CHRIS GRAHAM waxes lyrical about the Andalusian – a really attractive breed that’s inexplicably gone out of fashion
ONE of the biggest mysteries connected with the rare Andalusian is why it continues to remain so rare! For a breed that has so much going for it, it’s strange that it is kept by so few fanciers – even at the UK’s premier poultry shows, you’ll be lucky to see more than a handful of these striking birds on display.
So what’s the problem? Does the name sound too foreign? Are people put off by an image of unmanageable Mediterranean temperament? Or perhaps it’s simply that the breed has fallen to such a degree that nowadays it’s hard to learn about, and even harder to buy.
Whatever the reason, the dwindling numbers are a crying shame, and would-be keepers are missing a great opportunity. The Andalusian offers cracking overall appearance, a very attractive plumage colouring on both male and female birds, plus all the utility performance you could reasonably want from a pure breed.
Yet despite having been around for well over 100 years, in more or less its present form – and a bantam version being available too – these pretty birds are forced to languish on the periphery of the poultry Fancy, without a dedicated club to support and promote them.
Like so many of our “traditional” pure breeds, when you start digging into the Andalusian’s background, the waters very quickly become muddied.
Popular belief has it that the breed was originally developed in southwestern Spain, in a region around Cadiz called Andalusia – but this isn’t strictly true. Certainly, Spanish fowl from that area were used as a starting point, but most evidence suggests that the significant breeding and development work was carried out in England, by a handful of enthusiasts during the late 1800s.
So the attractive bird we have today is, essentially, a man-made creation, and certainly isn’t a native fowl of Southern Spain. The actual dates involved are a little vague as well, but it seems that the Andalusian’s forbears arrived in the UK during the late 1840s, either brought here by Spanish traders or imported directly to order by enthusiast breeders.
By all accounts, these first birds were a bit of a mixed bag, with most being either black or white, and just a few presenting blueish/slate grey plumage. Their colourings were apparently somewhat drab and plain too, with little sign of the attractive two-tone or lacing effects seen on today’s version. However, the early breeders recognised some potential there, and must have fancied the look of the few grey examples they’d bought.
It’s commonly thought, though, that the Spanish was the first breed to be worked into the genetic mix, with some suggesting that this was to introduce the folded comb on the female. Careful selection was obviously made in favour of any dark lacing which appeared, although one contemporary report suggests that at some point birds were produced with light-coloured lacing! It seems that the Minorca played a part too, perhaps to increase the size of the comb and bring in greater weight to the dark lacing.
There’s also a suggestion that blue Old English Game – very popular at the time in Devon and Cornwall – were used as crosses, and that this was the source of the Andalusian’s now characteristic “reachiness”. This, presumably, would have also enhanced the blue feathering and endowed the emerging breed with additional visual grace and hardiness.
Careful selection from then on must have been responsible for developing the Andalusian’s game-like appearance further, by favouring breeding birds which stood tall, showed a slender body and an alert, active character.
Fortunately, though, this process wasn’t responsible for any significant loss in the breed’s fundamental vitality. It remained (and still is today) a strong and hardy bird. Sexual vigour is still good, as are fertility levels, and the resultant youngsters generally develop quickly and strongly.
Officially classified as a Light Breed, the Andalusian is characterised by its upright, bold and active nature. It’s a bird with graceful lines yet broad shoulders. Its feathering is close and compact, and both sexes show a well-rounded, full breast.
The wings are long (it is a flyer!) and held close to the body, while the tail is reasonably upright but not fanned. The male’s head is dominated by a good-sized, upright and deeply serrated single comb that’s balanced by long, thin wattles. The face is red as well, but the almond-shaped ear lobes should be pure white, smooth and uncreased. In the best examples, these bright lobes create a striking contrast with the red headgear which, itself, should all be fine-textured and smooth.
The female presents similar head colouring, although everything is smaller as you’d expect and, most significantly, the comb falls to one side, with a single fold. Both sexes stand on long legs that should be either slate grey or black. The shanks and feet must be free from feathers, with four straight and well-spaced toes.
As far as colour is concerned, the standardised version of the Andalusian is the blue. In reality, of course, this “blueness’”often tends to be in the eye of the beholder, with most birds looking fundamentally grey with just a hint of blue.
Much of the Andalusian breed’s beauty comes from its feather lacing; most feathers on these birds should be fringed with a reasonably wide edging of black, creating a wonderful contrast with the blue/grey ground colour. The exceptions to this include the male’s neck hackle, saddle and sickle feathers, all of which should be a rich, glossy black.
Black feathers like this on the female are restricted to the neck hackles. Lacing quality, however, is a serious breeding issue these days, with many birds (including some of those illustrated here) failing to reach the required standard.
Producing a top-quality blue Andalusian is no easy task. As with any “blue” breed, the desired effect is produced by the careful crossing of the black and white colour genes. Then, when mating the blue offspring together, the chicks produced follow a formula first noted by Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics. Only half of the hatchlings will have the blue plumage of their parents; of the remaining 50 per cent, 25 per cent will be black and 25 per cent will be white (“splash”, which is white with dark mottling).
This means that those seeking to breed for exhibition will inevitable be producing a high proportion of “redundant” stock, as the blacks and whites only need to be used occasionally in a breeding programme to tweak certain aspects of the blue’s appearance.
Pros and Cons
Simple to keep
Attractive show bird
Tasty to eat
Difficult to locate good stock
This extract was taken from The Practical Poultry Guide to Choosing Your Chickens, pub. Kelsey Publishing Ltd, price £9.99.