Facts about Onagadori


Brian Reeder

The situation of the Onagadori throughout the world is tenuous. Numbers of homozygotes are very low, perhaps as low as one thousand or less. There is much myth, misinformation and confusion surrounding the facts of these birds in the United States. They are chickens, Gallus domesticus, of truly indeterminate exact origin. Their history fades into the past, and is lost in the mists of time. Certain facts are held as historical truth, and some small body of research has been presented to the west or done in the west in the last thirty years. The definitions of true Onagadori is debated and many birds are called "Onagadori" which truly do not deserve that name, in some cases even being truly fraudulent in such claims. Numbers of Onagadori in Japan have declined over the years since the mid-nineteen hundreds and they have never truly caught on in the West in such a manner as to become established. Most imports of true Onagadori have been lost or out crossed. Some have been very weak upon entry to the west and were in need of outcross to survive, in any form. Other lines simply were not maintained.

The Onagadori is characterized by perpetual growth of the tail, sickles and saddles, in the best (most homozygous) instances. This trait however, is brought to fruition through two combined factors: 1. Genetics (genes which give the bird the ability to have fast growth of feathers and non-molting of the feathers involved, namely saddles, sickles and main tail). 2. Environment (restrictive rearing -- tombaku culture).

Japanese researchers of the nineteen seventies determined that two basic genes produce the phenotype of the Onagadori. 1. Gt, a dominant growth gene that when homozygous produces three feet plus of feather growth per year in the main tail and the greater and lesser sickles. Saddles grow somewhat slower. 2. nm, a recessive gene, which causes the birds to not molt their tail feathers. It was shown however that these genes did not have the effect of making the birds have non-molting feathers past two or three years, but required a method of rearing, known as tombaku or rooster stop boxes.

These are the traditional form of rearing cage for the Onagadori roosters. I refer to this method as "restrictive rearing." The researchers also suggest that it is the conditions of the tombaku, combined with the two basic gene groups, Gt and nm, that produce the phenotype of the true Onagadori ; ie, immense feather length in sickles, main tail, and saddles. These researchers also showed that other breeds of longtail fowl, such as Shokoku and Totenko, both proposed ancestors of the Onagadori, were capable of non-molting behavior, but for a shorter time (2 years), when raised in the tombaku.

Due to this requirement for restrictive rearing methods, the Onagadori has been unsuccessful to date in the West. It would seem that some excellent birds have been imported at various times to Europe. The information of imports to America is less verifiable. It would seem that at least six importations of various birds has occurred. Only one is said to still be pure and not out crossed. These imports range from imports of the late eighteen hundreds, which I call Proto-Onagadori (and seemed to be a widely segregating gene pool with traits of several Japanese long tailed breeds in various recombinant forms. Some of these may have been in fact Shokoku or Minohiki, and these were called by a variety of names; Japanese Games, Long-tailed Games, Yokohamas, Phoenix, Tosas, etc.) to mid-Taisho and Showa era Proto-Onagadori and Onagadori up to Onagadori and Proto-Onagadori of the nineteen sixties and seventies. No confirmed import of Onagadori past the nineteen seventies to America can be found by this author. Later imports to Europe have occurred, and a small number of high quality examples are extant there.

In both America and Europe, the Proto-Onagadori (early Onagadori as well as Shokoku and Minohiki) were out crossed with game breeds and Leghorns, to develop a stronger bird, more durable but of similar type and color form to the Onagadori . These resulted in such western breeds as Phoenix, Yokohama (game colored as in UK and early to mid-nineteen hundreds America) and what is often called Onagadori , but is in fact a grey area between Phoenix/Yokohama and Onagadori . The names and understanding of the differences in all these implied breeds has created much confusion in the West. America is no exception.

Because tombaku culture is not used in America, it is impossible to substantiate any claims of "Onagadori" in America. Without the use of tombaku, there is no way to know of the existence of true Onagadori , for it is only through the restrictive rearing methods as practiced in Japan that the true phenotype can be ascertained. Thus there could be a great number of birds that would produce Onagadori type in America, or there could be none. Until restrictive rearing methods are employed, the subject of Onagadori is a moot point in America.



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