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Breeding R I Reds to Win

By

Robert Blosl

I have been asked by many new beginners if I would write a article on Rhode Island Reds on the subject of exhibiting for the purpose of winning started wins to reach the goal of Master Exhibitor with our breed club and with the National Clubs such as the APA and the ABA exhibitor programs. In this article, I will explain my view on how I would begin such a venture and what the current trends are at the shows to win under a variety of judges. When I was a junior in the early 1960s, I asked some of my mentors why is it some R I Reds will win at the shows and yet the same birds will not place as well under the same conditions a week or two later. They basically told me, judges have different opinions and views on what they think a good Rhode Island Red should look like.

I was puzzled because I was taught that you should breed and select your best R I Reds under the guideline of the Standard of Perfection. I was told that as a breeder and an exhibitor you should still stick to these principles, but if you want to win under different judges you must know what turns them on or in a nutshell what is their fad is at the time. I was told even back in the glory golden years of Rhode Island Reds, the great Harold Tompkins had two lines to show, his Boston Garden line and his Madison Square Garden line. He knew who the judges were and what they where going to select before he picked his string for the show.  In his view, it was more in the color than in type. Some judges liked a lighter colored R I Red and some preferred a darker, more even Red color. Mr. Tompkins was a dark Red man and when he judged he would choose those Reds that where darker in color if they had good over all type and size. He was a breeder, a judge who lived, breed, exhibited and died by the Standard of Perfection. That is why many consider Mr. Tompkins the greatest Red Breeder of all time.

 In the 1960s, some judges judged and cut heavily by the standard. Many of these judges where great all around judges, but because of some of their views they were not popular with the breeders.  For example, I knew of a judge who cut faults of Reds by sections in the manner of the old time scoring system of judging. He made his choices by which bird in each class where the best in his view by the Standard of Perfection. Because of this method of cutting hard on faults of those Reds, he did not get the big assignments at major shows. I also knew judges who preferred a super wide width of feather on a Rhode Island Red even though, the standard calls for a medium width of feather. Some judges liked large fowl Reds that had big bushy tails or what Arthur Schilling would call Wisk Broom tails. Other judges liked Reds that were not of medium size, but were very large.  In fact so large if they where weighed they would be disqualified.

Today is no different in the way our Rhode Island Reds are judged than in the 1960s.  Many breeders still views the standard in the way that they interpret it as well as the judges.  Therefore, be that as it may, it is my goal in this article to explain to you how to breed for the type or in some cases purchase Rhode Island Reds that will win for you in today’s show rooms. I will also explain some old time secrets which will help you condition and train your birds to win the most started wins per year and to help you reach the ranks of Master Exhibitor or Master Breeder winning status.

Let’s begin by selecting birds for the new show season for 1998. Many of you do not have adult birds to hatch your own chicks, so it is my advice to find a super breeder that lives with in 300 miles of your residence and get chicks or eggs from him. You wish to choose a breeder who has an excellent track record of winning for the past five or more years. If you live in say in Illinois, you may find some day old chicks from a breeder in Minnesota or Ohio. Maybe there is a breeder who suites you who lives in Indiana or Illinois. You may live in Texas and you will find excellent breeders in this state or in Oklahoma. I would not for example get chicks that are breed in the south if you live in the north. They are not accustomed to the cold weather and it has been my experience they will not mature as well and you will find them disappointing. The trend for the past few years in large fowl at the major shows is large fowl that are larger than standard size. The standard calls for a Rhode Island Red large fowl cockerel to be 7 ˝ pounds at eight months of age. The rule of thumb for over 50 years is an ideal R I Red cockerel should weigh one pound over standard weight. The standard does not cut any points for R I Red large fowl to be that large. For us who live in the Deep South, it has been my experience that our birds because of the heat and humidly cannot achieve any larger size than one pound over standard weight. I even hatch my chicks from two and three year old hens and the males will not grow any large than 8 ˝ pounds and the pullets at 6 ˝ pounds.  Because of this phenomena and to my dissatisfaction, I have had beginners who purchase large fowl started chicks from me or adult birds tell me that my birds are too small for the show  that they attend and they can only win if the birds are large

For many of you to win in today’s trends at the shows you will need a large fowl ckl that is about 30 inches in length from end of beak to end of tail. He will also, have to be about 28 to 30 inches tall from the floor to the top of his middle point of his comb. When he is weighed, he may exceed two to three pounds above standard weight and should be disqualified. The exhibitor who is trying to win should not be alarmed at the extreme cuts such as the standard calls for, because the shows that you attend do not have scales to weigh the birds even if a fellow exhibitor should voice a protest to the judge. In the views of many exhibitors and judges that I have talked to feel there would be so much controversy by the Show Secretaries to have a digital scale or the other breeders would pitch such a ruckus that no scales will be present for you to worry about.

If you purchase a nice lot of chicks and have a great Red Cockerel conditioned that is on the size that is favorable for your region, you need to request a double coop so the bird can move around correctly so he does not look cramped in the show coop. This has been a trade secret of some of the great Brahma breeders and exhibitors over the years and has helped them to display their big males at our show rooms. Your large pullets can be shown in a regular large fowl show coop with any loss of appearance or symmetry. If you live in an area where you cannot obtain chicks or eggs I would recommend finding you a nice large male and mate him two the best females that you can obtain. Hens that are two to three years old that the breeders do no longer need in their breeding program would be my choice. If you find a nice male that has the large size you need to win at the shows, but he is short in body or has a sawed off breast which does not give the full brick shape of the type that we desire, mate him to hens that have a fully extended keel bone and length of body. He may have the size, brick shape but a poor looking comb, and then mate him to a hen that has a nice standard five point comb and she should compensate his faults. You only need two good hens and one male to hatch the number of birds you need to raise and condition to win in the shows today. If you desire, you could purchase two males preferably pen brothers and mate them to the females over a time of six weeks alternating the males to give you a higher chance of producing good large show birds.

With Red bantams, the trend today is a good overall deep, rich, lustrous red color. There are a few judges who will cut heavy on males that have pointed down wing carriage. Ideally, you want a bantam male that has level wings when he is in the show coop, but they are few and far between. Some regions favor a Red with elevated top lines versus the correct top line that is horizontal to the ground. I have had excellent exhibitors who win many started wins tell me if they do not show this style of Red bantam, they cannot win at the shows. This is a trend that started about 6 years ago and has got much out of hand, but the red breeders today are pretty much picking on exhibitors and judges who choose such a Red bantam and hopefully this trend will pass. We have called these freaks of nature with elevated top lines red-rocks. I cannot stand them, but if this is what you have to have to get stared wins, what are you going to do. Again, to get started you try to purchase a trio of nice bantams from a proven breeder and hatch as many chicks as you can. If you are lucky, you may be able to get chicks or eggs, but they are harder to obtain than the large fowl.

The size of the bantam should be as close to standard as you can get, but it does not seem to me, that judges are going for the larger bantam as in the large fowl. There are not a lot of strains of red bantams out there that are super small and again you do not have to worry about your bantams being weighed as there are no scales at the shows to do so. The cause of the elevated top lines is the angle of the feather and the high degree of fluff of the bantam feather. Many birds have more of a wide feather, which is not ideal, but trends of breeders and judges sometimes get hooked on this wide feather craz so, that is how the bantam gets its elevated red-rock top line. The early history and development of our red bantams in the early 1930s was using cochins, Wyandotte’s and old English games on our large fowls. Therefore, if the breeder goes too far in the direction of wide feathers he or she will get into the genes of the cochins and the Wyandotte’s. This produces the cushion on the females which the standard suggests a cut of one to two points. This is not what we wish to see at the shows win best of breed R I Red and get on champion row as champion Single Comb Clean Legged, but it does happen and if you do win with such a bird take your win and points and move forward. However, you should understand, these red rock bantams will stamp this fault into your strain and it will become so fixed, it will be impossible to ever correct this fault and regain the correct top line as the standard calls for.

There are more suggestions that I could come up with for you to win as many stared wins as you can per year, however time and space is limited for me to do so. You just need to study what is winning for you in your local or region. Talk to other breeders who breed other varieties of large fowl and bantams and ask them what they think the secrets are to win with the variety or size of R I Red that you choose to raise or purchase. Some of you may have other varieties of bantams or large fowl that you show, hopefully this information can help you win more starred wins as well.

One area that I have seen exhibitors win more started wins is in purchasing young Cockerels at the end of the show season and holding them over through the winter and putting a master conditions program together during the spring and summer then show these birds as fantastic Cock birds. I know of one exhibitor a few years ago that did this with an R I Red large fowl Cockerel. He won many champions and best of breeds as well as $350 in prize money.  Later, after the show season, he sold the Red Cock bird for $65. more than he paid the breeder who raised him. In my view, this would be the easiest way to achieve stared wins is buying a good number of cockerels and showing them the following year as cock birds. For example, you may see a fantastic Red large fowl ckl who is a little leggy; he does not look like the standard of perfection over all height yet as a cock bird, he will settle down in his legs and be of perfect height and station the following year as a cock bird. Sometimes, the bird has the potential to win, but had a poor rearing period and under ideal conditions and nutrition you can put on a great set of feathers for the next show season. Another bird to purchase is a bird that may be a little tilted in his body or titling down some in his carriage like a cochin but with correct training and a cage designed for him to tilt upward or squat downward you can train such a bird as a cock bird to have hopefully correct station to help you win at the shows.

In my next article, I will explain how to condition and train your R I Reds to win at the shows and help you achieve these started wins that you wish to obtain.

Till next time, I yours for more stared win at the shows with your Rhode Island Reds.

Note: This article was written about four years ago, to new people who wanted to get started in Rhode Island Reds to win and become master breeders under the point system that we have. Since this time, these people have joined the here today, gone tomorrow red club. They no longer have poultry and are chasing the end of another rainbow.  I hope I do not offend anyone as this article was written more of a tongue and cheek mentality at that time. However, maybe you will get some value from this old article for there are still some good points that can be still used today in raising, breeding, and exhibiting your strain of Rhode Island Reds.

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