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Famous Author Breeds Beautiful Show Birds
Jan Brett played with chicks as a girl, but it wasn’t until she needed a chicken to model for one of her best-selling illustrated children’s books that she began breeding them. Today her White Crested Black (WCB) bantam Polish chickens are like her, award winners.
“I had chickens in a book and needed to draw their feather pattern correctly,” says Brett. “I got some Wyandottes at the feed store and fell in love. They were so much fun and had such humor and personality. Then I went to a poultry show and became fascinated by the variety of beautiful breeds.”
Brett settled on the WCB bantam Polish as her preferred show breed. The breed dates back to the Middle Ages and has been in the U.S. since the 1830’s. It has long feathers that cover the entirety of the head. The crest limits the birds’ vision, making them easy targets of overhead predators.
Brett traded a visit to a school for her first birds of the breed. That breeder became her mentor and helped her get started, something she advises new breeders find.
The breeder also introduced her to the exhibition poultry world. Soon she met a second breeder, a show rival of the first. Again, her artwork was useful.
“He gave me some of his birds in exchange for some artwork,” says Brett. “Others helped out as well, giving me birds to make sure I didn’t have too much inbreeding.”
At first she kept the lines separated, eventually crossbreeding them to develop her own line. She admits it can take years to define what a breeder wants to see.
“It’s almost an artistic endeavor,” she says. “Breeding brings together the pleasures of husbandry and nurturing with the love of genetics.”
She maintains families within her flock to prevent inbreeding and doesn’t bring in birds from other flocks. Brett breeds to meet characteristics outlined in the American Standard of Perfection (referred to by most judges) and The Bantam Standard.
She has added other variations of the bantam Polish, including the White Crested Blue and the Bearded Buff Laced. She also has some Dutch, which are like a tiny Leghorn. They were once known as the smallest bantam with a half-size egg.
While her mentors no longer show, Brett does and has won national awards with her birds. She suggests that poultry shows are good places to find a preferred breed and breeder. The American Bantam Association and the American Poultry Association websites list sanctioned shows.
While hatcheries may feature a breed, they may not be purebred. Show birds are more likely to be true to the breed.
“People are often selling off extra stock at shows,” she explains. “Ask lots of questions. Look for clean, healthy birds and ask about husbandry and does it have a fault that will require more care or prevent it from being a show bird.”
She maintains about 200 birds in her flocks, including about 100 that she will sell after raising them up to assess. She admits that like any good breeder, she will keep the top 3 of each sex to show and add to the breeding flock.
Brett refuses to sell to anyone who plans to free-range the birds due to predator concerns. Buyers get a packet of information on how to groom them for shows, as well as how to protect them from disease.
She has sold birds into about 12 states, including Texas and Florida and has her flock NPIP certified for out-of-state shipping. She charges $60 for a show quality pair and $15 for a “pet” quality pair, adult birds only.
Brett still uses her birds as models for illustrations in her books. She says they are good for entertainment and for relaxation.
“Watching them feed is like sitting and having a cup of coffee,” she says. “I never fail to enjoy their little dramas. I go to shows and talk about what this one or that one did. They fit well with my profession of storytelling and love of beauty. There is nothing bad about them.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Folkloric Bantams, 132 Pleasant St., Norwell, Mass. 02061 (ph 781 659-7748; janartstudio@janbrett.com).

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2019 - Volume #43, Issue #6