Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"The Fancy"

So my friend Nancy, up in the Bluff Country, got bit by the purebred poultry bug. Reading her post and the comments awoke old feelings of yearning and really got me thinking about one of my first loves, the world of purebred poultry.....otherwise known as "the fancy".

A defining moment of my youth, perhaps when I was about 10 years old, was when I was called into the house from playing. I could tell from my mother's tone that I wasn't in trouble for anything. I remember standing in the mud room, my dad lowering a cardboard box for me to see inside. I heard small squeaks. I saw four yellow/ brown mottled ducklings. A friend of the fancy was born.

The ducklings, pet quality rouens, soon bonded to me and my siblings. They followed us around the yard. We went swimming in the creek, and they followed us in and out. I lay in the yard and they hopped on my back. They ate bugs and were comfortable enough in my presence to sleep with their heads tucked. I hugged them, they hugged back. I loved my ducks. They were my friends when I was lonely.

Skipping lunch gave me some pocket change, and the ducks were followed by a pair of golden sebrights. On Saturdays, I would ride my bike across town to the library to check out every book I could on ducks and chickens.
I also had Dutch rabbits, but I liked the poultry better.

I dreamed of someday having my own small farm, where I could raise lots of different varieties of poultry, plus have a horse, donkeys, and of course sheep. Yes, I wanted sheep since I was a kid. I recall having my own imaginary flock.

When I was 28, my wish came true, I have a house on 10 acres. As soon as we moved in, the first thing I did was run out and buy a trio of runner ducks. Within a few years, I was running a small rare breed hatchery. My thing was fancy bantams, expecially the crested ones. I had over 70 breeding birds, and hatched out over 1000 chicks a year.
I had a hardcover "Standard of Perfection", and birds born with the wrong number of toes, or developed the wrong color ear lobes, or brassiness or mossiness to the feathers were culled.

I got into waterfowl both domestic and exotic, as well as exotic pheasants.

I had a cabinet incubator, and rows and rows of brooders to rear the chicks. Breeding quartets were kept in pens and cages. I had floor- to- floor cages for small pairs, larger 6 X 6 pens for some of the larger fowl I kept as well.

I shipped hatching eggs all over the country. Sometimes juvenile or adult birds. Although I had pretty decent birds that I felt met the standard, I never got into showing. I guess I felt intimidated by the real show people I talked to on the poultry message oboards, although I shouldn't have. Many of them were really nice. I knew my birds weren't good enough.

Once day in 2002, scrubbing brooders, my DH made me a proposition. Get rid of these chickens, and he'd let me get a few sheep.
As much as I was dying to get sheep, parting with most of my fancy chickens was difficult.

9-11 had made shipping birds very challenging. The already beleagured airlines were getting pressure from animal rights groups to stop shipping live animals. I would sell a trio, get the check, go to ship the birds, only to be turned away sometimes. Shipping was very hit-or-miss. When it was "miss", the check would have to be returned to the buyer.

I had no local market for my chickens. No one wanted to pay $50 for a pair or trio of exceptional birds. Not when they could buy chickens at the swap for $3 each.

The thought of walking away from this stress and getting sheep was too tempting an offer to pass up. Most of my breeding birds went to The Feather Barn hatchery up in Elwood, others went to auction.

Although I've kept a flock of 15-20 chickens back, mostly crossbreds, for meat and eggs, I put my thoughts of the fancy away for a long time.

But I'm thinking about getting back into it. First, Becky and her Shetland geese. And then Nancy. :)

Why can't I have sheep and a modest flock of purebred chickens along with my sheep? Really, really good ones....As long as I don't overdo it.

I've grown increasingly disillusioned with showing Shetlands, maybe I should look into dabbling in poultry shows?

That I will have to think about. Next week, after Jefferson. I have the Jefferson show to get ready for, I have NASSA Board responsibilities that need my attention.

Next week. :)

Now to start thinking about a chicken breed to specialize in...


Rayna said...

Find me some good blue-red Cubalayas! :D Poultry is just as bad as Shetlands, but at least they stick to the standard. I think you should be able to do one standard, one bantam, one duck and one goose breed...That would be a hard, hard choice. The goose would be easy, I'd want my dewlap toulouse back. The duck would be hard, because I LOVE my calls, but I also adore runners and exhibition rouens. Chickens would be MUCH harder, espically since I'm working on my breeding project right now. Ever heard of Barbu d'Watermale, d'Grubbe and d'Everburg? They're basically rumpless versions of the d'Anver and d'Uccle and a tufted version of the d'Anver. I'm working first on the d'Grubbe (rumpless d'Anver), it'll be the easiest out of the three. I'd love to get them going in this country, I love rumpless birds, and love the personality and type of the d'Anvers and d'Uccles. There's something about a good sebright me shivers. Cochins standard and bantam I love...Like I said, would be really hard :)

Kara said...

Great post Juliann. Thanks for sharing. Best of luck starting again. :)

stephen rouse said...

Absolutely Juliann. you can do both sheep and Chickens. I too loved poultry as a child...although I probably never had anything as rare as you did....I had polish (crested) American Arucanas (spelling?) ...what they called yokohamas at the time (i subsequently found they really were not...their tail feathers never grew long). I also had buff orpingtons, leghorns, silkies, barred rocks and white rocks. I also had fancy pheasants. I loved those. So I can't wait to see what you get in to! :-)

Angela Rountree said...

What a coincidence! As a child, our family pored over the Murray McMurray catalog each winter, with each family member choosing a few chicks of a new breed every few years. As an adult, I have a quintet of white crested blue polish bantams, and am contemplating whether to expand those and/or add another (standard) breed (dorkings? welsummers? barnevelders? silver pencilled wyandottes?) after we move this autumn. Angela

Michelle said...

More power (and time) to you! I just love all the new breeds (to me) of chickens I learn about by following other people's blogs; so many gorgeous varieties.

kristi said...

I think you should do whatever makes you happy:)

Shula said...

Well I only have a few chickens and bantams (8) which are just turning 5 months old but I can see how the addiction happened. They are fun to watch, easy to keep and there is such variety. I don't see why you can't do both on a small scale. Good luck.

Nancy K. said...

My very first pair of Mille Fleur Bantam Cochins is ON IT's WAY to me as I write this! They shipped out of Utah last night and will be here tomorrow. I'm praying that they make the trip safely and arrive healthy! In the very brief time that I've been 'into' chickens, they have already brought me great joy...

(and Dream really likes them too!)


Karen Valley said...

I actually had Quail Belgium Antwerp(or some variation of that name)bantams before I got the ducks. They were gorgeous and didn't have feathers on their feet to get all filthy. But the roosters can be very aggressive I found out. They do a good job of mothering and hatching out their own offspring.

Personally I prefer bantam duck breeds because they don't require as much housing and are happiest on the days that tend to make people depressed. Give them a good rainstorm and they are in their cups. I keep mine around the garden area and just offer them fresh water in a fortex three gallon tub.

Juliann said...

I used to have quail Belgium Antwerp, loved them. Yes the cocks were nasty but I thought it was funny having a cock the size of a pop can chasing me around the yard. :)

I'm leaning towards something I can leave out in the coop during the winter.

My mind keeps coming back to Golda Miller strain Jersey Giants. We had bought some blues & blacks from Randy Henry years ago. They were magnificent.

I never had buff Orps, they sound pretty neat. And I like Cochins, too.

Too bad Russian Orloffs arn't in the Standard yet, then my choice would be easy. We raised those and I loved them.

Bill Stearman said...

I have ALWAYS loved poultry and had quite the variety when I was a kid.

As I become more and more disillusioned with what is happening with/to Shetlands in the show ring, and thus with what folks who attend the shows or read the results consider to be a good Shetland ... I just want to cut back and breed what I think a CLASSIC Shetland is ... and ignore what the main stream folks are doing with/to the breed. Soo ... I am cutting way back.

This year, 25 breeding will be used. That is the fewest I have bred since my first year ... and I am using the extra time to focus on birds ... trios of Naragansett and Red bourban turkeys ... a trio of blue Silkies (I hope) ... a trio of black langshans ... a trio of Cuckoo Marans. I also have RI Reds, Barred Plymouth Rock, Silver Grey Dorkings, and buff and partdige chanteclairs in my main laying flock. My layers are BEAUTIFUL ... :-)

I think that I'll always have sheep ... but now I have time to focus on birds as well. And soon a cow or two.

I'm having a ball! Life is good!

Bill Stearman
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