Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by BurrOakHill, Nov 18, 2015.

  1. BurrOakHill

    BurrOakHill Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 10, 2015
    The purpose of this thread is to open discussion on the Erminette. In 2013 Glenn Drowns of Sandhill Preservation Center was contacted by a young man who had obtained some of Ron Nelson's flock of Erminettes. Ron's flock was the only known flock of this 'breed' known in the United States and Ron did not make stock of his flocks available until he thought they had reached a state near perfection. When Ron passed away it was thought these birds went the way of the rest of his numerous rare breeds, lost to the ages.
    A couple years after Ron's death, the young man who used to tend to Ron's flocks reached out to Glenn and shared that he had obtained some of Ron's Erminettes during Ron's illness and that he could no longer take care of them. Glenn went to Wisconsin, brought back everything he could and so started a new chapter in the history of the Erminette. In 2014 Glenn began to make available some of these birds to interested parties on a limited bases. The history of the 'breed' was vague in the minds of nearly every poultry historian across the nation so Glenn requested that I get involved and start researching the history.
    My hope with this thread is to begin sharing what I've found about the Erminette and to spur conversation about where the breeders see the 'breed' evolving into. I have used the term breed loosely as you have seen because the Erminette never really became a breed in its own right, rather it operated for a number of decades as nothing more than a color pattern on a number of different breeds as you'll soon see below. While these birds were quite popular in the late 1800's-early 1900's none of the breeders sought to get this coloration in the APA on their respected breed (Brahma, Wyandotte, or Plymouth Rock). It can only be assumed that because the coloration didn't breed true (similar to the way Blue doesn't breed true), that this coloration soon fell out of favor. Below you will find the first details surrounding the Erminette and where this information was found. You'll also see when each breed began to exhibit this coloration -

    • John H. Sutliffe of Bristol, Connecticut developed the pea combed, feather shanked variation which closely resembled the Asiatic breeds of his time. In 1874 Mr. Sutliffe introduced to the public the first of the three primary variations of the Erminette. In 1877 Mr. Sutliffe’s entire flock was sold to his son-in-law J.C. Russell who continued breeding this variation for a number of years. It is currently unknown when this strain of Erminette became extinct.
      • The Poultry World – Hartford, Conn. – Volume VI, Issue No. III - 1877
    • In 1887 Clarence J. Reddig of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania was accredited with the creation of the rose combed, clean legged version of the Erminette which possessed a body type similar to the Wyandotte as known to exist during this time.
      • The Poultry Monthly – Volume IV – 1887
      • The Poultry Monthly – Albany NY – Volume XXII, Issue No. III – 1900
    • By 1895 C.A.H. Bright of Bridgeport, Connecticut had established a flock of single combed, clean shanked Erminettes with his son-in-law, Frederick A. Burr of Fairfield, Connecticut, managing his flock well into the 1940’s when FB Hutt obtained breeding stock for his genetic experiments. In type Mr. Bright’s stock carried traits most similar to the Plymouth Rock of his generation.
      • Genetic Basis Of The Erminette Breed Of Fowls – F.B. Hutt – Published in 1964
    • It is claimed that at a poultry show in 1892 there existed a single combed, feather shanked variation to the Erminette. This claim is sited by the following statement regarding a class of Erminettes, “Clean legged, beautiful birds were beaten by feather-legged questionable specimens, simply because the first possessed rose combs and the judge favored single combs.” At the present it is unknown who originated this line but it would appear that this variation would have a connection to Mr. Sutliffe’s stock due to the feathered shanks.

        • The Pet Stock, Pigeon and Poultry Bulletin – Volume XXII - 1892
  2. BurrOakHill

    BurrOakHill Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 10, 2015
    While few were aware of the various breeders that initiated each variation of the Erminette, the confusion surrounding comb, legs, and type was readily known at the time. This lead many to lament the misfortune of the various opinions and the lack of the breeders to unify themselves under one common Standard (we also have to remember that during the 1880-1920's there was a profound shift in the way breeders identified breeds. Before the hen craze of the late 1800's, most breeds were known by the color as well as their type. So, if there was a unique color but present in varying forms of type it was expected that the breeders unify under one type. By the 1920's this had dramatically shifted to breeds being primarily recognized by type only with many breeds exemplifying nearly every known color available. Hence the extreme importance of type in the showring today. Had the Erminette color made its appearance after the 1920's no doubt the pressure would have been for breeders to pair up the color with their breed of choice rather than pressure the different breeders to unify a 'standard' type. It is my belief that because the Erminette made its appearance in the middle of this transition plus the fact the color doesn't breed true to type, was the downfall of this beautiful pattern and the cause of its near extinction.) The lamentations surrounding the lack of breeders being able to organize under one Standard is made clear by the following articles:

    • “There have been differences of opinion as to the comb an Erminette should wear ever since that time, and it is owing to this difference of opinion among the breeders of the Erminette that they are not now in the Standard.” – Geo. H Brackenbury (The Poultry Monthly) Mr. Brackenbury wrote in this article that he was of the opinion that the rose comb clean legged version should have been merged into an Erminette or “Ermine” variety of Wyandotte considering how similar the rose comb Erminette was in type to the Wyandotte. This opinion was shared by many during this time period, and due to the fact that the Wyandotte was used in the creation of the rose comb, clean legged variation, it stands to reason why such an opinion was held.
    • “Erminettes…have cropped out from time to time in our exhibitions, sometimes being shown with smooth shanks, and sometimes with shanks feathered. They have never been satisfactory enough to secure them to become completely bred.” – American Poultry Advocate 1918
    • The Erminette…would have been a standard breed, in all probability, but for the fact that its breeders were unable to agree upon a standard, and bred it, according to individual predilection, with (feathered) and with clean shanks, and with three types of combs – pea, rose, and single. Even upon shape there was an unhappy divergence of opinion. But it was and is an excellent and attractive fowl.” – Poultry Breeding in the United States By H.S. Babcock

      Add to this confusion of the shanks, comb and body type, was the added confusion of nomenclature which, in this era, was anything but “standard”. Between 1874 (when the first “Erminette” made its appearance) to the 1920’s, there was much confusion amongst poultry fanciers concerning the names Erminette and Ermine. Most can vividly recollect the regal robe worn by Royalty which is white with small black markings. This robe is created out of skins of the Ermine (a mammal that belongs to the rodent family), which is solid white with a black tipped tail. When making the robe, the Ermine tails are spaced out in an organized way, creating a striking display. The controversy sprang from the fact that two different color patterns derived their name from the same source; the robe worn by Royalty. As a result, there was much confusion about what constituted an Ermine or Erminette, with some individuals and breeders using both names interchangeably when describing one or the other. When one sorts through the history it becomes clear that the Erminette was a color pattern expressing a white bird with random and as evenly spaced black markings as possible and was not a pattern which bred true. The Ermine on the other hand was the same color pattern as the Columbian (or Light in the Brahma, Sussex, and Dorking). In fact, the originator of the Columbian Orpington variety originally coined his new creation the Ermine Orpington as he felt the Columbian name was a fad that would soon fade out and that naming a color variety after the Columbian Fair lacked any depth of meaning as compared to the pattern of the regal robes produced out of the fur the Ermine.

      In studying the history of the Erminette as found in the pages of poultry antiquity, it becomes clear that Mr. Sutliffe considered the birds he called Erminette as a separate breed, but as the next few years rolled out, many others joined in the creation of their own version of the Erminette and within a couple decades the Erminette was found in such varying forms that most in the poultry world were forced to accept that the Erminette was not unified enough to be considered a standard breed, and to some this was a fact that was met with much disappointment.

      However, should one talk to poultry historians of today and ask them if the Erminette was indeed a breed of the past, most will overwhelmingly confirm that the Erminette was indeed a breed in its own right, yet, no one seems to know what exactly the Erminette was supposed to look like outside of its color genetics and how its color genes are to operate. What is known is that breeders of the past were successful in producing specimens that closely resembled Erminette colored Brahmas, Wyandottes, and Plymouth Rocks. What makes studying the Erminette such a difficult task is the fact that all of the information about the Erminette’s past is tied to a color pattern as opposed to a standard breed. And it can be added that even those who were trying to breed the Erminette coloration into a variety of their respective breed of choice were unsuccessful in completing this task.
  3. BurrOakHill

    BurrOakHill Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 10, 2015
    Here's a couple pictures of the first examples of Erminettes. The first is from The Poultry World - Volume VI, Issue III - 1877 and depicts Erminette colored Asiatics. The second picture is from The Poultry World - Volume IV - 1887 and showcases a pair of Wyandotte colored birds. I have not found historical pictures of the Rock type or Single combed, feather shanked birds. However we do currently have these two types in our stock today.

    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  4. BurrOakHill

    BurrOakHill Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 10, 2015
    In 1940 a poultry geneticist most are familiar with, F.B. Hutt, began his work on the Erminette. He had found an advertisement for Erminettes which stated the following....

    "Their beautiful plumage makes them an ornament to either the city lot or the country plot. As the prolific layers of large eggs of delicate flavor they are unequalled. As table flows they are equal of any' they mature early' their flesh is tender and palatable - they have a delicate yellow skin and juicy flesh and at maturity females weigh 5 to 7 and males 7 to 9 pounds."

    Hutt then reached out to Mr. Burr and obtained hatching eggs. While all of Mr. Burr's stock was clean legged, most were single combed with a few rose combed individuals. In communications between the two men, it was learned that Mr. Burr had bred in some White Wyandotte a few generations back.

    What I personally find interesting with this fact is that Mr. Burr really wasn't all that focused on type but on maintaining the pattern. And so it would seem, that the breeders of the Erminette colored birds weren't all that particular on type, making it much harder for the 'breed' to gain any legitimacy among the showring or the APA. For Hutt's work, he chose to breed out the rose combs leaving behind a line of Erminette colored birds that were single combed and maintained a type that was closer to the Plymouth Rock than the Wyandotte. When he released his genetic study to the world in 1964, with it were enclosed many pictures of these single combed, Rock styled birds (by default this became the new 'standard' for the Erminette and the type for which Ron Nelson breed his birds after).

    By the late 1980's to early 1990's the SPPA (Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities), after years of trying to locate Erminette stock, had released a statement with their concern that the Erminette was extinct. They send out word for their members to keep their eyes out for them. It was this warning that sent up a huge red flag when Ron Nelson was driving through the countryside in southern Wisconsin in the mid 1990's. He came across a flock of birds grassing across the farmyard that looked quite similar to the Erminettes. He stopped and knocked on the door. An elderly lady appeared and began to tell Ron about her flock. She told him that the birds were called Erminettes and that they had belonged to her father, who had passed them on to her. Ron obtained some hatching eggs from this lady and began his work.
    This line of stock was single combed, mostly clean legged with a few individuals exhibiting some shafting on the legs. They were smaller than what was commonly described of them and so Ron began working to increase their size. He introduced some of his exhibition Black Orpington which certainly added the size, but introduced white skin; causing white legs and beaks. By the time of Ron's passing this was not formally bred out and today breeders are still working to 'weed this out'. Every now and then an individual will come out with some slight feather shafting on the legs. Because the gene pool is still pretty narrow, most aren't aggressively breeding against the shafting.

    So where is the Erminette today? Not in a particularly good shape. The young man who obtained stock from Ron allowed some crossing to happen with the stock causing the introduction of many unwanted genes. The first year of breeding conducted by Glenn caused some confusion until the genetics were fully understood. That said there are three primary areas to overcome for breeders of the Erminette -

    1) There isn't a Standard type to breed towards. All are working with single combed individuals, however they are breeding for whatever type seems best to them. If the breeders are going to get anywhere with this breed, a Standard for type will need to be drawn up.

    2) Education on the history. Today the Erminette is not what could be considered a legitimate breed. They have a general type and a coloration that is unique, but that isn't enough to declare them a breed in their own right.

    3) Unwanted genes causing confusion - white skin, the blue gene hanging around (being perpetuated under the white individuals where it goes unnoticed until offspring are obtained), and some red coloration appearing. Breeders will have to commit to breeding large enough numbers to rue out these unwanted genes.
  5. BurrOakHill

    BurrOakHill Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 10, 2015
    Ok, so all this information to lead up to this -

    For those of you out there who are interested in the Erminette or who are currently raising these birds, what questions do you have? For those who are breeding, where do you see your breeding plans going? What are your breeding goals, and what are you wanting your birds to look like in type?

    I'd like to see this thread be an opportunity for those interested in breeding these birds to come together and begin formulating their thoughts so that the breeders can decide if they want to establish the Erminette as a separate breed, or is it best to breed this pattern on established APA breeds such as the Wyandotte and Rock?

    Share your thoughts, and no question is wrong.
  6. oldcampcook

    oldcampcook Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 10, 2014
    I obtained 25 chicks from Glenn, hatched June 29, 2015.

    Of these birds, there is one black spotted pullet, one light gray spotted pullet and about 5 white pullets. Several pullets with orange spots.
    Two nicely spotted cockerels. One nice spotted one that has one red feather on each wing. A black cockerel that was included in the shipment has turned out to be a blue/red specimen.
    Two of the pullets have very fine downy shanks while the others are clean shanked.

    My intention is to retain all of the hens that do not exhibit any orange spots and the two best black spotted cockerel.

    I would appreciate any assistance or advice as this is the first time I have taken on such a project. I have raised and do raise other breeds.

    I live just South of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  7. antheat

    antheat Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 10, 2008
    In order for any breed to be of worth and sustainable, it needs to be productive. So, what I'd like to work towards is what Mr. Hutt said: "As the prolific layers of large eggs of delicate flavor they are unequalled. As table fowl they are equal of any' they mature early' their flesh is tender and palatable - they have a delicate yellow skin and juicy flesh and at maturity females weigh 5 to 7 and males 7 to 9 pounds."

    My initial observation since having these birds since early 2014 is that I like the temperament of the birds, they are docile and easy to work with, the roosters are not particularly belligerent or aggressive which is important. Egg production has been a disappointment, as is egg size.

    I will write more later.
  8. mhemmer

    mhemmer Out Of The Brooder

    Jul 22, 2014
    I am firmly in the camp that we should establish the Erminette as a breed. I believe this represents the best opportunity to preserve these genetics for future generations. In my opinion, just breeding for color patterns, allows these genetics to be spread thin – as they were once – and risk their disappearance. It seems that breeders focusing on the color rather than type, is what took the Erminette to the brink of extinction in the first place.

    At the same time, once we establish a breed and decent numbers, anyone can then transport the color pattern to other breeds and play as they wish.
    Based upon what we have available to us today, I believe we should pattern our “breed” after the single comb, yellow legged, Rock type birds Hutt studied in the 1940’s.
    Breeding plans/Goals:

    Unless there is a strong group preference to another course of action, I plan to breed to the Hutt type. I currently have two breeding pens and will begin some test hatching. I have some appropriately marked pullets - four, and one hen. My best cockerels are marked blue. I have also kept some all-white birds. My test hatching will determine the most color-productive combinations. I will breed towards yellow legs whenever there is an option. I plan to hatch 200+ chicks this spring. It is my hope that this will yield some decent specimens, with the idea of finding enough quality breeders to begin to make some progress setting color and type.

    I echo Anthea's comment regarding productivity. that will be in the forefront of my program. They must be productive to be sustainable. My group last year laid extremely well, this year's pullets are starting a little more slowly.
  9. Capriole

    Capriole Out Of The Brooder

    Jul 5, 2015
    I would like to know what characteristics to breed for. I am picking up several birds this weekend, and have placed my order for chicks.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
  10. BurrOakHill

    BurrOakHill Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 10, 2015
    Currently, this breed is in great need of breeders who can give it nearly single focus as apposed to a breeder who is focused on multiple breeds. In order to get the currently available stock to a high quality will require multiple breeding pens and hundreds of chicks hatched out each year for a couple of years in order to give you what you need to make the necessary selections. Hopefully in the next few years the breeders will be able to offer good birds for sale. In the meantime be prepared to invest a lot of time and energy with this breed. There was some mixing of the Erminette with a gold phase which looked like the Erminette, but was red instead of black. However, they are separate breeds and should never have been bred together as they caused some serious genetic confusion. Glenn Drowns and others who are working with this breed are trying to get them back to breeding true to type.

    Here's an Erminette from Ron Nelson's flock that was taken at Sandhill Preservation Center last year -

    Here is a picture of the gold phase. This breed doesn't have a name at the time and we're working on saving the breed first, then naming it. This was taken at the same time and same place as the picture above.

    *** When these two colorations were bred together it caused near destruction for both breeds. They are COMPLETELY different from a genetic standpoint and should never be crossed. Please keep that in mind when breeding your birds. Do your best to separate them out if you can. ***

    There is a lot of potential with this breed, however they need some die hard dedicated breeders to get them back to where they once were.

    What to breed for?
    1) size
    2) maintain production qualities
    3) yellow skin
    4) solid black feathers
    5) predominately white colored bird with a few solid black feathers

    What needs to be bred out?
    1) unproductive birds
    2) white skin
    3) gold/red coloration in the feathers
    4) blue colored feathers

    Historically they were large birds raised primarily for meat with some use as egg layers. Most reports I'm hearing is that the pullets are strong layers. I've only heard of one situation where they weren't holding their own from an egg standpoint. My pullets have just started in, are doing well and have a nice sized, dark brown egg for a pullet. I'm very content with them at this time. My oldest male is just a little over 7 months old and weighs 8.75lbs. That gives you an idea of the size potential with them. I took some pictures and hopefully I'll get them uploaded here in the next few days.

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