The indigenous breeds represent years and years of species evolution, providing them with a genetic potential that allowed their long adaptation to the environment with all its adversities. With these breeds, with this genetic heritage, certainly answers will be found to solve part of the problems resulting from intensification of the production systems. The Portuguese indigenous breeds of hens are Preta Lusitânica, Amarela and Pedrês Portuguesa. These breeds are characterized by high rusticity, genetic wealth, unique beauty and elegance, and extraordinary organoleptic qualities (AMIBA).
AMIBA is an association that manages the Zootechnical Register/Genealogical Book of these hen breeds, recognized as genuinely Portuguese breeds. It is a nationwide association of breeders of indigenous breeds which aim is the preservation, improvement and commercialization of this type of animals. These indigenous breeds live in almost all continental Portugal, but in the last century they dramatically receded in number and occupied area, currently existing less than two thousand females exploited in pure line, by breed (according to the list of threatened species and degree of extinction risk, they are considered rare species and particularly threatened). These breeds are protected and supported by the Portuguese State, being included in an Animal Improvement Program and breeders can benefit from support for their breeding work (agri-environmental measures, protection of domestic biodiversity). Despite the reduced number of individuals of these species, the number of breeders has recently increased significantly, as well as the number of animals.
In respect to the identification of the birds, this is done by placing a duly numbered metallic ring on the animal’s right wing. Up to six months of age, the birds are provisionally registered in the Book of Birth, after which date they can be registered in the Book of Adults in case they show the specific characteristics to the breed pattern. Since the beginning of the Zootechnical Register/Genealogical Book of the breeds, Amiba identifies and registers the birds in the respective breed books, provides technical and sanitary support to breeders, promotes breed exhibitions and competitions, produces and promotes public information material.
Source: AMIBA, Dra. Susana Lopes, technical secretary of the Zootechnical Register/Genealogical Book of Pedrês Portuguesa/Preta Lusitânica/Amarela Breeds.
With these birds, more demanding consumption habits related to the quality of meat and eggs, flavour and food tradition are starting to rise. Our indigenous breeds are history and culture of our people.
The need to know more on the history of our indigenous breeds led António Damas, a very dedicated breeder of hens in Portugal, to spend much of his time searching for registers of the past and evolution of our indigenous breeds in second-hand booksellers of Lisbon. I have asked Mr. António Damas permission to share with you some of his interesting work, which shows a distinct attitude that values and gives more purpose to the breeder’s work.
One of the books where references have been found on Portuguese species of hens is by J. C. Rebelo Frazão, awarded with gold medals in several bird exhibitions. Cf. ”GALINHAS, Suas raças e suas características – Alimentação – Postura – Capoeira – Enfermidades e tratamentos – Conselhos aos Avicultores” (Hens: their breeds and characteristics – Feeding – Laying – Hencoop – Diseases and treatments – Advices to Breeders”, Colecções Agrárias, Biblioteca Agrícola, Rua S. Bento, 279 Lisbon, illegible date.
“Palheirinhas” “these elegant birds known by us are found in the islands, mainly in the Island of Madeira. They are teeny, very elegant and very alive; daring and fearless, not hesitating in fighting with other birds or even with larger animals. Its meat is tasty, and adapts easily to temperate regions.”
“Portuguesas” “Left intentionally to the last, but not the least, due to its ordinary characteristics. It is recognized by the shape of its small head, yellow or bluish black, fine and sharpened beak. Finally, it is well known so no need to be further described. The defects that show in its structure, that is to say, narrow chest, lean and defective thighs, inelegance, etc. are due to the bad conditions which were forced to live and also bad feeding. The common hen is, generally, a good laying hen, good mother, and gets fat easily, being preferable to most rubbish birds used. This is the best compliment one can give to the Portuguese hen.
By the Veterinarian Dr. Mário Marques, from the technical board of Direcção-Geral de Serviços Agrícolas, former assistant of the director of Estação de Fomento Pecuário de Lisboa and Posto Central de Avicultura, former lecturer of Escola Superior de Medicina Veterinária, “GALINHAS E OVOS, SUA CRIAÇÃO E APROVEITAMENTO” (Hens and eggs, breeding and exploitation), Colecção Fontes de Riqueza – V, 13ª Edição. Livraria Clássica Editora, A. M. Teixeira & C.ª (Filhos), Lda., Praça dos Restauradores, 17, Lisbon.
“This book was just printed in February of 1965, in the printing-works of Imprensa Portuguesa, Rua Formosa, 108-116 – Porto” From this author we collected the following information: “Unfortunately we do not have so far a group of hens to which we can attribute the designation of breed. One or two specimens of hens have appeared in bird exhibitions, now and then, to which it is attributed a name of a breed that is not in the regulations of the exhibitions. Within the breeds of hens that exist in the country, the only one that is more homogeneous and closer to reach the designation of breed is the Transmontana. There is a pattern of this breed that was established some time ago however we do not transcribe it as we do not agree with it. The Pedrês Nacional or also called Pedrês Paiã does not exist as breed, because within these hens we have birds of all sizes and shapes. For the Barbuda Lusitana we have to say the some as that for the Pedrês, having in this case even more variation. We know that currently an official organism is working on a new specimen, named Amarela do Minho . We hope that within a short period of time we will have a new national breed of hens.”
In these documents we find references to several groups or populations of Portuguese hens with some phenotypic homogeneity, namely Palheirinha, Portuguesa, Transmontana, Pedrês Nacional or Pedrês Paiã, Barbuda Lusitana and lastly Amarela do Minho. We do not find in these registers any detailed characterization of said breeds, which allow us now to identify these animals. For example in the book of J. C. Rebelo Frazão on Palheirinha and Portuguesa hens little or nothing is found that can help us on the phenotypic characterization of these birds and it is difficult based on these data to know if there are still some specimens of said varieties.
To participate on a preservation project of an indigenous breed is very rewarding and even more rewarding the more we know about these birds and about the work that has been done on the conservation and improvement. The preservation of an indigenous breed is not a work that can be made alone, we have to learn with the experiences of all, good ones and bad ones, and it is essential to share those experiences and knowledge’s that complement each other. For a project of this nature, we have also to understand the contribution that one can give and how.