What is the Malay?
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Story and photos by Gordon Christie For the last 25 years, I have kept a small flock of Malay chickens, and have been doing specialized breeding and flock improvement for the last ten years.
I live in Townsville North Queensland on one and a half acres. Townsville has basically two seasons: wet and dry. Summers regularly see temperatures of 104 Fahrenheit followed by a season of rain for days on end. We must build poultry enclosures with plenty of shade and dry spaces to protect the birds. The high ambient humidity is also a concern as it can cause respiratory issues and needs to be factored in when using mechanical incubators to hatch chicks.
I settled on my acreage property and started breeding and showing dogs then became a show judge. While traveling the circuits showing dogs, I always peeked into the poultry pavilions, where I saw my first Malay. I am positive my exact words were, “That’s not a chook; it’s a dinosaur.” My fascination for these delightful birds had just hatched.
At first, I was just raising and showing Malays (winning several Best in Show awards), but after my children left home, my partner Sue and I began to breed them and learned several different methods to breed for show characteristics, keeping, and enhancing unique breed characteristics.
Life throws you a lot of curves, and at age 40, I was diagnosed with a serious cardiac problem that required hospitalization, medication, and a long recovery.
Malays saved my life. I had been sorely depressed and had not left the inside of my home for about six months. Then one day I just stood up and said in a loud voice, “No more.” I rang my dear friend, an excellent Game Bird breeder, Brett Lloyd. Brett had been keeping my loved Malay bloodlines going for me in those dark times. He returned them all the very next day. I have been breeding and developing new breeding programs ever since.
Malay Breed Characteristics
Malays are recognized as one of the oldest breeds of fowl. While its origin is shrouded in mystery, some believe it originated from a now-extinct giant species of jungle fowl called Gallus giganteus. Malay birds recognized by the Australian Poultry Standard (APS) have very specific characteristics. They have a tall, upright carriage, with a long, arching neck flowing into a slightly concave back, and a long tail. The birds have long legs with yellow shanks; however, black or darker legs are permitted in birds with predominate blue or black plumage. Strong spurs point downward, and they have four toes with the hind one reaching to the ground, giving balance to support their weight. The strawberry comb resembles a half walnut and should be bright red and firm.
Adult cock birds can reach 33.5in (85cm) in height or taller. The APS does not give a specific height but recommends that the height should balance the overall outline of the bird. Cockerels and hens should weigh 8lbs (4kg), roosters 11lbs (5kg), and pullets 6.5lbs (3kg). Malays that are 20% under or above the standard weights are undesirable for exhibition purposes.
Malays have reduced fertility compared to other breeds. Assistant Professor Darren Karcher has pointed out that most poultry with rose or walnut combs can have reduced fertility, and Malay certainly fall into this category. Allowing the birds to free-range and participate in natural courtship can increase successful mating.
I do not let the hens brood their own eggs as they are just too heavy and can break eggs getting on and off them. Also, when the chicks begin to pip, and the eggshell is breached and weakened, the weight of the hen can squash the chick in the egg making it impossible for it to escape the egg. Mechanical incubation or surrogate hens are recommended.
I am currently using the ‘Shift Clan Spiral System’ of breeding. I start with four hens, each of a different colour but similar in type and form, in a large pen with one male. I always ‘breed to youth’ meaning where possible, I breed older hens to young cockerels or older cocks to year-old hens. I do not breed pullets.
My breeding season in Townsville starts around July and lasts until December when the temperatures become stinking hot. Malays, like most fowl, lay almost every day and generally lay a clutch of about twelve to fifteen eggs in a cycle, which can be lengthened by removing the eggs daily. I keep extensive records to track and mark chicks from the different cockerels. Each cockerel is designated a specific-coloured cable tie while each pen of hens has also a designated coloured cable tie. When a chick is hatched, I place two different coloured cable ties on them for future identification. This process lets me track breeding results precisely and more easily make future breeding decisions.
Culling and Use as Table Birds
At sixteen weeks, I can begin to see desired characteristics emerge, even though Malays continue to change until they are two years old. Experience lets me cull some at this stage while keeping promising looking birds to see how they develop. Some don’t grow well, while others develop tall, upright stances, solid bulk, beautiful plumage, and healthy legs and combs.
Malay are amazing table birds and can be processed at several ages, depending on what you have in mind. Even from six to eight weeks, they are solid meat birds, appropriate for butterflying and barbequing. I prefer to let them reach full weight (around sixteen weeks) for roasting birds.
The appealing thing about breeding Malays is that they can be processed basically at any age due to the abundant meat on their bodies. Both cockerels and pullets have magnificent, yellow-skinned carcasses. They are tender and bake beautifully in a roasting bag.
What Can You Expect to Pay?
The average price for quality Malays from reputable breeders will cost about $200 per bird or $500 for a trio of two hens and a cockerel. If you want exceptional top-shelf birds that you can expect to win at Poultry Shows, prepare to pay a little more.
Can people contact you for information on the breed or anything you covered in the article?
I am happy to answer any questions and to assist any person with respect to Malays in general. I further stress that the information in this article is my own opinion and reflects my experience of poultry keeping and breeding Malays for many years. There are as many ways of keeping and breeding poultry as there are poultry keepers.
I can be contacted by E-mail email@example.com
Originally published in the August/September 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.