Scots Grey

Ark of taste
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The Scots Grey is an old breed of domestic chicken originating in Scotland in the sixteenth century. The breed is recorded as being widely distributed in the west of the country during that time. It was known at the Scotch Grey until around 1930. The chicken has barred feathering of metallic black on a steel grey background. The markings are larger in hens than cocks and give an appearance of tartan. It has a full tail, a compact firm body, long legs, and it is an upright standing bird. There is a bantam version but the large fowl was more popular. The breed is hardy, active, and adapts easily to varying climate conditions, such as the cold short summers in Scotland. It is an excellent forager and was suited to free ranging in farmyards, and on land surrounding crofts and cottages. The Scots Grey was known as a good utility bird as it was used for eggs and meat in ancient houses, crofts, and farms. The eggs are white to cream in colour and a good size for a lightweight breed. The hen lays 150-180 eggs per year, continuing through the winter. It is a non-sitting breed, so eggs would need to be incubated in order to produce chicks. These are said to grow well and mature quickly. The bird would be eaten as a boiling fowl, once it had stopped laying. Free range chickens such as the Scots Grey would form a vital ingredient of ‘Cock-a-leekie soup, once egg production began to tail off. The slow grown healthy bones of the foraging fowl would help produce a tasty stock. There are travellers’ accounts of seeing the Scots Grey in Scottish farmyards during the nineteenth century and The Scots Grey Breed Society started in 1885. The breed remained popular until 1940. It is currently on the Rare Breed Survival Trust list of native breeds at risk. Over time the Scots Grey has been known by many names according to the different districts in which it was found. These include Chick Marley, Shepherd’s Plaid, Chickmalins, Mauds, Greylings, and Greylocks.

The Scots Grey continues in small numbers thanks to exhibition breeders. However, according to one promoter of the breed, exhibition breeders have focused on breeding for physical features, to the detriment of its productivity value as both layer and broiler. It is possible that the bird lost favour as poultry production diversified into layers and broilers during the 1950s, and breeds were selected accordingly. The Scots Grey is one of only two remaining breeds of native domestic chicken in Scotland. Many breeds of poultry have been lost over past decades, thus the gene pool has shrunk. Maintaining a hardy dual-purpose breed such as the Scots Grey would preserve the gene pool in the event of disease affecting the current monoculture varieties. In addition, a dual-purpose bird may be more sustainable again in the future compared to current mass production methods.

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Nominated by:Nicolò Brambilla, Graeme Dickson