Storey's Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds: Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Turkeys, Emus, Guinea Fowl, Ostriches, Partridges, Peafowl, Pheasants, Quails, Swans

Storey's Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds: Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Turkeys, Emus, Guinea Fowl, Ostriches, Partridges, Peafowl, Pheasants, Quails, Swans

by Carol Ekarius


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More than 128 birds strut their stuff across the pages of this definitive primer for intrepid poultry farmers and feather fanciers alike. From the Manx Rumpy to the Redcap and the Ancona duck to his Aylesbury cousin, each breed is profiled with a brief history, detailed descriptions of identifying characteristics, and colorful photography. Comprehensive and fun, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds celebrates the personalities and charming good looks of North America’s quirkiest barnyard birds and waterfowl.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580176675
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 05/30/2007
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 216,127
Product dimensions: 8.56(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Carol Ekarius is the coauthor of The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, The Field Guide to Fleece, and Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, and the author of several books including Small-Scale Livestock Farming, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds, and Storey’s Illustrated Breed Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle, and Pigs. She lives in the mountains of Colorado.

Read an Excerpt



Farmers who have had no experience with the different varieties of purebred fowls are very apt to choose a breed because they "like the looks" of the fowls, or because somebody says that particular breed "is the best," but it frequently happens that their poultry fails to pay, because the breed selected is not the one best adapted to the special purpose for which they keep fowls, and disappointment results.

— Waldo F. Brown, The People's Farm & Stock Cyclopedia, 1884

Humans have depended on domesticated and captive-bred wild birds for thousands of years. These fowl have both fed us and provided us with feathers for uses ranging from strictly ornamental to highly practical (such as goose down insulation). They have played a spiritual role for many cultures and attracted us with their beauty and interesting character.

Our need (both utilitarian and aesthetic) for fowl has resulted in an amazing variety of barnyard birds. There are over a dozen species, hundreds of breeds, and thousands of varieties kept in barnyards and backyards around the country and around the world.

Let this book serve as your guide to the marvelous selection of birds that are kept by farmers and fanciers in North America. This first chapter provides some general background information on the birds of the barn. Next comes a chapter dedicated to chickens (by far the largest group of domesticated birds), followed by chapters on turkeys, waterfowl, and finally some of the other birds that farmers and fanciers raise (such as the upland game birds).

To make it easier to cross-reference breed information, we have highlighted in bold breed names that are discussed in the book and included hyperlinks to the place in the book to which their write-up appears.

Welcome to the fascinating world of fowl. Enjoy your exploration of our feathered friends.

A Little Natural History

Trying to understand the natural history of domesticated birds is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle: as each piece, or clue, falls into place, you begin to get a feel for the picture, yet as other pieces are added the picture can change before your eyes to something you hadn't quite expected. Biologists, archaeologists, historians, and bird fanciers continue to search for evidence that will help finish the picture, but in the meantime, I've gathered some of the prevailing thoughts on where, and how, our domestic birds got their start.

Early Predecessors

Scientists are fairly certain that there is some connection between our modern birds and dinosaurs. If you see a chicken attacking a hapless mouse that has had the misfortune of finding itself in the coop, the resemblance to a killer dinosaur is very clear, and you're darn glad that bird isn't 40 feet (12 m) tall and standing above you.

In fact, most scientists think that birds evolved from the same line of dinosaurs that spawned the bad-guy dinosaur of the movie Jurassic Park, the Velociraptor. Some, however, speculate that birds are more like cousins of dinosaurs, having evolved concurrently from a common ancestor that gave way to dinosaurs, birds, and reptiles about 275 million years ago. Either way, modern birds and reptiles share a surprising number of traits that support the idea of an evolutionary connection, such as scales (which birds have on their legs) and the external incubation of eggs.

The earliest birds that are recognized as such, Archaeopteryx lithographica, were discovered in limestone deposits in Europe and appeared during the Upper Jurassic period (about 150 million years ago). The trip from Archaeopteryx lithographica to our modern birds (subclass Neornithes) included several now-extinct intermediary species and took millions of years. Somewhere around the end of the Cretaceous period, about 65 to 70 million years ago, the relatives of today's waterfowl showed up, making them among the earliest modern birds that scientists have documented. Then, by 35 million years ago, the ancestors of the majority of modern birds had made the scene.

Basic Classifications

There are about nine thousand known birds within the subclass Neornithes; these are separated into two major subdivisions: the Eoaves, a rather small group that includes ostriches, rheas, emus, and kiwis; and the Neoaves, which includes all other living birds, from albatrosses and avocets to woodpeckers and wrens (and, of course, chickens, turkeys, and other domesticated birds). Within the Neoaves there are many major subdivisions, but for our purposes the superorders Gallomorphae and Anserimorphae are the two important groups.

The gallinaceous birds, which are members of Gallomorphae, are terrestrial, chickenlike birds with relatively blunt wings that aren't capable of flying very far. They have strong legs and feet for digging, fighting, and running. There are over 250 species in this group, including many barnyard birds, such as chickens, jungle fowl, turkeys, pheasants, quail, grouse, and guineas.

The Anserimorphae are waterfowl, and there are over 150 species in the group. They are strong swimmers with short, stout legs and webbed feet. They also fly very well, though many of the domestic ducks and geese have been bred to have a large breast, which reduces their flying capabilities. They have a feathered oil gland and down feathers to help maintain their temperature whether in water, on land, or in the air. They also have a thick layer of fat that acts as insulation and provides buoyancy.

One unusual characteristic of waterfowl is the way they molt (shed their plumage). Most birds undergo a gradual molt during which the feathers are shed and replaced slowly, so the birds can still fly during this time. Waterfowl, however, molt all of their flight feathers (wing and tail feathers) simultaneously, with the result that they become flightless for several weeks. You may notice that during the molt period male ducks (wild or domestic) lose their typically vibrant breeding colors and assume a drab appearance like that of the females and juvenile birds.

Species, Breeds, and Varieties

A species is a group of organisms that are genetically similar and have evolved from the same genetic line. Organisms within the same species readily interbreed, exchanging genes to produce viable offspring that are also capable of interbreeding. Sometimes different-yet-similar species are capable of breeding (for example, horses and donkeys), but generally these cross-species pairings result in offspring that are not viable or that are not readily capable of interbreeding (as is the case with the mule, which is sterile).

A breed is a group within a species that shares definable and identifiable characteristics (visual, performance, geographical, and/or cultural) which allow it to be distinguished from other groups within the same species. So, although chickens are of the same species, an Ameraucana is easily distinguished from a Yokohama, and a Dutch Bantam is readily distinguished from a Jersey Giant.

Within breeds there are additional subdivisions for variety and type. Varieties are often defined on the basis of the color of their plumage, the shape of their comb, or the presence of a beard and muffs. Types are defined based on differences in use, such as production or utility types versus exhibition types.

Some chicken and duck breeds have corresponding miniature versions (one-fifth to one-quarter the size of the large bird). There are also some breeds that exist only in a small form. These diminutive forms are referred to as bantams.

Recognizing Breeds

Breeds have been developed over many millennia. In North America the designation of poultry and fowl into breeds is basically determined, or "recognized," by one of two groups: the American Poultry Association (APA) and the American Bantam Association (ABA). Both organizations publish a "standard" (the APA Standard of Perfection and the ABA Bantam Standard) that describes each breed in great detail. These standards are used by breeders in selecting breeding stock and by judges at poultry shows in evaluating birds.

The terms purebred and registered do not mean the same thing for poultry as they do for large livestock animals. Rather, poultry that meet the breed and variety descriptions found in the APA Standard of Perfection or the ABA Bantam Standard are said to be "standard bred."

Founded in Buffalo, New York, in 1873, the APA is the oldest livestock organization in the United States. The ABA formed in 1914 with the goal of setting standards for, and promoting, the bantam breeds. There is some crossover between the two organizations: the APA recognizes many, but not all, of the bantams that the ABA recognizes, and vice versa. In other words, some bantam breeds and varieties are recognized by both groups, while other breeds and varieties are recognized only by one.

When breeds are first introduced to this country, the interested breeders arrange with the APA and/or the ABA to host a qualifying meet. If the birds at the meet show sufficient standardization of characteristics, they may be accepted for inclusion in a future standard. Anyone interested in raising or showing standard-bred poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese) should invest in a copy of the appropriate standard.

Unfortunately, breeds come and go. New ones are developed; older ones languish when few breeders are interested in them anymore; some breeds become extinct. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) and the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPPA) are two of the leading organizations that work on protecting breeds from extinction.

Genetics 101

Englishman Robert Bakewell took over his father's Dishley Grange farm in 1760. While still quite young, Bakewell traveled throughout Europe studying farming practices of the time. Once the family's farm became his, he began applying and documenting new ideas for irrigation, fertilization, crop rotation, and breeding.

Bakewell began his breeding program with the old native breed of sheep in his region of Leicestershire. At the time, both sexes were traditionally kept together in the fields. The first thing Bakewell did was separate the males from the flock. By controlling which rams were allowed to enter the flock for breeding, and when they were allowed to enter the flock, he found he could breed for specific traits.

The rams Bakewell selected for breeding were big, yet delicately boned, and had good quality fleece and fatty forequarters to respond to the market of the day, which favored fatty mutton. Soon Bakewell's flock showed distinctive changes, and he named his new breed of sheep New Leicesters.

Bakewell's approach to breeding was revolutionary. His efforts were based on a keen sense of observation and willingness to experiment, and his work provided the foundation upon which much of our understanding of breeding and genetics is based. Both Gregor Mendel (a monk whose 1865 paper on inheritance in peas is considered to be the first scientific research on the topic of genetics) and Charles Darwin referred to Bakewell's efforts in developing their theories.

Review of the Basics

If you haven't given much thought to biology since high school, then a quick review of some of the principles may be helpful. All living things are made up of cells, and with the exception of some types of single-cell organisms (such as blue-green algae), every cell contains a nucleus. Stored within the nucleus is the genetic data that defines the creature, be it a microscopic organism or the incomprehensible teenager who works at the movie rental store. This genetic data is carried on chromosomes.

There are some important points to remember about chromosomes: Different species have different numbers of chromosomes. Chromosomes come in pairs in all cells of the body except the egg and sperm cells. Each egg and sperm cell has only half of the pair of chromosomes; when the egg and sperm combine to create a zygote, or fertilized egg, the two halves combine to create a complete pair of chromosomes.

All but one pair of chromosomes are identical in shape and proportion, though they do vary in size; these pairs are called autosomes. The pair that is distinctly different from the rest is the pair that determines the sex of the animal.

A turkey, for example, which has a total of 40 chromosome pairs, has 39 pairs of autosomal chromosomes that are the same shape and share the same proportions within each pair. It also has one pair of chromosomes that are clearly different, and these are referred to as the sex chromosomes.

In poultry, the letters Z and W designate the sex chromosomes, with the male having two Z chromosomes (written ZZ), and the female having a Z and a W chromosome (written ZW). (In mammals the sex chromosomes are designated by the letters X or Y, with the female combination written as XX and the male as XY.)

Each chromosome is made up of a single molecule of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), but the DNA molecule can be parsed out into still smaller units called genes. DNA molecules typically have hundreds or even thousands of genes. Scientists estimate that most mammals and birds have a total complement of twenty thousand to thirty thousand genes, depending on the species, and this total complement is called the genome.

Scientists around the world are busy trying to map the genome for humans and other species, including poultry. This research is yielding some interesting findings. For instance, chickens and humans share over 60 percent of the same genes, yet there are significant divergences in the DNA sequences along those genes. Scientists say this information will help them better understand how the evolutionary tree of birds and mammals split over millions of years.

DNA Structure

DNA takes the form of a double helix (picture a very long, though submicroscopic, ladder that twists as it extends upward). Four compounds, adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C), are the primary chemical building blocks of the DNA molecule. Each rung of the ladder is made up of two of these compounds. The A always shares a rung with the T, and the G always shares a rung with the C. The rails, or sides of the ladder, are made up of a sugar molecule (deoxyribose) and a phosphoric acid molecule. The average gene is thought to occupy an area of about 600 pairs, or rungs, of these DNA building blocks.

As a cell divides and multiplies into two cells, the DNA molecule separates down the middle of the ladder, like a zipper opening up. Each new cell receives one side of the helix. The designated pairings of A to T and G to C serve as a template for rebuilding the molecule from chemical compounds within the cell.

Traits ranging from color to size, hardiness, and personality are most often influenced by more than one gene. When multiple genes are responsible for a trait, one may be epistatic over other genes, meaning that it will suppress them and thus control how the trait manifests.

Gene Structure

Each gene is made up of a pair of "alleles," or gene forms, which are typically designated by a letter, or by letters and symbols. Every gene has at least two potential alleles, or variations, but many have multiple alleles. Some of these alleles are dominant over others, acting like an on-off button that activates certain genetic manifestations. Others act like a dimmer switch on a light, altering the intensity of a trait. In other words, how a trait actually shows up depends on which alleles are present on the gene. By convention, capital letters are generally used to represent dominant alleles and lowercase letters to represent recessive ones.

So far, geneticists have identified over thirty different genes that can come into play in determining the color of poultry plumage, eyes, earlobes, beak, and legs and at least thirteen genes that contribute to eggshell color. It is thanks to this great variation in gene and allele combinations that we see such an extraordinary range of colors in our humble barnyard birds and their eggs.

Let's use one of these color genes, the melanocortin (MC) gene, as an example. Also known as the "extended black" gene, the MC gene has eight allele forms, which are designated by E, ER, e+, eb, ewh, es, e bc, and ey. These alleles control black, brown, red, and yellow pigments in the plumage, as well as speckling.

The order of dominance among the MC alleles is generally accepted as E > ER > e+ > eb > ewh > es > ebc > ey. For example, the E form is associated with solid black plumage, and the e+ with black-breasted red plumage (called the "wild type" because it is similar to the coloring of the Red Jungle Fowl). If the pair of genes shows up as Ee+, the dominant E results in solid black, but if the e+e+ combo happens to show up, the black-breasted red feather pattern is seen.

Genetic Traits

Genes are passed from one generation to the next in a fairly orderly manner. Just as DNA is supplied by both parents, so are the alleles that adjust traits. Since the comb type is primarily controlled by just two genes (the rose, or R, gene and the pea, or P, gene) and each has just two alleles (R and r for the rose and P and p for the pea), we will use it to see how traits actually pass from one generation to the next.


Excerpted from "Storey's Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Carol Ekarius.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction,
Chapter 2: Chickens,
Chapter 3: Waterfowl,
Chapter 4: Turkeys,
Chapter 5: Other Birds of Interest,
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