The Black Java Experience

Monte W. Bowen

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2001, 6(1):4

When the SPPA first came to my attention, I was impressed and eager to be a part of it. I looked over information from this organization and material from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Being partial to birds from the American breed class with clean legs and single combs and decidedly favoring the color black, I selected the Black Java. I started my project by phoning SPPA member and famed Java breeder, Pete Malmberg. He fanned my flames of infatuation a bit more and referred me to the Garfield Farm Museum of LaFox, Illinois.

The helpful folks at Garfield Farm shipped me four dozen Black Java eggs. Shipping eggs has always been a risky business because there is no way possible to protect the internal parts of an egg from jarring and rattling while in transit. The egg, as a whole, can be adequately protected to arrive intact, but internal injury cannot be avoided. Here, as in all things, it is simply the luck of the draw that delivers an egg that will hatch. An aspiring breeder has no way to know which egg arrives safely and which arrives with damage to the yolk or air cell membrane. Also, it is not possible to determine which egg is fertile.

On September 15, 2000, the eggs went into my incubator and the waiting began. I candle eggs twice, at the end of the first week and the end of the second week. The first candling showed three eggs stale, two with cracks and four infertile, leaving 39. The second candling found five dead embryos, leaving 34. October 5 brought the first chick. All together fourteen chicks hatched, and of these, two had weakened or deformed legs in the hip area and one had an unabsorbed yolk sac. The eleven remaining chicks were healthy and grew well. As luck would have it, this hatch brought eight cockerels and three pullets! Not exactly the way to increase a flock quickly, but what the heck, at least I'll have a good group of males for selecting my "Keepers."

So why did twenty embryos die between the second and third weeks of incubation? Some eggs pipped but died before hatching, others never pipped. The reason could be improper humidity control. It could be improper ventilation and oxygen flow. It could be improper temperature. It could be improper turning of the eggs. It could be those elusive genes everyone is talking about. It could be inbreeding. It could be the phase of the moon. It could be the effects of Sputnik on the atmosphere or it could be . . . who knows? The only thing I know for sure is that it isn't due to improper turning, as my incubator has automatic turning. A second setting of eggs I received from Garfield Farm Museum produced seven chicks from two dozen eggs. Here, again, one had a deformed leg. From the two settings, approximately 25% hatch was attained each time, so I am surprised and pleased with the results of shipped eggs in this case. But I am definitely NOT a proponent of shipping hatching eggs! The egg is simply too delicate to withstand shipping any distance with good results. The risk is worth taking now and again, particularly when working with rare stock, but one must be ready and willing to accept low hatch rates.

Here is a good time to insert my "from the old school" conviction. Use setting hens and avoid all the speculation in artificial incubation. Those hens handle the turning, the humidity and the temperature control. What could be easier? Use setting hens and get far better results than from an incubator. I had no broody hens at the time the Java eggs arrived, so was forced to use artificial incubation.

The Black Java chicks feathered quickly. Tips of wing feathers still contain white, but that should disappear as the birds mature. The birds have black legs with yellow bottom feet and black beaks, except for one of the cockerels from the second hatch, which has solid black feet. The feathers are smoothing out as the birds age. Several birds had very rough feathers at about the time they became fully feathered. One was so rough he looked like a Frizzle. That condition has corrected itself and all the early hatched birds look quite nice with their glossy black plumage with a hint of beetle green sheen.

Of the many breeds of rare fowl, the Java is eminently worthy of preservation. It is identical in size to the Plymouth Rocks, is a good multi-purpose fowl for both meat and large brown eggs. It has a calm and alert temperament, forages well and works well under free range conditions. Early breeders used it to develop many of our modern breeds. With six or possibly seven pullets (and a bunch more cockerels!), I'll have a small flock to enter the 2001 breeding season. With fresh, unshipped eggs to incubate, perhaps my hatches will be better and my flock will grow in size. I hope so. Perhaps my small effort will bring the Black Java another step further from the brink of extinction.

[The Black Java Experience, Part II]



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