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Araucanas by Alan Stanford, Ph.D. from the June/July, 2007 issue of Backyard Poultry

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February 7, 2013

Araucanas

By Alan Stanford, Ph.D.

Eastern Show Chair of
The Araucana Club Of America

Araucanas in a Nutshell

Araucanas have some bizarre features; they are rumpless and have ear tufts. Oh yes, and they lay blue eggs.

  • Rumpless birds are missing more than just tail feathers; they are missing the entire coccyx.
  • Ear tufts are quite different from the beards found on other breeds, for example Ameraucanas, Houdans, Faverolles, Polish, Crevecoeurs, Silkies, and the lady at the circus.
  • Blue eggs, unlike brown eggs, are not just colored on the outside of the shell; the color is throughout the shell.

Araucanas were first bred in the United States in the 1930′s. They came from a cross between two breeds from Northern Chile, Colloncas and Quetros. Colloncas have no ear tufts but are rumpless and lay blue eggs; Quetros have ear tufts and tails but do not lay blue eggs. Araucanas are intelligent, alert, and, for a chicken, good at flying.

Ear tufts are very unusual and a breeding challenge. The short story is that you will always hatch Araucanas without tufts. The scientific story is ear tufts come from a dominant and lethal gene. This makes the odds of show quality offspring less than in other breeds. Since judges focus on tufts and rumplessness, type and color are secondary considerations.

Rumpless birds appeal to many people for lots of reasons. Some people like the rumpless look, the Araucana people think rumpless birds better escape predators, and others believe rumpless birds do well in fights.

Why Raise Araucanas?

I raise Araucanas because they are unusual, graceful, beautiful, intelligent, friendly, and lay blue eggs.




Melody, a Black Bantam Araucana hen.
Melody, a Black Bantam Araucana hen.

I raise Silkies in addition to Araucanas. These breeds seem at first look to be very different. However, my favorite Silkies and my favorite Araucanas have similar personalities. My favorite Araucanas are Louis XIV and Harmony. Louis was a strong defender of his flock and did not put up with invasions of his coop, even if you were passing out treats. When I respected him as master of the coop, Louis was a good friend and was never aggressive. Harmony is the most independent yet at the same time friendliest bird I’ve raised. After I won her confidence, she began to hop on my arm just as I enter the coop. She always has to tell me about what happened while I was gone. When once I gave treats to Susie Q before Harmony, Harmony pouted for three days. She wouldn’t hop on my arm, she wouldn’t accept even her favorite treats, and she certainly wouldn’t let me close to her.

Want to Learn More or Find Araucanas?

If you want to learn about or talk about Araucanas, join our club and discuss Araucanas on the Club’s forum. The Araucana Club of America’s website is www.AraucanaClubOfAmerica.org and the forum is at http://aca.araucana.com/phpBB-2.0.21/phpBB2/. The club has an awesome newsletter and an indispensable list of Araucana breeders.

Shape of An Ideal Araucana

An ideal Araucana’s back slopes slightly downward toward the tail end of the bird. The American Bantam Association Standard says, "Sloping slightly to the tail" and the American Poultry Association Standard says, "With posterior slope."

The old ABA drawings are a little inaccurate, showing Araucanas with a somewhat "dished" back that rises slightly at the end. This is incorrect and looks bad on Araucanas. The new ABA standard gives a better picture of the ideal back although the earlobes shown are too large.

If you want to use a numeric description of the ideal slope, Terry Reeder says, "About five to ten degrees of downward slope for females and about ten to fifteen degrees for males. Excessive downward slope is a common defect in Araucanas and should be discouraged".

Blue Eggs

Many people raise Araucanas just for their blue eggs. The Egg Lady on Dable Road in Mukwonago Wisconsin has quite a good business selling Araucana eggs. If you see her, say hi for me. Bantam Araucanas lay amazingly large eggs. Araucana eggs are blue, a very pretty blue, but not as blue as robin eggs. Different hens lay different hues of blue but older hens lay lighter blue eggs than when they were pullets. The first eggs in a laying season are bluer than the eggs late in the season.

Breeding

Show quality Araucanas are a challenge to breed. Only one in four or five chicks has visible tufts; far fewer have symmetric tufts, and different judges favor differently shaped tufts. The tuft gene is lethal; two copies kill the chick a few days before hatching (an occasional double tuft gene bird does survive). Of the chicks with just one tuft gene about 20% die. Since most tufted Araucanas have only one gene for tufts, 25% of eggs from tufted parents yield Araucanas without tufts.




Yetti, a Salmon Araucana hen. Yetti is very talkative and friendly.
Yetti, a Salmon Araucana hen. Yetti is very talkative and friendly.

The rumpless gene decreases fertility 10-20%. Some breeders say the longer one breeds rumpless birds the shorter the offspring’s backs become. Eventually the birds’ backs become too short and natural breeding is impossible.

The best way to learn about breeding birds "to the Standard" is to show them, talk with everybody at the show, and politely ask the judges why they liked or didn’t like specific birds. Soon you’ll learn chickens are an art form and not a science. If you stick with chickens, you’ll form your own idea of the perfect bird; stick with it longer and people will recognize your birds just by their look. Several Araucana breeders’ birds have unique looks all of which "meet the Standard."

We frequently remind others and ourselves that if we sold every bird somebody doesn’t like, we’d have no birds at all.

Once Again, Why Araucanas?

These birds have personality, intelligence, shock value, blue eggs, are beautiful, weird and, wow, can they fly. Why not Araucanas?

Araucana Tufts

Tufts are difficult to perfect for showing. They can grow in many different ways, sizes, and shapes.




A closeup of Quinon, a White Bantam Araucana hen, displaying her tufts.




    Above: A closeup of Quinon, a White Bantam Araucana hen, displaying her tufts.

    Below: Popcorn, a White Bantam Araucana hen. Popcorn has four tufts, two on each side of her head, and is very friendly.




Popcorn, a White Bantam Araucana hen. Popcorn has four tufts, two on each side of her head, and is very friendly.

• Tufts can grow on both sides of the head or on only one side.

• They can be very big or very small.

• They can be just a fleshy peduncle with no feathers.

• They can be different sizes on different sides of the bird or the same size on both sides.

• They arise near the ear, on the throat, or even internally (often fatal).

• They are often not at the same place on opposite sides of the bird’s head.

• They can be upswept, spiral, tear drop, ringlet, fan, ball, rosette, powder puff, or other shapes.

• There can be a different shape on each side of the head.

• Some birds with the tuft gene have no visible tufts.

• Rare birds have more than one tuft on the same side, I’ve had a few Araucanas with four tufts.

A few of the myriad forms of tufts.

Alan Stanford, Ph.D. is the owner of Brown Egg Blue Egg Hatchery. Visit his website: www.browneggblueegg.com.

I am a digital project manager with Swift Digital. I started at Swift in June 2007 and joined the Backyard Poultry Magazine team in 2012. I hold a master's degree in interactive journalism from the Un...