Nearly 50 years of ruling the roost

Brian Glassey checks one of his barred rock roosters. Photo by Maureen Bishop
Brian Glassey checks one of his barred rock roosters. Photo by Maureen Bishop

Brian Glassey doesn't really know how many birds he has on his property just out of Ashburton, but he estimates the number is about 400.

There are fewer than a couple of weeks ago following the Ashburton Fanciers Society's annual auction - the only one of its kind in the country - but a visitor would never notice any gaps.

A poultry fancier and breeder of nearly 50 years, his interest began as a teenager when one of his chores was to feed the hens at the family property.

A job at a poultry farm taught him the basics of keeping hens and his interest began.

It was 1968 when he exhibited his first bird at a show. The chance of breeding the best bird to beat off the competition still appeals and Mr Glassey will cage his best birds, load his van and head to shows from Blenheim to Dunedin this year, as well as to the national show in Palmerston North at the beginning of June.

New Zealand's strict biosecurity laws make it difficult to import overseas breeds into New Zealand so the gene pool for breeding is quite small.

''New Zealand is almost disease-free and we can't get any new blood in. It can cause some problems if the breeding is too close,'' he said.

''I would hatch 20 or 30 of a breed in a year and then cull out the weaker ones.''

His poultry includes several versions of the original Plymouth Rock breed - Columbian, barred and white rocks - Australorps, Wyandottes, Ancona, white leghorns and silkies. Then there are the bantams - white leghorns, white Wyandottes, Australorps, Anconas and white Pekins.

There are also a few cockatiels, some pigeons and a pair of Chinese geese.

The birds are fed twice a day. The change to standard time has made that a little more difficult as Mr Glassey has to fit it in around his fulltime job at Ashburton Mega Mitre 10. The birds are fed before work and then again at lunchtime.

Mash is the staple food, together with some grain.

''I'm spending about $400 to $500 a month on mash and then there's the grain on top of that.''

All his show birds are housed - some in sheds, others under trees - and that means a regular job of cleaning cages. Bedding is woodchips, sometimes with pea straw added.

Poultry has not been Mr Glassey's only interest. For 40 years he grew cut flowers, mainly chrysanthemums, supplying local retailers. Nowadays, he grows just to enter shows.

With 1.2ha to look after and being almost self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and wood, his problem is a lack of time. He believes poultry-breeding is holding its own and a move back to keeping a few chickens by families is helping.

''People are looking for birds and that helps us. They don't want the old brown shavers but perhaps want a spotty one or a buff-coloured one. Purebred are not as good as layers but people want the different birds.

''It's good, as it teaches kids to look after animals and to take responsibility.''

- by Maureen Bishop