Article written by Charlie Peck, a Marsh Daisy Breeder in Surrey, UK
Marsh Daisy Development and Early History:
The Marsh Daisy originated as a strain developed by a Mr Wright from Lancashire in the late 1800’s. The basis for the strain was the very productive White Leghorn which had been imported to this country mainly from America though its origins were in Italy. White Leghorn hens were mated to a Black Hamburg male which produced white rose combed stock. Later infusions of Game and Malay resulted in a strain of hardy and productive poultry. Mr Wright maintained these as a closed flock for thirty years and his stock came in three colours, Partridge, Wheaten and White.
In 1913 Charles Moore bought two of the last of Mr Wright’s hens and mated them to a Pit Game Cock. A male from this mating was mated back to the original hens. Lastly a Sicilian Buttercup was used which introduced green legs. Buffs, Wheatens and Whites were the original colours produced by Mr Moore. Blacks and Browns were produced later.
Others started to breed them; they were first exhibited in 1920 and a Marsh Daisy Club was formed in 1921 at which time there were around 200 known flocks. A breed standard was recognised by the PCGB in 1922.
The original five colours of the Marsh Daisy are still recognised: Black, Brown, Buff, Wheaten and White and it seems likely that the standard has never been updated. It has been suggested that the standardisation had been ‘rather premature’, for the Browns in particular.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s the Marsh Daisy was regarded as very productive, laying sometimes in excess of 200 large eggs p.a. verified by the laying trials of the day.
This was a critical time in the breed’s history. Former RPS President, the late Ralph White, was responsible for finding the remnant stock of Marsh Daisies in Somerset, an area that had many Marsh Daisy flocks before the Second World War. The actual circumstances of how Ralph White obtained the birds are not known but he certainly had them in 1971 and they were immediately recognisable as Marsh Daisies. Contrary to popular belief, not all the stock went to Andrew Sheppy at Cobthorn though some did. The stock was a mixture of Browns, Buffs and ‘more or less’ Wheatens plus a black hen. Whites were not around then and seemingly extinct.
By the unpredictable colour of the offspring, it was pretty clear that the colours had either been substantially interbred in the recent past or had never been properly ’fixed’ originally.
Some of the Buffs of the period were similar in shade to the Buff Plymouth Rock, though they often had bronze tails.
Other known flocks around at the time were with Tom Green at Ingatestone, Essex; some were with ‘the aristocracy’ notably Lady Sarah Graham-Moon in Somerset and Le Compte di Medici in Cambridge. Barry Davis who lived in Cheshire was a regular and successful breeder and exhibitor of the time.
The five colours are still in existence, though a small number of Blacks appear to be confined to one flock. The Whites, once thought to be extinct have occurred in recent years as recessives bred from the other colours. Many of them do not match the breed standard due to the brown shading which occurs, mainly across the shoulder region but also the chest and throat. Buffs, though still low in numbers, appear to be on the increase and are sometimes thrown up by the other colours. These are generally darker and less even in shade than the buff which is expected in other breeds such as the Orpington. However, the Standard does ideally require a ‘golden buff throughout and down to the skin’. The Wheatens are probably numerically the strongest and while some appear to approach the Standard there is a variety in the shade of Wheatens produced. There is also a variation in the colour of the Browns and many occur which appear to be a combination of Wheaten and Brown. They have paler brown colouring and a wheaten breast instead of the salmon breast colour required in a Brown. Some appear to be too dark.
The majority of Marsh Daisy keepers/breeders do not show. This makes the interpretation of the Breed Standard into practical terms quite difficult and help will be sought from knowledgeable breeders and judges to improve the understanding. Through the newly formed Marsh Daisy Breeder’s Group, within the RPS, it is hoped that breeders will be able to understand and breed with the aim of producing birds which conform to the standards.
There are some very experienced breeders who have kept and shown Marsh Daisies for around 20 years but it is thought that the majority are less experienced. It is possible that some of today’s stock could be reliably traced back to the five breeders mentioned who bred stock in the 1970’s.
The required rose comb and leader, white ear lobes and willow green legs make for very attractive and unusual birds which are worth preserving.
References: Rare Poultry Breeds, David Scrivener. Marsh Daisy Poultry, Joseph
Batty. Special thanks to Andew Sheppy for searching his records and providing the information on the not well documented period, the 1970’s. Thanks also to Dave Scrivener.
The Marsh Daisy Breeders group is a part of the Rare Poultry Society.