Light Sussex Pullet
I’ve been enjoying the quieter days of winter, spending some time just reading. Dan Barber’s, “The Third Plate,” was one of those books that make you think different about the world. I love those books. I’ve somehow stumbled onto “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance, and while it might be hard to tell, it is much in the same vein. Both books look at the tension between a culture “advancing,” and the preservation of distinct values that create that culture. Both are about decisions, many made in the past, some to be made in the future, and how those decisions will impact that culture. They are both are about tragedy and triumph, heritage and heredity.
Confronting a culture
I’ve now found myself reading through some of the early books on poultry. One such book is “The American Book of Poultry,” by Frank Platt. But don’t be fooled by the title. It could easily have been called, “why the Plymouth Rock is the alpha and omega of chickens, and better than any other chicken in America, no, the world.” (Come on Frank, just level with us.) Needless to say, I grew tired of that one…but I digress. A wonderful book, “The Illustrated Book of Poultry,” by Lewis Wright (1873), is well worth reading. It was written at a time when things weren’t quite settled yet and farmers were actively developing the breeds. Jumping forward about 40 years, we find Sharpe’s “The Book of The Sussex.” These two sources provide an interesting version of poultry “culture.” They also illuminate a fascinating view on the creation of “The Sussex,” and a battle over their past, and their future.
The Sussex- creating a “breed”
To provide some context, let me share a story. I was recently chatting with a breeder that is working with nearly every variety of the Sussex. When I asked which of their varieties they felt was best for the table, I received a typical response. To paraphrase, “they are all good.” This is a response I understand, but it went on. “You must be confusing variety for breed.” It was explained to me that because they are all the same breed, they all have the same qualities. I understood what was being said. However, I thought about another set of new friends who would likely be at least fidgeting in their graves…the original Sussex breeders. Not only did the original Sussex varieties vary in their production abilities, but as we will soon read, the original fowl weren’t even a fixed breed. (more to come…stay tuned for Part 2)