Black Star

Black StarThe Black Star goes by a number of names, including Black Sex Link and Black Beauty, depending on the hatchery. It is not a pure breed, but rather a crossbred chicken produced by mating a Barred Plymouth Rock hen to a Rhode Island Red (or occasionally New Hampshire Red) rooster. The name “Sex Link” refers to the fact the gender of the resulting chicks can be identified with complete accuracy at hatching, the females being black and the males being black with a white spot on the head. (Note that, if Black Star chickens are bred, the subsequent generations will not share this trait because the genes involved will re-pair into new combinations.)

While it is likely that a Barred Plymouth Rock/Rhode Island Red cross has been made frequently since the two breeds originated, the Black Star rose to fame shortly after World War II. Food rations, returning troops, the arrival of refugees, and a flourishing U.S. population led to some concerns about the nation’s food supply. Poultry scientists in quest of a truly exceptional laying hen experimented with many different breed combinations and hit upon the Black Star as a top solution.

Throughout the 1950s, the Black Star was among the most popular types of chicken used for commercial egg production. These days, other hybrids have largely taken its place in the brown egg market. But the Black Star still has a loyal following—it has earned its place as a good all-around homestead bird.

Black StarUses

The Black Star is a superb choice for a dual-purpose chicken for homesteads of all sizes and aspirations. The hens are good producers (good enough to support a small business direct marketing eggs!) and the roosters are hefty enough to make satisfactory fryers for home use. The Black Star can also fit into the family as a very amiable pet.

Temperament

This breed is calm and docile, making it very easy to handle and get along with. However, it also has a good dose of personality. It will probably tend toward the top of the pecking order.

Black StarHealth

The Black Star has an excellent immune system and appears to be less prone to external parasites than other chicken breeds. The only difficulty likely to be found in this breed is an occasional reproductive malfunction.

Pros

  • Certainty of getting hens or roosters exactly as ordered due to sex-linked color trait.
  • Excellent disposition.
  • Suitability for nearly all climates and weather conditions (particularly cold winters).
  • Adaptability to nearly any type of production system.
  • Excellent foraging instincts.
  • Feed efficiency.
  • Hardiness.
  • Longevity.
  • Excellent egg production, particularly for the first two years.

Cons

  • Loss of sex-linked color trait in future generations.
  • Lack of brooding instinct.

Black Star

Complete Series

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds

 

Australorp

AustralorpIn the early 1900s, the Orpington breed was being refined in England for appearance and show qualities. But this was not the case in Australia. At roughly the same time, the Australians were hard at work shaping their Black Orpington populations into a dual-purpose chicken par excellence.

To start with, the Australian poultrymen emphasized egg production and meat quality, and selected their Black Orpington breeding stock accordingly. To further realize the dual-purpose ideal, they added some Rhode Island Red blood. A few individuals also introduced a little bit of Minorca, Langshan, and White Leghorn to the mix to aid in laying ability. The resulting bird was a little coarse by English show standards, but the breeders’ efforts paid off when the hens began to achieve outstanding egg production records throughout the 1920s, one hen even laying 364 eggs in 365 days!

When the new breed was introduced to North America about this time, it was given the name Australorp to distinguish it from the British Orpington. It quickly became a popular dual-purpose chicken in flocks around the country. The Americans added their own touch by creating a white variety with additional White Leghorn crossbreeding throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

While dual-purpose chickens have not enjoyed success in commercial settings for quite some time, the Australorp nevertheless has earned itself a place as a popular heritage breed in the United States. It is well on its way to reaching a stable population size thanks to interest among backyard chicken keepers. The black variety is by far the most common, while the white and blue variations remain rare.

Uses

The primary purpose of the Australorp is to provide eggs and broilers for home use. However, its sweet disposition can also make it a fine pet or exhibition bird, especially if children are involved.

Some Australorps will go broody, an instinct they inherited from their Orpington progenitors, but on the whole the breed is not entirely reliable when it comes to setting (brooding and hatching) eggs. Each hen must be evaluated individually for setting instincts. Fortunately, those that do prove their setting abilities are almost invariably good mothers.

AustralorpTemperament

Australorps are extremely easy to get along with. Like many chickens, they can be shy unless tamed and accustomed to human contact, but they generally take to people quite quickly. They are friendly and quiet, but still active.

Most hens will tend toward the middle of the pecking order. They typically get along well with the rest of the flock.

The Australorp hen, if sufficiently broody to hatch her own eggs, is hard to beat as a mother. She is very affectionate and will make sure the needs of her charges are met.

The average Australorp rooster has the right personality to be a useful protector of the flock without being dangerous or a nuisance. While all roosters should be watched until proven to be safe, the Australorp rooster is usually alert but good-natured.

Health

The Australorp is an extremely healthy breed with a long productive lifespan. It should present few, if any, difficulties.

The only two problems worth watching out for are frostbitten combs in roosters (usually not a problem with the hens) and a tendency toward obesity, which can affect egg production. The former can be prevented with adequate shelter, particularly protection from cold winds, while the latter is addressed by giving the chickens access to fresh pasture and letting them stretch their legs on a daily basis.

AustralorpPros

  • Very safe, family-friendly disposition.
  • Willingness to stay fenced without flying out.
  • Suitability for backyards and urban settings.
  • Adaptability to free-range settings.
  • Excellent cold tolerance.
  • Fair heat tolerance when provided with adequate shade.
  • Excellent health.
  • Early maturity.
  • Large numbers of eggs.
  • Persistent egg production regardless of weather or season.
  • Good mothering instincts.
  • Significant meat production.

Cons

  • Scarcity of white and blue varieties.
  • Somewhat unreliable performance as a broody hen.
Complete Series

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds

 

Araucana

AraucanaThe history of the Araucana is very hazy, although it is certain that the breed comes from the Araucanía region of Chile, where it was bred by the native peoples. No one seems to know for certain if the breed predates exploration by the Spanish or not, and new research often directly contradicts old research.

What we do know is that the Araucana was common in South America by the early 1900s, and it was during this time that the breed was introduced to the United States. It appears that the modern breed that Americans call the Araucana was developed on our shores by crossing two similar landraces—the rumpless, tuftless Collonca and the tailed, tufted Quetro. A bantam type also exists.

The recent popularity of the Araucana, owing to its unique appearance and beautiful blue eggs, has unfortunately encouraged some deception in the world of hatcheries. Be aware that not all chicks sold as Araucanas are really pure Araucanas, but may be any mix of breeds that will produce colorful eggs. While these hybrids, known as “Easter Eggers,” are delightful chickens in their own right, prospective buyers may want to check out the integrity of the hatchery to be sure they will actually receive what they have purchased. At the present time, the only reliable sources of true Araucanas are individual breeders.

Uses

The Araucana is primarily kept for the production of distinctive blue-shelled eggs. It is also an interesting ornamental breed and a delicious, if small, meat bird.

Temperament

This breed seems to have some wild instincts that may render it a challenge to tame. It is remarkably alert, even flighty. Some poultry keepers believe that the Araucana may be somewhat more intelligent than the average chicken.

For those who have the patience to tame the Araucana, it can settle down into a gentle, friendly bird.

AraucanaHealth

Contrary to popular belief, the rumpless gene found in Araucanas is not necessarily lethal, although it does come at a cost. Rumpless birds lack the tailbone, tail feathers, and the oil gland typically found at the base of a chicken’s tail. The altered body structure can reduce the success rate of breeding chickens. The lack of the oil gland results in chickens that do not shed water well. Rumplessness may even be associated with higher mortality rates during the last few days of hatching. In an attempt to remedy some of these difficulties, some breeders mate rumpless chickens to normal chickens. Unfortunately, this does not accomplish the desired purpose because quite a few of the chicks will likely end up with strange-looking partial tails. While the fertility rates of these intermediate birds are higher than those of rumpless birds, the intermediates often have the same high mortality rates as the rumpless birds and may only have a partially developed oil gland.

The tufted gene truly is lethal, and it is different from the genes that causes the muffs (sometimes also called “ear tufts”) of other chicken breeds. The tufts, also known as peduncles in this breed, are actually unique organs protruding from the bird’s faces and opening up into a blossom of feathers. Unfortunately, peduncles may arise internally and cause serious complications. Chicks with two copies of the tuft gene typically die before hatching; those that do hatch fail to thrive and are usually dead within a week. Chicks with one gene for tufts still have high mortality rates.

In short, the true-to-type Araucana as it is recognized in America today is virtually incompatible with nature. Araucana chicks invariably have high mortality rates due to the fact that the traits considered to be of paramount importance within the breed are harmful to the chicken.

Pros

  • Suitability for all climates.
  • Ability to adapt well to confinement.

AraucanaCons

  • Scarcity.
  • Deceptive marketing among some hatcheries.
  • Ability as an escape artist.
  • Fertility problems.
  • Low egg production.
  • Dislike of using nesting boxes to deposit eggs.
  • Low hatchability.
  • Difficulty of successfully breeding birds that are true to type.
Complete Series

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds

 

A Stone Arch Bridge for Greenwood County

A Bridge for Greenwood County
Gleason Ford Bridge

Kansas has always been a premier candidate for stone arch bridges. Stone is plentiful in most of the state. The post rock of the Smoky Hills region is a very well-known example of this, and it is not surprising that counties such as Lincoln and Russell have numerous stone arch bridges in them.

In eastern Kansas, timber was much more common (at least along streams) than in the western parts of the state, so, even in regions with plenty of stone, timber bridges were often built—at first. Timber rots and, due to its buoyant properties, tends to make a bridge vulnerable to floods. This was not a popular trait in bridges, to put it mildly, so counties quickly shifted to iron truss bridges on iron and/or stone abutments.

As the years progressed, iron truss bridges began to diminish in favor. Irritatingly, the wooden decks of these bridges still rotted out, and iron trusses still could be toppled in floods. To top this off, iron truss bridge companies effectively had something of a monopoly in this region of Kansas.

Plans for a Bridge

In Greenwood County, the commissioners decided to try out a stone arch bridge for something different and more permanent. Butler County, at the time, had already begun to build stone arch bridges with success (Butler County had in turn been inspired by Marion County, which had been building stone arch bridges from an early date). Greenwood commissioners “decided to put in a stone arch bridge of the pattern used in Butler county…” (Democratic Messenger, May 4, 1899—the newspaper was located in Eureka, Greenwood County).

Cowley County, at a later date, followed suit as well, eventually exploiting the Flint Hills limestone to build some massive bridges over Grouse Creek. However, unlike Cowley, which started first with a relatively small bridge over Timber Creek before tackling the big streams, Greenwood County decided that their first stone arch bridge was going to be something quite large. This bridge was to be built over the Fall River a few miles from Eureka.

Despite their jokes that the new bridge would be the biggest stone arch bridge west of the Mississippi, apparently the steel bridge companies were rather concerned about their future business potential in Greenwood County with this new development in the county’s bridge tastes. According to Walter Sharp’s account written in 1920 in a newspaper series that appeared in the Wichita Daily Eagle titled “A Story About Good Roads,” Sharp was offered a bribe by the steel bridge companies if he “would quietly slip away and go back home and stay there.” Be that as it may, Walter Sharp did not “slip away,” but won the contract and began building the first stone arch bridge Greenwood County ordered. This bridge, known as the Gleason Ford Bridge, was to be a quadruple-arch structure, with each arch being a well-rounded 36-foot span. Walter Sharp’s bid was $2,200.

The Success of the Bridge

In honor of the success of this great undertaking, a simply enormous celebration was held. According to Walter Sharp:

All business was suspended in Eureka, everybody shut up shop and went to the picnic and they came from everywhere.

W. Hoch of Marion, Kansas made the address; 5000 people were there; the Eureka band furnished the music; the merry-go-round went round; the three stands did an immense business; one of the main features was the picture man who made and sold pictures of the crowd on the bridge.

—From the first installment of “A Story About Good Roads” by Walter Sharp, which appeared in the Wichita Daily Eagle on October 24, 1920

Bridges were not taken for granted in those days as they are now, and the spanning of a large stream—especially with such a monumental and permanent structure—was cause for celebration. People would gather around for the celebration, and new friends and acquaintances would be made. There were many “bridge picnics” in those years, but the Gleason Ford Bridge celebration was one of the largest.

That the Gleason Ford Bridge (which Walter Sharp in his “Story About Good Roads” called simply “the Fall river bridge”) was a success there can be but little doubt. Walter Sharp stated that he built no fewer than 10 stone arch bridges for Greenwood County in 1901, and it is obvious from this that the Greenwood County commissioners were pleased with the performance and durability of stone arch bridges in adverse circumstances, as demonstrated by the Gleason Ford Bridge. As Sharp observed, “This bridge was hit with a full fledged cyclone about three years after it was built. The floods, the wind and time have made no change in the Fall river bridge.”

The Gleason Ford Bridge, whose four arches appeared in newspapers and postcards of the time is now no longer in existence. The Gleason Ford Bridge was, nevertheless, a milestone structure, and Greenwood County still has several stone arch bridges that were built following the success of the county’s first stone arch bridge: the Burnt Creek Bridge near Reece, the Homer Creek Bridge near Tonovay, the well-known North Branch Otter Creek Bridge, and a double-arch bridge over the Fall River, a sort of a smaller version of the Gleason Ford Bridge.