I thought you’d like to see these baby chickens. A month ago I ordered two dozen fertile eggs from Lugo in Galicia, north west Spain. They arrived the following day, 27 eggs packed tight in sawdust. I set 24 in an incubator, 5 were clear (unfertilised) and from the remaing 19, 14 hatched.
Piñeira are a new race of chickens developed from the campo (countryside) chickens of Galicia, developed by a vet who has a special interest in poultry in association with elderly chicken farmers of Galicia, whose chickens were almost wiped out by the incursion of the Rhode Island Red – an American commercial chicken quicker growing and more productive than the Piñeira.
The breeding programme was started 20 years ago by a vet called Arzua Jesus Garcia Rodriguez who wanted to preserve a typical Galician hen. He wanted to preserve a non commercial, slow growing breed, a hen absolutely adapted to its environment, not needing special facilities to breed, nor a commercially fortified food.
He aimed for a fertile breed that was a dual purpose bird, good for meat and eggs, capable of laying at least 150 per year with no special food or artificial lighting. Using local farmers he sought to use what remained of the existing gene pool to develop the rare breed that had existed before the arrival of the Romans 2000 years ago. So the chickens are a new breed and a rare breed and an ancient breed, which even in ancient times was on the verge of extinction because the size of the cock’s comb was an aphrodisiac symbol to the Romans, and the Piñeira has a small comb!
They are tough as anything – ballsy little birds already flying, which is unusual for domestic chickens. The cock bird when fully grown has a magnificent spectrum of colours from reds and yellow to the green sheend black, but the hen is patterned in brown and black and has the mottled feathers of a pine cone. Hence the name “Piñeira” – like a pine cone. The meat is supposed to taste like a cross between chicken and game. We will have to wait a while to find out!