There are many reasons to keep Cubalayas – bantam or large fowl – as the perfect homesteading chicken. In a world of lace and spots, big an small, what grandpa had and the lastest fad, it can be hard to find something that works best for you.
Cubalayas were originally bred for eggs, meat, and cock fighting. When the Spaniards brought several Asiatic game fowl with them from the Philippine Islands, Cubans incorporated these breeds into their native stock. This created a fierce looking bird with a long sweeping tail and a small pea comb and wattles that made dubbing unnecessary. It is the only chicken breed with official recognition from the Asociación Nacional de Avicultura - the Cuban National Poultry Association - and was recognized as a breed in the US in 1939 (the same year as the Pilgrim goose).
Being a dual purpose breed, they make good fryers and the hens lay a good amount of medium sized cream to pink colored eggs. They will go broody and are dedicated mothers. Throughout the years they haven't been pushed in any one direction too far, so while they are not has meaty as some of the more popular dual purpose breeds, such as Barred Rocks, they are still strong, fast, and agile, reacting to situations more like our Old English Game birds, only without the til-death aggression toward other roosters that OEGs still retain.
These characteristics make them a more valuable breed on the homestead than some of their more sluggish, chunky, exotic, or high-strung counterparts. Roosters can be kept together if raised together or introduced properly, and the additional roosters will act as vigilant sentries, keeping watch for predators that threaten the flock. These natural family groups means fewer losses while free ranging, making them less expensive to raise than a flock that is kept locked up for its own protection.
Here are the top ten reasons why Cubalayas are an amazing, overlooked heritage breed that is at risk of being lost forever, hidden under the glitz and glamor of today's popular breeds and colors.
Since they have have their roots as rugged pit fowl, Cubalayas have strong, healthy immune systems and keep going strong, even through stressful periods. There are many breeds that tend to be more delicate when under pressure, and with today's diseases, keeping birds that are not delicate should be a top priority.
Docile, Friendly Personality
These are bold, confident birds. They form unusually strong bonds with their keepers and even from a young age are more inquisitive than skittish. This makes them a great breed for beginners and for 4H.
We have cold wet winters that wreak havoc on many breeds. The small wattles, tiny pea comb, and loose, heavy feathering will avoid frostbite and insulate against the chill. During the 2017-2018 freeze our Cubalayas were fine without supplemental heat in -20 temperatures.
While they have the characteristics of a cold hardy breed, Cubalayas are from Cuba, and are used to hot, humid weather. They can withstand the swampy, muggy heat as they patrol your yard foraging for pests.
The biggest expense when keeping anything is feed, and Cubalayas are exceptionally good at reducing those costs. They handle confinement well, but shine when allowed to forage. There, their sleek build and sharp eyes help them spot and eat anything small enough to fit through their beak: from nests of baby mice to tiny snakes, beetles, grubs, ticks, and more. Their heavy game influence means that they are hunters in the yard and will spend more time searching for dinner than waiting to be fed from the silver spoon.
Long Time Layers
They have not been pushed for heavy laying, as many other breeds have – including dual purpose breeds. Instead of laying an egg a day and burning out, having to be replaced every 6-12 months, hens will continue to be respectful layers for three or four years. Stop wasting time raising chicks for half a year, only to have to replace them each year with another six month waiting period.
Hens will go broody and are attentive, protective parents. It is not unheard of for a hen to launch herself at a predator to protect her young. Usually they will go broody a couple of times per year. Skip the incubator and raise enough chicks for the freezer, or as replacement layers when a few more are needed.
Their origins being heavy, broad chested, muscular oriental game fowl, Cubalayas – bantam or standard – make solid meat birds. Roosters can be grown out as-is or caponized for tender, flavorful fryers. They have a finer bone than heavy meat breeds, including most dual purpose breeds, so more growth goes into the body rather than the frame.
Feather Crafts and Fly Tying
The long flowing feathers in the tail have less of a curl than standard breeds, giving you more options when using them for crafts, including for things like fly-tying. The hackles are two-tone, and make incredible earrings, hair decorations, and more.
You Are Preserving History
Cubalayas have faded into obscurity amidst the thousands of colors, varieties, patterns, and breeds that are beautiful, exotic, and fascinating. The revival of homesteading and appreciation of heritage breeds has brought many old breeds back from the brink of extinction: Cubalayas need you in order to also shine. By adding them to your flock, you are helping to bring back an amazing breed that is worth its weight in gold for anyone who is wanting a friendly bird that will help them live off of the grid, or simply to have eye candy in the poultry yard.