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Poultry Farmer Specializes In Fly Fishing Feathers

“Breeding chickens for the feathers is definitely not a get-rich-quick business, so you better love the business or it isn’t going to succeed in the long run,” says Dr. Tom Whiting, founder and owner of Whiting Farms, Delta, Colo.
  Whiting Farms raises 80,000 chickens of 10 major genetic lines on two western Colorado ranches for the sole purpose of supplying feathers for the fly fishing industry. “We are a poultry genetics and production company that specializes in fly-tying feathers,” says Dr. Whiting. The company’s mission is “To produce the highest quality, value and selection of feathers for the fly tiers of the world.”
  Whiting markets 80 different products “for the discriminating fly tier”. Each of the company’s genetic lines of chickens is bred for a specific tying purpose related to catching freshwater and saltwater fish. Whiting Farms’ products are sold in 36 countries, including more than 600 fly shops in the U.S.
  Whiting Farms’ feather products are referred to in the fishing industry as “genetic dry fly hackle”. Hackle feathers are sold as “pelts,” “capes” and “saddles,” that are harvested from different parts of the chicken’s body.
  Dry fly hackle, when wrapped around a fishing hook, splay out into a dense hackle “collar.” When the fly is cast onto the water, the surface tension of the water causes the fly to stand atop the water, imitating an insect – thus the term “dry fly.” Dry fly hackle feathers from the head and neck of a rooster are referred to as the “cape.” Feathers from the breast and back area are called the “saddle,” or “saddle hackle.” 
  Whiting says all roosters produce hackle, but “it’s only through painstaking, long-term genetic selection for a host of dry-fly characteristics” that Whiting Farms is able to produce high-demand hackle.
  It takes about a year for Whiting Farms to grow a mature rooster from a baby chick. “Because chickens are small in size and reproduce rapidly, we’re able to radically alter how they grow their feathers in a relatively brief period of time,” says Dr. Whiting. “It’s amazing, through selection, how much a rooster’s feathers can change over time.”
  Processing feathers is a large part of the Whiting Farms operation. Every feather pelt is washed and carefully dried to ensure the hobby fly tier has a clean product. This is important, since a fly tier’s tying habits may include licking fingers or placing feathers in the mouth to moisten them prior to tying, the company says.
  Feathers are washed, dyed and cured and then go to a grading room for individual rating of quality and grade. Grading criteria include quill length and suppleness, barb count and stiffness, lack of webby material, stem condition, consistent coloration and size range.
  For the fly tier, the higher the hackle grade purchased, the more flies that can be tied from a cape or saddle. Using the company’s grading system, a platinum-grade saddle that costs $150 will produce 2,500+ dry flies, or 6¢/fly; a gold-grade saddle that costs $120 will produce 1,500+ flies, or 8¢/fly; a silver-grade saddle that costs $90 will produce 900+ flies, or 10¢/fly; and a bronze-grade saddle that costs $60 will produce 600+ flies, or 10¢/fly.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Whiting Farms, Inc., 5796 Sawmill Mesa Rd., Delta, Colo. 81416 (ph 970 874-0999; www.whitingfarms.com).

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2017 - Volume #41, Issue #2