There are few publications in the western cultures of the world that outline the basic requirements of long tailed fowl.
Nearly four years in the making, Long Tailed Fowl, a guide to long tailed fowl history and management that provides information that will fascinate anyone interested in these beautiful birds.
Those wishing to keep birds carrying the non-molting genes especially require the specialist knowledge that is presented clearly and concisely. Included are chapters on history, housing, grooming, dietary requirements, breeding and flock management, with practical information relevant to long tailed breeds. Centuries-old Japanese rearing methods are combined with current knowledge and practice to present a comprehensive and indicative source of information for the enthusiast.
Other breeds outside Japan, such as Phoenix and Yokohama, have been mistakenly called "Onagadori", but the Onagadori is a specific breed, distinct from any other. It becomes obvious that no other breed of fowl can claim to the name when it is clearly understood what an Onagadori is: the possessor of a unique genetic makeup which causes the males of the breed to go without molting certain groups of tail feathers for years at A time when given the correct environment.
The breed is thought to have originated from a mixture of Red and Green Jungle Fowl, inheriting some hits from each ancestor. To this day there is a breed in Java called the Bekisar that is a hybrid of a male Green Jungle Fowl and Red Jungle Fowl hen. The resulting male offspring is usually sterile. However, sometimes a partially fertile male will be produced. These hybrids carry the tail genes of the Onagadori, as well as the long-crowing gene of breeds like the Tomaru, Denizli, Totenko, and Koeyoshi. The latter two breeds are not known to exist in the United States at the time of writing.
One might imagine from this present-day hybrid how the Onagadori could have been produced in the breed's early days of development prior to it being homozygous for its best-known practices.
The Onagadori was not just another 'pretty face' bred purely to look attractive. It had a purpose long ago in Tosa, now modern day Kochi, where it was developed. It is said that farmers who raised the fowl would use the tail feathers as a form of tax payment to the prefectural Shogun's regional Daimyo during Japan's feudal period. These breeders were then exempt from paying monetary taxes. The feathers were used to adorn the ceremonial spears and helmets of these military officials. This ornament made the Tosa procession instantly recognizable.
The tails were not always the length that they are today. The trait started out simply with a few birds that had slightly longer than normal tails, perhaps only two or three feet in length. Through selective breeding, and a high level of care from their keepers, the tails attained greater lengths over time. A few centuries later tails of nine feet or more were becoming more common.
In the early 1920s some breeders began to use special cages for the roosters. The same style of cage is still in use today. The Japanese breeders call these cages tomebako, or "stopping box". The name "stopping box" comes about due to the practice of using the box to keep the rooster calm, keep its hormones from fluctuating, and thenby suppressing the regular molt pattern of the tail coverts, sickles, and saddle feathers, which usually occurs every One to two years. Neverheless, some 20% to 40% of these feathers may still molt on even the best quality Onagadori. The main tail feathers are of an extreme length compared to other breeds, but they molt regularly unlike the covers, sickles, and saddles.
The Non-Molting Gene
When males from non-molting lines are five to ten months of age, they can begin to be kept in a tomebako. The best male should be chosen by considering health, temperament, and tail feathering. Those exhibiting a calm temperament with lots of multiple feathering and good length of feathers are the ones to choose to develop further in tomebako. At this time any broken or damaged tail or saddle feathers may be carefully plucked and allowed to re-grow. The tomebako is a wooden box approximately six feet high, three feet wide, and nine inches deep. Its interior construction is such that the bird, the bird's tail, and the droppings tray each has its own compartment. Roosters raised in this manner must have daily contact with their care-givers. At least one hour of exercise and walks is required daily. The males must also be kept warm during the winter, a temperature of at least 50ºF to 55ºF.
Onagadori are Gt / Gt mt / mt Mf / Mf. The slashes and pairing denote homozygosity. Other long tailed breeds, such as Phoenix are Gt / Gt Mt + / Mt + Mf / Mf, meaning that they have the dominant trait for the regular molting cycle instead of the recessive non-molting trait. Chickens that are not long tailed varieties are gt + / gt + Mt + / Mt +, meaning that they lack the quick growth trait of the tail and saddle feathers as well as the non-molting trait.
A good diet will consist of a very natural menu, similar to the wild grains that Jungle Fowl would eat. Grains that are high in gluten like corn, wheat, barley, millet, and milo should be avoided. These grains sometimes pass through the body undigested and the birds then eat them again. In fact such grains would have to pass through a hen's digestion twice for full absorption of all the nutrients. Grains such as oats and brown rice are preferred as they are more digestible. Nutrition is important with all poultry, but especially so with long tailed breeds. Empty foods should be avoided, foods low in nutrition and high in sugars are not good for them.
Protein is a major part of the diet, but the source of that protein must be examined. All proteins are not equal, plant protein is not easily utilized. Neither plant protein nor protein from fowl by- products, such as ground up feathers and bones, will fully meet their nutritional needs. What they need is animal protein, ideally from marine fish. Such fish not only has a type of protein that can be utilized efficiently, but it also has valuable vitamins, omega oils, and essential fatty acids for good health. Many of the birds in Kochi, Japan are fed fish since Kochi is a coastal prefecture and fish is widely available.
Breeding techniques are a major topic of discussion with these fowl. Choosing a pairing should be based upon various considerations, all of which will influence the following generation. Not only must due thought be given to the choice of the two individuals involved, but the qualities of each bird's father must also be examined.
A pairing should first be based upon health. If both birds are healthy, the next consideration is their relationship to each other. If they are siblings, mating should be avoided. Line-breeding father to daughter, son to mother, nephew to aunt, uncle to niece, and grandchildren to grandparents is acceptable, but mating siblings is not advisable. This would combine the same recessive genetic hits as line breeding, but with the disadvantage of possibly producing birds which are homozygous for bad or weak genes.
However, breeding siblings together for only one generation will usually reveal most recessive practices. The resulting offspring can be useful birds with which to breed, as good and bad habits can surface, revealing what needs to be bred out and what exercises need perpetuating. If these embryos are used, it should be out-cross birds of good type and resistance.
The lineage of every bird in a flock should be known by the breeder. A flock size of forty hens and ten roosters is a viable basis for starting a serious breeding program. This obviously takes some time to achieve as only the best birds are selected from those raised.
Daily contact with Onagadori, or birds being raised in that manner, will allow the birds to become accustomed to regular maintenance. This includes the trimming of toe nails, spurs, and the upper mandible, all of which have an accelerated growth rate on Onagadori. Phoenix has a similar accelerated growth rate in these areas, although not as rapid as Onagadori, and trimming should be practiced as needed.
As discussed in a previous chapter, the upper mandible may need to be trimmed with the guillotine type of dog nail clippers if feather picking becomes a problem. While this is rare in quality stock, the upper mandible may still require trimming if it grows too long and impairs eating. In this case the lower tip of the upper mandible should be trimmed so that it just slightly over-hangs the tip of the lower mandible.
The lower mandible seldom needs trimming. There is very little margin for error due to the layout of the interior of the mouth, the flesh within it, and the blood vessel being in such close proximity to the tip. If this should ever need to be trimmed, a nail file is preferred to clippers, work being done carefully, according to the proper profile.
More About This Subject
These topics and more are explained more in depth in the book Long Tailed Fowl, Their History and Care by David Rogers and Toni-Marie Astin.