Javas: An Ideal Homestead Bird
by Pete Malmberg and Jerry Johnson of Garfield Farm Museum, LaFox, IL
Javas are one of the oldest, rarest, and most useful dual purpose chickens in North America. A history of this breed reveals that both varieties, Black and Mottled, arrived in North America from Java as early as the late 18th century. They were soon found in farmyards throughout the eastern U.S. and made their way to Missouri as settlement expanded. Prominent poultry historian Weir claimed that Javas were crossed with Black Hamburgs and Cuckoo Dorkings to produce Dominiques in some areas during this early period. Many poultry historians think that Javas were also crossed with some of the very early Cochin importations. Consequently, the Java was viewed as an American Class bird of Asiatic origins with some Oriental influence.
Java importations continued until the 1860s and one man, writing in 1903, stated that the birds he imported from Java in the 1860s were virtually identical to those found at poultry shows in 1903. The peak period of Java popularity occurred from the 1850s to the 1880s when the black variety was used as a market bird in New York and New Jersey, since the black pin feathers revealed how well the birds had been plucked. During the 1860s, the Java was crossed with the Dominique to produce the Plymouth Barred Rock.
The demise of the Java began during the 1880s when Black Javas were crossed with Black Langshans and Dark Brahmas to produce the Black Jersey Giant. Almost immediately, the Java and another prominent bird, the Jersey Blue, were relegated to farmyard status. The Jersey Blue ultimately became extinct and both Java varieties gradually declined during this century until only one hatchery, Urch/Turnland Poultry, and several private breeders kept them.
My institution, Garfield Farm Museum, became involved with Javas in the mid 1980s when research revealed that Javas, Dorkings, Hamburgs, Dominiques, and Polands were present in 1840s Illinois. For a number of years, we kept a display flock of these breeds while our staff concentrated on site restoration. We did, however, begin hosting a rare breeds show with members of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in 1986 and made long range plans for rare breeds to be a permanent part of the site. We also grew increasingly uneasy as time went by and we began to fully understand the increasingly precarious status of many breeds; particularly standard dual purpose chickens, farmyard turkeys, and hogs.
In 1992 we received a letter from Alabama resident Robert Gregory. Gregory was concerned that Javas were in imminent danger of extinction. We soon found out Urch/Turnland poultry was the last hatchery carrying Javas. Unfortunately, we lost contact with Mr. Gregory in 1993 and have been unable to locate him.
1994 found us facing a decision. Would we continue our display flock or would we launch a conservation breeding project to help the Java? We decided to launch the conservation project because our staff believes strongly in rare breed conservation.
Our first attempts to breed Black Javas in 1994 ran into problems. Our 23 adult birds hatched out ten chicks and we had very little success with our incubators due to power outages and other mishaps. Several of the chicks had deformed beaks and had to be destroyed. Our savior proved to be a three year old rooster we hatched in 1991. He provided us with a chance to do intergenerational matings. Over the next two years we hatched a small number of chicks. Which enabled us to do additional intergenerational matings.
By late 1997 we finally reached a 50 percent hatch rate and had two broody hens achieving hatch rates of up to 100 percent. Our hatch rates should be much higher in coming years as we achieve a larger hen to rooster ratio. We have been forced to use a very large number of roosters to help insure fertility and reduce inbreeding, as many as half of the males in each mating have been used as breeders. About half of the males in each mating are too small and are culled. In four years I have only culled one hen, an egg eater.
In order to help prove to poultry scientists that these Javas were a pure strain, I was forced to do genetic testing. I was very fortunate that Dr. Lamont at the University of Iowa is very interested in poultry conservation and agreed to perform the tests. The tests compared blood samples from Garfield’s Javas with samples from barred Rocks, Black Jersey Giants, Australorps, and birds from Duane Urch’s parent flock of Javas.
The tests were not conclusive because they involved such a small number of birds. Test results did, however, conclude that there is a strong possibility all of the Black Javas studied are a purebred line. The study also concluded that there were several distinct lineages present within the Garfield flock and that these Javas are genetically different from the Black Jersey Giant. These results make sense because the Urch flock was acquired from Florida resident Howard Tallman in the late 1950s or early 60s and has been a closed flock since that time.
The test results helped promote and legitimize our project. I immediately started strengthening ties to all five of the other known Black Java breeders and contacted one of the last major Mottled Java breeders, Dr. Albert McGraw of Alabama. We are all in agreement that we should try to start up a Java club for people interested in both varieties.
We also know that we have to get more satellite flocks started. I have shipped birds, eggs, and chicks to three individuals and hope to interest several other individuals in keeping Javas. I am also speaking at museum conferences in an effort to interest historical societies, historic houses, and historic villages in poultry conservation. Dr. McGraw has shipped Mottled Java chicks to two individuals in California.
Java temperaments, laying abilities, and meat quality have been a tremendous help for us in interesting potential new breeders. These birds are very calm and easily handled while still being a very active breed. They are excellent foragers and do well in the barnyard. Hens lay large rich brown eggs and many are good mothers. Young cockerels make excellent table fare. The size of Javas also makes them a very desirable bird. Roosters average about nine and a half pounds while hens tend to be about six and a half.
I would very much like to hear from people with Black or Mottled Javas we may not know about. I would also like people interested in either variety to contact me at the address listed below.
With dedication, perseverance, and some publicity, this important part of American agricultural history can once again return to its place as one of the ideal homestead birds.