Purpose of the Cub Run Crele chicken
In the world of chicken raising, there are specialist breeds and generalist breeds. Cornish Rock Cross are specialist meat producers. Leghorns are specialist egg producers. There are specialist fighting birds, long crowers, ornamentals of a dizzying number of types, breeds developed for the harvest of their combs for the production of human joint pain treatments, and even strains specially bred to produce specific feathers for fly tying.
Shenandoahs are intended as specialist grassland egg producers, Blacks Run Browns as specialist urban pets, Massanuttens as full-service woodland specialists. Cub Run Creles, by contrast with the above, are generalists. Rural folks who want a good, hardy, steady, user-friendly, reliable flock of all-around productive chickens, when they come to Tangly Woods seeking their satisfaction, will be pointed to the Cub Run Crele.
Ok, maybe they do have one specialty: Color. With barred feathers on a colorful background, the Cub Run Crele offers the possibility of us at Tangly woods generating sex-linked hybrid–with the Shenandoahs–for egg-producing purposes that have good camouflage, moderately-toned plumage for solar gain reflection, and bred-in foraging and predator-avoidance instincts. Hybrids (first-generation crosses of minimally related, relatively pure-bred lines) offer superior productive traits from what is called “hybrid vigor,” or officially heterosis. Proponents of alternative agriculture may shrink from the term “hybrid,” but it really is, in itself, nothing to fear. The problem with hybrids comes in when dependence on them by producers means too much power is accumulated in the hands of the large corporations that furnish the hybrid animals or seeds, or when folks whose farming systems are dependent on locally adapted varieties from which they save and replant their own seeds (these varieties are called “landraces” and are the basis of agriculture historically) are “given” or are obliged to plant hybrids, from which predictable and productive offspring may or may not be able to be generated without several generations of re-selection.
So, if you are looking to start a breeding flock, please avoid all hybrids unless you want the challenge of isolating a new breed or strain from the mishmash of results you are likely to get from hatching eggs from hybrid hens. If you are looking to raise a productive flock, hybrids may be a reasonable and dependable choice. However, some hybrids have unpredictable foraging and predator-avoidance instincts, so if you are going to raise your birds in such as a way as to expose them to predation or are expecting them to forage part of their diet, commercial hybrids may sometimes work and sometimes not. Our goal is to use the Shenandoah crossed onto the Cub Run Crele to furnish a reliably range-ready hybrid laying hen to our region’s ecologically-inclined egg farmers.
The barring gene the CRC carries is what is known as a sex-linked trait, which is to say that it is coded on the sex chromosome. Given chicken genetics (too big a topic for this place), male birds without the gene can be crossed onto females with the gene and the resulting males with have one copy of it and the females will have none (at least in the main body feathers). Because the barring gene in relatively distinct and pure form produces a white spot on the back of the head of chicks that carry it and also makes the chick’s markings look blurry and pastel-colored, separation of the chicks by sex on the day after hatch (as soon as they get fluffy) is relatively easy and reliable if the genetics are pretty clean in the parent lines. In that way, producers can be supplied with female birds for laying flocks at the day-old age, which is the easiest and most efficient time to acquire and transport them.
The production of females for marketing to egg farmers implies, of course, the production of equal numbers of males for…well, in the commercial hybrid hatchery business they usually are euthanized, because the market doesn’t support raising egg-type birds for meat. This is why chicken catalogs for home flocksters and small producers give such special deals for the males from their sex-link hybrids. Nobody wants them, usually. However, the market for heritage-style chicken meat has a lot of potential, especially among recent immigrants but also among others with strong connections to traditional foodways. And if you’ve never eaten a well-seasoned, long-roasted, heritage-type cockerel raised to at least 14 weeks, you are in for a flavor sensation…you may be the next addition to that marketing base!
We don’t like the idea of euthanizing all the males, so one of the roles the Cub Run Crele can also fill is to be a dual-purpose (meat and eggs) chicken, with rapid development and substantial meat on its frame, such that the hybrid males from the cross with the Shenandoahs will be, due in part also to hybrid vigor, worthwhile candidates to raise as free-range meat birds.
All the above having been said, the Cub Run Crele is intended to also stand on its own as a resilient, beautiful, productive, easy-keeping, true-breeding, multi-purpose fowl for a variety of production systems, from barnyard to pasture to portable backyard pen.
Cub Run Creles are hardy and vigorous birds with typical heavy-breed body shape and type. They are athletic but not stringy, alert but not spastic, plump but not incapacitated. They like to forage but have good homing instinct. They make use of freedom but have some tolerance for confinement when necessary. They are calm and easy to handle but not naive to danger.
Historically, the Cub Run Crele has been a partly broody breed; we selected neither for nor against the trait. We’ve chosen now, however, especially with the phasing out of the Blacks Run Brown project, to eliminate broodiness from the breed. This will be accomplished (since broodiness is supposed by some to be another sex-linked trait) by saving breeder males only from non-broody dams, and will take several generations to be completed.
The Cub Run Crele plumage has some similarities with the Dominique, Cuckoo Maran, or Barred Rock chickens. Whereas those birds have the barring gene (evidenced by pigmented bands on each feather alternating with white bands) on a background of pure black coloration, which was historically known as the “cuckoo” pattern, the “crele” pattern, as it is known, is the same phenomenon appearing over a background of mixed colors including tans, yellows, browns, and some black in the tail. The CRC plumage is of a rare type, with examples to be found only in barnyard birds of mixed heritage, in Bielefelder Chickens, and in Crele Old English Games. There may be other obscure breeds that have it also, but I am not aware of any others. It is possible that show breeders have come up with some Crele variants of other more popular breeds.
This plumage has the happy effect of making not only a striking adult, but producing chicks which, when everything is going well, are “auto-sexing” at hatch, which is a rare thing in a non-hybrid chick. As we are narrowing the plumage genetics down, we are finding that it is becoming easier each year to distinguish the males, which ideally show up with white blazes or dots on the backs of their heads and sometimes on their sides, and which have blurry, pastel markings elsewhere; from the females, which may show a small white dot on the back of the head but otherwise display a classic dark “chipmunk” pattern.
Cub Run Creles are relatively productive of eggs for a heritage-type chicken, and develop a little more quickly than some of the older breeds. They have a cushion comb, yellow skin, and lay brown, blue, or green eggs, though we intend to skew them more towards the brown spectrum over time, eventually depending on them as fully brown-egg layers. For the sake of genetic health, we cannot yet fully exclude the other colors from our hatching program, but that time will come.
The Cub Run Crele emerged at Tangly Woods more recently than some of the other breeds, and has a more varied background. The barring gene and much of the body type is borrowed from our late neighbor Samuel Johnson’s carefully tended flock of Dominiques, with which I learned much of my selection knowledge and skill. One particular male was a favorite of Samuel’s, with long, flowing sickle feathers and an exceptionally meaty form. One year when he wasn’t busy with Samuel’s flock I borrowed him for a few weeks.
The other parts of the background stock are our Shenandoahs and Blacks Run Browns, so Americauna, Black Java, and Buff Chantecler play in, as do minor contributions from Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Cuckoo Marans, and whatnot. A few years back, acquaintances who sold us a breeder sow piglet from their own invented breed sent us home with a few eggs from their Bielefelder chickens after I admired their pattern as just what I was after. The only ones that hatched were the ones that were half Buff Orpington, but a few generations straightened the barring gene back out and our second-most impressive male from last year (very rapid growth and development) is a direct descendent of that stock.
Our middle daughter is the most attracted to this breed, so she is now deeply involved with evaluating, commenting, and selecting at banding time in the fall. As such, the selection process now includes information as to which birds do the best at jumping for treats, which are bullies to the other hens, and which roosters put her at ease or make her nervous. With this information in hand, the Cub Run Crele is on track to be a perfectly acceptable pet chicken. This similarity to the Blacks Run Brown, together with the similarity in bodily form, is what is making the Blacks Run Brown feel redundant on our farm. And with the auto-sexing trait of the CRC, there is even more advantage to them as pets than the BRB, because females could confidently be sold to urban flocksters as peeps, allowing even better bonding as pets. So, due to that decision and the loss of many of our 2022 and 2023 CRC breeder females in a massive fox attack one day last year, we are currently blending the two projects by using BRB females bred to CRC males to generate more female breeding stock for the CRC project.