The Old English Game as We Know It

by Dick Demasky

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 1998, 3(1):3-5

I don't know of any variety of poultry that has had as much written about it as the Old English Game. Several entire volumes, Sketchley's Cocker, 1914; Atkinson's Old English Game, 1913; Game Chickens by Tan Bark; From Shell to Pit by W. B. Glaezen, etc. It's also mentioned in many other books -- The Poultry Book by Weir, Cock Fighting All over the World by Finsterbush, and the list goes on and on.

Having devoted almost 40 years of my life to the breeding, rearing and general care of this wondrous and very beautiful creature and having been selected on numerous occasions by my peers to judge shows that were devoted solely to Games, I feel as though I may be qualified to make a few comments on them.

The Old English Game is a very ancient breed, perhaps the most ancient of all. He descended mostly, though not entirely, from Gallus bankiva (the red jungle fowl) which is still to be found wild in certain remote parts of the world. The red jungle fowl is a small bird that escapes its predators by flying up in the trees. It has long wings and a long tail which makes a wonderful rudder. It is most pugnacious in the spring during the breeding season, but generally does not exhibit as much gaminess in or at other times of the year.

Man stepped into this picture and started the domestication process and developed a bird that would fight valiantly not only in the spring but the late fall and winter as well. Thus the Old English Game came to be. As Morley Jull stated in his book Poultry Breeding, 1932, the sport of Cock fighting had as much responsibility for the domestication and distribution of fowl as did the demand for food. This he said was amply demonstrated by the importance attached to the pastime by many human races (cultures). The Old English Game stayed much as he was for many, many centuries. But, today there are at least two types of Old English Games. I personally refer to them as the Anglo type and the Latin type.

At the time of Sketchley, 1814, he gives an article for a Cock-match in London and Newmarket rules (England). "No cocks to be less than 3 pounds 6 ounces, nor more than 4 pounds 8 ounces." Today's Old English cocks generally weigh between 4 pounds and 6 pounds, Anglo type. The Latin type generally weigh between 3 pounds 4 ounces to 4 pounds.

In the mid 1800s the English Cockers started infusing oriental blood. Mostly the Aseel, then Shamo and probably some Malay. They did this to make their stock tougher and larger and also to increase their strength. Pure or near pure Bankivoids tend toward frailness and die easily. While the English breeders who fought in steel weapons were doing this, the Spanish breeders, who fought in postizas, a natural spur honed down to a thin diameter but not as thin as the steel gaff, were sticking to the Cowose and did seldom add the oriental blood. Many Spanish breeders today refer to their fowl as Ingles, which translates into English.

The Anglo type today is noted for its wide back, big bone and medium station. He generally shows either a single comb or a pea comb. He also can come muffed (beards & sideburns) or tasseled with top knots. He can come in any color with any color shanks and feet.

The Latin type is a narrow, long bodied fowl, small boned and high station for its size. He generally shows a single comb or a rose comb. I have seen some but not a great deal of them with pea combs. He too comes in all colors with any color shank and feet and sometimes with a small top knot, sometimes muffed. Old English Games, regardless of whether they are Anglo or Latin, NEVER have feathered legs or feet.

Today, there is much crossing of the two types and I personally think it's a good thing. Who wants an Old English that resembles an Aseel or Shamo? Don't get me wrong or misunderstand me. I like Aseels and Shamos and if I were breeding them, I wouldn't want them to look like an Old English. I don't particularly like the way a lot of the Latin types look as well. They are too narrow and look frail. I like them to look the way A. O. Schilling painted them, big and rugged with good bone, ever on the alert, with a fierce look in their eye.

To me, there is nothing so beautiful as a fine looking Old English Cock and his ladies strolling across the lawn or farmstead.

As to the color, or comb type, I could care less. They all are splendid. The breeders in the old country (England) and many in America and Australia strive to have their flocks all look alike. Each bird is an exact replica of the next. In my opinion, "Dull! Dull! Dull!"

The Spanish breeders don't care a lick about color and their flocks look like a lady's flower garden. I sort of care for that line of thinking. I want mine to be all built alike and I breed them single comb. Genotype is much more important in my estimation than phenotype. Mr. Traverse of Vermont hit upon it in one of his recent articles in the Bulletin. Breeders of racing pigeons, dogs and horses also know it. LIKE BEGETS LIKE - - - well, most of the time anyway.

I have seen these birds mistakenly referred to as "Pit Games," "Game Pits" and numerous other names. This is wrong. They have been "Old English Games" for centuries and that is their proper name. They are different from the "Modern Game" just as they differ from the Aseel, Shamo, Japanese or Malay. The last three mentioned breeds and the Saipan are all descended from "Gallus gigantus."
[Editorial comment from FeatherSite: there is no scientific proof of the existence at any time of a Gallus gigantus.]

I suppose this is a good place to mention the French Game which is a close relative to the "Old English." That bird is quite large, sometimes weighing as much as 9 pounds. He is, I believe, Old English with large amounts of Oriental blood in his make-up and was developed to fight in the naked heel without artificial weapons.

The Old English Game is not only very beautiful, but is quite useful as well. They are very hardy and almost disease free. They are wondrous rustlers and just about take care of themselves when on a good, varmentless, free range. Their meat is fine grained and tender when fattened properly. The mothers are excellent setters and nannies. Their genes have been used in many of our best commercial breeds.

I hope this has been useful to someone, as that was my intention. I put this down with malice to none and with hopes of not starting a paper war, which I would not enter into anyway.

Those of us who are genuinely concerned with the loss of our gene pool, should support the SPPA and our fellow members. We certainly have our work cut out for us. But, our goals are reasonable and there is no doubt in my mind that we eventually will prevail.

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