Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Auburn Javas

This past week, a breeder who has some of theAuburn Javas from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry contacted me. He's looking for information on this very rare variety of a rare breed. The illustration above comes from The Poultry Book of 1912, by Harrison Weir. It is identified as being a drawing of 25 years before, putting it at 1887.

He started with three hens and a rooster in February 2008. In the birds he has bred thus far, he has observed some variation in the amount of red on the males and gold on the females. He describes the males as "striking." They are similar to Light Brown Leghorn cocks. This breeder is most delighted by the auburn with black mottling color on breast and body. The fluff is also auburn with black.

"Even though there is some variation in the amount of auburn on the roosters, they are very consistent in other ways," he writes. "On both males and females, the beaks are horn that shades to yellow at the tip, the eyes are reddish bay, the shanks and toes are willow and the bottoms of the feet are yellow. The hens are basically black with gold/yellow on their necks and breasts and sometimes even throughout most of the body."

The Java came to the U.S. at least by 1835 from the East Indies (hence the name) and were admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1883. As a high-class market fowl, its breeding was desirable and contributed to development of the Black Jersey Giant and the Barred Plymouth Rock. Indirectly, their influences reached many other breeds, including Orpingtons and Australorps. Javas are probably the source of yellow legs and skin in Dominiques.

They had nearly disappeared by the end of the 20th Century, but in recent years, attention from specialty breeders and historical societies has given the breed a second chance. Garfield Farm Museum in La Fox, Illinois in the 1990s has played a significant role in the recovery of the Java breed as part of its commitment to historic stewardship.

Garfield Farm is an 1840s living history farm and inn museum. In the course of its breeding program of Black and Mottled Javas, such as the one below, a photo from Weir's Poultry Book, a pure white strain appeared in 1999. While this is no longer recognized by the standard, it is a legitimate variety and may find official recognition some day. Breeders are nurturing it with an eye to campaigning to have it included in the Standard of Perfection again.

The farm museum supplies Java eggs to hatch at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s “Genetics: Decoding Life” exhibit. That connection has supplied thousands of chicks to breeders around the country.

The museum breeds over 8,000 Java chicks each year. Out of those, two brown ones showed up in 2004, the remnants of the Auburn variety that disappeared in 1870. The Auburns are significant for their contribution to the Rhode Island Red.

Senior Exhibit Specialist Tim Christakos has shared the rare birds with local breeders who are nurturing the Auburns toward sustainable populations.

“We know they are not going to go extinct now,” he says.

Javas are a heavy breed, with cocks at an ideal weight of 9.5 lbs. and hens at 7.5 lbs. Like many historic breeds, Javas grow more slowly than industrial hybrid cross birds that feed our retail appetite for chicken.

I'll continue to pore through these books and see what is there to document Auburn Javas.

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