By Dr. Charles R H Everett
The old poultry writers, Browne, Finsterbusch, Temminick, and Wright felt the Malay was one of the more ancient breeds of fowl. Some even believed this race of fowl was derived from a now extinct breed of fowl. Whether they were correct in this last assumption has yet to be proved or disproved. What is for certain is their relationship to all the other Oriental Gamefowl excepting perhaps the Sumatra.
The Malay is one of the rarest breeds of poultry in North America. According two independent surveys conducted by the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy there are estimates of less than 300 breeding Malays in the United States and Canada. Most of these birds are in the hands of individual breeders. Currently, Billy Summers of North Carolina has the largest breeding flock in the States. As rare as the Malay large fowl is the bantam Malay is even rarer. Past APA President Danny Padgett of Florida is one of only a handful of breeders of Malay bantams in the country.
Malays possess several important traits in their pure form which is important for preservationist: namely, their ability to invigorate other breeds of fowl when used in a grading breeding system. Their height, weight, and general good health can be used to great advantage by the breeder when any of these are lacking in other rare breeds of fowl. Of course, we are all aware of the use of Malays to create the Cornish which is the cornerstone of our modern chicken meat industry. What many are not aware of is its use in improving many of the other non-Oriental Game breeds as well.
Though they are not a favorite of all poultry fanciers, there is no doubt that an excellent Malay demands attention. The best are cock birds are nearly 3 feet tall and weigh more than 10 pounds! Furthermore, the best hens reach nearly that same height and possess a definite game-disposition.
The ones I have seen in the shows lately have the height and weight but many are missing the refinement of Malays of the past. Without exception they should ALL possess the 3 curves: neck, back, and tail. The back should not be a roach back, but instead, produced by the wing carriage. The tail should be carried below the horizontal and should even be drooping or ‘whipped’ as it is called. The comb is known as a strawberry, walnut or cushion comb. All of these are one in the same they are just called various names by breeders from different parts of the country. The comb looks like a strawberry that has been cut vertically with the stem end placed at the top of the head. The Malay is one of those breeds where ‘type is everything!’
The stock that I have been working with contains ‘blood’ of the great stock of the past as shown by Hazel Matthews and Henry Miller. However, I will readily confess that I have experienced my share of problems in producing quality Malays. One of the problems I experienced early on was chicks with crooked toes. I mean, they would be near perfect in every area except for those crazy crooked toes! At first, I thought it was an inbreeding problem, and then, quite by accident I discovered it was an incubation problem. I had a bunch of Malay eggs in the incubator when I allowed the temperature to go up to 104*F. (This happened during one night). To my surprise, when these particular Malay eggs hatched there were no crooked toes! Thus, from this point on I allowed for higher temperatures with Malay eggs—never 104*F again, as this was an accident, instead I run my still-air incubator at 101-102*F for Malay eggs only. With these temperatures I have eliminated the crooked toes and have experienced excellent hatches. Could it be that the Malay has a higher body temperature than other breeds of fowl?
I have not had any fertility problems with my Malays, but I have culled for basic stamina. My stock does suffer from a peculiar genetic disorder experienced by various Gamefowl known as the ‘shakes’ or ‘tremors.’ I am almost certain that this difficulty is a result of inbreeding without proper culling. Thus, I cull ruthlessly for healthy stock. If any bird shows even the slightest lack of general good health, then we call that bird ‘supper!’
Malays are not the best laying females; though mine do lay rather well from January through March. From March onward it is hit and miss. The hens will also go broody in a skinny minute; especially when the weather gets warm. The cockerels tend to be fertile before the pullets. However, I try not to use young cockerels for breeding purposes. I like to give them time to adequately mature to see if there are any health problems that will develop. The cockerels are typically not mature until they are between 2 and 3 years of age. So, if you are looking for a fast maturing breed, then you need to look elsewhere.
To avoid growing problems, remember the legs of the Malay are very long and are required to hold a tremendous amount of weight—for a chicken—when mature. I take Malay chicks off chick starter when they are 10 weeks old. I grow them out on scratch grains, bread, and grass. This lower protein diet allows for them to mature slowly. Still, I have had Malay cockerels to ‘go down on the hocks’ abruptly at 12 weeks of age. This seems to be an inability of the young bird to absorb adequate amounts of riboflavin. SPPA member, Andy Marsinko, advised me to mix active yeast into the drinking water of the cockerels for one week at weeks 12, 14 and 16. The yeast helps breakdown the riboflavin in the green feed; thus, helping the young cockerel to absorb it into his system. Since beginning this practice, I have not had a single cockerel with this problem. Interestingly, I have never had a pullet to exhibit the same problem. When telling my story to a meat poultry producer, he gave me this funny look and said, “Now that you mention it, I’ve never seen a pullet go down on the hocks either; though we have cockerels do it all the time.” I cannot explain this phenomena, but on my farm and with my stock it is a fact—only cockerels ever exhibit the problem of going down on the hocks and this only seems to happen between the ages of 12 to 16 weeks.
These giants of the poultry world have almost disappeared from North America. There survival is due to a handful of breeders. A Malay breeder must possess adequate space for the breed to mature properly. This is not a breed for a cage! However, the bantam Malay still has all the characteristics of its’ larger counterpart without as much of a space requirement. I do believe the Malay needs to be preserved for future generations. It has been a foundation breed of our modern poultry industry and may be needed again. Besides, a flock of these giant chickens it simply a sight to see!
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