Scots Greys

Orville, one of our Scots Grey cockerels

I’ve written fairly often about our Berkshire pigs, a breed that is to be found on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Watchlist because of its vulnerable status.

What I haven’t done recently is look at our poultry, or more correctly our Scots Greys chickens.

The Berkshire pig is vulnerable because there are only 300 or so registered breeding females left in the UK.

The Scots Grey chicken is listed as endangered as there are only 250 or so registered breeding females remaining. In pig terms, that’s the equivalent of just 200 sows.

Scots Greys are excellent foragersWe have a flock of 18 hens, two breeding cockerels, two surplus cockerels, four hen growers and two cockerel growers. All are of the large type.

We also have a sole Scots Grey bantam whose job it is to raise the chicks.

Our flock of hens is divided into three – hens that are totally unrelated to our two cockerels, hens that are descended from Johnny (whose line goes back to a Welsh flock), and hens that are descended from Orville (whose line came from an Inverurie breeder).

Most of the unrelated hens came from a flock in the Western Isles (and before that Kintaline in Argyll), but four came from an English flock.

A Scots Grey henWe put three or four hens in with a cockerel when we want eggs for hatching, which means Johnny will be in with unrelated hens or hens descended from Orville and Orville will be in with unrelated hens or hens descended from Johnny.

We’d like to have a third, unrelated cockerel (and actually had two from different lines at one point) but noise complaints from a neighbour means that is not possible.

We have to cull almost all our cockerels very quickly once they start crowing – and often before you can see how well they’re going to fill out.

But back to the breed.

Depending on your source, the Scots Grey originates either from the 16th century or the 19th century – although the latter claim could arise from the breed society, the Scots Grey Club, having been established in 1895.

The club still exists, but appears rather ramshackle with communication being hit and miss at best. I thought the club secretary must have passed away at one point as I didn’t hear back from the club for almost 18 months.

Scots Greys were originally a farm and croft chicken.

The hens start settling for the nightThey are hardy, do extremely well in cold, damp and even freezing conditions (provided the wind is kept off them), and are very adept at foraging.

The RBST claims the breed can be quite tame if handled regularly but, while true of one of our cockerels, it’s not proved the case with the hens and remaining cockerel.

They’re happy to co-exist with people and pigs, but like to keep their distance.

If anything, I’d describe the Scots Greys as being less domestic and more feral than many chickens.

Ours are very adept at using trees, thickets of weeds, and piles of stones as hidey holes from birds of prey.

They enjoy roosting in trees or in the rafters of buildings, do very well as free range birds but they do need protection from foxes, weasels, stoats and the like.

The RBST describes their appearance as:

The barring of the Scots Grey’s feathers is quite precise and results in a beautifully smart and crisp looking bird. The beak and legs are white with black mottles or streaks. The effect is completed by a single upright comb and red earlobes.

I’m watching you!What they don’t mention is that the hens are much darker than the cockerels, having black feathers with white bars while the cockerels are more a dark steel grey with white barring. The barring is also larger and more defined on the hens.

It’s a very useful tool for identifying cockerels once the adult feathers start coming through.

Also, we’ve found some hens can have almost no comb, while others have the noticeable upright comb the RBST mentions.

Extensive searches using google turned up only a small number of photos of Scots Grey hens, but again the variation was apparent with some having almost no comb and others having the erect one.

The Poultry Club has an old illustration on their website that shows a Scots Grey hen with the erect comb.

Poultry Photos offer a montage of old Scots Grey photograph, in some of which the hens appear to have only vestigal combs.

A Scots Grey pullet in the snowFrom that, it would appear there has always been some variation in the combs of hens.

A more vexed subject is yellow legs and beaks.

The breed standard for the Scots Grey is quite clear — they should have white legs and beaks.

Birds will yellow legs and beaks do appear in hatchings and, on the face of it, they should be culled or kept only for laying eggs and meat.

However, the Scots Grey is a rare breed that is critically endangered in some countries and rare even in the UK.

If I was outside the UK and it came down to a choice of using a cockerel with yellow legs or having no cockerel at all, then I’d use the cockerel. I’d then aim to breed out yellow legged descendants once I had sufficient numbers of birds or was able to find a white-legged male line.

As people tend to keep more hens, it should be possible to find enough white-legged ones to breed from without having to resort to ones with yellow legs.

While the Scots Grey is rare in the UK, there are enough breeders willing to supply hatching eggs or cockerels to make this unnecessary. If you are a British breeder please do not breed from Scots Greys with yellow legs and beaks.

Back to the RBST description, which falls down when it describes the Scots Grey’s use as a utility bird, stating:

It is a good all round layer of whitish eggs.

While the eggs are certainly a variety of off-white colours, with the occasional chalky white one, none of ours are good layers.

The best hens lay three or four eggs a week, but most only lay two or three. I suspect this is down to a combination of in-breeding and breeding to show.

But if the eggs are a disappointment, the quality of the meat from the cockerels more than makes up for it.

The meat is very flavoursome and slightly gamey, is nicely textured and is best used in soups, stews, curries and crock pot dishes.

It is not a good roaster as the meat is mainly on the thighs and legs, instead of on the chest as with modern meat breeds. The meat can also be darker than some modern consumers prefer.

Most sources, including the RBST, class the Scots Grey as a non-sitter but we’ve had two large hens that stayed with their eggs until they hatched, while our Scots Grey bantam has hatched two clutches.

Island Poultry, from whom we sourced some of stock as hatching eggs, agrees with us in this regard, having found occasional hens do sit through to hatching.

A Scots Grey cockerel at 12 weeksBut what we all agree on is that Scots Grey hens are outstanding mothers, teaching their off-spring very quickly, keeping them gathered close by and defending them far beyond what you’d expect – our bantam fought off a hawk more than twice her size when it had the temerity to go for a chick.

Another description of the Scots Grey breed can be found on the Kintaline Poultry website, which has my favourite alternative name for the breed – Shepherd’s Plaid.

Their experience appears to tie with ours, that the breed has been so heavily bred for show that productive lines are now extinct.

Certainly, the Scots Grey would have been much more productive in the past as there is no way a thrifty crofter or skint tenant farmer is going to keep and breed non-productive poultry.

In researching the Scots Grey, I also discovered that a couple of lines have survived in Australia with the Backyard Poultry forum hosting photos of various Scots Greys.

Some do not look like any Scots Grey I’ve seen, but there are a few nice birds among them.

Now for a word of caution.

Scots Grey chicksIn our experience, fertility has proved to be a major issue with only one line of eggs, those sourced from Island Poultry, having a 75 per cent hatch rate or better.

Eggs from all other sources – Inverurie, two English breeders and a Welsh one – have been lucky to achieve a 30-40 per cent hatch rate.

In the case of eggs from one English flock, all but one of the chicks died in their shells and the remaining one died soon after hatching – all had deformities, which again points to inbreeding.

On top of that, eggs from all sources have a pronounced tendency to hatch cockerels with an average of 78 per cent of all chicks being male. (It does mean plenty of chicken to eat, though.)

Again, I strongly suspect this is down to inbreeding.

As for the future, we’re hatching every fertile egg we get until we get at least 20-30 hens.

Once we have a reasonable flock of hens, we’ll start selecting for productivity and type with the aim of restoring the Scots Grey back to being a dual-purpose utility bird.

And if anyone else is breeding Scots Greys, particularly for utility, we’d love to hear from you.

42 Responses to “Scots Greys”

  1. What a stunning looking chicken, you can see why people fell for its looks at the expense of it productivity, shame.
    Good luck with your plans

  2. They’re also very, very difficult to photograph. They don’t stand still and the barring wreaks havoc with the focus on my digital camera. The film SLR manages fine, but then I’d have to wait a week or so to get the photos back and scan them in.

    • PC&KH Marriott Reply 16 June, 2011 at 19:50

      I have only just found your blogs, so am a few years out of date! Are you still out there? We a few Scots Grey – 1 cock & 3 hens, with 3 chicks (1 hen & 2 cockerels) hatched from fertile eggs from a breeder in Cornwall. If you are still in the business of breeding for utility we would be very interested in swapping info/breeding stock. Look forward to hearing from you if you get this message.
      PC & KH Marriott

      • Hi I just thought that I would let you know that I have just purchased 9 Scots Grey hens – 8 are one year old and the other is an old lady (although she still lays). I may be looking for a cockerel next spring.

        I am in Aberdeenshire

        Sue B

        • Which flock are yours from? One of our cockerels descends from a Bristol flock, one from a Welsh flock and one from a Dunoon flock (via the Western Isles).

          Enjoy your Scots Greys. :D

        • PC&KH Marriott 10 January, 2012 at 13:23

          Hi – as you can see it is a long time since I checked the website! I have recently lost 4 hens & 2 cockerels to predation, so am now down to 1 cock, 1 cockerel & a pullet. I would be happy to discuss your need for a cockerel if you are still looking for one. We relocate to Sutherland in April 2012, so could perhaps help you after that? The cockerel I have is from a batch of hatching eggs from a Devon breeder.

          Henrietta Marriott

        • Hello

          Its nice to hear from a fellow enthusiast. I am sorry that you have had so many of your Scots Greys predated – it must have been devasting for you. Thank you for your offer of a cockerel – I have got one lined up for the Spring time (if everything goes to plan.) If anything should go wrong I will contact you and take you up on your offer.

          Suzy B

  3. Lovely photographs of your Scots Greys. At what age, approximately, do young cockerels start to crow, please? So far, we’ve only kept hens for eggs but my husband would like a few for meat. However, we need to keep the neighbours happy and crowing would not help us succeed at that….
    Thanks

  4. Our cockerels start gurgling, gargling and shrieking around 12-14 weeks, but only develop a full fledged crow around 20-22 weeks.

    The initial crowing sounds hilarious and is usually not too loud – but there are exceptions, one of our previous young cockerels sounded like a rusty gate and the noise was piercing.

  5. Hi we live herein australia on 2and a half hectares of land trying for some degree of self sufficiency with a few chooks and a small flock of east freisian milking sheep> Went to buy some fertile eggs down the road today and saw some Scots greys , fell in love! Was going to ask you for some when I realised you are far,far away! Apparently they are very thin on the ground around here Good luck with restoring their utility properties , this is a particular interest of mine too.

  6. Roberta, try asking on the Backyard Poultry forum. It’s Australian and the link is in the main post. Good luck in finding some Scots Greys for yourself. They’re a lovely bird.

  7. Hello stonehead, a note from Germany. I´m raising Scots-Greys for more than ten years – I will have to look at old photos, to find out the exact starting year. I took some eggs from a scottish breeder and some from a very experienced one in Norfolk, brought them to Germany and had them bred over here. Untill now they have been very stable, although I had to deal with inbreed myself – as we had losses due to martens, foxes, hawks and so on. Right now there is affort in Germany to bring them back into recognition and I know about two other breeders that have started hatching them. I have lots of pictures of S-G in snow or running around. Over all the time I have got a 50 to 50 result of male to female, but usually in difficult circumstances like accidental cooling off of the incubator more male survive the stress. Good luckand successful hatching. Sincerely Wolf

  8. Would suspect the yellow legs would come from the show fraternity seeking to improve the barring using barred Plymouth Rocks then back crossing to try and remove the unwanted traits.

    All in all you are doing the right thing to try and expand the breeding lines.

  9. I have been trying to locate some Scot Greys here in the states , Michigan. I’m begining to think there are none. In which case I would like to fine a way to bring some eggs over here. Anyone have any ideas?

  10. These Scot’s Grey’s seem to look very much like what we call French Marans. Could there be any tie? The Marans lay a very dark brown egg.

  11. I stay in Stirlingshire Scotland (near the Campsie Hills) – i have been keeping Scots Grey Bantams fairly successfully for almost 3 Years now … my 2 Cockerels are unrelated to the Females … and I have at present 2 cockerels … 14 Hens and a total of 24 Chicks ranging from 4 – 11 weeks old .

    I find them to be rather poor Mothers and would have had better success if I had proved a small Nursery type space for them immediately after Hatching – these are wonderful wee Chickens …

    AL

  12. We’ve found standard Scots Greys to be poor sitters, but good mothers. Our sole Scots Grey bantam is a good sitter and a good mother, having hatched four clutches of eggs and then raised the chicks.

    We have three cockerels, 22 hens, nine growers (four hens, five cockerels) and nine chicks with our last clutch of eggs for the year going in the incubator tomorrow.

    And as you say, wonderful chickens with a lot of character.

  13. I have a few spare wee Bantam Cockerels looking for Homes and a few Hens too if you are ever looking for a few – it would be my pleasure !

    AL

  14. Have successfully hatched 3 scots grey from breeder in essex but , obviously incorrectly , have hatched eggs from brother and sister,(stupidly hadn’t realised this to be a problem in chickens) The resulting surviving chicks are brown all over. Is this common or is previous breeding becoming apparent? The hen is a good layer of medium sized white eggs and all the eggs were fertile although not all hateched, my fault i think.

  15. Scots Grey chicks shouldn’t be brown. They should be black with patches of white or yellow (have a look at the last photo in the post). Once they’re a few weeks old and their adult feathers come through you’ll their distinctive barring emerging. They should have white legs and beak, not yellow. It sounds like yours might be cross-breeds.

    • Hello, I bought 4 Scots Grey hens and a cockeral last year and they’ve been laying about a month now. I was glad to read your article and it describe my hens to a tee! They are lovely little birds and I hope I manage to breed some more. I’ve sold two boxes of fertilised eggs too, so far! It sounds like they’re meat is something to look forward too but I do think they have very tasty little eggs in the meant time.
      R.

      • I fractured my right wrist so everything is in a state of upheaval and chaos at the moment. I appreciate that customers want their needs met now—certainly enough people have made that clear in the past fortnight—but sometimes circumstances meet a wait is in order. This is one of those occasions. I can’t email, blog or have a sensible conversation (phone or face-to-face) when the pain is too severe or when I’m full of painkillers. While I can do those on my good days, I still can’t go out and catch chickens. Or much else for that matter. When my wrist is more stable and less painful, I’ll do what I can.

        • Ouch, you have my sympathies. I broke a wrist last July escaping attack by a ferocious broody hen! No joke when you keep chickens and I’m a beekeeper too. I hope it mends well and in good alignment (mine’s been mismanaged …they skipped x-rays while it was in the cast and which would have shown up the slippage).
          I’m thinking of starting a small breeding flock of Scots Greys here in Moidart. Has the egg laying improved with yours since 2007 I wonder? More once your wrist is more healed.

        • I’ve cancelled my check-up as it’s not possible to get in to the hospital. I’ll just have to take my chances, not least becuase I have to get back to the daily workload, too. As for the Scots Greys, they’re coming along. We have 10 pullets from the Inverurie line just coming in to lay so I’ll have to start penning them individually to check their rate of lay, egg quality and so. The best half dozen will go in with our cockerel from the Bristol line. The older hens and cockerels will be moved around, too. Busy times.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Good news for the Scots Grey « Musings from a Stonehead - 17 January, 2008

    [...] Scots Grey has moved off the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s Category 1 High Risk Register as large fowl [...]

  2. NO Scots Greys for sale « Musings from a Stonehead - 24 July, 2010

    [...] by Stonehead We’ve received almost a dozen enquiries in the past week from people who want Scots Grey poultry, a significant rise on the two or three enquiries a month that we normally [...]

  3. Joining the flock | Musings from a Stonehead - 3 October, 2011

    [...] had hoped to get a decent photograph of our young Scots Grey pullets and cockerels joining the main flock [...]

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