Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Some History of the Asil (or Aseel) Gamefowl Chicken

Some History of the Asil (or Aseel) Gamefowl Chicken

The Game-type chickens, as a whole, have some of the longest documented histories of any domestic fowls. The Asil (or Aseel) has an ancestry particularly steeped in antiquity - the breed is referred to in the Codes of Manu, an Indian document on law, religion, & philosophy dating back to somewhere between 900-1280 B.C. (Atkinson, Herbert, Cockfighting & Game Fowl (1938), p. 81) Asils were developed primarily as a sort of feathered pugilist, and this aspect of their development has had an overpowering influence on the breed’s structure, constitution, and temperament, as well as influencing its role in the development of more modern breeds.

As befitting such an old breed, the Asil and its descendants are known not only in India, its country of origin, but in places as far flung as Thailand, Japan, Turkey, England (imported in 1760), many South American countries, and the USA. Of particular interest is the Cornish breed, developed in England from Asil crosses, and the base stock of the modern meat chicken industry. The Cornish inherited from the Asil its meaty, well-muscled body, sturdy frame, and yellow skin and legs.

Asils are a fowl of unusual appearance, having very short, hard, glossy feathers, so short that the breastbone is left exposed (as well as often the back of the head and the points of the shoulders). Large boned, with broad shoulders, an upright stance, heavily muscled hips and square shanked legs (legs rounded or D shaped in cross section are a sign of impure blood), strong, curved neck and short beak, the
Asil is a very powerful bird. The face is rather predatory looking, with hawk-like brows over pale, pearl-colored eyes, with a small pea comb and earlobes, and no wattles at all. The tail is carried low, and fans horizontally rather than vertically. Eggs are usually tinted, and the hens are not known for their laying ability. Many of the color varieties have interesting stories attributed to them, such as the Sonatol (or Sonatawal), light red (wheaten), called "gold in value" due to one cock being sold to a Rajah for its weight in gold; the Ghan, dark red (black breasted red or dark), meaning "sledge-hammer," one of which is said to have broken a man’s wrist with one blow; the Rampur, solid black, called "cobra killer," after a hen which dispatched such a snake; and the Kaptan, dark red with some white, whose name means "black spurred". The APA Standard recognizes black breasted red, wheaten, dark, spangled, and white Aseels, but they can also be found in the typical Game colors, including grey (duckwing), blue breasted red, and black. The Standard also lists them as "very vigorous and tenacious survivors."

This hardiness, combined with wonderful mothering ability makes the breed quite useful as a free-range fowl, and they do well in confinement also; with the caveat that they not be confined with others of their own breed, unless of the opposite sex. The cocks are quite docile and easy to handle, and Asils in general seem particularly intelligent. Crosses make excellent meat birds (the original stock tends to be rather slow maturing).

I have had oriental Games since 1981, and my current lines of Asils goes back to both those birds and some stock I acquired in 1990. I use Asil hens to hatch all of my chicks, and can set a hen for three consecutive hatches without any problem. Snakes and other small vermin are no threat to the chicks, as hens are very protective of their young; yet they allow me to handle them and their chicks with little or no protest. On the other hand, I cannot keep too many of these paragons, because I don’t have the pen space; cocks must be kept separate from each other so that they can’t dig or fly to where they can strike at the male in the next pen (I bury bricks and rocks between pens, and make solid plywood barriers four feet high), and hens often do not get along well with other hens; I can keep them with males, hens of non-aggressive breeds, or else let them free-range where my dogs (Anatolian Shepherds, a kind of livestock protection dog) can break up fights. I find the breed to be fascinating, both for their long history and aristocratic disposition. Devoted parents, with an impressive physical appearance and an indomitable spirit, plus plumage of a range of colors (many of a beautiful metallic luster), the Asil is a breed worth keeping.

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