Things Japanese/Long-tailed Fowls
Long-tailed Fowls. Few things Japanese are more curious and beautiful than the long-tailed cock, which a century of artificial selection has produced from common barndoor fowls at the village of Shinowara near Kōchi in the island of Shikoku. They are of various hues, some being pure white. The tail-feathers, which are from 15 to 24 in number and are never moulted, measure from 7 or 8 to 11 ft. in length, and proceed from quills considerably stouter than those of ordinary fowls. The present writer has measured one specimen 13½ ft. long; and as great a length as 18 ft. is said to have been attained. The body-feathers, which hang down on either side of the back above the tail grow to a length of 4 ft., adding greatly to the ornamental appearance of the bird.
As it is essential to the preservation of the tail-feathers that they be allowed to hang free, these cocks are kept in high narrow cages, quite dark except close to the top; for light at the bottom would attract them. When the tail-feathers become too long and touch ground in the cage, a bamboo is put a little way back, so as to form an arch and thus increase the distance. The bird sits all day on a flat perch three inches wide, and is only taken out once in two days, and allowed to walk about for half-an-hour or so, a man holding up its tail all the while to prevent it from getting torn or soiled. Once or twice a month it is carefully washed with warm water, and is then as carefully dried on some high place,—the roof or wherever may be most convenient a man holding the tail till it is quite dry. The birds are fed on unhulled rice and greens. They must be given plenty of water. When one of the long-tailed cocks is to be moved from place to place, it is put in a long narrow box similar to those in which the Japanese keep kakemono (hanging scrolls), the bird's body being laid at full length, the tail twisted round as little as may be. The dimensions of the box are about 6 inches square, and 4 ft. 6 in. long. There is a grating for air at one end only, and a division to guard the feathers.
The hen of course is as nothing by the side of these splendid cocks. Yet even she is a handsome bird, with tail-feathers longer than those of any ordinary hen,—sometimes as much as 8 inches. The hens lay in spring and autumn, one bird producing 30 eggs yearly, which are hatched by other hens. One, or at most two, hens are allowed to each breeding cock. The latter's tail-feathers are cut, to allow of his walking about freely. Thus does he pay with his beauty for the privilege of liberty, and of living a little longer than his long-tailed, captive, and celibate brethren. It is satisfactory, however, to know that even they are fairly hardy, bearing both heat and cold well, and sometimes living to the age of nine. They are almost as tame as dogs, and will nestle most affectionately on their master's arm when taken out of their dark travelling-box into the light of day.
Book recommended. Note on a Long-tailed Breed of Fowls in Tosa, by B. H. Chamberlain, in the "Asiatic Transactions," Vol. XXVII. Part I.