The Madagascar Game and Ganoi
Dr. Charles R H Everett
Secretary-Treasurer Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities
I am certain this article will ignite a spark of resistance to my conclusions concerning the Madagascar Game or Malgache and the Ga Noi; however, I’ve never run from controversy before. Thus, I’m not afraid to at least place the wood on an already burning ember. It is my contention that these two breeds of fowl are actually one in the same. In this article I intend to prove this point, as well as give some insight into the breeding and preservation of the Madagascar. These fowl also present the American/Canadian preservationists with unique challenges. Many preservationists would place these fowl in both the rare and heritage categories. Indeed, they are very ancient breeds of fowl. However, their rarity is a matter of debate. Provided they are essentially the same breed of fowl, then their rarity is only a matter of the ethnicity of the preservationist. If you happen to be an American/Canadian of Vietnamese decent, then these fowl are anything but rare. On the other hand, if you are of any other ethnic background, then the acquisition of these fowl borders on the impossible. The Ga Noi’s beginnings are shrouded in mystery as is the Malay from which they are derived. What we do know is that the Malayoid fowl has been present in Southeast Asia for millennium. At some point, it seems that a semi-naked Malayoid fowl mutation appeared in the area of the Indochina Peninsula. From an historical point, we know that there was extensive trade between the Peninsula, Madagascar, and Reunion Island. According to modern historical researchers, Madagascar, though located off the African coast, seems to have been settled by people from Southeast Asia between 100AD and 500AD. Thus, there is a direct link between the Indochina Peninsula, and Madagascar. It is probable that the Ga Noi, and the Madagascar Game are the same breed based upon the following criteria:
(1) The historical link between these two areas as noted in the paragraph above.
(2) Both are Malayoid fowl. This is noted in their height and in the comb types: strawberry and pea-combs. There are not single comb specimens.
(3) Both possess the same basic type. For example, both posses the three curves of the Malay fowl.
(4) Both carry the same naked zones: neck, inner-thighs, and sometimes the breast.
(5) Both fowl show a dewlap.
(6) Both breeds produce fowl that may or may not have wattles.
(7) Both fowl owe there continued existence to the pit.
Both modern and older poultry writers acknowledge the relationship between these two fowl, including the noted author Carlos Finsterbusch in Cockfighting All Over The World, and Horst Schmudde in Oriental Gamefowl. Horst Schmudde even goes so far as to say that the best Madagascars are to be found in Vietnam (Schmudde 2005, 34)! This is, no doubt, a reference to the Ga Noi. My first acquaintance with these fowl came when I ventured in 2000 to Cambodia. On this trip, I noticed the naked neck Malayoid fowl that was used on nearly every corner for a cockfight. These fowl were pitted against one another naked heel; that is, the cockers did not use any type of steel gaff on their fowl. These tall, well muscled fighters were quite fast despite their weight, which often exceeds 10 lbs. The fighting cocks would first meet in the air, heels flashing as each hit seemed to be aimed for the head. Later, when I actually held my first mature cock, I came to understand why they were “head-hunters.” There massive well developed breast muscles are an almost impenetrable body amour. From this initial encounter, I became convinced that I must have one of these ancient warriors. To further add to my knowledge and desire for the naked neck Malayoid fowl, Craig Russell wrote an intriguing article entitled ‘Madagascar Games’ which appeared in the SPPA Bulletin 2003, 8(1):4. In the fall of 2005, I traveled from my home in South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia to meet with Craig Russell. He had graciously agreed to bring me Cubalayas from the John Castignetti line, and Madagascar Games. That first Madagascar trio included a black red cock, a blue hen, and a black hen. From this small beginning, I have developed a nice flock of birds. Incidentally, in the fall of 2006, Craig had a predator attack on his flock and lost all his remaining Madagascars. So, at the Indianapolis Show, I returned his original birds back to him. This in itself should give us all motivation to share our stock with others. None of us knows when we may be hit by a disease, predator, or natural disaster which causes us to lose our stock. By sharing with others, we can have a place to return too should something happen to our valuable and rare breeds of fowl. Of the original trio I received from Craig, the cock-bird was strawberry combed, while the females were pea-combed. He and I talked countless times concerning a possible Standard. Finally, I decided that I must write some sort of Standard by which I intended to breed my birds. (This Standard is included at the end of this article). Since the breed is Malayoid in type, I believe that the strawberry-comb is to be preferred. On examining the birds that resulted from the breeding of Craig’s birds, and pictures of those online, particularly ganoi.com, I decided that I needed to breed for a taller bird. So, in 2007 I bred my Madagascars brother to sister, and I also bred the black red Madagascar cock to a wheaten Malay hen. From these two matings I chose the largest pullets and stags which displayed the greatest degree of nakedness. Personally, I do not care for the ‘bow-tie’ on the neck. However, I really do like those that are naked from the beak, all the way to the vent, with nakedness on the inner thighs as well! To distinguish the Madagascar from a simple naked neck Malay, I have also chosen to always choose breeders that display a dewlap, and well developed wattles. The choice to cross with a standard Malay was simple enough: type, size, and relatedness. What I also received was hybrid vigor! The Madagascar hens are not very good layers at all. In keeping count of the egg laying ability of my pure-bred hens, I have found that I can expect between 25 and 40 eggs annually. Now, that is not a lot by anyone’s standard! My Malays, on the other hand, lay quite well, despite their reputation. Generally, they lay between 60 and 100 eggs each a year. With the combination of the two, in one very Madagascar looking bird, I have increased the laying ability of the Madagascar hen to closer to 70 eggs annually. This is going to be useful in producing more chicks from which I can cull severely in my hopes of producing a better bird. Granted, this hybrid vigor can be easily lost. However, by running two lines, one pure-bred Madagascar, and the other the Madagascar/Malay cross, I should be able to maintain the vigor to and acceptable level. In maintaining the two lines, I plan to breed as follows. The pure-bred line will be kept pure, always choosing stock that is tall, vigorous, strawberry-combed, and naked in the correct zones. In the cross line, I plan to use only hens bred back to a different cock from the pure-bred line; choosing the hens as already noted in the pure-bred line. After several generations (probably five), I will bred these lines opposite, with the cock bird coming from the cross line for the hens of the pure-bred line; while I then inbred the cross line as I did previously with the pure-bred line. This crisscross and inbreeding has been utilized by cockers for centuries, and is quite effective in producing Standard fowl.
Currently, the Madagascar Game has not been standardized in the United States or Canada. Its use as a show fowl is limited both by the small numbers in the hands of fanciers, and its inability to compete for prizes at the shows. It is also now illegal to fight fowl in all fifty states. Since the two primary reasons for keeping non-commercialized fowl are out of reach, is there another use for the Madagascar Game? Absolutely! The Madagascar Game has a well developed, dare I say broad, or double breast. It is not as tall as our standard Malay, and seems to not have the leg problems often seen with the Malay. At six months of age, a young Madagascar cockerel should weigh in the neighborhood of 8 lbs. Nearing maturity, a cock should weigh no less than 12 lbs. In contrast, a Malay cockerel will weigh only around 5.5 lbs. at six months. A mature Malay cock will weigh 9-10 lbs. So, the Madagascar Game gains weight more rapidly than the Malay, without the pronounced leg problems. Several years ago, I began keeping records of the weight gain of the different rare breeds that I keep. Naturally, I noticed that both the rare, and heritage breeds tend to be slower growers than their modern cousins. Among the rare and heritage breeds that I keep, I discovered that the French Marans had the most rapid weight gain, followed closely by the English Sussex. In the spring of 2007, I crossed a Madagascar Game cock to several large Marans hens. This cross was made simply to produce birds for the table. Realize that I had no desire to produce a broiler, with this one cross, that would compete with the modern broiler. The modern broiler is the result of genetic research garnered over the past 50 years. I am not so naïve, nor so arrogant as to believe that I have a miracle on my farm that can surpass hard work and research. I simply wanted to apply the basic rules of hybrid vigor, with my purebred stock, to produce a meat bird, without leg or heart problems, that I could hatch myself. The cross produced a bird with a wider breast than the Marans, but not as wide as the Madagascar. The bird grew more rapidly than the Madagascar, and only slightly slower than the pure-bred Marans. Overall, I was pleased with the result. The birds were slaughtered at 16 weeks, and weighed between 4.5 and 6.5 lbs. The weight differences of the birds, reflect the basic difference between the males, and females. These birds were raised on 18% chick starter and forage. It might be possible to have better weight gains on a higher protein feed, but that is not available to me, nor would I run the risk of leg and heart problems, which often results from feed with a protein content that is too high. The meat was finely textured, with an excellent taste.
The Madagascar Game is, at the very least, a close cousin to the Ga Noi Don of Vietnam. For all practical purposes, it is the same breed, that has either been bred with less selective pressure than the Ga Noi, or it has been bred with a slightly different approach in selection. Though rare among fanciers in the United States and Canada, the bird is quite prolific in numbers among ethnic Vietnamese in America. With no current standard, the bird is not likely to be seen at any local, or national shows. An excellent use of the Madagascar is in the production of a broiler bird, when crossed with another rare, or heritage dual purpose breed. The Madagascar provides a wider breast than is seen in our dual purpose breeds. For most of us who grew up with grocery store chicken as the basic rule of thumb, this wider breast is eye appealing and appetizing. The hybrid vigor produced by the cross of the Madagascar and a traditional dual purpose breed is an economical advantage without having to resort to the purchase of the modern broiler.
Tracing the movement of heritage and rare breeds, can be an exciting adventure, if you don’t mind the time it takes to track down individuals through phone calls, and emails. The movement of the Madagascar Games is a microcosm in the study of fowl within the United States. Craig Russell obtained his original stock of Madagascar Games from an anonymous source from Georgia. More than likely, the source was a cockfighter, who knew that he could share stock with Russell without the worry of seeing them show up in the pit against his own stock in the future. In turn, Craig Russell sent some of his Madagascar stock to Bulletin Editor; Ed Hart. After a couple of years, Ed shared his stock with another SPPA member, Orrin Jones of Kansas City. Eventually Orrin sent stock to Ideal Hatchery, which they used as their seed stock with the breed. Consequently, if you purchase Madagascar Game stock from Ideal hatchery, you are receiving the same genetic pool which I have been working with as the basis of this article.
Proposed Standard for Madagascar Game/Malgache
Dr Charles Everett (This Standard represents only a broad basis for type in the Madagascar. It also represents only the opinion of the author).
Cock 12 lbs. Hen 8 lbs.
Cock 28-30 inches
Malayoid; Three curves of the standard Malay
- Head except for the top
- Neck (bow tie acceptable)
- Inner thighs
- Entire Breast and underside maybe be devoid of feathers (a desired trait)
- Exposed skin is Red. (Black skin is also seen).
- Though a disqualification in all other breeds of fowl, the
- Madagascar is Crow Headed.
- In Madagascar, pea or strawberry comb is seen. I have bred only
- Pronounced and large
- Noticeable and large
- Carried high and over the saddle feathers
- Slightly below horizontal to drooping (whipped)
Notes on Color Patterns:
Color patterns seemed to be based on both black red and wheaten.
- Yellow with gray