Cornish Game Chickens: Heritage Poultry Breeds

Cornish Games, also known as Indian Games, are an Anglo-Indian crossbreed usually raised as a meat or show bird.

| July 2010

Cornish Game chickens are a heritage poultry breed that was once a popular bird for show. An active chicken breed, Cornish Games are more commonly raised for their meat rather than their egg production. Far to the southwest in England, Cornwall has long maintained a sense of separateness and independence. Here the Cornish farmers took three breeds of chicken and created a new, uniquely different bird that has had tremendous impact on modern commercial poultry breeding.

The Old English Game Fowl was the native fighting bird, available in many recognized strains. To a particular strain of the Game Fowl, the Black-breasted Red Game, the Cornish farmers crossed the Red Aseel and the Malay by the 1840s.

The Aseel or Asil is an ancient pure breed from India with a distinctive appearance. It was brought to England by the seventeenth century for use as a gamecock. The Aseel is an upright, aggressive, bold bird. The neck is substantial in width with very small wattles and a pea comb. The shoulders are prominent and broad, the hips wide. The stern is narrow, but the bird gives the strong impression of being hard and muscled. The thighs are thick and muscular, and the legs are strong. Interestingly, the Aseel possesses a smaller intestinal tract than other breeds. The cock weighs about 6 pounds and the hen about 5 pounds. The hen is broody and lays tinted eggshells but is not raised primarily for meat or egg production in Britain, where it is kept by fanciers.

The colorful English Game Fowl itself was probably already changed by the Aseel. The Old English Game differed considerably from the Modern Game, which is seen today only as an exhibition bird. The older gamecock had a compact, muscular body, a shorter neck and legs, and a longer hackle and tail. Breeders of the Old English Game keep their breed separate from the Modern Games, which are small, slender, and exceedingly tall. The Black-Breasted Red Game strain was an extremely colorful bird with a bright orange head; lighter orange hackle and saddle; black breast, body, shoulders, tail, thighs, and stern; red wing bows; and willow-colored shanks and feet. In the early nineteenth century, this game breed was still a table fowl and a layer of medium-sized eggs.

From the Aseel, the new Cornish fowl received thick and short legs, large thighs, a deep, broad chest and shoulders, a sturdy neck, and a projecting eyebrow. The Malay Game, which was available in England in the eighteenth century, was added to this Aseel-Game cross. The Malay is also a very old type. A tall bird, the Malay has long legs, a low-held tail, and a prominent eyebrow that gives it a cruel expression. The Malay has short and scanty feathers and a yellow skin. Malays are heavier than Aseels.

The Cornish breeders were concentrating on producing a bird with short, thick legs and a wide, meaty body. Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert claimed credit for the initial development of the Cornish Game in 1849. Fanciers were probably using this and other crossbred types for cockfighting. Although they were slow to strike, the cocks remained somewhat pugnacious and impressive.

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