Onagadori

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Charles V. Owens Jr. of Indiana, USA, shown with an Onagadori in Kochi, Japan.
Charles V. Owens Jr. of Indiana, USA, shown with an Onagadori in Kochi, Japan.
A silver duck-wing Onagadori rooster perched in a tomebako.
A silver duck-wing Onagadori rooster perched in a tomebako.
Photos of Onagadori roosters from the Japanese Standard of perfection. While Onagadori are housed indoors, they are often taken outdoors for photographing.
Photos of Onagadori roosters from the Japanese Standard of perfection. While Onagadori are housed indoors, they are often taken outdoors for photographing.
Female Drawing from the Japanese Standard
Female Drawing from the Japanese Standard
A map showing the Kochi Prefecture
A map showing the Kochi Prefecture
Though no pure or true Onagadori are known to exist in the US, various breeders are working to develop the breed. This 20 month old yellow-legged recessive white rooster is an example of the Rogers line of non-molting fowl.
Though no pure or true Onagadori are known to exist in the US, various breeders are working to develop the breed. This 20 month old yellow-legged recessive white rooster is an example of the Rogers line of non-molting fowl.


Contents

About the Breed

The Name:

The old syllable arrangement for the breed's name is Nagaodori 長尾鶏. At some point the arrangement changed to Onagadori 尾長鶏 and this is how the breed is known today. The breed's name is written with three kanji characters;

尾 ō "tail"

長 nägä "long"

鶏 dōr(i)ē "fowl"

The name means simply, long-tailed fowl. Though its complete classification in the Japanese Standard is the Long-Tailed Fowl of Tosa; Tosa no Onagadori, 土佐の尾長鶏.

History:

The Onagadori 尾長鶏 is a Japanese breed that was developed during feudal times in the isolated Tosa Prefecture in south-west Japan. This mild, subtropical region is now known as the Kochi Prefecture. However, the gene pool that gave rise to the unique fowl is much older and located outside of Japan.


In the mid 1990s, a US University found that many of Japan's native fowl contain genetic segments from the green jungle fowl (Gallus varius). This dispelled the commonly believed theory that all domestic chickens descend only from the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus).


The Ayam Bekisar, a unique hybrid of a male green jungle fowl with a female Red Jungle Fowl produced in Java, Indonesia, holds the genetics for producing long-crowing and long-tailed fowl. Females of this hybridization are sterile, but some males are partially fertile. These partially fertile males can be bred back to a red jungle fowl hen to produce fertile F2 offspring that still carry the rare and unique genetics.


An ancient trade rout lies between Java and China. It was used to trade spices and textiles. It's thought that these hybrid derived fowl were taken to China along this rout. During the 7th through 9th centuries AD Japanese scholars traveled to and from China to study the culture. It was during this time that the Chinese long-tails that are the ancestors to the Shokoku 小国 were taken back to Japan. The Shokoku is named for the Japanese name for the region in China from which the birds came.


It is held that the Onagadori is a hybrid of a hybrid; first that from the ancient green and red jungle fowl crosses, second by crossing Totenko 東天紅 and Shokoku. Both of the aforementioned breeds are derived from the jungle fowl cross.


These crosses roamed rice paddies eating small crucian, frogs, insects, larvae, fallen rice, and small crustaceans. This diet is not far removed from the wild diet of the green jungle fowl. The addition of the red jungle fowl genetics added somewhat more ability to digest grains. Certain grains are still not tolerated by pure Onagadori even today.


It was from these ancestors that the Onagadori was produced. Its ancestors started by having tails no more than a few feet in length. As selections were made, birds having longer feathers were produced. The feudal atmosphere fueled the desire for longer feathers. These feathers were accepted by the regional Daimyo as a form of tax from the prefecture's rural population. The feathers were used to decorate the helmets and spears of the Daimyo's shoguns for the Tosa Procession. This made their prefecture representatives instantly recognizable. Some of these artifacts can still be viewed in the Kochi Museum.


Contrary to popular misconception, Onagadori are not outdoor fowl that live in immaculate gardens. They are merely taken outdoors briefly for daily exercise and occasionally for photographing. They are in fact indoor fowl. Around 1900 the fowl produced tails of extraordinary length. It became necessary to house the males in protective housing. (Breeding males with trimmed tail feathers and hens are housed in large pens.) The housing for the male is referred to as a tomebako 止め箱, or "stopping box". This type of housing has a window to let in light, a carpeted perch, a dropping tray so that the bird never comes in contact with its droppings, and it also has food and water in front of it at all times. Due to the interior layout of the housing, it is not possible for the fowl to spill its food or water, causing it to go without for any amount of time. Not only does this housing prevent the fowl from breaking feathers, it also protects them from being pulled and bleeding profusely, potentially causing death. It is then taken out of its house for one hour each day to exercise and benefit from sunlight. Were the Onagadori a barnyard fowl, it would never tolerate these living arrangements. The Onagadori must be distanced in our minds from "chickens" since it is far removed in not only physiology, but also habit, from our domestic chickens. It is a slow, sluggish, and mostly inactive fowl with little desire to be on the ground or scratch. They naturally choose to remain perched most of the time.


The breed was designated as a Natural Monument in 1923 and received Special Natural Monument status in 1952.


Nutrition and Environment:

Given the vast differences from other fowl and the fact that it is from a coastal prefecture, it should be of no surprise that the Onagadori requires a much different diet. Any amount of corn should be avoided at all costs. It is potentially lethal to the fowl. Symptoms of corn toxicity include an over all lack of vigor, weight loss, skin rashes, and respiratory distress and discharge. They are fed a diet of whole oats, brown rice, raw or lightly broiled fish, eel, crustaceans, hard boiled egg, and many vegetables such as green cabbage, daikon radish leaves, and nira (garlic chives). Fruit, especially cranberries, are also good for the fowl.


Both sexes should not be exposed to temperatures below 50ºF. Bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses may occur as a result of cold stress. It is necessary to heat this tropical breed during winter months in northern climates.

Exhibited Traits:

The hallmark of the breed is the male's non-molting traits of the tail coverts, sickles, and saddle feathers. Each feather group has specific requirements it is to meet. This is explained further in the Japanese standard.


There are currently no known true Onagadori in the US. Phoenix are often incorrectly sold under the term "Onagadori". The Phoenix, a blue/slate-legged European breed developed in Germany, differs greatly in feather and body type from the green/willow and yellow-legged Onagadori. When it is known what an Onagadori is, there is no mistaking anything else for it.


For those who have a desire to reconstruct the breed, non-molting birds should be obtained from reputable breeders and raised exclusively under the above guidelines. Selections made from birds having non-molting in the tail and saddles could be refined into Onagadori if the management practices are followed.



Japanese Standard

This translation was done by my very patient, helpful, kind, and saintly bilingual friend.

Tosa Onagadori (Introductory passage omitted, it's only what we already know of the breed) Domestic varieties: Shirofuji (white-wisteria; silver duckwing); hakushoku (white); akazasa (red; red duckwing)


Standard weight:

  • Male - 1800g (3.9 Lb)
  • Female - 1350g (2.9 Lb)

Disqualification provisions: (Provisions applicable exclusively to this variety, in addition to other general provisions) a. Ear lobe color that is more than 1/2 red. b. Utaibane (謡羽; sickles) that are less than 1.5 meters (5 Ft).

Male body:

  • Comb - Single; medium-sized; 5 points that are firmly upright
  • Beak - Medium length, strong and moderately curved.
  • Head - Medium-sized & round; round-faced; fine & smooth
  • Eyes - Large & wide; shine, full of life
  • Wattles - Medium
  • Neck - Bends proportionately to length. Neck feathers are abundant and long, covering the shoulders well and falling to both sides to reach under the throat.
  • Wings - Long, large & strong; wing tips fold firmly.
  • Back - Long and broad at the shoulders, narrowing down toward the tail, declining moderately and joining smoothly to the tail without odd bumps.
  • Tail - The tail feathers grow at the rate of approx. 90 cm. (35 in.) a year; 26 feathers continue to grow for 3 to 4 years or longer. Others molt every year, but some of them (well over 10 feathers) reach 70 to 90 cm (27 to 35 in.). Utaibane (dragging tail feathers) are wide, smooth and strong and grow the longest. After 7 months (after tail feather molt), they grow 12cm (4.7 in.) a month in the first year and 9cm (3.5 in.) in the 2nd year. In the 3rd year and thereafter, they grow at the rate of 7.5cm (3 in.). The feathers in the upper section of the sho-utaibane (小謡羽; lesser or mutant sickles) and ofuku (尾覆; tail covert?) (side tail feathers)--except the daiichi ofuku (literally, primary tail covert?; also known as "uwayore")--are also wide, and the feather shaft fine, smooth and strong, growing proportionate to the utaibane. The daiichi ofuku continues to grow, but the feather shaft is twisted.

Kawari-honge (変わり本毛; also known as "kouge") is an altered feather of the main tail and is the widest, with feather shaft that is fine, elastic and strong, reaching length of around 3 meters. The number of this feather determines the quality of the Onagadori. In other words, the altered feather count can range from 1 to 4, and an individual with 4 such feathers is prized most highly. Along with this altered feather, the urao (literally, back tail) also molts once every 3 to 4 years. The pair of Urao feathers is not broad but has strong and elastic shafts and can reach a length of around 3 meters. The main tail is wide and long. The daiichi-honge (literally, primary main feathers; also known as "kougai") grows 70 to 90 cm (27 to 35 in.) a year. The lower section of the sho-utaibane and ofuku (main tail feathers - retrices) molt ever year but grow with speed all year long.

Minoge (minoke - saddle feathers) - Minoge feathers are countless, forming a semi-cyclinder ("tsutsumino").

The feathers maintain length of roughly a third of the growing tail feathers and do not molt.

  • Breast - Broad, round and expands well.
  • Belly - Long, firm and muscular, narrowing toward the tail. Soft feathers are long and abundant. The tail end is firm.
  • Legs - The legs can open wide and stand upright. The thighs are medium in length. Its strong shanks are medium in length. The heels are long and can open wide and straight.

Female Body:

(See this illustration) Closely resembles the Shokoku female but is slightly slimmer, with feathers of various sections longer than those of the Shokoku female. The saddle feathers form a semi-circle. The main tail is broad and long, with the top feathers long and the tips pointed and bending slightly downward.

Fujishiro Onagadori

Male/female body colors

  • Comb - Bright red, face and wattles for male, and pale red for female.
  • Beak - Horn in color or yellow with streaks of horn in color
  • Eyes - Reddish brown
  • Ear lobes - White or pale yellowish white
  • Legs - Yellow or dark lead
  • Feathers - Same as Fujishiro variety (Shirozasa variety) of common feather color type


Shiroiro Onagadori

Male/female body colors

  • Comb - Bright red, face and wattles for male, and pale red for female.
  • Beak - Yellow
  • Eyes - Red
  • Ear lobes - White
  • Feathers - Identical to white type of the common feather color type.


DEFINITIONS FOR THE JAPANESE TERMS

Description of Onagadori feathers found in a webpage on a person's one-day experience in caring for Onagadori feathers HERE.

ウワヨレ(uwayore): One pair; the uppermost covert feathers that grows in twisted fashion; do not molt

尾覆(ofuku): 3-4 pairs at top; do not molt

謡羽(utaibane): 1 pair; topmost of the dragging tail feathers (hikio); do not molt

小謡羽(sho-utaibane): 3-4 pairs at top; do not molt

コウガイ(kougai): 1 pair; altered main tail feathers at top row(?); topmost of the main tail feathers; molts yearly

コウゲ(kouge): 1 pair: altered main tail feathers outside the row(?); molts every 3 to 4 years

裏尾(urao; literally “backside tail”): 1 pair; molts every 3-4 years

  • There are cases of “kougai” and the “altered main tail feather on top row” defined differently, and the “altered main tail feather on top row" also called "kouge" and grows 3 to 4 years.

Important notes:

The translation above was done as faithful to the original as possible, in order to avoid misinterpretation on my part. Please ignore the awkwardness & use your imagination when reading it! LOL

The romaji words for the terms written in Japanese kanji characters are based on educated guesses, since readings based on standard (Tokyo region) Japanese may not apply.

There may be special readings for these terms that are distinctive to the Kochi region and/or among Onagadori breeders.

Another tidbit on the Japanese breeder's reference to “minoke”: 蓑羽is read either “minoke” or “minoge” by breeders, according to what I found on the web. In standard Japanese, it would be read “mino-u.”

Sources

The Japanese Standard of Perfection

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