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The Fabulous King of Fowls


Onagadori Page One / Care Instructions / Festschrift - Translated / Aspects of Breeding



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ONAGADORI - a living legend!
With any animal as fabulous as the King of Fowls, many legends, stories, tales (both true and contrived) occur. In the case of the Onagadori, there are many in Europe and America that go beyond the imagination and/or reason. Such an achievement in domestic fowl breeding is indeed worth a good story or two, so I will try and summarize a few for my readers of this incredible bird.
The first imports of Longtail Fowl into Europe were of a type of non-moulting "proto-Onagadori". I coined this particular name a few years back in trying to give a name to the diversely coloured and combed longtails that arrived in Europe during the first period of importation from Japan that arrived in the 1800s. I go deeper into this period under the pages called HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.
Over the past two centuries diverse imports were done and diverse stages of development of the Onagadori were seen. According to Knut Roeder's "Festschrift" for the Onagadori and Pheonix Association of German, the Onagadori became fully developed as we know it today in the Taisho Period (1912 - 1926) (See link at bottom of page for the link to the full translation, copyrighted © by the association, translation © by me). The American imports took place during the 1930 - 1940s, later believed to be also imported in the 1960s for a fly-tying firm. The European first imports began in the 1800s, were repeated again in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Here in Europe there was one well-known importation through the "family Wild" of sourthern Germany in the 1970s in which expenses of nearly 40,000 euro were quoted. More recent imports have also been documented: 1960s Anton Huijkmann of the Netherlands, through Willy Coppens of Belgium in the 1970s, through Knut Roeder of northern Germany in the late 1990s. The only ones that I know of that were done on a public and official level were through the extensive efforts of the Wild family and Mr Coppens of Belgium, for which I now have also photographic material. I believe that Mr Coppens is also the first source of many of our Japanese breeds, and to him we here in Europe owe much gratitude. The Tomaru, Satsumadori, Totenko, Onagadori, Shamo and other breeds were, according to my records, introduced for the first time in their modern forms through Mr Coppens and his son.
In America, there were the two main imports that started the Longtail Fowl lines. One was an official import by way of the University of Southern California and the author of the 1970s National Geographic article by Dr Ogasawara, of which the last remnant went to Mr Donald Barger of California. The second recognized import was actually much earlier and came by way of the 1940 World's Fair, the remnant of which went to a Mr Daniel Boone and later developed to a high level of refinement in the 1960s by master breeders John Kriner, Sr and John Kriner, Jr. The Kriner line then went to Mr Cy Hyde of New Jersey where it was dispersed all over America as "Phoenix - Onagadori, the "True Japanese Longtail Fowl". Of the lines in America, only recent discovery amoungst breeders of the genetic identity of the Onagadori's feathering have led people to begin selecting again for non-moulting characteristics in three to five year old roosters. Many lines, even though having been bred "pure", have lost the non-moulting gene which actually defines this breed and distinguishes it from all others on earth. Of the different lines I have studied, only the Barger, Hujkmann, Coppens and Roeder lines have retained the "purebred" status genetically. And amoung these, the Coppens and Roeder lines, which are intermingled are the most developed and refined.
The information found here is not only of birds that I have kept, but rather of five lines that I have dealt with: Cy Hyde (USA), Anton Huijkmann (Holland), Brian Reeder (Kentucky -USA), Donald Barger (California - USA) and Knut Roeder (Germany).
(PLEASE NOTE: It is STILL prohibited to take eggs out of Japan of the breeds protected by their Natural Monuments laws. NO eggs may be taken out of Japan from the protected breeds.)
I have combined the texts to form a general, flowing document on the Onagadori, so please note in the illustrations to understand comments on the different lines known to me. The first illustration is from an antique magazine/newspaper from San Marco that I bought at auction. It shows and explains in the short text below the picture that this is a "phenonema of breeding". This illustration was published in 1921, a period in which the Onagadori and its descendants were fables and legends.
The second illustration, a bird from Californian breeding Donald Barger's breeding station, is of one of the finest Black Breasted Onagadori in America. Donald's lines were developed from the birds given to Dr. Ogasawara (National Geographic fame) at theUniversity of California and some from the Cy Hyde line. The birds that Knut Roeder now has in his posession are perhaps the most recent import of Onagadori in the west and shows extremely high levels of feather refinement and growth.
The third illustration is of the Dutch line of Goshi ({Goshiki}, a pale Golden Duckwing) Onagadori, bred for more than 20 years by Anton Huijkmann near Zwolle. This shot is from one of my own birds back in 1988. The line was exceptionally feather rich with non-moulting birds. Unfortunately, not one rooster lived past three years of age and therefore I never had more than four to five foot tails. This line was developed from eggs from Japan in the late 1960s. A white mutation arose from this very pale version of Akasasa, albeit with olive legs. The whites of Japan are standardised with yellow legs only. The Goshi (Goshiki) birds had exceptional fullness of feathers, many with the sought-after two to three pairs of mutant sickles. Many of my German colleagues refused to believe that these were true Onagadori because they do not resemble birds from Manfred and Hildegard Wild of Steinmauer whose true Onagadori's had been crossed with Leghorn in order to revive their very weakened line.
My birds all went to Knut Roeder in 1990. He worked with them for a few years, showing them at exhibitions and then "got rid" of them all when he was given hatching eggs of modern Onagadori. Most of this older line were sold individually - i.e. without hens. Some of the birds of this European line are still alive today. If you have any, please contact me at: casarocca@cotton.com.
The rest of Anton's birds were given to his son-in-law who bred them to a flock size of nearly 85 birds when, due to toxic waste dumping probably in the 1950 - 60s, a toxin seeped into pens where he had his Cashmere goats and Onagadori. All animals died within three days.

The fourth illustration is of a bird that I hatched from eggs collected from Cy Hyde's farm in New Jersey, USA, from a line developed from birds from the World's Fair in Chicago in 1934. This bird was typical of those that I got from these eggs. The Silver Duckwing colour was clean and brilliant, the birds were more robust that the extremely fragile Dutch line, but lacked very much in feather fullness. It did not display the "nm" factor and moulted normally. Cy's birds have been sold all over the United States and have been bred with varying success either as extra-longtailed Phoenix or as Onagadori of poorer quality. When I visted his farm in the late 1980s, he had a few cocks with six foot tails, but most were of shorter lengths and were roaming freely outdoors and had the typical soil-damaged tails of Longtails raised in wet or muddy areas. Most reports that I have gleaned over the internet have indicated that also these lines suffer generally from diminished vigour due to the severe inbreeding necessary to keep the breed pure. It seems, however, that inaccurate selections have been made for numerous generations and many of his birds do not possess the non-moulting gene "nm" or "ns" that, under best conditions, produces non-moulting feathers.

  A few strains of these birds have been reported to me in 2001 as non-moulting and are being further developed under careful husbandry. I have made reference to this new development as Non-Molting American Phoenix. It is promising indeed that a few dedicated breeders in America are working to retrieve the fully non-moulting qualities that were present in the original lines. Reports to me sound very promising, as there are a handful of exceptional cocks from this breeding programme that, at 4 and 5 years of age, haven't moulted.

I have added a quote from a noted authority on Longtails, Brian Reeder, as it pertains to this discussion about the genetic makeup of the Longtails:
"...the gene "gt" is not the gene responsible for non-moulting. It is the gene which causes the faster rate of growth in tail and sickle feathers each year, whether they are non-shedding or not. It is the "gt" gene which causes F1 crosses to have tails longer than their short tailed parent, but shorter than their long tailed parent, as the gene "gt" is co-dominant, expressing itself partially in the F1. The gene for non-shedding is "ns" or "nm" (non-shedding or non-moulting) and is recessive, thus no non-shedders are produced in the F1 of crosses between non-shedding bird to shedding bird. There is a third and separate gene involved in the true Onagadori and that is saddle gene "sg". Saddle gene "sg" causes the saddles to grow long just like "gt" tail growth gene causes the tail to grow long and works independently of "gt" thus we sometimes see phoenix with wonderful tails, but insufficient saddles and vise-versa. Saddle gene "sg" can be combined with non-shedding "ns" as in Onagadori, it can occur on shedding birds as in Phoenix or can be absent altogether on a long tailed bird, as in Cubalaya or Sumatra. The Onagadori is the only known example of all three genes combined and expressed homozygously and is thus a true pinnacle of the breeders art."
I would like to present here in these pages the distinction between the pure Onagadori and the pseudo-Onagadori or the so-called Phoenix-Onagadori, fully illustrating this with images and texts showing the lines of demarcation between the two. In so doing, I will stress many aspects of importance of the true Onagadori. ........ Marc King Jan, 2000
The ONAGADORI, continued
The Onagadori, "most honourable fowl", has been protected by the Japanese government for many years and is considered a Living Monument of the Japanese culture. The Onagadori and the western breed of ornamental Longtail fowl, the PHOENIX, are related but are not the same breed. There is an immense amount of confusion in Europe and America concerning the Onagadori and the Phoenix breeds of longtails because all Phoenix, on both sides of the Atlantic, are products of crosses involving the Onagadori. The Onagadori is however, a rare, pure-bred Natural Monument to avicultural breeding mastery and is distinctive in that a certain percentage of the main sickles and covert as well as the saddle hackle grow throughout the lifetime of the rooster. The hens resemble other Longtail Fowl hens in most aspects.There are different degrees of quality of Onagadori, as in other breeds: the highest level is those Onagadori which have the extra two to three pairs of sickles and which have over 60% to 70% of the tail feathers that do not moult. The quality of the Onagadori is also very much dependent on how it is kept and birds of genetically highest quality may not develop the exquisite lengths due to poor treatment. Studies from Japanese research results of the gene "gt" which influences the extraordinary feather growth by Dr. Fritzsche have shown that
"'From the results of the experiments done on this special growth gene it is clear how difficult this subject is, because the transmission of the inherited factors are not only through certain plural genes, but also through secretional influences, which are determined by the care and upkeep of the birds, all of which seem to play a definitive roll in the non-moulting aspects of the feathers." (From text to Phönix und Onagadori 75 Jahr Jubileum Festschrift, translated by M.King, used with permission from the author.)
To breed Onagadori properly, one must keep a number of roosters in tranquil, non-stressful, temperate conditions in order to select the birds with the best and longest tail growth. Once being selected, these roosters' tail feathers are trimmed and he is set with a very select group of hens which, again, have been selected from non-moulting fathers. Once the Onagadori has been set into the breeding pen, the increased activity will cause all of his blood feathers to go dry and undergo the normal moulting process. Only in this way can one be sure to pool and maintain the non-moulting gene in a breeding group. One point in case: the pure Onagadori descendants of Cy Hyde that no longer possess the non-moulting gene in any pooled form. I have been told that there are certain lines developed from his stock that have yielded a bird or two with a certain percentage of non-moulting feathers and that these birds are being used to try and regain this factor.
To understand more fully the effects of this gene on the growth of the feathers in the tail region, I have photographed different Onagadori to illustrate these aspects.
General Care of the Onagadori
Onagadori is a good layer and broody hens can be allowed to raise their young without problem, but if a larger selection is desired, hatching eggs in incubators and raising them in warm, dry stalls has also been done with success. It is important to select and separate the roosters which are to develop into show-birds early. The selection process has to do with the individual's character (more aggressive birds will destroy their own tail feathers, more docile and tame birds will give better success), its fullness of tail feathers (each rooster I had had over 40 main and secondary sickle feathers) and saddle feathers. Other characteristics of show requirements are also to be taken in consideration according to the requirements set in each country's standards: comb, wattles, breast bone, leg and toe.
We have noted that the Onagadori, having been developed in the rather mild insular climate of Shikoku in southern Japan, prefer climates not too cold or excessively hot. If raised in colder areas, stall heating should be implemented. If in very hot areas, importance must be given to shading (trees, etc.) and ventilation. If the birds go through sudden stress, like being chased by animals (dogs, cats, our little over-exuberant children!), they may react by the hardening of the quills and the later moulting of these feathers. Roosters used in breeding usually loose 3/4 to all of their previously non-moulting feathers due to the excited activity of having hens to mate with. One rooster used by my friend in Germany, Knut Roeder, once set back in the tranquil state of a private stall alongside his brothers, grew the tail back quickly.
I have had examples that would react like tame parrots, allowing themselves to be carried on my shoulder and their tail feathers washed and dried with a hair-dryer. Typical Onagadori feathers are very soft and in the breast area, for example, one can blow across the feathers and they flip and raise. Hard feathers are signs of impure lines.

Care should always be made in the selection of hens. The same rules of having many feathers in the roosters' tails applies to the hens. These selected birds should have long sickles and a full saddle.
The know colours of the Onagadori are:
AKAZASA = Black Breasted Red "Red Bamboo" (Akasasa),
SHIROZASA = Black Breasted Silver (Shirofuji, Shirafuji),
GOSHIKI = Five-Coloured (I have sometimes heard referred to as Goshi) - a very pale version of AKAZASA, and not Silver X Gold, a colour which many Japanese believe was the original colour of the first Onagadori and the
SHOJO = Golden Red with Black Tail (Black-tailed Buff)
The Shojo is believed to be extinct since the late 1980's. To date, certain Japanese breeders considering working to recreate the breed with imported birds from birds of this line that were exported together with the other Onagadori. The white Onagadori must have yellow legs and the corresponding yellowish-white earlobes. The other colours have grey olive. The earlobes should be white, naturally with the genetically connected greenish-yellow hint of the leg pigmentation. The silver and red duckwing have no dark central stripe in the hackles and very, very few in the saddles. This is an important feature in colouration.

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