William McRae

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William McRae

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Insights on Inbreeders

By: Floyd Gurley

The biggest problem anyone can have in the chicken game is to think they know it all. Just as bad is thinking that you know the only way to do something. There is just too much to know and too many ways to achieve your objectives to permit anyone that type of control. A farmer may know many ways to get into town and depending on the weather, one route may be the best. But they will all get you into town.

Recently, there have been a number of articles in the magazines about how to breed and whether or not to inbreed. No doubt there are breeders who avoid inbreeding like the plaque just as there are those who do inbreed. And both methods have produced some measure of success. I, myself, for many years have inbred my fowl with what I consider very good results. I also had the good fortune to meet some of the top breeders in this country and the vast majority of them were also inbreeders. Maybe, it would be of help to you if I shared with you my reminiscences of some of these very famous breeders.

But before I do that, I would like to make some observations on the current inbreeding controversy.

One author seemed to claim that not knowing any genetics will not hurt you and might just help you since many of the old-time breeders seemed to do very well without knowing anything at all about genetics. If there is anything you can believe it is that ignorance does not pay off. You may learn something and then reject it but refusing to learn at all doesn’t seem the way to go. Besides, if you breed at all, you are making use of practical genetics whether you want to or not because you are applying criteria of selection to modify in some manner your fowl. Now, doesn’t it make sense to learn what has been found out about methods of selection and how genes are modified and maybe apply that to your situation?

Another author has an absolute horror of inbreeding and has used every type of argument against inbreeding, although he claims to have a pure family of fowl. However, no arguments is going to overcome the reality that there have been inbreeders in the gamefowl fancy, they have been successful and they have produced some of the best fowl this country ever saw.

One of the most knowledgeable men I have ever met in the fields of genetics and breeding was the late Hugh Norman. I met Hugh while participating in a derby in Georgia. We shared a hotel room and talked breeding for many hours. It didn’t take us too long to find out that we both shared many of the same theories and applied the same methods to our breeding programs. Like me, Hugh maintained inbred families of fowl that had suffered no infusions of outside blood for as long as we could determine. In order to maintain these lines, we are forced to inbreed. Logic tells you this. If you close off a family, introduce no new blood, then sooner or later you will have to mate relatives, which is what inbreeding is. The real problem is knowing how to inbreed and how to set the strain in a way that will work for you and not against you. This is part of the breeder’s art.

Hugh produced crosses with his inbred fowl that made quite an enviable reputation throughout the United States. Today, many men maintain Hugh’s families of fowl with varying degree of success. Some men have downgraded Hugh’s chickens. Could it be they obtained crosses and not the pure seed fowl?

Another inbreeders of note is the late William McRae. It has been said that Mr. McRae was not an inbreeder. I can unequivocally tell you that the end result of all the Democrat families in existence today are proof that this is a false statement. Besides, he told me himself that he had different inbred lines developed by him. Mr. McRae was a highly intelligent man who brought to the top many of today’s most famous cockfighters. Through my good friend Ray Alexander, I was able to meet Mr. McRae at his farm. I went there with the intention of obtaining some pure brood stock., price being no object. Ray warned me that McRae would begin to ask me questions on breeding and genetics. He told me to answer him directly and if I didn’t know the answer, to say so. If he was satisfied with the answers, he would probably invite us “to go into the cockhouse, light a fire and talk a while.” If not, Ray said he was capable of just turning around and leaving us standing there in mid-sentence. After asking a number of questions and showing us around his cockhouse, light a fire and talk a while. We talked for several hours on all aspects of genetics and inbreeding. He was extremely knowledgeable about breeding and he applied this knowledge to create intensely inbred foundation fowl to produce his hybrid pit fowl.

Before leaving, I asked whether he would sell me pure fowl to be used in a modern breeding operation. He said that he raised very few pure seed fowl (which is why they were highly inbred), precisely so as not to let anybody obtain them. He did say that he would give it some serious consideration and that I would hear from him. As we left his yard, Ray said that I had made a good impression on him and it seemed that I would obtain his pure fowl. Unfortunately Ray was wrong. A few days later, Mr. McRae called me and informed me that after much consideration, he had decided not to let the pure ones leave the farm. After this, we spoke on several occasions on breeding over the phone. So, today, all those persons who state they have the pure Democrats, owe Mr. McRae a great debt and should be thankful that he was a believer in maintaining pure lines and linebreeding them for the purpose of brood stock.

The third breeder, I want to mention is my close friend for over 40 years, Harry Parr. We often discuss breeding (as a matter of fact, every time I meet him) and even though we may disagree on few subjects, we are in fundamental agreement on all the important issues of inbreeding and crossing pure families of fowl to produce hybrids for battle. In his book, Harry gives a very clear impression of what a modern breeder can accomplish.

Harry has maintained his seed fowl for many, many years. He obtained his bloodlines directly from Ted McLean, who was his partner and bred exactly the same way that Ted did. Today, all those persons who claim they have McLean Hatch should be thankful that both Harry and Ted were inbreeders and kept their seed fowl pure.

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