From beautiful plumage to outgoing personalities, there is nothing about Araucana chickens that doesn’t stand out. With an upright, proud stance reminiscent of many game birds, Araucanas will catch the attention of any passers-by. If you’re looking for active, inquisitive, and affectionate birds that love to be cuddled, the Araucana chicken is for you. They love to explore. They love attention, and they lay blue and green-colored eggs. More on that later…
They have a mysterious history that begins in the Andes Mountains with exotic tribes and a rich passport of travel to the US and other places. Good looks, good personality, and great history….What’s not to love?
The Origin of The Araucana Chicken Breed
The Araucana chickens’ origins lay deep in the Chilean Andes Mountains, and they were named after the pre-Columbian tribe that created them, the Araucanas, who were the ancestors of the modern-day Mapuche tribe. They created the Araucana by interbreeding two older breeds, the Collonocas, and the Quetros. The Collonocas was rumpless and laid blue eggs.
The Quetros had tufts, but had a tail and laid brown eggs. When the Araucanas started to breed true is prehistory, but the early Spanish explorers documented them as early as the 1500s. After the conquest of most of the indigenous tribes by the Europeans in the late 1880s, these beautiful birds were beginning to find their way to Europe and the US.
Of course, the modern Araucana is a little different than the originals. Birds were imported from Chile in the 1920s, and the breed was modified through selective breeding for desirable traits. But one thing has never changed. They still lay blue and green eggs. They were officially recognized as a breed in the US in 1976. The official colors are Black, Black Breasted Red, Golden Duck Wing, Silver Duck Wing, and White.
True Araucanas are rare in the US, due to genetic difficulties with breeding, which we will discuss later. But by breeding several strains of Araucanas, a new breed was created called the Ameraucana, which has a much better survival rate. They were recognized in the US as a new species in 1984. Interestingly enough, the US is the only country that recognizes them as separate species.
In Europe, they are considered both as one species. To make matters worse, there is a bird called the Easter Egger, which is just a marketing ploy for Ameraucanas. They are one and the same, as far as the American Poultry Association is concerned.
What Is an Araucana?
Araucanas are average-sized chickens weighing between 5-7 lbs. They have a short, red pea comb in their heads. They also come in Bantam sizes. They are rumpless, and must not have a beard (in the US). Neck tufts are OK. The tufts grow out from a growth called a peduncle.
They are fleshy outgrowths around the sides of the neck, and they get covered with feathers, which creates the tufts. They cannot have a rump, or even a tail bone or oil gland. It may be a surprise for many, but most of those Araucanas you see for sale are actually Ameraucanas, a hybrid breed. True Araucanas are quite rare in the US.
True Arauranas will lay around 200 blue and green-shelled eggs per year. You can expect around 3 eggs per week, per bird, until winter. They usually take a little time off when the weather turns cold.
They mature a lot faster than other breeds and can start laying as early as 20 weeks. They tend to be broody, so be prepared to let them try and hatch some of their eggs every so often. Although the mortality rate is high, once hatched, they are good mothers to the chicks, If they hatch, you usually won’t have any more trouble.
Araucanas are very energetic, curious, and good flyers. They are best kept as Free-Range birds. If you are going to have them in a run, be sure it is covered, or they may literally, “Fly the coop”. And they like lots of fresh grass.
Why Are Araucana Eggs Green and Blue?
The blue and green egg color is caused by a retrovirus called oocyan. If you are into DNA and genetics, it is mapped to the short arm of Chromosome 1. It is a dominant gene and even replicates if Araucanas are crossed with other breeds, at least to a certain extent.
The gene encodes a protein transporter that assists in the uptake of a lot of organic compounds into the shell. The blue or green eggshell color is produced by the distribution of biliverdin, which is a special kind of bile pigment. Biliverdin is created by the breakdown of hemoglobin and is what makes bruises blue.
It will eventually turn into bilirubin, which is yellow and causes a yellow tint in people with jaundice. The oocycan virus causes the biliverdin to insert into the eggshell instead of where it would normally go (the liver). It is harmless to humans, and apparently to the chickens as well.
Strangely enough, I have seen places on the web that say the pigment goes through the shell and the inside of the egg is also blue. I eat Araucana eggs all the time, and I can assure you, the insides look just like any other egg, with a nice creamy white, and a beautiful orange-yellow yolk.
I don’t have any idea what they are eating. If the chickens are fed and cared for properly, the eggs have a wonderfully mild, creamy taste, and a firm yolk that holds its shape. The whites whip up easily into a firm pillowy layer with stiff peaks.
Araucanas Are Difficult to Breed
One of the reasons true Araucanas are so rare is that they are difficult to breed. The very thing that makes them attractive is what can kill the chicks in the shell. The beautiful tufts are created by an autosomal (non-sex linked) gene.
This gene is dominant and completely different from the ones that create beards and muffs on other breeds. Of course, all Araucanas do not have these tufts, but they can still carry the gene.
If the gene is present in both parents, up to 50% of the chicks will die before they are hatched, and 24% of the remaining chicks will be tuftless, but can still carry the gene. So, if you are going to breed them, just be prepared to lose a lot.
You Can’t Hurry Love
Another problem with breeding Araucanas is the fact that they are ‘rumpless’.
They don’t even have a tailbone (coccyx), or an oil gland, like other birds. This is also caused by an autosomal gene, although this one is not lethal.
The lack of a moveable tail interferes with proper physical contact to, well, you know what… Some breeders trim the feathers around the vent of the female to assist in the…uh, process. But even without trimming, they will eventually figure it out, and fertilization of the eggs will improve over time. Roosters are pretty diligent about things like that.
The standards for show Araucana birds in the US are brutal. No exceptions. Both the American Poultry Association, and the American Bantam Association have set strict standards, and they stick to them without question.
To start with, your bird needs to have double tufts. Single tufts are not allowed.
Here are some of the other requirements:
- Recognized colors are Black, Black Breasted Red, Golden Duckwing, Silver Duckwing, and White.
- They must be rumpless, have a pea comb, double tufts, and lay blue eggs.
- The beak has to be medium stout, and slightly curved.
- The face must be smooth, with either smooth or no wattles.
- The earlobes have to be small, red. And have a smooth texture.
- The tufts have to be equal in length and have a pronounced curve.
- The neck must be carried erect and slightly arched.
- There must be no tail whatsoever. Not even any long tail feathers hanging over.
- The wings must be well folded and carried above the thighs.
- Medium fluff
- 4, and only 4 toes, and these must be straight.
- The skin has to be either yellow or willow colored.
Disqualifications include no ear tufts, a rudimentary tail, more or less than 4 toes, anything other than a pea comb, Feathers or fluff on the legs, and white skin.
As you can see, only a small percentage of birds can meet these qualifications. If you need help or advice, the Araucana Club of America has lots of information about breeding and shows.
Araucanas may be difficult to breed, but the rewards can be more than worth it. Sure, there are other breeds that lay colored eggs and are much easier to breed, but they won’t be Araucanas. There are few things more stately than a yard with an Araucana flock in it. And you have to admit, the blue eggs are really cool looking.
With a little work, you can have a nice flock of Araucanas, and help to preserve the breed.