Sometime last year, I challenged anyone interested in rearing poultry to think beyond chickens and consider a whole range of other exciting birds like turkeys, guinea fowls, geese, ducks and peacocks.
Today, I want to retract that statement. If you recall, last month I introduced five varieties of Kienyeji chickens with special features on my farm in Njiru.
These are the frizzles, feathered feet, naked-neck, dwarfs and five-toed variety (a normal chicken has four toes).
A bit of background. I’d read in books about these indigenous chickens with unique features. The problem was that few farmers reared them.
I was, therefore, elated when I found out that one young farmer, John Namanya, in my rural home was keeping them.
Namanya is keeping them to demystify the belief that the birds bring bad omen to the keeper.
One reason farmers give these birds a wide berth is that people associate them with superstitions and believe they are only reared by sorcerers.
For example, it is believed that if you slaughter the frizzled feathered chicken (known as Namasasabari in my mother tongue) for your in-laws, the marriage will end in divorce. Others believe that the birds keep debtors away.
You see, barely a week after bringing these birds on board, my dog attacked and killed 130 hens that had just started laying eggs.
After the tragic incident, I was advised to seek divine intervention to cleanse my farm from the evil spirits.
That aside, you need to see a frizzle perched on a roost to appreciate its elegance.
Okay, a frizzle is a type of chicken with a characteristic curled plumage meaning that instead of having smooth feathers, they are ruffled as if they’ve been rained on.
It is believed that genetics is what causes the feathers to grow out and curl instead of growing flat and following the body contour.
Strictly speaking, research has shown that a frizzle is not a breed, but a genetically programmed feather type.
If you read widely, you’ll learn that frizzle-feathered chickens originated in Asia. Other people claim they came from Italy to India and then to England.
However, when I enquired from wazees (elders) in my rural home, they were categorical that these birds have been there since time immemorial. In fact, many ethnic communities have names for them.
Besides their origin, there are other interesting facts about the beauties. They just can’t fly and if you plan to rear them, make sure the roosts are not positioned too high.
Another thing is that frizzled feathers provide less protection from harsh weather like coldness than smooth feathers. This makes it difficult for their backwards-facing feathers to trap warm air against their bodies.
I know what you are about to ask me: How does one breed a frizzle?
Okay, my research showed that frizzled genes are dominant and your average farm frizzle is not a breed. They are, therefore, reproduced from breeding a frizzled bird with a smooth or normal-feathered bird.
In fact, when a frizzled bird and a smooth bird are bred, half their offspring will be frizzled and half will be smooth.
Any breed can be frizzled if paired with a frizzle during breeding but popular breeds for frizzled feathers are Cochins and Polish.
For sure, frizzles are most commonly found in certain breeds like the Cochins, Pekins, Polish, Plymouth Rock, Japanese and Silkies. But never breed a frizzle bird with another.
Experts warn that although you’ll get all frizzled chicks, half of them will be so frizzled that the feathers will be weak, brittle and break easily.
In other instances where a frizzle is bred with another frizzle, you might get chickens without feathers at all at some spots. These over-frizzled birds are also known as ‘curlies’.
Here’s the other thing. If you are looking to rear a bird for exhibition, the frizzle is a good one. It’s also a good layer of white or tinted eggs and, I’m told, it frequently gets broody.
My plan for now is to rear these birds until they start laying eggs.
You’ll have to wait a little longer for more stories.