John Lawlis lives in the rural town of Bredbo NSW. He has kept fowls since he was a young boy and has won an incredible tally of champion awards over the years.
A quietly spoken man, his reputation as a master breeder is well-earned, although he does not believe himself to be anything special. This is his story.
When did your interest in poultry start?
I was brought up in Cooma and used to help our neighbour JT Bentt feed and tend his fowls. He gave me an Australorp hen and 10 chickens in 1949 when I was 11 years of age.
When was your first show?
I started showing at the Cooma Agricultural show in 1950 and won champion junior farmer exhibitor and kept winning junior farmer awards up to 1955.
Where did you obtain your stock?
I got a trio of Australorps from Claude Ubrihien in 1953 and they were the foundation of my Australorps. That cockerel was placed second at the Sydney Royal that year.
Have you always kept fowls since then?
I moved to Bredbo in 1966 and ran a garage business so I didn’t have time to attend shows. However, I kept breeding a few birds to keep my line going.
What breeds have you kept over the years?
I have kept Australorps since 1949 and have had Langshans for many years. I have dabbled in a few other breeds but nothing too serious. Australorps have always been the breed for me.
Did you have any mentors in your early years?
I used to talk to Harry Reese from Cooma all the time. Bill Williams the agriculture teacher at Cooma was also very helpful. Claude Ubrihien was very supportive and I spent a lot of time with Jim O'Malley in Queanbeyan.
I also visited Ian Benson and Ray Connor and sought advice from them. One time I arrived at Ian’s place and he had 22 pullets penned up. I was only fairly young at the time and he asked me to pick out what I thought were the best four birds. I was very pleased that of the four I picked, I only differed from Ian on the 3rd and 4th best.
How do the Australorps of today compare with those of earlier eras?
I think the Australorps were at their strongest in the 1960s. My Australorps are not as good as they were back then.
Ian Benson had the best Australorps that I've seen, although I think the Ubrihien strain had better colour and green sheen, which is necessary to keep the black in them.
The Australorp is a very hard bird to breed and you get a lot of culls compared to a breed such as the Langshan that seems to breed more consistent to type.
What are some of the methods you use to get your birds ready for a show?
Get ‘em quiet! I put them in a show pen and handle them every day to get them used to being pulled out and put back in pens. I use a radio to get them used to outside noise, but really you need to spend a lot of time with your birds for show preparation.
Broodies or incubators, which do you favour?
I used to use an incubator, but now I only use broodies, because I don’t hatch as many chickens these days. I used to use crossbred Wyandottes as broodies, but have found the Australorp bantams are great and I can show them as well.
Feeding your fowls, can you give us some advice?
I use a good quality scratch mix for the adults and like most a good quality starter and grower for the younger chickens. I believe that feed given to fowls should be of good quality, so I don’t give scraps much to the birds.
I let them out to free-range along the creek so they get plenty of lucerne and greens. Other than that, I keep it very simple.
Tell us about some of your show successes?
I won best bird in show in Cooma and Goulburn in 1957 and 1958. In the early 1960s I won best bird in Bega, Queanbeyan, Cooma and Tumut on many occasions.
More recently I have been awarded best Australorp, Langshan and best softfeather in show in both large and bantam classes, at shows including Bega, Queanbeyan, Tumut and the Canberra Royal.
In 1986, Peter Ubrihien stopped by my place and said that my birds should be in a show pen. He took a cockerel and pullet to Bega and I won best in show under Jim O'Malley. Peter told me that those birds weren’t coming home and offspring he bred from them won at the Melbourne Royal in 1988.
With a bit of luck I might win a few more prizes.