How To Process A Genetic Hackle Cape

Once you raise a genetic hackle chicken to maturity the next step is to process the birds for the purpose they are bred for Fly Tying.

Check out the guest post detailing how to process a genetic hackle chicken by Mark LaBar

237096623_oBred by Mark LaBar

Processing can be one of the most time consuming and tedious jobs we have as hackle producers. It is messy and downright nasty if you have to do it in the summer time. When I started I tried to hatch 500 birds by March so they would be ready between Jan and July the following year. That would usually produce about 200-225 roosters to cape out, that got old pretty fast and with a growing family I had to figure out an alternative. Now I hatch a small (50-80) chicks starting in March and go through the summer. The birds mature in waves and skinning and drying 10-30 capes and saddles per setting is much more manageable on a one person operation. The following is the process I use for harvesting and processing my birds:

Supplies list:
1. CO2 tank/bottle with adaptor and hose or nozzle (or) Dry ice and a trash can.
2. Two or three sharp fillet knifes
3. Blade handle and #10 scalpel blades.
4. Roll of paper towels
5. Sharps container
6. Dry new cardboard (can be a used box as long as it has never been wet)

Euthanizing– I use CO2, I get my CO2 in paintball canisters that are refillable. I then use a big plastic bin and put several roosters in it at a time and gas them down. It takes a few times to get the handle of how much CO2 and how long they need to be in it but since we are putting them down it is better to overdo it a little rather than have them come back while waiting to be processed.


Cooling– I cool the birds to allow the blood to become viscous (clot) in the body. It does not eliminate all of the blood loss but it does help. If it is cold outside I may skin birds the same day I euthanize them or I can store them in the refrigerator or freezer until I am ready to skin.

Skinning– I start with the cape. Lay the bird on it’s back and push it’s legs down, this flattens the profile a little bit and keeps the bird from rolling all over the table when you are working on it.

Step 1. With the head toward you and feet away in dorsal recumbency put pull the wattles back and insert the knife just below the beak. Cut the skin in a straight line from the beak to the bottom of the crop.

Step 2. At the base of the neck, start to dissect the fascia with your fingers and free the neck from the skin. Once the skin is freed from the base of the neck place your knife through the opening between the skin and neck and cut in a downward motion freeing the bottom of the cape from the rest of the bird.

Step 3. Pull the cape up toward the crown of the head using care to cut or dissect the fascia so as to not tear the skin. Do this until the cape is pulled up to the base of the comb.

Step 4. Using a scalpel, cut a diagonal line from the bottom of the beak (where your first cut started) under the eye up to the point where the hackle starts to grow just above the nostril. Using the scalpel gently dissect the skin off the skull retaining ALL feathers and the comb.

Step 5. Once the skin is freed from the skull stretch the skin around the comb, lay it flat on the table and make a symmetrical “V” cut in the skin removing the comb from the cape.

Step 6. Turn the cape skin side up and remove as much fascia, fat and blood vessels that you can.

Step 7. Shake skin out to remove any debris and position, skin side down, on a flat cardboard surface. Note: Make sure that all feathers are removed from the skin surface so that all skin contacts the surface of the cardboard.

Step 8. Shaping the skin is one of the most important steps. Pull the forks of the “V” cut straight up so the sides of the crown hackle are parallel all the way down to the “shoulders” of the cape. Pull the shoulders of the cape out to the sides as well as the two tufts as the bottom of the cape that contain the remaining breast feathers. Do this step a few times until you have the cape looking like you would want it to look in the package. Then store in a cool dry area for 3 to 5 days.

untrimmed cape


Untrimmed Cape:

Once cape is dry and most of the oils have been soaked up by the cardboard trim the excess skin and feathers off the cape and put in a plastic bag. This is the point you can also wash skins. Use a delicate soap and use a spray head to wet feathers, dip into some soapy water and spray rinse then re-dry. If skins are clean and have no smells to them I don’t wash them. Also don’t use any chemicals on your skins, a lot of fly tyers put the feathers in their mouth and you don’t want to be liable for anyone getting sick.

trimmed cap

Trimmed Cape

Mark LaBar is a premium Genetic Hackle producer please check out his website and store for more information, don’t forget to check out his pictures of his hackle chickens.

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Thanks Mark for contributing to our blog.
If you would like to guest post to this blog don’t hesitate to contact us.
We are looking for all kinds of information genetics, husbandry or just your day to day activities raising your birds.
Ed Chiasson

Genetic Hackle Grower Writers Wanted

I am looking for contributors for this blog. What is needed a good background in chicken genetics.

You don’t necessarily have to grow genetic hackle birds but a knowledge and actively raising chickens is needed.

Here is some topics I am looking for.

color genetics in chickens

chicken husbandry

chicken nutrition

stories about the history of raising genetic hackle

If you feel you fit the bill and are willing to contribute just respond in the comments and make sure to leave a working email and I will contact you ASAP to make arrangements to get started.

I noticed a few more people raising genetic hackle chickens this year.

Please send your pictures in, I would love to post them they are such a beautiful bird all on their own the next step for ornamental chickens.



Raising Chickens For Fly Tying Eggs 2013

Here is the first group of eggs for 2013 going into the incubator. 3 trays of eggs consisting of phoenix/phoenix cross eggs, the blue/green eggs are the Araucana eggs also included some duck and turkey eggs all ready to go into the incubator.

100_1524This group of eggs have hatched they were about 99% for fertility with about a 70-80% hatch rate.

Unfortunately I made a very basic beginner mistake of not positioning the heat lamp in a proper location resulting in about a 50% lost of the hackle producing chickens.

I placed my heat lamp to close to one corner of the pen thinking if the chicks were too hot they would go to the other end to escape the heat, instead they all crowded in the smallest area of the pen piled on top of each other resulting in many dieing.

I would of never thought they would of done this but instead go to the other area of the pen to escape the heat.

My solution was to place the lamp smack in the middle of the pen giving them equal space at all sides and the chicks started behaving as expected sitting around the edges of the lamp and away from the walls of their pen.

Sad but very valuable lesson to learn, never would of thought this could happen since the pen they are in is very large.

Genetic Hackle Chickens – Plans For 2013

HI It’s been a while since I posted to this blog about Genetic Hackle and everything related to raising these unique chickens raised for feathers.

I have a few ideas brewing to increase the membership of the federation of hackle producing chicken breeders.

I had a banner year in 2012 since I purchased a large egg incubator. I was able to see a much larger range of the genetics my hackle producing chickens.

The 2012 season I was very lucky to see 8 roosters which carry the traits of cree/variants. This spring I took the best of the group and bred him back to my original line and also to the cross of phoneix rooster and aracauna hens.

100_1544Here is a pic of my new breeding cree/variant type rooster for 2013. I picked him because he had the largest spey type cape hackles. If you look beyond him notice the phoenix hens along with his Araucana hens eating breakfast and free ranging for the day.

If you have a story about your genetic hackle and want to contribute your stories on this blog just contact me and lets see how we can share stories and pictures.

The Genetic Hackle Beginnings

Yesterday killing some time at my sons soccer game while trying to distract my thoughts about hurricane Sandy I brought a book by Mike Valla Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies to past the time between games.

If you are a fly tier the history of fly fishing the Catskills is like preaching to the choir, but to those unaware the birthplace of the American Dry Fly and Genetic Hackle has deep roots linked to this region of the United States.

This is not the first time I have read this book cover to cover, it covers multiple generations of famous fly fisherman such as Theodore Gordon, Roy Steenrod, Herman Christian, Rube Cross for their influence and style of fly tying linked to the Catskills.

But let us not forget the visionaries and legends of the genetic hackle Walt and Winnie Dette, Harry and Elsie Darbee. Many others followed locally in the Catskills such as Doc Alan Fried, their generosity to continue the established DNA forward has much to do with today’s Genetic Hackle.

Hackle growers such as Andy Miner, Charlie Collins, Whiting and many others benefited by the work first established by these pioneers.

Mike Valla as a very young boy stumbled upon this mecca of the greats by chance, it greatly influenced his life’s course, and is much reflected in this wonderful book he has written.

Today I turn to page 80 of this great book, to re-read about hackle. It starts off with hackle/feathers to make fishing flies has even earlier roots by some historians with Claudius Aelainn (A.D. 175-235) so wrapping hackle on a fishing hook has it’s real beginnings centuries before.

As descendants of Europe much of the early fly fishing influence in this region was from the British. They are well known to not underestimate the quality of the proper chicken feathers to produce good quality trout flies.

Their findings in the early 1890’s stressed the importance that quality over the exact color shades are as true today as it was in their times. Great care and judgement in producing chickens to meet the needs of fly fisherman were essential to a fly dresser.

Mike Valla was very fortunate to be taken under the wings of the Dette’s. I can recall my early years of stumbling upon fly tying legends to fill in the gaps of what printed literature could not provide. My heart goes out to Mike in his experiences. Mike from New York and the Catskills and I from Boston and its not so famous rivers and lakes. But all in all the footsteps that were laid before us had a profound experience on who we are today.

I highly recommend anyone who has a passion about these chickens bred for their feathers get a copy of Mike’s book. The writing is captivating and well written, the pictures and quality of printing is outstanding and worth the space on anyone’s bookcase. Just to let you know I have no monetary attachments to this book. I just feel it is a go to book on the history and knowledge of the beginnings of Genetic Hackle of America.


Tallow Hill Farms

P.S. Don’t Forget,  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.

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.



What is genetic hackle?

Genetic hackle can be several things for a chicken grower.  Generally genetic hackle is related to the fly tying business. It has been this way for many years that the common chicken’s feathers was manipulated by genetics to meet the needs of fly tiers.

Most recently genetic hackle growers have been over whelmed by the fashion industry. In particular Steve Tyler of Aerosmith in a talent show wearing a genetic hackle in his hair. Almost overnight the genetic hackle industry was transformed. Much of this a hassle for fly tiers who were the core users of genetic hackle by raising prices and limiting supplies.

Either way the primary draw to genetic hackle is the extreme lengths attained by selecting for very long saddle hackles. This genetic selection goal is only one of the needs of a fly tier.

In my honest opinion genetic hackle is all about selection of your breeding stock to change the feather traits of your chickens. Not all genetic hackle breeders have the same goals.

Most genetic hackle breeders focus on what we call dry fly hackle. These breeders focus on very small and long feathers to float fly fishing flies on the surface of water. It all started because chicken feathers do not naturally grow this way without selection pressure to guide the chickens feather traits in this direction.

Today genetic hackle could mean several things.

Some will follow the traditional route of selecting for dry fly qualities. Some will breed for the ornamental value of having some roosters running around with long saddle feathers for eye candy.

Chicken traits with time and planning can be manipulated very easy.

Lets see what we all can do to meet the needs of who wants to breed genetic hackle.


Tallow Hill Farms

Hackle Growers Welcome

Chicken growers WELCOME!

This blog is your opportunity to ask questions and learn what experiences hackle growers do to grow beautiful and ornamental chickens.

Not all chicken growers want to grow ornamental chickens for sale but wish to have these beautiful birds roaming their property as eye candy.

But on the other hand if the hackle growing bug has bitten you have come to the right place to learn and share your experiences with other like minds.


Tallow Hill Farms