Introduction to the Araucana

The Araucana is a challenging breed that combines several unusual traits; first there  are the peduncles (tufts) ; second they are rumpless (have no tail), third they produce  blue eggs and finally there are the  various combinations of skin (yellow or white) and shank (yellow or willow)color depending upon the feather coloring of the bird.  Toss all those variable together, and you will quickly discover that variations are numerous.

Let’s start with the beautiful and unique Tufts.

Tufts (genetically Et) are dissimilar in appearance to the  muffs and beards in other breeds, most notably the Ameraucana to which they are related.  Tufts  technically called peduncles (gene Et, autosomal dominant), appear as upturned feathers, that protrude near the ear on the birds.  They are basically an organ attached to the bird’s body that  protudes or  flowers in stalk-like manner.  This explains why they are either there or not — they do not appear as the bird ages but are there from the start.

They also some in several types including ST (single tufted) or DT (double tufted) as well as shapes.  It is preferred by most fanciers that they are the double tufted and required for exhibition.  Unfortunately, tufts are autosomal (not sex linked), dominant and lethal particularly when paired, so that the chicks  die literally in their shell (DIS) during 17-19 days of incubation. Some do hatch, though most of these die within a week from what is commonly described as a “failure to thrive”.  If things were not complicated enough,  post-hatch mortality is also significantly greater among tufted chicks than among non-tufted chicks.  Where most breeds get hatch rates of 90%; Araucana breeders get successful hatches (double tufted & rumpless) of anywhere from 55% to 25%, including the posthatch period.

To avoid this, many Araucana flocks are  a mixture of tufted and clean-faced birds, though not all breeders agree on this, which is why breeding the Araucana is part art & science. Those that do adhere to the clean-faced breeding method, have hatches that are higher than those that do not, but not all birds are fully tufted. This happens because  the tufted gene  has incomplete dominance and so a  range of phenotypes (appearances) is possible within each bird’s genotype or all the various genetic possibilities that can occur.  In these case, a mixture of tuft-types, including clean-faced , single tuftedness and double tuftedness, are then all possible.

The Araucana’s second unique trait is Rumplessness (genetic code Rp).

The Araucana is not alone here; this trait is also characteristic of the Manx Rumpy, the Persian Rumpless fowl as well as the Rumpless Game bantam, though the latter two are no longer bred.  Like double-tufts, rumplessness is also not optional for exhibition, and appears  as though the bird is missing a tail.  This is an accurate description, as the birds do not have the last two  vertebrae in its back and so do not have an uropygium  (an oil gland ) either.

It is important here to emphasize that the Araucana rumplessness is not of the recessive type that appears  itself as a “roach” back, that convex curvature of the spin where the back like a greyhound seems to arch.  Instead Araucana rumplessness appears concave, so that the back slightly slopes downward.

Still without an uropygium  Araucanas cannot protect their feathers from either a simple bath or inclement weather.  Missing a rump is not lethal, but like the peduncle it is also  autosomal  dominant ( not sex linked so either parent can have the genotype)  but unlike the peduncle it has complete dominance, it is there in one parent it will appear predominantly in their chicks.  While this is helpful, it is still possible that the phenotype (the genotype expression) will appear with  half of the hatchlings tailed, though oddly, and the other half will have some degree rumplessness,  and there may be one or two that are truly rumpless, this is because all genes come in pairs — one set from the male parent and the other from the female, and there is no way to predict what that genetic mating will produce..  Chances are though, 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.

The lack of movable tails also 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 this latter course once embarked upon  has no turning back as the birds lose the ability to mate naturally.

If after all manuevers, the mating does not result  in fertile eggs, typically, that has more to do the Araucanas involved fertility 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 derived Cream Legbar. (The Legbar was produced from a mixture of the Brown Leghorn, the Barred Plymouth Rock and the Araucana).

How the blue egg happens is very interesting: there is another autosomal dominant gene that governs egg shell color. In the Araucana’s case, when liver pigment is deposited simultaneously with the calcium carbonate (which is white)  so that 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 exhibition, 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. These hens are not exhibition eligible but to rectify this situation 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.