Are You A Chicken Hackle Breeder Or A Raiser?

I just looked at my previous post about what is genetic hackle and made a few corrections to the text. Most of what I will post will be off the cuff and raw, so please bear with me with my future posts hopefully we will all learn something out of this.

Well, my question in this post are you a chicken hackle breeder or a raiser.

Either goal as a chicken grower works, if you wish to jump in and grow chicken hackles.

I just looked at few forums about growing hackle and most of the feedback was centered around it is not a viable solution to getting cheap hackles for fly tying due to quality issues and not cost effective.

I have to agree with this feedback. But on the other hand if you already own chickens or want to do so, why not raise chickens that will give you more than just meat and eggs.

I started this endeavor about 10 yrs ago originally for eggs and meat. But having tinkered with genetics all my life with many kinds of animals I just couldn’t raise chickens for the sake of supplying just food for the table.

Even as a young man I cruised the want ads looking for rooster owners looking to get rid of excess roosters. Over the years I accumulated many kinds of rooster pelts. I have to admit non come close to what is bred for genetic hackle today. But just the same every chicken skin has many many uses to the fly tier. I believe in wasting nothing.

As I went to farm after farm to collect roosters I just couldn’t ignore why I never saw any really nice roosters to start as a base. That always was something I kept at the back of my mind. I always thought more people would be into developing chickens for more than just eggs and meat.

My day to jump into raising chickens for feathers started about 10 years ago and God willing I hope to see my genetic hackle goals mature.

Getting back to the original topic will you be a breeder or a raiser of genetic hackle.

It makes no difference to a breeder what animal they will raise. Genuine breeders are long range dreamers. They have a vision of working with the genetics of a particular animal and coaxing it along to change by picking particular traits to be expressed.

In the old days genetic selection was all done visually and by chance, very few of the old time breeders knew very much about genetics. Much of their knowledge was done by hard knocks. With little knowledge available to them unlike what is available to day the humble beginnings of genetic hackle bloomed. Their only knowledge bank to work with was from from one breeder to another breeder if you could find someone that would be willing to discuss their breeding secrets.

Things have changed much since those days. Little did I know when I was in high school over 40 years ago learning Mendelian genetics (a scientific theory of how hereditary characteristics are passed from parent organisms to their offspring) was going to be so important to me in later years.

Every animal bred today started off as a vision to someone as to the potential that animal could be in the future. I originally come from the aquaculture industry and much has changed since the early days of importing wild fish to supply the ornamental aquarium industry. Those early days in aquaculture were crude.

Large holding facilities were created for receiving wild fish to be resold. Lucky we had visionaries to see importing wild fish was not a long range viable business model and fish farming for this industry was started.

Fish farming was not new, many old civilizations practiced fish farming but to the new world it was. In a way so did genetic hackle, the Japanese cultured chickens for specific feather traits not unlike today’s genetic hackle farmers, only their genetic selection was focused around non-molting genes and elongation of tail and saddle hackles.

The humble beginnings for genetic hackle started around raising capes (neck feathers) for fly fishing. Individuals such as Harry Darbee, Andy Miner, Hoffman just to name a few they all had that vision to produce a feather the would meet the needs of fly tiers because nothing out there existed.

In those early days chicken pelts (neck feathers) were available from your friendly farmer or could be bought in specialty fly fishing shops imported from India. I remember those days importing many chicken capes then sending them off to fumigation before receiving them.

Since everything was imported sight unseen from India, you would receive many many junk chicken capes to find just a few capes to meet your dry fly tying needs. Those days you would look to find the smallest and stiffest feathers to float those dry flies in the waters surface film. I still have some of those capes in my  fly tying collection.

Today’s genetic hackle has all changed, not only can you find excellent quality feathers for every need, the economics in every feather is a consideration. Dry fly hackle exist in just about every hook size but the lengths of each feather being bred is reaching lengths no one in the old days would even of dreamed could be accomplished.

Yes much has changed in genetic hackle. This is what breeders do. They are long range dreamers.

The recent interest in all the forums about raising genetic hackle has many interested in this topic. Some of the questions about growing hackle are about the husbandry of the bird, some about obtaining already made birds and so forth. Much of this interest is fueled around the most recent fashion trend demanding genetic hackle and disrupting the supply and prices that fly tiers have enjoyed for so many years without competing industries for the available supply.

As in every industry you have the get rich overnight crew thinking that getting a few genetic birds will pave their way to riches. A fool hardy approach unless you have the ability to scale and know how. There is so much to learn about producing true dry fly quality feathers from chickens.

These are what I call raisers, they exist in every animal niche. Soon as someone figures out how to make money in a niche you have tons of wannabes who think they can pop out animals for sale. These individuals fade into the distance sooner or later. But a breeder will push along looking for those genes to express themselves.

In recent years I have been in discussion with many chicken farmers who would love to raise genetic chickens for eye candy. These raisers have no vision to be the next Whiting, they think if they have a good utility chicken it would be nice to add some ornamental addition to their flock. Nothing wrong with that and all for the right reasons to raise beautiful birds for their viewing enjoyment.

So if you have visions of being the next Whiting good luck. The breeding game is a numbers game. Genetic mutations are hard to come by and closely guarded. Fortunately genuine genetic hackle breeders are starting to make eggs and birds available. These are true breeders with real genetic hackle if you are willing to pay the price of entry to the genetic hackle farming.

Real breeders will be here tomorrow, raisers will be here today gone tomorrow.


Tallow Hill Farms

P.S. If you would like to participate in this conversation please comment or better yet if you would like to be a guest blogger and want to share your genetic hackle experience please contact me and lets get you expressing what you know about the genetic hackle business.



5 thoughts on “Are You A Chicken Hackle Breeder Or A Raiser?

  1. hi, i just read your blog and likeit alot, i have been raiseing genetic hackle for 4 yrs now and was wondering if you have any info on joining ihgf, i would like to join, i have bought stock from anyone and everyone i can find that has true genetic hacklebirds, and i would like to share my nifo and expireinces to help further others projects and my own,

  2. Hi Anthony welcome aboard

    I just emailed you with instructions to join our group

    We would love for you to share your experiences with us


  3. I read your post with great interest and am exploring options around genetic hackle breeding. I am very new to this area and am looking for guidance to make the best decisions regarding obtaining the right level of knowledge to consider all inputs and requirements before moving forward. How does one gain enough information regarding this hobby/industry/passion to better understand if a person has (or could acquire) enough information to make an informed business decision? Any advice for a newbee on the proper steps or considerations that should be made before jumping in with both feet? Thanks,
    Tom W.

  4. I think the first thing you need to do is raise some chickens if you do not already do so. Then you will have a better understanding about doing this.

    If you do, then you need to be willing to work with large groups of roosters and housing them to keep them from fighting and damaging the feathers.


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