The Aseel (or Asil)

Jennifer Floyd
Jamul, CA

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2001, 6(2):4

The Game-type chickens, as a whole, have some of the longest documented histories of any domestic fowls. The Aseel (or Asil) has an ancestry particularly steeped in antiquity -- the breed is referred to in the Codes of Manu, an Indian document on law, religion, and philosophy dating back to somewhere between 900-1280 B.C. (Cockfighting & Game Fowl, by Herbert Atkinson, 1938, p. 81). Aseels were developed primarily as a sort of feathered pugilist, and this had an overpowering influence on the breed's structure, constitution, and temperament, as well as its role in the development of more modern breeds.

As befitting such an old breed, the Aseel and its descendants are known not only in India, its country of origin, but also in places as far flung as Thailand, Japan, Turkey, England (imported in 1760), many South American countries, and the USA. Of particular note is the Cornish breed, developed in England from Aseel crosses, and the basis of the modern meat chicken industry. The Cornish inherited from the Aseel its meaty, well-muscled body, sturdy frame, and yellow skin and legs.

Aseels are a fowl of unusual appearance, having very short, hard, glossy feathers, so short that the breastbone is left exposed (and often the back of the head and the points of the shoulders). Large boned, with broad shoulders, an upright stance, heavily muscled hips and square shanks (legs rounded or D shaped in cross section are a sign of impure blood), strong, curved neck and short beak; the Aseel is a very powerful bird. The face is rather predatory looking, with hawk-like brows over pale, pearl-colored eyes, with a small pea comb and earlobes, and no wattles at all. The tail is carried low, and fans horizontally rather than vertically. Eggs are usually tinted, and the hens are not known for laying ability. Many of the color varieties have interesting stories attributed to them, such as the Sonatol (or Sonatawal), light red (wheaten), called "gold in value" due to one cock being sold to a Rajah for its weight in gold; the Ghan, dark red (black breasted red or dark), meaning "sledge-hammer," one of which is said to have broken a man's wrist with one blow; the Rampur, solid black, called "cobra killer," after a hen which dispatched such a snake; and the Kaptan, dark red with some white, whose name means "black spurred." The APA Standard recognizes black breasted red, wheaten, dark, spangled, and white Aseels, but they can also be found in the typical Game colors, including grey (duckwing), blue breasted red, and black. The Standard also lists them as "very vigorous and tenacious survivors."

This hardiness combined with wonderful mothering ability makes the breed quite useful as a free-range fowl, and they do well in confinement also; with the caveat that they not be confined with others of their own breed, unless of the opposite sex. The cocks are quite docile and easy to handle, and Aseels in general seem particularly intelligent. Crosses make excellent meat birds, even though the pure stock tends to be rather slow maturing.

I have bred oriental Games since 1981, and my current lines of Aseels goes back to both those birds and some stock I acquired in 1990. I use Aseel hens to hatch all of my chicks, and can set a hen for three consecutive hatches without any problem. Snakes and other small vermin are no threat to the chicks, as hens are very protective of their young; yet they allow me to handle them and their chicks with little or no protest. On the other hand, I cannot keep too many of these paragons, because I don't have the pen space. Cocks must be separated from each other so that they can't dig or fly to where they can strike at the male in the next pen. I bury bricks and rocks between pens, and make solid plywood barriers four feet high between individual pens. Hens often do not get along well with other hens. I keep them with males, hens of non-aggressive breeds, or else let them free-range where my dogs (Anatolian Shepherds, a breed of livestock protection dog) can break up fights. The breed fascinates me because of its long history and aristocratic disposition. Devoted parents with an indomitable spirit, plus an impressive physical appearance and plumage in a range of colors (many with beautiful metallic luster), the Aseel is a breed worth keeping.



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