Hi folks. I sometimes find myself writing a small article in the comments section of someone else’s blog because of a common and frustrating misconception about livestock, homesteading, gardening, etc. And I really need to stop doing that and start just writing a post about it in my own blog and maybe providing a link. These things are important to anyone involved in this lifestyle and are worth knowing, so I should be sharing them as publicly as possible.
So here is one of those articles. And really, the title should explain it all. Ameraucanas and Easter Eggers are different breeds of animal in the exact same way that poodles and goldendoodles are. But many, MANY consumers and even breeders are in the dark as to what the reality of these birds are. Let’s start at the top with Ameraucanas and what an Ameraucana is;
(Please note, all of this references U.S. standards for the most part. Other countries have other standards.)
The Ameraucana is a breed of chicken recognized by the American Poultry Association (the poultry equivalent of the AKC) developed in the USA in the 1970’s and was recognized as a breed in 1984. This means that there is a required breed standard to call your birds an Ameraucana. The most prominent of these traits are laying blue eggs, slate blue legs, a beard and muffs made of feathers, a full tail, a pea comb (small and tight to the head) and small or non existent wattles. The earlobes, comb and wattles are red.
There is also a specific list of recognized varieties. Just like a New Zealand Rabbit is not a New Zealand if it is pointed like a Californian, birds have recognized colors as well. This color list is; White, black, blue, blue wheaten, wheaten, brown-red, buff and silver. Any other color varieties are not recognized by the APA.
A single, final, and important factor of any “breed” of animal is that if you bring together two of them, the offspring must breed true 75% of the time. So if I breed a Wheaten Ameraucana to a Wheaten Ameraucana I should reasonably expect to get birds that meet the breed standard out of 75%+ of the hatched eggs. That is how we define breeds of animals from mutts. Breeds breed true and the offspring carries the same traits as the parents the majority of the time.
This is a picture of our Wheaten Ameraucana rooster. You can clearly see the small, tight comb, the white and black feathers sticking out from his face in a “muff and beard” combo, the slate legs and no visible wattles.
If your chicken does not meet the breed standard, it is not considered an Ameraucana. If your chicken lays green or brown eggs, has a classic-looking single comb, has yellow or green legs, or does not have a beard or muffs or is missing it’s tail, it’s not an Ameraucana. If you breed it to a known pure-bred Ameraucana of the same variety and the chicks don’t come out looking like the parents, it’s not an Ameraucana. It’s something else!
Unfortunately, many companies tell flat-out lies about their birds. Companies and breeders labeling birds that are mixed breeds as Ameraucanas is very common. Even very large big-name hatcheries will sell mixed breeds that barely meet half the traits of an Ameraucana as pure-bred birds. Many even have the audacity to offer and advertise “mixed breeds” like olive eggers and easter eggers alongside them as if they were any different than the over-priced mutts they are selling as pure. Occasionally they’ll have the good-nature to miss-spell the name to free them of false advertising, perhaps calling their birds “Americanas” or “Ameracanas”, etc. Many companies don’t do this at all and just label mutts as purebred birds. These birds often lay green or brown eggs, have small single combs, no beards or muffs, are randomly mixed colors, and do not breed true.
So why is this a problem? Well, for one, the breed is recently developed, and was only recognized during a time when Bowie and Prince were making waves and hits. The 80’s weren’t so very long ago. If you consider that a bird’s typical breeding lifespan may be 4-5 years, there have only been 7-9 generations of Ameraucanas out there. That’s not long enough to make a breed of animal secure in the genetic traits it carries. Compare it to breeds like the Plymouth Rock which was developed around 1850 (or 30-40+ generations ago) and you see a rather large lack of generations to secure genetics.
When a breeder (and more especially, a large company) decides to label a mixed breed as an Ameraucana, that bird is then bought by a consumer presuming they are getting an Ameraucana. When that bird then does not display a prominent desired trait of Ameraucanas (for instance, they do not have the muffs and beards, or they lay brown eggs) the consumer is then disappointed and says that the breed is poorly developed or has problems or thinks that those traits are random or not required for the breed. In the case of blaming the breed, the breed starts to get a bad reputation. If they are instead confused about the requirements for Ameraucanas, they may then try to breed those birds and pass them off as Ameraucanas themselves. The hatchery may sell chicks as purebred to someone more serious who knows that the birds look like Ameraucanas but doesn’t have the standard of perfection memorized. Suddenly a completely serious breeder has genes in their flock for large combs, yellow legs, brown eggs or no beards/muffs. The breeder may not know about it until years later, but by then they have sold their own eggs and chicks as purebred and another percentage of real, purebred animals has been ruined and a large number of consumers think Ameraucanas are a flaky, genetically unsound breed. And the cycle continues.
This is bad for business on so many different levels.
It’s bad for the breeders who try to sell real, purebred birds. They’re being under-cut in prices for their carefully managed purebred flock by ignorant or deliberately harmful business practices that encourage outright lies. Their stock of genetic diversity dwindles daily as more good, high-quality birds get wrapped up in detrimental scams. Their breed is getting a bad reputation right and left and new color varieties being accepted becomes a distant dream since none of their birds breed true.
It’s bad for consumers because you’re never quite sure what you’re getting. If you tried to buy a golden retriever and received a German shepherd, you’d be pissed. The same thing is happening to chicken consumers. They are buying a premium-priced bird and instead of getting a cold-hardy, blue egg layer with slate legs, muffs and beard they are getting something that may not be cold-hardy, lays green or even brown eggs that they are told is a worthless mutt when they talk to experienced breeders. People are spending $30-$50 each on mixed breed hens expecting to be able to show them at 4H and they can’t. Even the purebred birds become more and more questionable as these trends continue. Buying an Ameraucana is now a game of roulette. Who KNOWS what you are getting! And it’s also reducing consumer choice as new colors become harder to get accepted and many breeders refuse to sell to “back yard” producers who run mixed flocks because that could perpetuate the cycle.
Ameraucanas are quickly becoming an elitist breed of chicken full of controversy and vitriol. Breeders are salty, consumers are salty, and the only end is when people start becoming educated on the difference between what is and is not an Ameraucana and call out the companies and breeders that harmfully miss-label their birds.
Now there are some birds that closely resemble Ameraucanas. And these are the birds that are commonly being sold as Ameraucanas. And I will now go over them to illustrate the important differences.
Easter Eggers are what I raise. They are a mix of breeds. A mutt. They are not purebred. They are not a breed at all. They do not breed true. This is what is MOST commonly sold as an Ameraucana, and some pure Ameraucanas are sometimes sold as Easter Eggers, furthering the massive confusion.
Also adding to the Ameraucana controversy is the idea that EE’s are somehow bad birds, worse birds, or that the people that raise easter eggers are scammers. Well, none of that is true. Here’s some facts about Easter Eggers;
- Easter eggers can be any chicken that lays blue/green eggs and occasionally exhibits peacombs, beards, muffs, tufts or rumpless genes (sometimes). They are often a cross between any chicken that lays a blue or green egg and any other chicken. This means they could be mixed with Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Cream Legbars, “super blue egg layers” (another mixed breed) or even other easter eggers. Not all of these birds are healthy, hardy, or even guaranteed to pass down their blue egg laying genes.
- Some Easter Egger lines go back a long time, and most blue egg laying breeds (ameraucanas, araucanas, etc.) were derived from the landrace we now know as easter eggers. Not the other way around. But easter eggers are not a breed developed to exhibit specific traits.
- Easter Eggers are a mixed breed, which means there’s a good chance for hybrid vigor. Some other examples of this trait can be seen in our most popular chickens in the USA. Golden buffs, golden comets, red and black sexlinks, cherry eggers, super blue egg layers, and cornish crosses (or broilers) are all varieties of birds that exhibit hybrid vigor. They are known for being fast to grow, early to mature, hardy, friendly, extraordinary layers of extra jumbo eggs. These are quality birds and Easter Eggers share some of those traits.
- The type of bird that goes into an Easter Egger will help determine what the offspring are. A carefully curated flock can be guaranteed to produce certain traits in their offspring just like a purebred flock. For example, a mixed flock with a high quality purebred Ameraucana rooster is guaranteed to have blue or green egg laying chicks because the rooster has two copies of the blue egg gene and will always pass down at least one to his offspring. Smaller, pea combs, are also dominant which means a pure Ameraucana rooster will sire offspring with smaller combs and wattles that are more cold hardy.
- Easter eggers bred by a chicken being crossed with non-pure Ameraucanas can have large, single combs, lay brown or white eggs, be tail-less, come in any colors, or have extra-long ear tufts and are lethal in offspring when bred to another bird with ear tufts.
- Easter Eggers can hatch out of any color of egg and still lay blue or green eggs.
- “Green” eggs are actually just blue eggs with a brown layer of pigment over them. Green egg layers are just blue egg layers mixed with brown egg layers.
- Olive Eggers are a specific type of Easter Egger that is created by breeding Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers with very deep blue eggs to chickens that lay extremely dark brown eggs like Marans or Welsummers, often for multiple generations.
Because of the controversy of miss-labeled chickens and scammers, easter eggers and their breeders have become wrapped up in a controversy claiming that nobody should raise them. I disagree with this strongly. Nobody hates on someone for raising sex links, which are a productive and hardy chicken variety. Golden buffs are one of the most popular types of chickens in the US for a reason. Super Blue Egg Layers are becoming a variety of their own. Modern chicken production could not exist without the Cornish Cross. None of these birds are purebred. There are many good reasons for owning or raising mixed breed birds including wanting to own a variety of unique birds, hybrid vigor, mixing in genes from exceptional egg layers to improve the poorer egg laying abilities of Ameruacanas in a flock, to get larger table-ready roosters, to offer a less expensive blue egg laying alternative to Ameraucanas, to produce green egg layers, etc. If someone is breeding specific birds together with a goal in mind, that’s a good thing as long as they are being honest about what they are raising.
Easter Eggers are not worse birds. If you have one, be proud! Chances are you have a very healthy, hardy, colorful bird with blue or green eggs. They may well lay you more, larger eggs than a purebred bird would and can be a lot more fun! Never feel bad for owning non-purebred birds. Just never try to present your mixed-breed bird or it’s offspring as Ameraucanas. It’s that simple.
Araucana hen, from Wikimedia
Araucanas are a breed of chicken originating from Chile, and is the great grandmommy to all modern blue and green egg layers. What we now know as Easter Eggers used to be known as Araucanas (and in some countries still is) but have been developed into their own breed alongside Ameraucanas. The current standard in the USA calls for a chicken that is rumpless (missing their last vertebrae and lacking a tail), possesses ridiculous ear-tufts, and lays blue to turquoise eggs. In other countries, there are both tailless and tailed versions of the bird. They have no beards or muffs, but can have crests on their heads.
The feathers on the side of the face of these birds is a type of gene known as homozygous lethal. That means that animals that receive two copies of the gene are non-viable. They typically die in their shell before they can hatch. Which means all Aracaunas carry one copy of the gene. As a result, 25% of pure Aracauna offspring will not have facial tufts, 50% will look like their parents, and 25% will die in shell. It’s because of this gene that the Ameraucana bird began to be developed, to remove this homozygous lethal gene from the mix.
Aracaunas are not common, but are one of the few blue egg layers on the market.
Unrecognized Ameraucana Varieties
When we are dealing with rabbits, there’s a simple language we use. A rabbit that meets standard and breeds true for 3 generations is a purebred animal. If it’s not a variety that is recognized that does not make it not-purebred, as long as it still breeds true. For example*, a purebred blue New Zealand is still a purebred blue New Zealand, even though New Zealands only come in white, black, red and broken varieties. A blue New Zealand would just be considered an unrecognized variety of New Zealand and people would have to be up-front about saying “this animal is purebred to standards, but cannot be shown”. And mostly this is true in the world of poultry. You have purebred animals, unrecognized varieties, and mixed breeds.
(*Since this article was written, blue New Zealands have been accepted into the ARBA as an official color. Congrats to all the people whose hard work that went into that!)
But because of the extreme controversy surrounding Ameraucanas, many people in the community have begun to insist that unrecognized or “project” varieties of Ameraucana, or any bird that does not meet a recognized variety or breed standard, belong under the label “easter egger”, which to some is a damning label for worthless mutt chickens and to others is untrue because they do not exhibit the beneficial traits of a mixed breed animal.
This is very silly, especially in the case of “blue black splash” Ameraucanas which are all the same color. If you view the color gene as a pair of light switches you have three positions; if both the light switches are “off”, it’s dark and you get a black bird. If one is on, it’s lit up a bit and you get a “blue” bird. If both light switches are on you get a nearly-white “splash” bird. Breeding a black Ameraucana to a splash will give you 100% blue Ameraucanas (one off switch from black, one on switch from splash). A blue Ameraucana to another blue Ameraucana results in 50% blue birds, 25% black and 25% splash. Many registered, show-quality breeding flocks sell “BBS” birds together, as a group. But some people still claim that “splash” Ameraucanas are easter eggers despite being quality purebred birds that can produce showable purebred birds.
Indeed, there are different qualities of animal in any breed. A black New Zealand may be pure bred, but have a few white hairs that would result in being disqualified on a show table. That doesn’t mean it is not a black New Zealand, it means it’s not a SHOW QUALITY black New Zealand. So it seems silly to me to toss any purebred bird that doesn’t meet breed standard in some way into the category of “easter egger”.
Look at all these words I’ve written! We have an incredible language with millions of words to communicate with and I don’t feel like it’s much trouble to ask someone to write or say “non-showable purebred Ameraucana”. Quite frankly, that’s what we should be doing. In my opinion, non-recognized Ameraucanas are just that. They are not easter eggers, not are not a cross breed. They are what they are. And while that’s just a bit of opinion, I think it’s a relevant one. I think it’s important that if you want people to stop labeling mutt birds as purebred, you also need to not label purebred birds as mutts. They have different traits and purposes that should be acknowledged.
And that’s about all I have to say on this subject. Take some time, do your research and do your due diligence as a consumer! Don’t miss-label your birds, and beware of companies and breeders that do! And remember that both purebred and mixed breed birds are worthwhile. Thanks!