BREED NAME: ONAGADORI
BRIEF DESCRIPTION: Onagadori means “long-tailed chicken”, in Japanese, also “honorable chicken” depending on the source. Through selective breeding for unusually long saddle, sickle and tail feathers in roosters, non-molting feathers were achieved.
Tail feather lengths of 12 to 27 feet have been accomplished, making this the king of all long-tailed breeds of chicken. In the purest of the breed and under the best housing, which protects the rooster from weather, dirt and wear, these feathers never molt, thus can continue to grow through the life of the rooster. Tail, saddle and sickle feathers should grow constantly.
The breed is an ancient breed dating back to the 1600’s. It’s believed the breed was developed from another long-tailed Japanese chicken, the Shokoko, and originated in the Kochi Prefecture of Japan.
Size: Standard Male: 4 Ibs. / Standard Female: 3 Ibs.
Comb, Wattles & Earlobes: Red wattles, with red single and slightly curved comb, white to pale yellow lobes. Red pigment is not allowed in standards to drift into lobes more than 50%. Color: Black Breasted Red, Black Breasted Silver, Black Breasted Golden, and White. Shank color must be willow in all Black-breasteds and yellow in the White.
Place of Origin: Japan
Conservation Status: Very rare outside Japan. Numbers in Japan have dwindled since the mid 20th century. There may only 1000 pure birds in the world and it’s doubtful any pure specimens exist in the US.
Tombaku Culture, the traditional Japanese husbandry art of cultivating the best potential from individual birds, seems as important as genetics in producing the classic breed and may be on its way to becoming a dying art.
Special Qualities: We often see photos of roosters tethered to a high perch allowing his tail to flow with minimal contact to the environment. Sometimes the tail is carefully rolled up and secured for protection.
Special housing and great care called “tombaku” is a must in cultivating such long feathers in the best possible condition. Tombaku protects feathering as well as discourages conditions that would trigger molting and encourages tail feather growth of 3’ per year. Saddle feathers should to be 1/3 the length of tail.
Officially declared as a Special Natural Monument in Japan, this unique chicken was developed from the same ancestor as all domesticated chickens, the Asian Red Jungle Fowl. The Japanese desire for extremes in beauty and achievement are seen in the Onagadori.
A small percentage of the rooster’s feathers molt annually but due to selective alterations in basic chicken Dna and special care, the Onagadori rooster’s full molt cycle lasts 3-4 years. Ideally his long feathers must grow for a minimum of 4 years. Hens molt normally.
The German Phoenix and Onagadori Association reports that the origins of the Onagadori are somewhat mysterious. It is believed that Shokoku was primarily used to create the breed, selecting long tailed and slow molting mutations during the Edo Period of Japanese history 1600-1868.
Japanese oral history offers a story about a Prince or Shogun, Yamanouchi, ruling over the Kochi Prefecture. In honor of Emperor Tenno he had the spears and helmets of the soldiers decorated with unusually long feathers for special events.
Farming serfs in the Prince’s territory that raised these long feathered roosters are said to have been tax exempt for providing feathers for this royal use.
It seems that the development of longer and longer feathers, from about 1655 on, became a very active pursuit due in part to the royal reward. Japanese museums display spears and helmets decorated with long rooster feathers from this time, so the story bears some evidence in modern times making it very likely.
One look at this magnificent creature tells us much of his royal beginnings. By the late 1800’s the breed gained widespread notice in Japan through publication. Koyu Nishimura wrote and published a book: Sketches and Thoughts, where he described these ever-growing long tail feathers of Japan’s unique poultry treasure.
During the years of 1912 -1926 the Onagadori became an officially recognized breed. Soon after, descriptions of comb and color variety began to circulate through Europe in response to the first imported specimens.