Harvesting and Preserving Rooster Hackles and Saddles

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by calista, Jun 20, 2011.

  1. calista

    calista Songster

    Jan 27, 2010
    Over 40 years ago I can remember my Dad singling out the flashiest of our roosters to be culled in order to preserve the beautiful hackle and saddle feathers for sale to local fly-fishing enthusiasts. I wish I'd paid more attention to how he skinned the carcass, treated it with salt and borax, and then stretched the skin to dry until it was cured.

    So I was curious and found this interesting information online:

    I lay the skins on newspaper, skin side down and layered between more newspaper in a stack ready for the next step, scraping the skins with a dull edged butter knife.
    I use Borax rubbed well into the skins and let dry for a day, This pulls the oils from the skin. The next day, I brush off the borax and scrape the oily spots again and re-borax and let dry.
    I should mention that I keep these skins in a Rubbermaid tub. A large one works well. This keeps flies from laying eggs on the skins. Make sure you have them laying flat.
    Once dried I cut the neck and saddle patches, and put them into separate freezer bags and freeze them for a couple of days.

    (There's also a description of using a "death chamber" to dispatch the roosters -- never heard of this method.) [​IMG]

    Does anyone preserve the hackles and saddles? What methods do you use that work? I'd really like to give this a try. Or please let me know if this has been covered in another thread that I didn't find with the Search function. Thanks!


  2. galanie

    galanie Treat Dispenser No More

    Aug 20, 2010
    There was a thread with a brief discussion on doing this in the Hobbies section. I *think* all it really had was pretty much what you posted, except for the freezing part. The thread was titled something like What to do with the feathers? Or similar. I remember because I was the one that asked how to preserve a hackle, which is called a "cape" from a rooster. And the answer was, as I said, pretty much to scrape off the meat and fat and dry flat on borax.
  3. TexasLady

    TexasLady Chirping

    Mar 27, 2012
    I'd be curious about how to do this too.

    I don't know what part the people want, but I have ten or so roosters from the chicks I ordered that will not be easy to sell going in to winter. I probably will butcher the birds, and I might as well take advantage of harvesting the hackles rather than throwing them away.

    Look through the hackle pictures, I see quite a few that seem to have everything from just behind the skull. I'm not sure what part is valuable.

    Any ideas on what part(s) to keep?
  4. 33yardbirds

    33yardbirds Songster

    Jun 15, 2010
    Southern New Jersey
    Do a search on utube. The process is too tidious to explain here. If you just want the cape your incision will be made from the bottom jaw as opposed to a mounted bird where you cut down the center of the back. A little trick is to also have a little borax to dip your fingers in to get a grip on the greasy bird hide, a scalpel is the tool of choice. Then wash it in warm water and DAWN dish detergent, I say Dawn 'cause nothing cuts grease like dawn. Wring it out, in a combo of crushrd corn cob and Borax. Blow dry with a hair dryer on warm or cool. Then stroke and brush gently with a large blush brush. This is just an idea of the process. Find a taxidermist in your area, they may give you a quick lesson if you explain you just want the capes and not going into the bird mounting business. My wife used to do all the birds for us and I did mammals and fish, just too overwhelmed once the word and work got out and just closed the doors. Barred Rocks and Wood Ducks are always in high demand for fly tiers.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2012
  5. Frango Asado

    Frango Asado In the Brooder

    May 15, 2012
    San Juan Capistrano, CA
    We like neck hackles from roosters that have absolutely no webbing for dry flies. The best have long rachis and short, stiff, shiny barbs. Most-needed colors are grizzly (barred rock) and dun (blue andalusian). There must be an abundance of the tiniest feathers near the head--those are the ones that I use up, anyways. I have a bunch of necks with only the bigger feathers. Trout flies are tiny.

    I must say that most of the "rooster necks" I've seen from folks who are not familiar with fly-tiers' needs are not worth buying--too webby, barbs too long, not enough small feathers that are too short to use.

    Top quality saddle feathers from "genetic" birds have always been pricey. If there is no webbing on the barbs and the barbs themselves are short, a single feather can be used to hackle several flies. Steven Tyler has single-handedly created such a demand for this type of feather (he wore them in his hair as a judge on American Idol) that fly-tiers can't come close to paying the prices that salons are willing to pay for these feathers.

    Hen necks are also useful for wet flies and streamers. Having the full neck is important because many fly patterns (e.g., matukas) require matching feathers for each side of the fly. Webby feathers are obviously okay here, but you want there to be no flaws in the feathers.
    rodeorulz and lynnR like this.

  6. TexasLady

    TexasLady Chirping

    Mar 27, 2012
    Thank you so much for describing what is wanted.

    I used to tan rabbit hides, and it was interesting work to say the least. I think I could do this with my roosters, and I think I just might figure out how to do it so that all those roosters have value and don't have to fight to the death. I can hardly stand to consider that they might have to die fighting or be crippled so that the real fighters can learn. Just isn't something I consider right, ethical or something I want to see my birds do. If they had a fighting chance (and weren't in it to teach the fighters how to be better) and didn't have to suffer serious injury, at least I could deal with the fact that they had a chance. But they don't. They are abused, used and misused until they are killed by the other bird to teach him how to fight. I'd rather see them die quickly and painlessly than to die like that.

    Thanks again.

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