Selecting your Norfolk Grey

One of the main problems of keeping rare purebred fowl is sourcing good examples of the breed.  Obtaining the best birds you can afford will help your breeding pens get off to a decent start. However, as their classification implies, because of their rarity, they will undoubtedly have a rather limited gene pool, so extra care must be taken when purchasing your first birds. Creating your own strain of  good standard birds will take both time and patience. 

When sourcing or selecting future breeding birds it is a good idea to know what the birds shape should look like.  In the British Poultry Standards, most breeds that are printed in the standards book are supplemented with a photograph and a silhouette of both the male and female of the breed.  These silhouettes tell us what shape the birds should be, and it is this shape that makes it recognisable from other breeds. 

 As the old adage says ‘Shape makes the breed, while colour makes the variety’.    The good news being: The Norfolk Grey only comes in one variety and that is  black and silver. So selecting the correct shaped birds is half way to achieving success.

The silhouettes below were created from photos of our birds that have won Champion Breed  honours  at the Poultry Club of Great Britain National Championships 2013 (Male) and the Federation of Poultry Clubs Championships 2012 (Female) Between them they have also won several Rare Breed classes. The female took Reserve Best in Show and Champion Rare Breed at a Regional Championship Show. Perhaps, we can class these birds as decent examples of the breed, both having individually earned their exhibition corn from several different judges. 

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The silhouettes give us an idea of the shape and carriage of the bird often known in poultry terms as the ‘type' we are aiming for. The female generally is ‘type’ mature when reaching 26 weeks of age or after she has come into lay. Although, as she gets older her weight will increase and her abdomen, breast and shoulder width will be more developed, while her back will gain more length as she continues to grow. However, the young male’s type may well look slightly different from that of the mature cock bird’s silhouette. Young cockerels often look gangly (all leg,neck and undeveloped tail) he is slower to mature than the pullet, taking anything from 6 to 18 months to fully develop his breast, neck, the width of his back  across the shoulders while also gaining the 8lb bodyweight that the standard requires. 

Norfolk Grey Pullet

Norfolk Grey Mature Cock Bird

Feathering

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The British Poultry Standard classifies the Norfolk Grey as a soft feather, heavy breed. 

The shape of the bird is determined firstly by the skeleton and then by the structure of the feathering that covers its body. 

However, it is the composition, width and length of the feathers covering the body, that make the breed into its recognisable shape.  The standard for the Norfolk Grey requires the feathers to sit fairly close to the birds body.  For this to take affect the feather structure needs to be fairly hard to sustain the close fitting shape.  The soft and fluffy type feathers found on the Orpington or the very hard brittle feathering of the Old English Game birds, would change the shape of the Norfolk Grey. Any birds with this extreme of feathering should not be tolerated in the breeding pen.  For examples of poor feathering on the Norfolk Grey please go to identifying faults a page of photographs with comments showing faults to look out for when sourcing your first birds or selecting for your breeding pen.   

by Gina and Tommy Cordally-Upex of Norfolk Grey Poultry

Getting the 'Shape' Right

The images below illustrate the close feathering required for the breed.  The birds  photographed were bred here at  Norfolk Grey Poultry

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As is usual in most soft feather heavy breeds the feather width should be broad, not narrow.  Broad feathers can easily be seen in the tail and wings of both the male and female.  Before choosing your future breeding birds it is a good idea to check the bird’s primary wing feathers. If the bird has any tendency to pass on the narrow feathering gene to its offspring, the tell tale signs will be exposed in these primary wing feathers. 

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One of our adult males displaying his broad tail feathers

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All too often, especially on females we are seeing soft feathering occurring on the thighs.  This should be bred out as soon as possible as this loose feathering is compromising the shape of the bird and if left to chance it will be very difficult to eliminate from future young stock.   If you have a bird that is showing too soft in the feather it is advisable to match mate to one that has the ideal close feathering, hopefully this will reduce the possibility of all your future stock becoming  loose or soft  feathered.

Colour and Hackle Markings

 

The black feathers on a quality bred Norfolk Grey should display a marvellous green sheen, while the under fluff should be grey in colour.  

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The breast on the male must be solid black with no evidence of white shafting or lacing. However, on the female up to 5cm / 2 inches of lacing extending from the throat is perfectly acceptable.

 

6 month old pullets displaying a green sheen on their black feathering. A good indication of excellent feather quality and breeding

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This young pullet has a good  amount of silver and striping in her hackles.  The silver workings at the tips have been lost on the lower neck hackles

Breast on this young male showing shaftiness

This is a fault

An excellent solid black breast on this young male

Breast showing white shafts and lacing

This is a fault

In both the male and female, their neck hackle feathers should be coloured silver, with a narrow black stripe  running down the centre.

 

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One of the most common defects seen on the silver hackles of both the male and female are incomplete silver workings. This is when the silver surrounding the black stripe, stops short at the tip, leaving no silver border at the end of the feather.

 

 

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Another common fault found on hackles of females is when the feather appears more laced than striped in pattern.

 

 

 

This is a defect and generally occurs; when the male used in the breeding pen has a broad black stripe instead of a narrow one and finer silver workings on his hackles.  To correct this fault on the next generation of females, select a male for the breeding pen that displays the correct standard striped hackles.

This hen has not much silver in her hackle feathers compared to the pullet opposite. The hackles are more laced than striped and the silver workings are incomplete

Head Points

The Comb

The Norfolk Grey has a medium sized, single, upright comb that should have between five and seven even serrations. Viewed from the front it should be straight with no hint of any side sprigs (fleshy points coming out from the side of the comb - usually seen near to the blade or back end of the comb). The base of the comb should be of a smooth texture, firm but not too fleshly; it should complement the fine but broad skull of the bird and not look like an oversized crown sat upon his head. The blade or back of the comb should ideally follow the shape of the skull and not ‘fly away’ at the back.

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Young male with nice textured comb and wattles

Young male with nice straight comb and wattles which are even in length

The wattles of this male have large creases. 

His comb is also poorly serrated

The female comb should follow suit to that of the males’ although, in comparison her comb is a lot smaller than his.   Many oversights are made by selecting hens for the breeding pen that have untidy and incorrect combs.  Ultimately any male hatched from this hen would also carry the same incorrect appendage on his head. If a further oversight was made and he was allowed in a breeding pen, the defective comb would soon be seen on his female offspring and the cycle would continue until all the future flock were sorry looking specimens.

By noting the colour of the comb a bird’s health can be quickly assessed. In both sexes the comb should be a rich healthy shade of red.  Any deviation from this colour will indicate that there is a health problem with the bird. 

If the black points are seen in winter it is a sign that the comb has succumbed to frostbite and if immediate action is not taken the bird may well lose the points. This is easily remedied by either thickening the comb with petroleum jelly or by providing the affected bird with shelter from the cold wind. If an elderly or young bird is suffering, it would help them to be placed into a warmer environment, such as a penning shed.  Purple/blue coloured combs are the sign of poor circulation and these birds will also benefit by protection from extremes of temperature.

An anaemic coloured comb indicates possible mite/lice or worm infestation, immediate treatment should be commenced to resolve the parasitic problem.  However, a pullet not in lay will sport a very small pale comb. When she lays her first egg, the comb will spring and colour up.  A hen that is in lay will have a healthy red comb but, it will lose colour during times of broodiness and moult.

The Wattles

The wattles in an adult Norfolk Grey male should be long and fine with a smooth texture and rounded ends. They should be free from tears and peck marks if the bird is to be exhibited.  Creases in the wattles are undesirable, as like the comb they are passed on genetically.    The female has much neater and smaller rounded wattles and in both sexes they should be a good red colour free from blemishes.  

 

The above male despite his poor comb and wattles was used in the breeding pen with females that had excellent combs and wattles.  He sired two amazing pullets that both were successfully exhibited, winning us several best rare breed awards. However, these pullets could never be bred to a male showing any comb or wattle defects as the faults would probably reappear in chicks hatched from such a mating.

Earlobes

 

The actual ear hole of the bird is protected by a tuft of fluff ideally grey in colour although, silver-grey is acceptable. The lobe is a fold of skin  that is commonly referred to as the ‘deaf ear’.  As the bird matures the earlobe usually grows in length and is more prominent in males.

The earlobes of both sexes should be oval shaped and red in colour.  White in the earlobe is a fault, and any male displaying this defect should be left out of the breeding pen. It is possible that in their recent ancestry, those displaying white in the centre of their earlobe could well have been crossed with a white lobed bird.

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Male showing white in the earlobe.

The whole lobe must be red in colour.

White in the lobe is a serious fault.

We have noticed some pullets with red earlobes that had exceptional laying records, develop white pigment in the centre of their lobes during heavy periods of lay. When these pullets stopped laying, the white disappeared and the lobe returned back to its normal red colour. So we assume that white in the earlobe of a good layer, may be due to the influences of pigment bleaching out. This bleaching effect also occurs in the legs of laying females. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for the male to have this fault as it will be inherited by his progeny.

The Eyes

The British standard states the eye should be dark.  The colour should therefore be as dark brown as possible, the darker the better.  The dark eye adds to the friendly character of the bird whereas the light bay, orange eye can make a huge difference in the appearance.

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Legs, Wings and Tails

Coming soon

 

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Young male with a coarse comb and wattles