,
•and twice as much Vitamin B2 as found in beef.

Above – A planting of Daikon resulting from a 100 seed spring planting begins flowering in early summer. This patch of Daikon yielded over 5,000 seeds for planting the following season.
While Daikon tolerates and prefers cool weather, it often flowers and enters a semi-dromant state during summer heat. Be sure to gather seeds once the pods dry.

These seeds may be planted for a new crop at the appropriate time. Don’t despair when growth stalls over summer, the same roots will once again produce greens when the weather cools. So hold off with pulling them up once they go semi-dormant for the summer.

Excess greens may be frozen in freezer bags for use during extreme cold if you live far enough north that the roots will not continue to produce new growth into mid and late winter. Do not harvest too many greens from a single plant during the growing season, lest you should weaken it. Harvesting one or two leaves from each plant while it’s putting on two or three more would be fine.

Above – A box of newly arrived Nira plants from a fellow gardener has sparked the interest of a curious family member. – Other pets such as dogs and cats should be allowed to only look and not eat. All Allium species are toxic to them. They generally have no interest in eating them anyway.

Nira is a hardy perennial and will emerge from the ground very early in the spring, right through ice and snow in northern climates. Unlike Daikon, it will continue to produce greens through summer heat. However, as with Daikon, care should be taken not to gather to many leaves from a single plant until more have time to re-grow.

After Nira has flowered and the seeds have dried on the stems, they may be gathered and sprinkled back over the planting area or sown elsewhere to start a new patch.

My friend in Tokyo says that Nira is a common vegetable in Japan and it is served with anything from eggs to liver and even mixed into pancake-style dishes with some meat and other vegetables. It is considered highly nutritious and is often cooked when one feels stressed or fatigued. Kampo, the Japanese version of Chinese medicine, holds that Nira is beneficial to the blood circulatory and cleansing system, including the kidneys.

One place where you may obtain both Daikon and Nira seeds is the Kitazawa Seed Company in CA, USA.

So this year, when you plan your garden, think of your fowl too and set a few rows aside for them.

Ohiki – “Little Chickens”; Possible Hypochondroplasia in Fowl – by David Rogers

December 1, 2009

Above: This fully grown Ohiki rooster easily fits in just one hand. His feet at the ends of his very short legs may be seen barely beneath his wing. Photo courtesy of Toni-Marie Astin of

I have chosen the Ohiki 尾曳 as the topic for this month’s article. The Ohiki is a true bantam; it has no large-fowl counter part as may be found in other breeds. It’s an interesting little breed that originated in Japan; specifically the Kochi Prefecture, the same region from which the Onagadori originated.

The two breeds seem to have a close kinship. They share the trait of narrow, ribbon-like feathers and quick feather growth. Some Ohiki have even been known to exhibit the non-molting trait to some degree.

Where the Ohiki differs from the Onagadori is that it has a dominant dwarfism trait that causes it to have a normal sized head, a stocky body, and small limbs – especially the legs, which are set quite far forward on the body. This is a dominant, autosomal trait. As such, the offspring only need to inherit the trait from one parent and, since the gene is not on a sex-link chromosome, either sex of progeny may express it.

This very well describes hypochondroplasia; a form of dwarfism that, unlike achondroplasia – a slightly more distorted dwarfism, results in disproportionate physical features. Since I am not a geneticist, I will refrain from claiming that is precisely what it has; I will only say that the dwarfism in the Ohiki appears to be identical to what is known as hypochondroplasia.

At first glance, it would seem that the little fowl have the same body type as the Chabo 矮鶏, Japanese Bantams. Upon closer inspection and review of breeding results, it becomes apparent that the two have different body types.

The Chabo produces long-legged fowl and short-legged fowl in each hatch. Many have a proportionately shaped body. The Chabo’s short legs are caused by a lethal gene. Offspring may obtain one short leg gene and one long leg gene from the parents. Offspring with such a genetic combination have nearly a 50/50 chance of having short or long legs. However, were an offspring to acquire two copies of the short leg gene, one from each parent, that combination is lethal and the chick dies in the shell on or about the 18th day of incubation. Many Chabo breeders breed a long-legged rooster to a short legged hen. This results in better fertility and fewer in-shell deaths resulting from the lethal genetic combination.

The Ohiki differs from this in that the short leg/dwarfism trait is dominant, they breed true to form, and produce no lethal genetic deaths. Unlike the Chabo, each Ohiki parent may be short legged with no lethal consequences to the offspring.

While they do breed true to form, like nearly any genetic trait, there are variations. Of the two lines from which the Ohiki in the US descend, the Wolfgang Vits line had slightly longer bodies, while the Knut Roeder line had shorter bodies. This demonstrates the diversity that can exist even within the same genetic trait.

In times gone by the Ohiki was known as the “Minohiki-Chabo” 蓑曳矮鶏. It was thought that it was a relative of both the Chabo and the Minohiki 蓑曳, a long-tailed, saddle dragging breed with a game fowl type carriage and head. It was however found to be a relative of neither breed. Instead, it is most closely related to the Onagadori 尾長鶏, Totenko 東天紅, and Shokoku 小国.

The rare little fowl were imported into the US in 2002 by Toni-Marie Astin of Marc King, of, took it upon himself to gather the stock from various areas of Europe and import them into Switzerland where he prepared the export of hatching eggs for over three years.

Since that time Toni-Marie Astin has been breeding the fowl at her facility, Onagadori South Feather Farm, in Georgia, USA. Mrs. Astin has been making careful selections to improve resistance to pathogens found in the US that differ from those it encountered and was mostly immune to in its previous homeland.

The breed seems to have a threshold with the degree of environmental changes that it will tolerate. At this time, severely cold weather and corn (maize) based feed appears to be where the physiology of the fowl draws the line with adaptations.

It certainly is not a breed for everyone, but for those who don’t mind sheltering it a bit, it makes a wonderful and unusual breed to care for.

My New Chicken Blog

November 12, 2009

I live in northern IN, USA, and raise rare fowl such as the Japanese Tomaru, the Turkish Denizli, and non-molting long-tail fowl at my hobby farm, Megumi Aviary. I don’t have a lot of spare time. So I will update this when I have a spare moment. If anyone is interested, you can visit the forum that my friend Toni-Marie of and I run at

Japanese long tail and long crowing fowl are my main area of interest. By “Japanese long tails”, I do not mean Phoenix. The misnomer that the Phoenix is a Japanese breed has been around a very long time. It’s been spread by misinformed poultry organizations and hatcheries either as a misunderstanding or a clever selling point to make them sound more exotic. The Phoenix is actually a German breed.

Where the misunderstanding comes in is that the Phoenix does contain a small amount of Japanese blood that was brought from Japan to Germany right after WWII by returning military troups.

Those birds were then crossed with Europe’s own breeds; the Leghorn and some game breeds. When it comes right down to it, the Phoenix contains a very small amount of Japanese blood and was developed and standardized in Europe from mostly European blood.

The Japanese breed that the Phoenix is so often confused with is the Onagadori. Unlike the Phoenix, the Onagadori (developed in Tosa, now the Kochi Prefecture) has green and yellow legs and only molts its tail and saddle feathers once every three to four years, or even longer.

The Phoenix was bred strictly to be a blue/slate-legged, molting breed that molts at least every one to two years and never, ever had tail lengths comparable to the Onagadori. Nor was it intended to have.

You can see real Japanese fowl in this video that was a gift to Toni-Marie from Mr. Stromberg some years ago. Japanese fowl are quite interesting. Several of the breeds there of various polymorphisms that differ from breeds we are familiar with in the west.