Located in Central Alberta, Canada
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~ History of Our White Chanteclers ~THE COLORFUL BREED HISTORY...
Back in 1908, Brother Wilfred Chatelain and the monks of the Cistercian Abbey in Oka, Quebec, set out to create, “a fowl of vigorous and rustic temperament that could resist the climatic conditions of Canada, a general purpose fowl.” His creation, the Chantecler remains the only standardized breed of chicken to originate in Canada. This new breed was not introduced to the public until 1918, and was admitted to the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection in 1921.
After their introduction, Chanteclers became a popular choice amongst farmers in Canada and the U.S., but when commercial hybrid poultry entered the scene, pure breeds fell out of favour. Numbers dropped so low in fact, that the University of Saskatchewan believed they had the last Chantecler chicken in existence. When this rooster died in 1979 the University declared the breed officially extinct. But it was incredibly fortunate there still remained small flocks of Chanteclers scattered throughout Canada and into the U.S. However numbers remain critically low and this robust and dependable heritage breed is listed as ENDANGERED on the Rare Breeds Canada conservation list and they are considered CRITICAL by the American Livestock Conservancy. I am pleased to be involved in this conservation effort and feel it is a very worthwhile endeavor. During the past few years it has been encouraging to see more people keeping Chanteclers on farms and acreages, and enjoying the only recognized Canadian breed of chicken.
I often have people asking where I got my start in Chanteclers, or what bloodline I have. I try to explain that my Chantecler flock is a cocktail blend of many different strains from known and unknown origins. Its sort of a long story, but if you happen to be interested, the following is a documentation of my own introduction and progression with this breed.
Foundation Trio, 2010:
My journey with the White Chantecler began during the winter of 2010 when I was given the opportunity to borrow a trio in order to hatch a few chicks from them. The trio was located near Wetaskiwin, and since Chanteclers were quite hard to find in Alberta at that time, I couldn't pass up a chance to gain experience in another breed.
This original trio was not from any particular breeder’s lines and I had no idea of the challenges that lie ahead. These three innocent-looking birds were hiding a multitude of flaws and defects that would take many years to breed out of the line.
But as I collected eggs for incubation I was continuously surprised and pleased by the laying ability of those 2 hens throughout the short, dark days of winter. The rooster was gentle-natured and took good care of his hens.
2011 Progeny - Pullet, Cockerel and breeding pen:
In the spring of 2011 I hatched and raised 39 chicks from the foundation trio. Although they were active and vigorous, nearly every one of them displayed one or more serious defects. The worst was the high proportion with disfigured feet from their severly bent toes. I knew this was not related to incubation problems because my other breeds were hatching without incident. Other problems included pea combs and willow-colored shanks. It was disappointing to see so many flaws in the offspring. Rather than culling them as chicks I decided to grow them out and we butchered most of them as fryers. Our family found the carcass appealing and the meat was tender and flavorful. Although most of these chicks fell short of the target weights for the breed I still believed that with some work, this flock had potential. I kept the best 5 females and 1 male. The original trio was returned, and later sold by the owner.
That fall I bought 2 new roosters from a breeder in Saskatchewan, hoping that an influx of new genetics would bring improvement in the physical features of the offspring. I was officially hooked on the breed, but I knew I had to really dig in and make some serious progress, or else look at starting over with new breeding stock.
Throughout the spring of 2012 I worked diligently, test-breeding a number of different mating combinations. I was determined to single out the males carrying the recessive gene for willow shanks. The one cockerel I had kept back from the original trio was very useful in helping to bring faults to the surface through some close inbreeding. I kept careful records of each group's egg outputs, fertility and hatch rates. As the chicks grew I recorded the percentages of faults that resulted from each of the matings including bent toes, pea combs and willow legs. I've always used toe punching to track mating pens, and I also added numbered leg bands to identify any chicks that appeared to be "keepers". I tracked their individual weights at 12 weeks, 16 weeks and 6 months as well as 9 months and 1 year for the few I still had left at that stage.
The improvements in the 2012 generation of offspring over the previous year were encouraging. Almost 50% of offspring displayed a more correct phenotype and most importantly they held onto the prized utility traits of a meaty carcass and excellent laying rates. Out of the 93 Chantecler chicks I hatched in 2012 there were a number of promising youngsters. I had also managed to buy some chicks from another trusted breeder that year, and a number of these developed into nice-sized, good looking birds which were incorporated into my flock.
I began taking some young pullets and cockerels to shows and breeding workshops in order to get feedback and opinions from judges and seasoned Chantecler breeders. My Chanteclers were definitely not yet show-stoppers, but it was a valuable learning experience.
I experienced a disappointing year with the Chantecler offspring of 2013. Reduced hatchability, a general lack of fast growth and vigour made me wonder again if it was time to throw in the towel and drop this entire project. I had expected that by this point I would be seeing better results. But further reading on the subject revealed that it's a common occurrence to hit roadblocks in the process of establishing a new strain. Regardless, it was obvious to me that further improvements were needed, and this came the following year in the form of an unrelated rooster from old bloodlines originating in Quebec.
2014 - Present
This was the real turning point for me and my White Chantecler project. Throughout the year my optimism returned as a large abundance of chicks hatched without incident, grew incredibly fast and matured into beautiful, healthy specimens that looked and performed the way the breed was meant to. The new rooster had brought with him the fast growth and heavy weights my flock had been lacking. And, having already weeded out most of the undesirable traits in my remaining hens, this proved to be an excellent outcross. Of course, a new outcross always brings a few surprises, and this instance was no exception. So again I hatched and raised large numbers of chicks in order to make very careful selections for the following year's breeders.
The success of 2014 marked the beginning of years of continuous improvements, without the serious stumbling blocks of previous years. I continue to be amazed by the remarkable vitality and astounding growth rates that are now the norm. They have become very consistent in appearance, performance and behaviors, and I feel that they can now be considered a new and distinctive strain of White Chantecler. I plan to continue to polish and refine the Hawthorn strain, with a strong emphasis on the most important aspects: health, fertility, egg production, fast growth and standard finished weights. As well, the importance of maintaining their graceful beauty and unique physical characteristics cannot be downplayed. My journey with Chanteclers has been a bit of a rocky one, but it's the investment of time and effort that makes the success so rewarding.
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