The Araucana is a challenging breed that combines several unusual traits; first there are the tufts (peduncles) that are unique to it; second it’s rumplessness (no tail), third the blue eggs and finally the various combinations of skin and shank color.
Tufts are dissimilar to the muffs and beards in other breeds, most notably the Ameraucana to which they are related, and the Swiss Appenzeller Barthuhner, to which they probably are not. Tufts appear as upturned feathers, somewhat similar to curls, or barshop mustachios, that protrude near the ear on the birds and are technically called “peduncles”. Peduncles are basically an organ that is attached to the bird’s body and flowers or protudes in stalklike manner. They come in several shapes or types including ST (single tufted) or DT (double tufted) appearance. It is preferred by most fanciers that they are the double tufted and it is required when showing.
Unfortunately, double tuftedness is also lethal trait and when expressed the chicks die in shell or commonly abbreviated as “DIS” . This appears with the chicks almost fully formed, around day 15, when they start feathering and then the chick dies which is why one reason that hatch rates for Araucanas tend to be low. While a typical good hatch rate is about about 80 percent no matter the breed, in Araucanas this may be lower, much lower, or about 18%.
As Araucana flocks are always a mixture of tufted and clean-faced birds, if only genetically, the eggs may not all be fully tufted despite the parents looks. This happens because the tufted gene has incomplete dominance and so a range of phenotypes (appearances) is then possible. Phenotype is how the genes express (show) themselves visually i.e. the bird’s physical appearance; while a genotype is all the various genetic possibilities that can occur. Now, since tuftedness is only partially dominant, a mixture of tuft-types, including clean-faced , single tuftedness and double tuftedness, is then possible in the hatch.
The Araucana’s second unique trait is Rumplessness (Rp). The Araucana is not alone here, as it is characteristic of the Manx Rumpy, the Persian Rumpless fowl as well as the Rumpless Game bantam, though the latter is no longer bred. Unlike tufts this is not optional in the showring, though it has no effect on laying ability. Rumplessness appears as though the bird is missing a tail, which is an accurate description as the birds do not have the last two vertebrae in its back so neither do they have an uropygium (an oil gland ). It is important here to emphasize that the Araucana rumplessness is not of the recessive type that expresses itself as a “roach” back. Without an uropygium though, Araucanas cannot protect their feathers from either a simple bath or inclement weather. This trait though is not lethal, but autosomal (it is not sex linked so either parent can have the genotype and it will be dominant. This is helpful as then the phenotype (the genotype expression) will appear as half of the hatchlings will be tailed, though oddly at that, and the other half will have some degree rumplessness, and there may be one or two that are truly rumpless. This first set will not be show worthy but since the rumpless genes now have been expressed (i.e. exist in the bird) successive breedings will eventually eliminate the undesired “tail” genes if you continue to breed for that trait.
Still the lack of movable tails creates difficulty for fertilization as the rooster uses the weight of the tail to make contact with the hen’s cloaca (hens neither have a clitoris nor vagina ; roosters do not have a penis). To improve this situation, some breeders trim or pull out the feathers around both birds to aid in physical contact or mate a rumpless bird to a tailed bird in an effort to enhance fertility or finally even use artificial insemination, though once embarked upon there is no turning back as the birds lose the ability to mate naturally. If a mating does not result in fertile eggs, typically, that has more to do with the fertility of the Araucanas involved than the amount of feather cropping.
Finally, the third and the most notable trait of the Araucana is the laying of blue or turquoise-colored eggs. The blue color comes from another autosomal dominant gene, also thankfully, not lethal. This mutation for blue coloration of course appears in the larger cousin, the Ameraucana, as well as the non-related Cream Legbar.
How the blue egg happens is very interesting. There is an autosomal (not sexlinked) dominant gene that controls egg shell color that controls when the liver bile pigment should be deposited on the egg. In the Araucana’s case, the pigment is deposited simultaneously with the calcium carbonate (which is white) and so the whole egg is blue i.e. the inside of the eggshell is as blue as the outside. In contrast, when the liver bile is deposited instead with the shell gland the outside of the egg shell is brown. If the the two color cross, the egg surface will be either a khaki olive (olive-eggers), a dull green or even pink. Only the blue egg is allowed for showing as that is a criteria for the definition of the breed.
As a last note, it is relatively common to find Araucanas which do not lay pure blue eggs and have brown shell genes. When this happens, use the birds for breeding that have the bluest of eggs, so that the mixed-colored eggs are slowly weeded out of your program. This of course takes time and is part of the challenge of raising and breeding Araucanas.
Hopefully this article, as well as the rest of the site, helps you in choosing the Araucana as your fowl.