Tales of the tailess
PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:50 28 March 2014
David Scrivener looks at some rumpless breeds
Rumpless chickens, which don’t even have a parson’s nose to grow any tail feathers from, have been recorded over a very long period. Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), the first Professor of Natural History at Bologna University, mentioned and illustrated rumpless Persian Fowl in his Ornithology published in 1600. Fortunately for fanciers today, L R Lind translated the poultry parts of his work, published as Aldrovandi on Chickens, published by the University of Oklahoma in 1963. The Rev J Clayton was mentioned as noticing some in Virginia in 1693, but the locals couldn’t reliably say where they came from. Lewis Wright and other Victorian poultry book authors also mention Wallikikilli, living in Ceylon/Sri Lanka in a semi-domesticated state. One of the standardised breeds in the world today is the Uzaro, a rumpless bantam which, as far as I know, is only bred in Japan. The popular little short-legged Japanese Bantam, Chabo, as it’s known internationally, is believed to have first originated in south east Asia, arriving in Japan about 1600. As Uzaro are similar in general size and shape to Chabo, apart from the tail, it may be that the south east is the part of the world that the rumpless mutation first occurred. Araucanas, including Rumpless Araucanas, are now thought also to have first originated in south east Asia, before being taken across the Pacific Ocean to South America, possibly tying up all the historical loose ends.
Dutch merchants established links with south east Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries, present day Indonesia once having been a Dutch colony. This was almost certainly the source of the rumpless chickens which were eventually crossed with pre-existing European breeds to produce the rumpless sub-varieties eventually standardised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These include Ardenner Bolstaart (Belgium), Drentse Bolstaart (Netherlands) and Kaulhuhn (Germany). All three of these are normal light breeds, except for being rumpless, with only details of plumage, eye and ear lobe colour identifying which is which. As far as I’m aware, there are none of these in the UK at present - if anyone has any, please contact (and join!) the Rare Poultry Society.
Some imaginative breeders crossed small rumpless imports with feather footed bantams to produce Rumpless Booted (briefly in UK), Ruhlaer Zwerg-Kaulhuhn (Germany) and Barbu d’Everberg, Belgium, (equivalent to rumpless Barbu d’Uccles). A few Barbu d’Everberg have been seen here, and they’re covered by The Belgian Bantam Club.
This is a rumpless breed associated with the British Isles, a term I use on purpose as they are specifically from the Isle of Man which, as all Manx people rigorously affirm, is independent and not part of the UK. Mention the Isle of Man and most people will automatically think of tailless Manx cats, which according to local legend, date back to the 16th century, although more reliable details of their origins are difficult to find. As far as Rumpless chickens on the Isle of Man are concerned, the legends are more important than the reality anyway.
During the 19th century, regular steamship services transformed what was once a quiet community dependent on farming and fishing into a tourist resort. During the summer season, many farms opened their doors for cream teas, and because the tourists expected to see them, if they’d never had a Manx cat before, they soon bought one.
The same applied to rumpless chickens, often just called Rumpies. It’s not very clear where they came from, or how long they’ve been bred on Man. Edward Brown noted (in Pleasurable Poultry Keeping, 1898) that ‘at one time’, Rumpless were common on the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland, not far away from the Isle of Man. He didn’t specify how long ago this was. In this context, it would have been useful to know if he meant before or after the start of the tourist industry in that part of the world. Mr Brown didn’t mention the Isle of Man, but that doesn’t mean there were none there – he may never have visited Man, for all we know. There may have been a spontaneous mutation causing rumplessness, and it may have happened on either Arran or Man, but this is less likely than the next theory... well, less likely to an old cynic like me.
This suggestion is that an enterprising and imaginative breeder on Man had heard of, and obtained, some Ardenner Bolstaart, Drentse Bolstaart or Kaulhuhn in a deliberate ploy to create the myth of Manx Rumpy chickens to go with Manx Rumpy cats. I’ve only recently heard this theory, so haven’t yet had the chance to find any supporting evidence. If any readers are interested, particularly if they live on the Isle of Man, and can discover more, please either contact me via Country Smallholding, or even write your own article for CS.
The first type of Rumpless Game seem to have been the result of crosses between initial Rumpless Fowls, of Ardennes, or similar types, and Pit Game, like small Oxford type Old English Game or Spanish Game. Large Rumpless Game have existed, but always in very small numbers, most breeders having concentrated on bantams. I’ve only seen a handful at a few of the largest shows since the 1970s.
Rumpless Game Bantams have followed normally tailed Modern and Old English Game in changes in body shape and relative numbers, to be expected as Rumpy Bantams would have been crossed with whichever of these were available over the last 120 years.
Mr Mundle of Ballaugh, IOM, exhibited Black-red Modern type Rumpless Bantams in the 1890s, but this strain seems to have died out during World War One. A couple of breeders on Man have been working on a new strain since about 2000 by crossing normal Modern Game Bantams with the generally available OEG type Rumpless Game. I’ve not seen one yet, but am looking forward to doing so. OEG Rumpless Game have been bred in modest numbers since the 1920s, and probably in considerably greater numbers now all over the UK as well as the lOM since about 1980.
A lot of readers might be wondering why Modern type Game came before Old English type Game. Cockfighting became illegal in 1849, about the same time as the shows started. Between 1870 and 1880, there were increasing numbers of breeders and judges, who had never seen a cockfight in their lives, involved in showing what were then simply called Game. This generation of fanciers, one must assume, thinking they were doing the right thing from what they’d read and heard about Game in ‘the good old days’ selected for tighter feathering and slightly longer legs and neck. It was the start of the process which would eventually lead to the very tall Modern Game, which became fully established by about 1890.
Others thought differently and had kept strains of Pit Game going, which they then established under the new name of Old English Game. This was all happening with large fowl, and a lot of the OEG supporters were probably still fighting their birds. But bantams had never been fought, and before 1849, there were Partridge Bantams, which were said to have been common around the nations, and were described as being like miniature Pit Game, but they were hardly ever shown. In the 1850s, most of the bantams seen at the shows, even the largest shows, were Sebrights and Rosecombs, and not many of those. By the time the number of bantams shown had increased enough to form a significant section of the average show, Exhibition Game, as Moderns were called to begin with, were established in the large, so the bantam exhibitors selected for the same type.
There were some breeders who were keen to establish Old Type Game Bantams as they were first called, and this group of enthusiasts started to exhibit them at some of the larger shows in 1897 and 1898. At this time, they were more feathery than today’s OEG Bantams, perhaps more like Dutch Bantams. There was a gradual change in their style, with the type of OEG we see today starting to dominate by about 1930. Old English type Rumpless Game Bantams followed these trends.
A lot of Rumpless Game Bantams can be seen at Stoneleigh and Stafford Shows, but they’re still in the Rare Poultry Society section because they are from a limited number of enthusiasts. There are quite a few colour varieties, but not every OEG colour, simply because there aren’t enough Rumpless Game flocks. However, these breeders are well scattered, in addition to those on the IOM, with some in Cornwall, Kent and the north of England - so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find some.
They’re charming little birds, the hens more so than cocks. At the shows, where they normally compete in mixed AV Rare Bantam classes, they do well. Those judges who aren’t really Rare Breed specialists feel on safe ground with these, because they’re the same as normal OEG, except for the tail. Some of these judges are unable to even identify some Rare Breeds.
This article is from the September 2006 issue of Country Smallholding magazine.
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