The Scots Grey is believed to have been in Scotland for hundreds of years, living around the crofts and farm steadings and being used for their eggs and meat. If we go back into the breed’s history, it probably did not look like the very smart, upright bird we know today.

As with many of the very old breeds the origin of the Scots Grey is somewhat clouded in anecdotal evidence but the few records that have survived describe the bird as being quite strongly built. Another breed that is known to have been kept across the UK as far back as Roman times is the Dorking and poultry authors over time believe that Dorking blood may have been included in the make-up of the Scots Grey fowl.

Smallholder:

Scots Greys love scratching for insects

However, this was dismissed by Harrison Weir, a renowned poultry writer who travelled around southern Scotland and Dumfriesshire in particular, during the middle of the 1800s. With his experience of the Dorking breed which has five toes, Harrison Weir felt that with the clean four toes that Scots Greys have always had “it was highly unlikely that Dorking blood had been used in Scots Grey further development. Although the breed’s main plumage was a cuckoo grey, other colours such as red and brown crept in but the tail feathers were basically black and white even if slightly mottled”.

In 1862 a book by Mrs. Fergusson Blair entitled The Henwife contains information about farmyard poultry at the time and this Scottish breed, as described above was quite popular and prolific. For many years the breed had been found to have different names according to the district of Scotland it was in. Names such as Shepherds Plaid, Chickmalins, Chick Marley, Mauds, Greylings and Greylocks, all similarly referring to colour of the plumage. In the latter part of the 1800s the Scotch Greys, another name by which they were locally called became known as Scots Greys.

By now the breed had been developed into a much taller and ‘gamey’ looking bird. This could have been the result of using large modern game genes in the breeding and influencing the look of the bird into that which we recognise today. Over the years the Scots Grey had a firmer, tight feel to the body, close feathering and a proud, upright stance that has proabably come from game fowl connections.

Smallholder:

The plumage of Scots Grey females is often darker than the males

The late Ian Kay, writing about the Scots Grey in his book Stairway to the Breeds, states that although the conformation of the Scots Grey is nothing like that of the Scots Dumpy, the existence of two native breeds with barring in the featherings that are not related must surely be a little more than coincidence.

However, that is where the similarity ends because the Scots Dumpy with its very short legs is in striking contrast to the tall, upright, long legged bird that the modern day Scots Grey is. Perhaps the game breeding was undertaken to specifically address this matter and to make sure that the Scots Grey bore no resemblance to the effects of the creeper gene whatsoever.

So from whatever the exact origins, the Scots Grey has been bred and developed from what may have been a somewhat hybrid farmyard fowl, to the striking standard breed we know today.

The Scots Grey has one of the most erect postures of the pure breeds and therefore has a majestic persona. The body is compact and fairly long with a deep but proud breast. The wings are quite long but well tucked into the body and the full sickles lead to a long, flowing tail. The single comb, face, wattles and ear-lobes are a bright red which really set off the steel-grey, black and whitish barring of the plumage. The legs and feet are white or white with a little mottling of black with four straight, stout toes. The male is quite often slightly lighter in colour than the female. The female has markings that are not as small as the male and this produces an appearance that is quoted as resembling a ‘shepherd’s tartan’ hence Shepherd’s Plaid.

Smallholder:

A large Scots Grey male

In Lewis Wright’s Book of Poultry written in 1911 he states the large fowl weights as Male 7 - 8lbs and Female 6½ - 7½lbs. “Compared with birds we saw at the Scottish shows 1869 – 75, those of the present day have gained considerably in size, typical shape and absence of black, white or rust in the plumage.”

Today the standard weights of the Scots Grey are: Large fowl male: 3.20kg (7lb) Large fowl female: 2.25kg (5lb) Bantam male: 620 – 280g (22 – 24oz) Bantam female: 510 – 570g (18 – 20oz) The large fowl Scots Grey is therefore a good utility bird, as you would expect from a breed that has been kept by cottagers and farmers in the past. It lays a good size white egg and has a lengthy laying season. Excess males can be used for their meat which I am informed is very tasty. The breed is relatively docile but occasionally a male can be rather overprotective of his females.

Sadly the breed is quite rare but those keeping them are dedicated to its survival. One such person is Dougie Lindsay, who keeps and exhibits Scots Grey bantams. “It is my favourite breed and really important that it is supported in the future,” he says.

Smallholder:

A large Scots Grey male winning Best of Breed at the Royal Highland Show

Andrew Kirkpatrick who breeds Scots Greys says: “As well as being very attractive they are good foragers and will go quite a way scratching and searching for food. They are also long lived and very hardy.”

Others also feel equally passionate about the Scottish connection. John Cumming along with his late father Sandy have been breeding Scots Greys for years and have had great success in exhibitions, winning the Scottish National Poultry Show Championship in 2011 with a bantam male.

For further information contact: Mr. D. Lindsay, Secretary, The Scots Grey Club Tel: 07594 314087 Website: scotsgreychickens.co.uk

===

This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. For your copy subscribe here or buy from a local newsagent.