The Onagadori chicken is one of the rarest chicken breeds in the world. They are famous for having the longest tails of any chicken, with the lengthiest ever recorded reaching an enormous 27 feet! This incredible fowl is so prized in Japan that it has protection from the Japanese government and is heralded as a “Living Cultural Monument”.
Table of Contents
- Rare Breed
- Japanese National Treasure
- Longest tails in the world
- Exhibition fowl
Background & History of the breed
Japanese Onagadori dates back to the 1600s and comes from the Kōchi Prefecture, located in a mountainous rural area of Shikoku Island in Southern Japan.
It is thought to come from another Japanese variety of long-tailed chicken called the Shokoku, which was crossed with other breeds such as the Totenko.
Another possible link to the Onagadori is the Minohiki, which is another type of Japanese long-tailed chicken.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much historical detail to fully understand the bird’s origins. One thing is for sure, the chicken became beloved to many enthusiasts across Japan, and it was raised as a purely ornamental bird.
It became officially recognized in Japan between 1912 and 1926, and news of this most unusual bird spread to Europe along with some specimens of the breed. It was awarded the status of “National Treasure” of Japan in 1918 and “Special Natural Treasure” of Japan in 1952. Simultaneously the Japanese government decided to ban all exports of the breed and its eggs to any other country.
Sadly this special chicken has become so rare in recent decades that it hovers on the point of extinction, as the popularity of raising something with no actual agricultural purpose waned.
The time, care, and facilities required for raising these birds make them a very committed pastime. They need special housing and specialist upkeep known as “Tombaku” which requires their tail feathers to be rolled up in a protective covering, allowing them to grow at a rate of around three feet each year.
According to records kept by the German Phoenix and Onagadori Association, the Shokoku roosters used to create the Onagadori breed, from back in the Edo Period of Japan – 1600 to 1868, were specially selected, slow molting mutations that had particularly long tails.
There is also a Japanese story that a Shogun named Yamanouchi who once ruled over the Kochi Prefecture decorated the helmets and spears of soldiers with especially long feathers in honor of Emperor Tenno.
The Shogun is said to have made farming serfs, who provided these feathers for the soldiers, exempt from paying taxes.
From around 1655, other than the royal rewards for producing the feathers, it became a popular pursuit to see who could create the longest-tailed birds. Museums in Japan have displays dating back to this time, showing the helmets and spears with the long rooster feathers decorating them, so it seems likely the story is true.
In the late 1800s, news of the breed spread throughout Japan via various publications. A book called “Sketches and Thoughts” by Koyu Nishimura described the incredibly long tail feathers as “Japan’s unique poultry treasure.”
Photos of Onagadori roosters often show them tethered on high perches, which allows their tails to drape down to their full length.
Today the total number of pure Onagadori chickens globally is less than 1000 birds. In Japan, it is only around 200, and in the United States, this number is limited to a mere handful, if they are even pure Onagadori at all, which is highly debatable.
The breed is not recognized by the American Poultry Association, and no bantam version exists.
Onagadori chickens were used to create the German “Phoenix” breed, which is often confused with them.
Temperament and Behavior of the Onagadori Chicken Breed
Onagadori chickens are very calm, docile birds who don’t mind handling by their human owners.
They are not a suitable fowl for living in a mixed flock, or for a beginner or a child, due to the amount of care they require and because of their rarity.
Hens do sometimes go broody and will raise chicks, but they are reportedly not good sitters.
The roosters are also friendly like the hens, as they must be regularly handled to protect their tails and care for other side effects of being a breed that has a non-molting gene.
Roosters are usually kept on perches to protect their tails, as dragging them in dirt or dust and getting them caught on objects could damage them.
Even though Onagadori chickens are calm and friendly birds, they are best kept only by serious and experienced keepers to help restore numbers of the breed and for exhibition purposes.
Onagadori Breed Specifics and Traits
Onagadories are a purely decorative breed of chicken. They are not kept for any other purpose other than exhibition.
The hens do lay eggs, but numbers are relatively low.
The practice of Tombaku, where the roosters’ tail feathers are tied in loops with silk strips and the birds kept on perches, helps prevent the tails from becoming damaged.
Although some of their feathers will naturally molt each year, the tail, sickle, and saddle feathers of a true Onagadori rooster, which has a complete non-molt gene, will never be shed. This is how they grow to such extraordinary lengths of between 12 to 27 feet. Hens molt normally, just like other regular breeds.
Onagadori hens look similar to other chicken breeds. They don’t feature long feathers like the males.
The chicks also resemble other breeds with no exceptional features.
Colors – There are various color patterns, including black-breasted red, black-breasted gold, Black-breasted silver, and white.
Appearance – Roosters are of medium size. They stand fairly erect and have a sloping back and a low tail carriage. The hens are slightly smaller, and their tail carriage is higher.
The roosters have a large, bright red, single comb and medium to large red wattles and white to pale yellow earlobes. Hens have the same, but smaller than the males.
The legs are clean, willow color, and they have four toes.
Weight – They are classed as standard large fowl. The average weight of a rooster is around 4 lbs. A hen is 3 lbs. a cockerel 3 lbs. and a pullet 2 lbs.
Hardiness – Coming from Asia the Onagadori is quite heat tolerant, and they are also able to withstand relatively cool temperatures with the proper care.
Predators – Onagadori hens are able to fly for short distances to evade predators, but the long tail feathers of the males make it very difficult for them to fly. These long tails also enable predators to grab hold of the roosters easily.
Health and Disease
Although the Onagadori doesn’t have any specific health concerns, the roosters do require a significant amount of care due to their long tails.
One thing that is notable in fowl that don’t molt, is the faster than average growth of spurs, toenails, and the tip of the upper beak. These need to be managed in order to maintain the health of the bird.
Spurs, Toenails, and Beaks – Overly long spurs can cause roosters to injure themselves or the hens when mating. If hens’ spurs are too long, they can accidentally break eggs.
The toenails, if left to grow too much, will impair walking, and an overgrown beak can prevent the bird from eating properly.
A vein runs to the end of all these three structures, so care must be taken when trimming them back. In fowl with white pigment, it is relatively easy to see the vein, but not so in birds with darker pigmentation. Using a small, bright flashlight can be useful to reveal the vein’s location.
Trimming – Both the toenails and beak can be trimmed with a guillotine-type dog toenail clipper. Avoid using the type that looks like scissors, as the cut won’t be even.
When trimming both the toenails and the tip of the beak, be careful NOT to cut into the quick as this can cause excessive bleeding and unnecessary pain.
Beak Maintenance – Trimming off the tip of the beak is nothing like the debeaking practice used in commercial chickens. It is simply removing the growing edge, which usually gets worn down naturally. It is only in these types of birds that it can sometimes grow faster than average.
Once trimmed, round off the edges with an emery board to make it smooth.
Shortening the Spurs – Spurs are not trimmed, as cutting them would cause serious injury and make the chicken bleed profusely. They can be shortened by twisting off the outer layers. This is because they are made up of cone-like structures that layer over each other in a stack.
Hold the bird under one arm and support its legs with the hand of that same arm, use the other hand to hold some pliers. Use the pliers to gently but firmly grip the spur and smoothly twist it counterclockwise. The outer part will twist off. Stop any bleeding with a blood-stopping agent from a vet or cayenne pepper is a good natural cure.
This is not a job that should be attempted by someone who does not know what they are doing!
How often these things need to be done will depend on your individual birds, but a careful eye should be kept, so it isn’t left too long.
Oiling Feathers – Chickens breed like the Onagadori which are kept inside a lot, often suffer from dry skin and feathers. To treat or prevent this problem you can use mineral oil. Apply it over all the feathers, comb, wattles, etc. But be careful to avoid the eye area.
Pour about half a teaspoon of oil into the palm of your hand and rub your hands together to evenly distribute the oil. Then smooth your oiled hands over the chicken in the direction its feathers grow.
This helps moisturize the feathers and skin, preventing feathers from breakage. It’s best done during the evening, just as the birds are going to roost.
Oiling can also be beneficial the day before an exhibition to improve the look of the plumage. It gives a bright, natural-looking sheen to feathers and helps the skin’s appearance on the comb, wattles, face, and legs.
Be careful not to overdo things. Less is more!
Onagadori hens are not known for their egg-laying abilities. They lay sporadically year-round and produce between 80 to 100 eggs a year.
Pullets begin to lay from about 26 weeks of age.
The eggs are small to medium in size and are a cream to light brown color.
If you wish to raise chicks, you’ll need to incubate the eggs, as hens rarely sit on them well enough to hatch out.
Where to Buy Onagadori Chickens
The chance of you buying a pure Onagadori chicken is remote to none. They are that rare, and no new blood of purebred Japanese Onagadori has knowingly circulated outside of Japan since the ban on exports in 1952.
What you are more likely to find is Onagadori “type” chickens for sale, and even these can have a very hefty price tag.
Your best chance of getting a long-tailed rooster of reasonable quality is to look for Onagadori breeders at shows or online.
One hatchery selling Onagadori “type” birds is Feather Lovers Farm. They sell day-old, unsexed chicks for $79.00 each.
There is often a long waiting list for these chicks, and their maximum order quantity is 12 with a minimum order quantity of three.
Shipping costs are extra.
In some ways, it’s sad that Japan stopped the export of this beautiful chicken breed, as this has most likely contributed to its near extinction status.
Only suitable for experienced chicken keepers, the male Onagadori is a sight to behold with its incredible tail which resembles a series of streamers curling down behind it.
There are other breeds of long-tailed chicken, a more common variety in the United States, which is related to the Onagadori, is the Phoenix.
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