Sumatra Page One / Breeding Sumatras and Selection of Breeding Stock
BREED TYPE IS NUMBER ONE
In my opinion when setting up breeding pens of Sumatras you must start with Sumatras of good breed type along with certain required characteristics. By type I mean Sumatras that look like Sumatras up close or one hundred feet away. Type can be hard to explain but easy to recognise. You need to use the very best birds you have or can get. True, you can use breeding stock that is not outstanding but come from a good line and get some good offspring, but the better the parents the higher your percentages will be in producing outstanding Sumatras.
Males with outstanding type will carry their tails parallel to the ground - that means the tails are carried level. Tail carriage is critical in my opinion. A low or "rainy day" tailed male will produce a high percentage of the same and a high tailed male will reproduce his fault too. A high tailed male bred to low tailed females may produce some ideal offspring , but you will also get too many high and low tails. The high tailed to low tailed or vice versa never worked well for me. If at all possible use a male that has ideal level tail carriage. Some Sumatra males as cockerels may have tails that almost clear the ground and older males often have tails that drag the ground. The key here is the carriage. I like mature long tailed males AS LONG AS they have the correct carriage. Of course these males must have multiple spurs.
Now you can argue some Sumatra cocks have up to five spurs and it that better? Five is great, four is great, and three is great. Multiple is multiple and why some argue five is better I just don't understand. I have males with varying numbers of spurs on each leg, some up to seven. Triple spurred males tend to develop bigger longer spurs versus males with six or seven on each leg and the latter are slow to develop into spurs with points. Do not breed from single spurred males. While single spurs are a cut in the Standard of Perfection there are plenty of us Sumatra breeders who feel it should be a disqualification. Single spurred Sumatras won't go anywhere in a show these days with good multiple spurred males in competition. And they shouldn't, multiple spurs are a unique characteristic of Sumatras.
PIGMENT OF THE SOLES OF THE FEET, COMBS AND WATTLES
Breeding males MUST have yellow on the bottoms of their feet. This varies with the time of year and condition of the bird which means you may have deep yellow or even pale yellow. This yellow is an indictor of yellow skin and that is all it is. Again there are those who will argue "until the cows come home" that rich dark yellow is better but I say yellow is yellow. Without yellow pigment on foot bottoms you will be wasting your time breeding because you will get a lot of birds without this required yellow. The richness and/or paleness of this yellow varies more on females than it does on males. Rich deep yellow almost orange indicates a high state of condition and is most prevalent at the onset of laying. A hen out of condition or a hen that has been laying for some time will pale as the pigment is expressed in the egg yolks. The biggest mistake I think a lot of people make is culling for pale yellow or almost lack of yellow on females. Notice I said "almost". If a Sumatra female carries this yellow pigment and is out of condition or has been laying her feet may be very pale yellow or white. This thing to look for is pink feet. Pink means you don't have the yellow pigment and this should be something to cull against 100%. I'll add that this year with over 150 young Sumatra large fowl being raised here, all had yellow feet and multiple spurs which simply goes to show you can eliminate these problems if you work on it constantly. However (big however!) I raise my share of birds that are culls every year. Some lack type, some have poor tail carriage, and some will have roached backs or be weak on their legs. In no way am I implying I raised 150 winners. Other points to pay close attention to are the desired small pea comb and almost non-existent wattles.
Personally I am a fanatic for dark eyes and would keep no Sumatras that didn't have dark brown to almost black eyes. I have seen red or orange eyed Sumatras and they look like headlights on a black chicken. While eye colour is not a major cut according to the Standard it is in my opinion. Black birds just don't look right with shining light eyes.
GENERAL ASPECTS OF SELECTION AND BREEDING
Overall colour on breeding Sumatra males should be a rich and shining green with total lack of purple or purple barring. Purple can be genetic and purple barring indicates periods of stress i.e. running out of feed or water, or being terribly crowded. I like to use Sumatra males with a wealth of feathering in their saddles, lesser sickles and coverts. Females also need to have dark eyes, small pea combs, good green sheen, and have markings for multiple spurs. Single spurred females will have a single circular bump for a spur whereas a multiple spurred female will have a row of three or more little rectangles where the spurs would be on a cock. Even though single spurs are almost a thing of the past, I check every bird I raise for this and get rid of any that are single spurred. It is not rare for Sumatra females to have spurs much like game hens. I would never cull for spurs on a female, in fact I consider it a plus.......a big plus. Tail carriage in Sumatra females should be 15 degrees above level. A little variation above or below 15 degrees in females is not nearly as critical as the male's tail carriage. Hens must have yellow-bottomed feet.
There are some people who especially like Sumatra females with thick heavy skulls similar to a Cornish or Malay. I have had customers ask for such females. Sumatras have small heads with very small combs and wattles and they should not have these heavy thick overdone skulls. Sumatras should have a strong small head with a regal look about them almost like a bird of prey.
OVERLY LONG TAILS
Some Sumatra males will have extremely long tails and these are not correct either but there is a big demand for these overdone males in the longtail fancy so they are never wasted.
BREED FROM ONLY THE BEST
In summary it is better to breed from a trio of outstanding Sumatras than it is to use fifteen mediocre birds or birds with serious faults. Breed from the very best you have and you will see the results in their offspring. Do it for three or more years and you'll be hard to beat at the shows.
I almost find it funny when at shows people ask about the birds at home I am breeding from. They are usually the birds I am showing. Sometimes I will breed from an old bird that has past its prime for and for the most part Sumatras are a long lived breed that will produce and be showable for seven to ten years. I was at a show recently and being a bird photographer I had taken along a group of photos of the different fowl on this farm. While looking at the photos I realised that all the Sumatra photos were pictures of birds that were still living.
THE SUMATRA, UNUSUAL AND UNIQUE
The Sumatra is a unique breed. No other breed of poultry looks anything like them. People who come here to see swans or geese and know nothing of chickens always notice the green long tailed elegant Sumatras. While being wild as youngsters they become among the tamest and gentlest of chickens when handled and shown. They can hatch and raise their own young with the greatest of ease. They live for a long, long time and are productive all the while, probably much more so than the heavier breeds. If you've never bred Sumatras maybe you should consider it now?
Richard Schock February 2003