Old English Game
Old English Game chickens are another metaphor in the chicken world. Originally bred for fighting and eggs and meat (they have some of the tenderest meat of any chicken), their utility traits have been lost to show breeding.
They do not do well in confinement unless males are separated, and they don't do well if crowded - they also don't do well with other poultry breeds. They are happiest when out on range, with plenty of room to move. They WILL fly, since their body shape is particularly suited to flight, are very fast, and will revert easily to feral behaviors - this is both a strength and a weakness, meaning that they will forage and fend for themselves very well (including better defense against predators than most chickens), but it also means they will be more wild and flighty and harder to catch when needed. They train to coming into a coop at night though, so the wildness can be contained and managed.
The utility traits that have survived still make these birds very useful on the farm, if their negative traits are properly managed. The females lay a limited number of eggs (they lay best on pasture, but they also tend to lay out of doors when on pasture). The hens do tend toward broodiness and make excellent mothers, as long as you do not feel the need to inspect their chicks or interfere with their mothering - they can do the job, and are very defensive about it!
Generally the combs and wattles of males are dubbed - they are trimmed so that they are not a disadvantage in fighting. This standard has been retained even though cockfighting is now illegal. When you see images of Old English Game birds, they will have almost no comb, and no wattles to speak of if they have been dubbed. Your birds may look very different. This is normal, since Old English roosters have a sizeable single comb, and medium sized wattles.
They are personable and curious birds when handled frequently, and while they do not lay a lot of eggs, they tend to not be disturbed by changes in environment, and will keep laying some through difficult circumstances when other hens stop laying. They are also long lived, and surprisingly hardy given their recent show lineage.
- Type - meat (listed as ornamental or show in most descriptions)
- Size - small standard
- Production Capacity - tender fryers, and limited egg production (improves on pasture with ample forage)
- Special Features - available in more colors than almost any other chicken - the Crele coloring is particularly striking
- Best for Farms - good for many purposes, but NOT good for farms wanting a mixed flock in limited space
- Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - small white to light brown eggs, very fine meat
- Other Products - some market for feathers for some colors, and solid markets for hatching eggs and good breeding stock
- Historic or Contemporary Significance - One of the most popular breeds of all time on both sides of the Atlantic, with surprising utility traits.
- Housing and Space Requirement - do not handle tight confinement well, roosters must be separated, and do not house with other breeds. Best if given range with top netting, or raised on expansive pasture where fences need not be an issue.
- Regional Adaptations - well adapted to a range of climates.
- Feed Requirement - ample forage or fresh foods improves egg production and fertility
- Other Considerations - This bird, being bred for so long for show, while still somehow retaining some utility traits, deserves to be useful and not just a smiling photoshopped model. But be careful, because many breeders will NOT appreciate you discussing utility traits regarding this bird. Show breeders get really outraged at the mention of even wanting poultry for egg production, and they act as though you are contemplating mass murder if you suggest that even their culls might be edible. It is best NOT to mention what you want them for, and it is probably better to purchase your birds from hatcheries where show traits have not been exaggerated. It will cause you less grief to do so, and you can then improve utility traits at your option.
A NOTE ABOUT CHICKENS:
Many breeds are not included here due to poor availability, or due to genetic or health issues which make them impractical for small farm or homestead use.
All chicken breeds can be used for dual purpose, but there is a trade-off between meat production and egg laying - a bird cannot be very high in both. There is also a trade-off between egg laying and broodiness - simply because broodiness interferes with high volume egg laying to a certain extent.
So... egg layers that produce a lot of eggs will generally be smaller in size than meat producers. Meat producers will lay fewer eggs than lightweight layers - generally the heavier the bird, the fewer the eggs. Highest egg production seems to be in birds weighing 4-5 lbs. Higher weights slow egg production, and very small breeds also lay less.
Solid dual purpose breeds will meet somewhere in the middle, with a moderately large carcass, and good egg production through most of the year, about 150 to 200 eggs per year on the high end. Weights for dual purpose birds tend to range around 6-9 lb.
Sizes listed will have Standard after the size if they refer only to the Standard size breed.
Most Chickens also have a Standard size bird, and a Bantam size that goes by the same name, BUT, they are NOT necessarily the same breed! The APA gets a little confused where Bantams are concerned, because as long as the general appearance is the same, they don't care how they got that way, and whether any other traits match or not, and often the appearance diverges as well. So Breed descriptions generally ONLY apply to Standard size birds, unless the breed described here is specified as a Bantam Breed.
Bantams may come about in one of four ways:
1. Some breeds are naturally small, and they are Bantam only. This includes Sebrights, d'Uccles, d'Anvers, and many others. These breeds have the most easily digestible eggs in the chicken world, and they are NOT available in Standard sizes.
2. Some breeds are bred down, selecting for smaller and smaller size to achieve a Bantam breed. This is the most time consuming way to get a Bantam chicken. Characteristics other than size may change in the selection process if the breeder is careless - you generally lose something in egg laying capacity, and health or hardiness simply because of the genetic restriction involved. This is the ONLY case in which the Bantam is actually truly the "same breed" as the full sized variety.
3. Some breeds are created with a combination of breeding down for size, and careful cross breeding with existing Bantam birds, to create a cross breed that is smaller but retains more of the characteristics of the goal breed. Done well, this can produce a Bantam with a fairly close match to the original, though egg laying capacity will still generally be compromised. This results in a separate breed, NOT a "variety", though the APA lists them erroneously as two varieties of the same breed.
4. Often, existing Bantam breeds are simply crossed to come up with a bird that has the appearance of the goal breed. In doing this, breeders tend to concentrate on appearance, and forget entirely about other traits. Utility traits are the most commonly ignored. Frequently, behavior, production traits, even some physical traits, are broadly divergent from the original full sized bird. This results in a separate breed, NOT a "variety", though the APA lists them erroneously as two varieties of the same breed.
Bantam breeds generally lay less than full sized breeds of the same name - typically about half the laying capacity, sometimes less, rarely more. Bantams are, in general, more broody than full sized hens, in part because they have not been bred for high production, and this trait makes them fairly prolific when allowed to brood eggs. It also makes them very useful in brooding standard size hen eggs, or eggs from quail, partridge, or other small birds. In spite of their small size, they can successfully hatch full sized chicken eggs, though they do not cover a large number of them.
Bantams can be used for meat, though they produce a carcass more like a dove than a chicken.
They WILL fly, whereas only lighter weight standard breeds will fly much. A Bantam can take flight and travel by air over buildings, around trees, and out of sight within a few seconds.
Many breeds of chicken which were originally good utility birds are not listed here simply because they have been bred for show for so long that utility traits are now gone.