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OCTOBER 2015 | Joanne Eisemann
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SOME YEARS ago Dr Gil Stokes was wondering what he could do with land at the bottom of his property in Westbury. Bill Mollison, of Permaculture fame, suggested he farm freshwater prawns.
“Since it floods every year, I would lose my crop of prawns, so that was not on,” shares Gil.
He then came up with the idea of breeding a new type of chook; “a beautiful bird that breeds true, is robust and a good forager, matures fast, lays six large brown eggs each week and continues to lay prolifically and stay healthy over a long lifetime.”
All this, plus climatically suited for northern Tasmanian conditions, is the brief Gil set himself.
Poultry have traditionally gained their name from the location in which they were bred so Gil decided to call his new breed the ‘Quamby’, on account of the Quamby Brook bordering his property, along with its view of Quamby Bluff.
The project has allowed him to combine his love of building with his expertise as a scientist. Gil taught biochemistry at University of Western Australia till 1987, followed by consultancy in research and development and then some research broking.
Wandering around his backyard you begin to realise that you are actually in the midst of a large-scale scientific experiment.
Gil has built all the coops, nesting boxes, egg storage boxes, incubators, hatching chambers himself; with his nesting boxes all fitted with an ingenious trigger that traps the hen once she enters it so that he can come along and mark her egg with its special code to allow easy identification on hatching.
After only three years, he is already breeding a bird that outdoes, by almost a third, New Hampshires - one bloodline he had introduced for its egg production qualities.
In one pen he has hens that averaged 310 eggs in their first year of production (New Hampshires produce an average of 220 a year) all in the context that no new heritage breeds have been developed since the early 1900s.
With industrialisation came large-scale egg and poultry meat production. Hence, breeding programs became the domain of agribusiness.
The birds bred by poultry farms are not necessarily useful in a backyard or smallholding as they tend to be reliant on controlled environments and medication to produce reliably. Thankfully, fanciers have maintained the heritage breeds throughout the last century, although many are now classified as endangered.
Even then, fanciers have selected breeding against the ‘standard’ for their breed; meaning production has largely been sacrificed for beauty.
With the re-emergence of many backyard and small-holding poultry keepers, Gil could see the need for a new breed of bird. Hence, his ‘Quamby’, the result of a careful crossing of the American meatier New Hampshire, the old English Sussex and the Dutch Barnevelder.
“I’m delighted with the look of these birds and the way it is all going,” says this 74 year old. “This will be the legacy I leave for future generations.”
For more information or to purchase Gil’s birds email email@example.com.
[udesign_icon_font name="fa fa-camera" color="#000000"] Mike Moores