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The Silver Campine - Why Rare?

By Bruce Pattinson

Campine roosterThe Campine (pronounced Kampeen) is an outstanding and useful breed of fowl and it is difficult to understand why it has declined in popularity since the turn of the century. It is the purpose of this article to outline the general history and qualities of this breed to illustrate its potential, both to the backyard breeder and the poultry industry in Australia. They are an ancient breed; the people of the Campine district say that when Julius Caesar left their country he took a number of these fowls back to Rome. Here epicures called them “food for the Gods”.

Campines are a light breed of fowl originating in Belgium and can have either silver or gold barring with the same coloured (but pattern-free) hackle. They are a friendly and attractive breed and have proven themselves in my yard to be excellent foragers. They are also fast maturing and feather up quickly. Early in the century the breed appears to have been quite common in Australia as an egg producer and the British Poultry Standards (1982) states it was famous for producing the finest winter milk chickens. Fred Hams, in Old Poultry Breeds (1994) writes that it fell from favour due to “the small size of its eggs preventing it from being taken up by commercial producers”.

I find the eggs to be a good size (around 60 grams) for a light breed and the birds are relatively prolific. Hadlington, in Poultry Farming in NSW (1923), includes the Campine in his list of light breeds suitable for farming, with weights set at 5lb. for cockerels and 4lb. for pullets. Even in 1930 we can find in the Poultry newspaper of September 9 ads for Campines which commend their “size, type, vigour and egg production”. Also mentioned is the “famous Holmfield strain”, but at this time I have been unable to trace this further.

Unfortunately, by 1943, Hadlington in his Australian Poultry Book had relegated the breed to his list of show birds only. It would be safe to assume its decline to the preference for the Leghorn at this time or the beginning of the surge of hybrids by commercial growers. The early popularity of the breed may have been related to the work at Cambridge University with autosexing when a gold bird was crossed with a Barred Plymouth Rock to produce the Cambar. There is no indication that this cross ever became popular in Australia but the Legbar is still bred. Even so Les Hill in Australian Bird Lover October 1958, states, “The Campine is primarily a prolific layer all the year round” and, “as a table bird it is excellent in quality and the ratio of flesh is higher than in any other breed”.

There seems to be no record of when the Campine first came to Australia but it is fortunate that fanciers kept the bird for the showbench. Unfortunately, to breed for show, the barring rather than the utility qualities are more important. This has led to a decline in the vigour of many of the birds I have seen. Luckily many birds, useless on the showbench, have the qualities that the backyarder wants. They do not go broody, look brilliant and produce well.

Not many Campines are seen on the showbench even now and they would certainly make a worthwhile project for anyone with an interest in rare breeds. I have found them to have good fertility and hatchability. Some problems however occur with the fast growth rate and feathering which can lead to feather picking. I have tried to solve this by using a high protein feed and supplying clumps of grass for them to pick at with some success. They do better in a pen on their own. Another feature of interest is that you can mate a gold and silver and get equal hatchings of both.

The overall qualities and special characteristics of the Campine should ensure its survival. I believe the breed has enough unique qualities to make it genetically significant to anyone with an interest in poultry. It is a rare breed but not because it is an uneconomical bird bur rather as a result of the whims of the post WW11 poultry industry. The picture in this article from Broomhead’s Poultry for the Many (undated) 13th ed. shows the fine carriage and shape of the bird but to see the colours is to want the bird as an addition to your yard.

Last updated 6 January 2002

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| Produced by - Cheryl Hardy Flowerdale, Victoria |