Breeder in focus: Ryan McLaren

Ducks 12-11-20 SM Farm

This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Ryan McLaren from County Tyrone, who has been involved in keeping, breeding and exhibiting a great range of domestic waterfowl and poultry over a number of years.

Ryan has kept great quality birds and achieved wonderful show success with them and he is always good fun to chat to when we meet up at poultry events across the country.

I would like to thank Ryan for his dedication to our old fowl breeds, hatching a good number each year and working hard to improve the breeds that he keeps, and for his great work at the Omagh Agricultural Show, which now boasts a first rate poultry event.

How long have you been keeping poultry?

I’ve been breeding pure bred chickens for the last 15 or 16 years. Before that I had hybrid hens for laying, these I had since I was old enough to walk!

What got you into poultry?

Now this is a tricky question. Since I’ve been keeping poultry from such a young age I guess it was always there.

Did you start to show right away?

No. My first show was the NI Waterfowl Show in 2012, where I was fortunate enough to get Best Junior Exhibit in a strong section with a white call. Only doing a few summer shows until the winter of 2015, it was during this show season that I got my first Show Champion, and inevitably caught the showing bug.

How many breeds have you kept over the years?

The easiest way for me to answer this is to ask how many breeds is there? I’ve kept quite a variety over the years, everything from true bantams to geese and quite literally everything in between. I think it’s important to keep a breed if you are wanting to learn about it, You often gain a new understanding when you’ve had a breed for a while.

Recently I have taken the decision to reduce the number of breeds I keep in order to focus more on the breeds I’ve retained, something which I think is paying off this year, especially when I’ve looked through the youngsters that have been hatched here.

What is your favourite breed and why?

Brahmas. They are the most elegant breed out there. For me there is few better sights than to see a batch of promising brahma growers out on grass in the summer. The breed is very fortunate to have such a good breed club, they are a very welcoming and knowledgeable bunch who go out of their way to promote the breed and help fellow keepers out. ‘The Brahma Club of Great Britain’ is really worth joining if you keep or are interested in the breed.

The Brahmas are closely followed here by the Cochins, Sussexs and Indian Runner ducks.

What are the greatest challenges with this breed?

As with all breeds of poultry and waterfowl, the challenge is in the breeding. The reduction of faults in our lines is what all poultry exhibitors and breeders should strive for. I was fortunate enough to get a great start in the breed and do my best to maintain the standard or improve on it each year.

What is your greatest achievement?

We’ve been fortunate enough to have had our fair share of championships over the years but the win that stands out in my mind was Best Rare and Best Opposite Sex to the Champion at the Federation Show in Stafford in 2019 with one of that year’s bred Thuringian cockerels. We’ve won the Irish National three years in a row now with a Cochin, an Orpington and most recently a Brahma, and have had plenty of success at the Ballymena Club shows over the years, with Champion at the Open Show coming a couple of years ago with an Orpington pullet.

Of course, winning the first show ran by the newly formed Armagh Poultry Club was a good win last season with a Sussex Bantam cockerel.

If you were starting out in poultry is there any advice that you could give someone?

Buy in the correct birds to start with. It is impossible to breed a winner out of mediocre parents. When you have the quality birds to start breed plenty from them, as many as you can comfortably keep.

Remember when turning up to someone’s yard looking for birds you are not only asking them for birds, but also for their years of hard work that they have put in to get the birds to this stage.

Only select your best to keep. Those you believe will strive in the show pen or enhance the prospects of your breeding pen are the only ones worth keeping on. It is worth noting that often a show bird and a breeding bird are very different things.

Your show birds win you shows whilst your breeding birds produce the birds that win the shows, so they are, more often than not, of much more importance than the show birds themselves.

Remember, when showing a bird the breeding is only half of the battle. Pen training and preparation is essential. Most of all listen to those who have been showing before you, as I have done and will continue to do.

Giving how strange this year has been, what has 2020 been like for you in terms of your poultry hobby?

It’s certainly been different. It was a very different summer and will no doubt be a long winter without shows as well. I think I had decided as early as April that we wouldn’t be having shows this year so it’s definitely meant that I’ve got less birds around than I would normally have.

For me the hobby has gone back to basics with no shows to prepare and condition the birds for. I’m happier with what’s been hatched this year than I have ever been, which is typical with there being no shows to go to.

It won’t be long until the focus turns to 2021. I don’t think Covid will disappear as the clocks strike but we might be fortunate and even be in a position to consider returning to a ‘new normal’ at the very least.

Finally, is there anyone in the poultry world that you admire ?

It’s a great hobby, and largely it consists of a great bunch of people. I always admire the people in the hobby that are in it for the right reasons, such as yourself Guy, who is always available to help and encourage fellow keepers. Loads of people within the hobby have helped me over the years, far too many to mention individually, however there are few opinions that I value more than that of Richard Bett, Dean and Stuart Kay, John Wightman, Desy Horner, Andrew Beirne, Mervyn Mooney and Joe and Neal Adams, all of whom I would say are top poultry men.

They are great people to know and all are very knowledgeable people to have a chat with.

Finally, I hope everyone has had a good breeding season and look forward to seeing everyone at the shows in the future, whenever that may be!

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