The Erminette is a breed that has an interesting and confusing history to say the least. The first ancestors of the breed were brought to America from The West Indies, in the 1860’s. According the poultry history buffs as well as the world’s leading poultry history guru Craig Russell of Pennsylvania, the Erminette was originally white with random (preferably solid), black feathers.
By the 1950’s-1960’s the breed was considered extinct, but was assumed that the breed was in existence somewhere in the hands of a family that was “under the radar”.
Ron Nelson had one of the largest rare breed flocks in existence in the nation and was always eager to hunt down important flocks. While driving in southern Wisconsin one day, he happened to notice a flock of chickens that looked like the old “extinct” Erminettes roaming the farm along the country road he was traveling on. He stopped, went to the home and was met by an elderly woman. Upon asking about the birds, she shared that they were Erminettes and once belonged to her grandfather, who passed the flock to her father, who in turn passed the flock to her. He took home some eggs to hatch, and so started the restoration of the Erminette.
Ron was a perfectionist, and therefore refused to release these birds to anyone until he had bred them to their historical glory. He did bring in some Black Orpington blood to boost size and reduce inbreeding. He also experimented with creating a Red version of the Erminette by out-crossing to Buff Orpington.
Unfortunately, Ron passed away before sharing these birds with anyone, and his sister sold off his entire flock without getting Ron’s rare collection in the hands of individuals who would maintain them. Many of his rarest breeds were lost entirely!
However, it was later found out that a man who worked for Ron (Josh) had managed to obtain some of these birds from Ron. When he was no longer able to take care of them he contacted Glenn Drowns at Sand Hill Preservation to make sure the birds weren’t lost completely. Glenn obtained both the Black and Red varieties of the Erminette.
Our now deceased friend, Ron Nelson, discovered this old breed some years back while travelling through Wisconsin. He obtained some hatching eggs and spent many years trying to get them back to their original status. Ron passed away a few years ago and his flock was maintained by a friend, Josh Miller, in a nearby town. Josh gave me a call last summer and indicated that because of numerous circumstances he could no longer maintain them. I was very impressed with them when we visited Ron the year before he died, but he just wasn’t comfortable in parting with them at that time. Ron was a perfectionist. After Josh called, Linda and I went on a long day trip and brought back 22 birds. Many of them were from Ron’s pens. We are hopeful to start offering them either late in 2014 or take orders for 2015. The internet is full of incorrect pictures so please use discretion.
There is an erminette color and an Erminette breed. They are basically a white chicken with either black or orange flecks in the body feathers. They are a large breed that lays a pale brown egg, not totally perfected, but historical. They are excellent foragers.
The Erminette project on the ranch represents a classic restoration project; basically attempting to rebuild a breed from a very limited population. It will be a long term improvement program. They are great birds, with loads of potential and well worth saving. However, they will require multiple generations to get color and type fixed.