UAE: This Emirati breeds chickens that lay blue eggs

Poultry farm in Sharjah is home to some of the rarest chickens in world



by

Mazhar Farooqui

Published: Sat 1 Jan 2022, 10:27 AM

On a windswept, nondescript land in Sharjah, close to the borders of Ajman and Umm Al Quwain lies a poultry farm that hosts possibly the most diverse collection of chickens in the region.

A wonderland

But getting to the place in Hay Aldubdabaah, Al Zubair, requires not just Google maps and daylight, but also precise directions over the phone by the farm’s Emirati owner Masood Husain Islami as there are no signages.

It’s only when Islami unlocks a barn door that you realise you have found a wonderland.

Rare chicken breeds in all shapes and sizes burble past your feet as you step inside the sprawling farm.

Brahma - the king of all poultry

Islami spots a giant rooster with fluffed out black feathers and an unusually large head.

“He’s Brahma, often referred to as the king of all poultry,” he says, scooping the fowl effortlessly into the crook of his arm. “Do you know where he comes from?" Isami asks and then quickly responds to his rhetorical question. “Your country, India. They are named after the Brahmaputra river. But there aren’t any Brahmas left in India. The British took them away.”

In December 1852, nine of the finest Brahmas were gifted to Queen Victoria who immediately fell in love with them. From that stock, English breeders developed the Dark Brahma variety. Later the breed was developed and shipped to the United States of America (USA).

Islami started the farm around a decade as a hobby.

An unintentional bird sanctuary

Now, it has become an unintentional bird sanctuary in the middle of a desert with the 30-year-old acting as the guardian of several historic poultry lines from around the world.

His collection includes Marans, which originated in the eponymous French village and are famous for laying chocolate brown eggs.

Others are the Malaysian Serama bantam, regarded as the smallest breed of chicken in the world that weighs less than 500 grams; Jersey Giants from the USA that weigh up to 6.8kg; the all-black Ayam Cemani from Indonesia; and the Araucana that lays brilliant blue-turquoise eggs.

Dh500 for a crate

“Ever saw these?” Islami asks as he holds up a crate containing 30 strong-shelled blue eggs. “They sell for Dh500 a crate,” he says.

The tailless Araucana chicken, also known as the “rumpless,” is named after the Araucana region in Chile, where the breed is said to have been developed. They lay up to 150 striking blue eggs annually. The distinct colour is the result of a pigment called oocyanin, which itself is a by-product of bile formation.

Raising these birds is not easy as the very genes that create Araucana’s funny-looking tuffs also kill many chicks in their shells.

Rare Araucanas

“Araucanas are a challenge to breed because of their dominant lethal tuft gene,” Islami says.

“Chicks that get the gene from both parents rarely survive. That’s why Araucanas are exceptionally rare. It requires a lot of patience and skills to raise them. The birds are famous for their naturally blue eggs which are perfect for your Easter basket as they don’t require any colouring."

The Ayam Cemani is equally tough to find and even more challenging to raise. From tongue to talon, every bit of this chicken breed is black, even its meat, bones and organs.

Islami also keeps flocks of ornamental breeds including Silkie - an exquisitely beautiful powder puff of a chicken from China that looks like it’s covered in fur rather than feathers.

The Silkie - Marco Polo’s find

The Silkie is one of the oldest chicken breeds and is known by many for being ‘discovered’ by Marco Polo, who wrote of hens which had “hair like cats, were black and laid the best of eggs”. Subsequent naturalists have described Silkies, amongst other things, as a cross between a rabbit and a fowl.

Islami, however, describes them as the ‘girl-chicken’ because of their crested head which resembles a pom pom.

Another stunning bird breed at the farm is the Lakenvender also known as ‘Shadow on the Sheet’. In Dutch their name translates to “white spread over a black field;” with laken meaning sheet and veld meaning field.

The history of Lakenvelder chickens remains clouded but it is believed the breed may have been developed in southern Holland, which is adjacent to the German border.

A ‘rewarding experience’

“Raising chickens can be both emotionally and financially rewarding if you devote time to the hobby and get to know these gentle birds,” says Islami, who shares videos and photos of his feathered friends on his Instagram account @ms3ood12.

He has nearly 90,000 followers on the social networking app and the numbers are steadily rising.

“Of late, I’ve seen a lot of interest around some of these unusual breeds. People reach out to me on Instagram from all over the world. The other day I was contacted by a poultry farmer from India who wanted to revive Brahmas in the country. I was happy to help,” he adds.

Who are the clients?

The majority of his clients are backyard hobbyists. “They know what they want and will not hesitate to pay Dh1,500 for a pair. I’ve to factor in things like rarity and high import costs,” he says.

Islami recounts he faced many challenges when he started the farm. “People thought I was crazy. My friends and relatives mocked me but now they have immense respect for me,” he says.

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A fire at the farm killed several chickens recently. Islami was distraught over the loss, but has overcome the tragedy since the damage was contained.

And his passion remains undiminished.

“I’ve got 15 different breeds on the farm and am hoping to get more in the coming weeks,” he says.

Did you know?

In December 1852, to promote his stock, a certain George Burnham shipped nine of his finest as a gift to Queen Victoria of England – making sure the gift was much publicised.


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