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Australorp breeder Peter D’Arcy in 30-year quest for a champion chook

Australorp breeder Peter D’Arcy at his Carwoola property feeding his hens and rooster. Photo: Jeffrey ChanPeter D’Arcy does not care for the eggs of these Australorp chooks, even though the Australian breed became the world’s best layers.

Look at that 12-month-old rooster at right. He represents Mr D’Arcy’s 30 years of breeding for the perfect bird.

“His confirmation is close to ideal, he’s broad, lovely curves, very good black round eye,” says the retired Canberra primary school teacher, with a proven eye for a champion.

The red serrated comb and wattles hanging from its throat, coal black feathers with an iridescent green tinge could earn enough points to win the Sydney Royal Easter Show next year.

Developed from English Orpingtons in the early 1900s, Australorps shot to fame when one laid 364 eggs in 365 days, smashing the record. These days commercial producers prefer high performance isa browns, which originated from France.

As backyard enthusiasts across Canberra are discovering, the French imports run out of puff after a few years, unlike the plump Aussie Australorp, a stayer of a layer.

Australorp Club of Australia president, Mr D’Arcy moved with his wife Robyn to the bush overlooking the Molonglo River at Carwoola 25 years ago.

From June, when ice lines the river and days grow shorter, lights come on at 5am in Mr D’Arcy’s breeder sheds and burn away until 10pm to coax his hens to lay.

“You nearly feel guilty when they look at you as if to say, ‘you want me to breed now’ ?” he says.

He examines his chooks for external and internal parasites. He feeds them a consistent diet which began when they were freshly hatched. Chicken crumble at first, after they are hatched in a big incubator. As day-old chicks they keep warm under lights for six to eight weeks.

Then they progress to pullet grower feed, and finally, show and breeder pellets. Sweet-smelling lucerne hay is heaped in their yard to scratch through, and vegie scraps grown from the raised plots their yards surround are served regularly.

Mr D’Arcy won best standard Australorp at the Sydney Royal Show last year, and first, third, fourth and fifth in the pullets. The previous year he won first, second and third in the pullets.

“You get a bit closer and closer, every bird you look at has a minor thing you would like to improve,” he said.

“The difficult part is a good serration – the comb, it is worth four and six points. The eyes have to be perfectly round and dark, beak has to be as dark as possible, legs have to be black with white souls and white toenails,” Mr D’Arcy says..

He travels to Cooma, Moss Vale, Bega, Sydney, Wagga, and Queenslands for the national championship. “You talk to people from a club point of view, from a breeding point of view, you swap eggs, you swap chooks,” he said.

“You can outsource [breeding]. There are good breeders around, a bloke in Bredbo, a good breeder in Bega, there used to be one of Australia’s top breeders who lived in Queanbeyan, Jim O’Malley.

Mr O’Malley became legendary when a photograph of his Australorp cockerel was chosen as the breed’s perfect chook. When the D’Arcy family lived at Farrar they named their rooster James after Mr O’Malley. James left after a neighbour complained, much to the distress of the D’Arcy’s daughters.

“They are a very quiet breed, a lot of people have hens in Canberra and the Australorp are quiet birds, neighbours would hardly know they existed,” Mr D’Arcy said.

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