By Christine Heinrichs, California
Nankins have a unique black-tailed red color pattern. Males are ginger red color with orange red hackles and saddle. Their tails and wings are tipped with black. Hens are the same, but lighter red. Nankins may have either single or rose comb. Face and lobes are red, while shanks, feet and toes are slate.
Large fowl breeds have corresponding bantam breeds. Some bantams, however, are unique. Those are considered True Bantams. Nankins are True Bantams.
Nankins are an old breed, historically documented for more than 600 years. Sir John Sebright used them to develop his Sebrights around 1800. They are such excellent broody hens and mothers that breeders kept them for that purpose entirely. They will hatch and raise other hens’ eggs.
They like to stay together in the flock, which may help them defend themselves against predators.
Nankins are known for their friendly and charming disposition. They were neglected as a breed and drifted out of the exhibition arena, but are making a recovery. They were added to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 2012. The American Bantam Association updated their standing from rare to common.
They are popular with young people, who enjoy handling and training such sweet birds. That’s helpful in showmanship classes. They are good interpretive birds, willing to be shown to visitors to historic sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.
SIZE: 22-24 ounces
EGG COLOR: White
COMB: Either rose or single
FEATHERS: Medium hard, with lustrous color
CHARACTERISTICS: Friendly with people; hens are excellent mothers
Old English Game Bantams
The Old English Game bantam is, like its large fowl counterpart, the iconic chicken of nursery rhymes and chicken decor. Their flowing feathers glisten orange, red, green and iridescent black that catches the sun, shimmering with flashes of red, purple, blue and green, “as if the very color lived,” wrote editors Willis Grant Johnson and George Brown in their 1908 Poultry Book.
Old English Game bantams are docile and easily managed. That charm and their beauty, in 37 varied color patterns, make them the most popular bantam. The hens get along well together. They fight only to defend their nest or brood of chicks. That’s worth fighting for.
Black-breasted Red is the traditional color, but solid colors such as white and black and other color patterns such as Golden Duckwing and Red Pyle makes this breed one with a color to please any eye.
Old English Games are required to be dubbed for showing, meaning the comb and wattles of the rooster are surgically removed. This gives them the traditional look of fighting fowl. The original purpose of the practice was to prevent the other rooster from getting a grip and gaining an advantage. Unless intended for exhibition, dubbing is unnecessary.
“An experienced breeder will look for balance, poise, character and confidence in Old English Game,” writes Dr. J. Batty in his book, Understanding Old English Game.
BREED: Old English Game Bantams
SIZE: 22-24 ounces
EGG COLOR: White
COMB: Single, but often dubbed
PLUMAGE: Hard feathers
CHARACTERISTICS: Iconic breed with many color variations for exhibition
Sebrights are tiny chickens with feathers, either golden or pure white, so carefully outlined in black as to look as if an artist had painted them. The Bantam Standard describes the Silver Sebrights’ white with black markings as, “The ultimate from white to black, the most truly brilliant expression of lacing and ground … lustrous black on a pure white base … the finest expression possible to attain, and it has always been so.”
Their short backs and tails held high give them a sporty look. Males and females have the same color feathers, called “henny feathering.” Their purplish-red facial skin sets off their dark brown eyes, under a purplish-red rose comb ending in a nice spike. Earlobes may share the purplish-red of the face or be turquoise.
They are named for Sir John Sebright, who developed them around 1800 in London. He bred various birds together until the unusual birds that bear his name today met his exacting standards. By 1812, Sebrights and their unusual markings were capturing the interest of other English breeders.
They were included in the APA’s first Standard of Perfection in 1874, already a popular breed.
Sebrights are an exhibition breed, laying small eggs and being too small for meat. They are the tenth most popular bantam breed and often seen at shows. They are beloved but can be difficult to breed.
SIZE: 20-22 ounces
EGG COLOR: White
PLUMAGE: High contrast of black lacing on white or golden bay
CHARACTERISTICS: Small, beautiful bantam, good disposition
Silkies cannot be confused with any other chicken breed. Their hair-like feathers are unique. Their heads are fluffy balls, with those feathers mushrooming up into a puffball. There are bearded and non-bearded varieties.
A beard is the cluster of feathers on the throat, under the beak. Muffs are the feathers on the sides. Beard and muffs join together in a fluffy face from eyes to throat. They have feathered crests on their heads and feathers down their five toes.
Their ear lobes are turquoise blue. Less obvious is their black or dark blue skin and, underneath it all, black meat and bones.
They are the fourth most popular bantam breed. Seven colors are recognized by the ABA. Naked Neck Silkies, also called Showgirls, have no feathers on their necks, but a fluffy bib below.
Aside from their unusual appearance, they are known for their endearing disposition. They are generally calm and friendly. They make good pets.
Hens are often broody. Even roosters will care for chicks. Breeders often keep a few Silkie hens to hatch eggs their non-sitters won’t.
Silkie feathers lack the barbicels, or little hooks, which make other feathers connect in a web. Their hair-like feathers require special care. They don’t resist water the way other chicken feathers do. Silkies can get soaked through, get chilled and die. Keep them dry and out of the rain.
SIZE: 32-36 ounces
EGG COLOR: White to light brown
PLUMAGE: Fur-like feathers
CHARACTERISTICS: Popular bantam with a sweet temperament, often broody
Seramas are the tiniest bantams. They are friendly and welcome visitors to their backyard. They may be found in the house, being kept as pets. Their disposition is more like puppies than other chickens.
They strut with their chests out and their tails held high. They hold their heads well back, in line with or behind their feet below them. That pushes the chest out in their characteristic posture.
That tail points upward, with sickle feathers at least an inch longer than the rest of the tail and a couple of inches above the head. The rest of the tail feathers are as tall as the bird’s comb.
Three types of Seramas are raised, but only the American Serama is recognized. Traditional Seramas are much like American Seramas, but breeders select birds for temperament and conformation above color of plumage, skin, eye or ear lobe. Their top weight limit is a few ounces larger than the American Serama. Ayam (Malaysian) types have higher chests and their wings are more forward than American and Traditional.
Serama fanciers raise them in a wide variety of colors, but only White is recognized so far. They were accepted into the APA and ABA Standards in 2011. Breeders continue to work to get additional color varieties recognized. Black and Exchequer varieties are poised for recognition in 2016, followed by Wheaten in 2018.
BREED: American Serama
SIZE: 14-16 ounces
EGG COLOR: Cream
PLUMAGE: Abundant, flowing but not fluffy
CHARACTERISTICS: Tame and sweet disposition in a tiny but dignified bird
LARGE FOWL — AMERICAN BREEDS
The barred variety of Plymouth Rocks, with alternating dark and light lines (bars) on the feathers, was the first recognized in the 1874 original APA Standard of Excellence. Barred Rocks remain the best-known variety of this historic American breed.
Recognize Plymouth Rocks by their shape, size and single combs. Dominiques have rose combs and are smaller. The Rock shape is the most important quality: a broad back, medium length, rising with a slight concave sweep to the tail. Broad shoulders and strong tail feathers well spread, carried moderately upright, “build up the back to the proper ending,” wrote poultry authority Harrison Wier in The Poultry Book published in 1912.
Plymouth Rocks were developed in Massachusetts after the Civil War and named for one of the state’s most famous landmarks.
Plymouth Rocks are useful, active, dual-purpose birds that have attracted many
followers. Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas, considers it “the perfect bird for outdoor production,” along with New Hampshires. As H.P. Schwab, secretary of the American Plymouth Rock Club, wrote in Weir’s 1912 Poultry Book, “They are a business fowl in every sense of the word, one that never deserts its post nor shirks its duty.”
In addition to Barred, Rocks may be White, Buff, Silver Penciled, Partridge, Columbian, or Blue. Bantams are also recognized in Silver Penciled and Black.
BREED: Plymouth Rock
SIZE: 7 1/2 – 9 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: Light to dark brown
PLUMAGE: Broad, well-developed feathers
CHARACTERISTICS: Strong all-around breed. Historic and beloved
Dominiques have black-and-white barred feathers and a small classic rose comb, with an upturned spike at the back. Don’t confuse them with Barred Plymouth Rocks, which have similar feathers but a single comb. Full grown, Dominiques are smaller than Barred Rocks.
Dominiques are considered the first American breed. They were shown at the first American poultry show in Boston in 1849. They had been an American barnyard fixture for a long time even then. Their keepers often call them Dominikers.
Their feathers are barred, silver white and dove-gray, in the color pattern known in other breeds as cuckoo. The colors blur as one watches them, making them look blue. That color pattern provides protective camouflage for them when they forage in the barnyard. Dominiques are good foragers.
The males have longer sickle feathers than females. Their bright yellow legs stand out. Getting the rose comb perfect is a challenge to breeders. It may lack the required spike or the spike may be misshapen. Tail angle in both males and females can be difficult to perfect. Dominique tails should stand at a jaunty 45-degree angle.
Dominiques are a general-purpose barnyard breed. They make good roasters or fryers. They are steady, reliable layers of brown eggs. The hens will settle in and brood eggs and raise the chicks they hatch.
Bantam Dominiques are also popular.
SIZE: 5-7 pounds
EGG COLOR: Brown
COMB: Rose, with upturned spike
PLUMAGE: Long, broad feathers close to body
CHARACTERISTICS: Dual-purpose breed. First American breed
A buckeye is a rich, dark red-colored nut produced by the tree of the same name. Ohio is the Buckeye State. That’s where the Buckeye chicken breed was developed.
Recognize them by their buckeye-colored glossy reddish-brown feathers. Don’t confuse them with a Rhode Island Red. The Buckeye is a deeper mahogany red with some black accents compared to the true red of Rhode Island Reds. Buckeyes are heavier and stockier than the Rhode Island Red. Buckeyes have a pea comb, not the single or rose comb of the Rhode Island Red.
Buckeyes are vigorous, resilient and disease resistant. They exemplify the dual-purpose ideal, growing to a solid size and laying plenty of eggs. They are the most active American breed.
They withstand cold winters well, with their freeze-resistant pea comb. They lay well into the winter.
Buckeyes charm with their engaging personality. They practically trip their keepers with friendly greetings as they cluster around their legs. Relations among birds are congenial, with roosters taking a gentle interest in watching over the flock. Fighting among males is rare. Their social nature is expressed in a variety of vocalizations, from a purr to a roar, particularly among the roosters. Their keepers see the dinosaur heritage in them.
They are good foragers on free range. They like to graze, and will keep the pasture clipped like a lawn.
SIZE: 6 1/2 – 9 pounds
EGG COLOR: Brown
PLUMAGE: Smooth but fluffy. Glowing color
CHARACTERISTICS: Active, friendly dual-purpose breed. Shows well.
Rhode Island Red
This red, red, red chicken is an American icon. Rhode Island Red aficionados find it difficult to express the subtle beauty of the Rhode Island Red’s feathers. “Rich, brilliant red, so brilliant in luster as to have a glossed appearance,” wrote Willis Grant Johnson in 1912. The current Standard calls for “lustrous, rich, dark red.” These refinements are the kind of subtlety that only experience and working with poultry masters can confer.
RIRs have a horizontal oblong body shape. Most have single combs but a rose comb variety exists.
RIRs were developed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the mid-19th century as a dual-purpose farm and commercial breed. John Crowther, an early 20th century breeder, called them “the best all-purpose fowl of a practical and progressive people.” They are slightly smaller and brighter red than the Buckeye.
Rhode Island Reds remain one of the most popular breeds for small and for commercial laying flocks. Slow Food USA includes the RIR in its Ark of Taste. RIRs are the official bird of the state of Rhode Island.
RIRs are the source of commercial brown eggs. The industrial production strains are different from the old-fashioned ones. The industrial ones are smaller and lighter. They will not meet the Standard of Perfection required by poultry judges.
Exhibition birds that meet the APA Standard lay fewer eggs than commercial production varieties.
BREED: Rhode Island Red
SIZE: 6 1/2 – 8 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: Brown
COMB: Single and Rose
PLUMAGE: Broad, with lustrous color
CHARACTERISTICS: The Red Hen of the barnyard. One of the most popular breeds, both large fowl and bantam.
As their name suggests, Jersey Giants are big. At 13 pounds and two feet tall, Jersey Giant roosters live up to their name. Hens, at 10 pounds and a foot and a half tall, are bigger than roosters of most other breeds.
Most Jersey Giants are black, the original color developed by the brothers Black, John and Thomas, of New Jersey back in the 1890s. The Black brothers’ idea was to create a chicken big enough to replace the turkey at holiday feasts.
To create the Giants, the Black brothers crossed Javas with Dark Brahmas and Black Langshans and selected the biggest birds for the next round of breeding. Big, muscular Cornish was probably added along the way. The Blacks weren’t interested in color. They wanted size. By 1895, their flock had the largest birds. They were mostly black, so they were known as Black’s Giants. Later, in 1917, another breeder suggested honoring the state where they were developed by calling them Jersey Giants. The breed was accepted in to the Standard in 1922.
Because they need more time to grow to achieve their larger size, their meat requires longer roasting. Too tough for fryers or broilers.
Despite their large size, they are also good layers of large and extra-large eggs.
Giants have yellow skin. They are now recognized in white and blue as well as the traditional black.
BREED: Jersey Giant
SIZE: 10-13 pounds
EGG COLOR: Brown
PLUMAGE: Lustrous black plumage with a greenish shimmer
CHARACTERISTICS: Big, meaty birds, calm and docile
Delawares have a single distinctive color pattern: white feathers with a sprinkling of barred feathers in the hackle, wings and tail.
The Delaware is a 20th-century creation, developed for the growing commercial broiler market in the 1940s. Breeders developed it from sports, unusually colored individuals, of the Barred Rock roosters they were crossing with New Hampshire hens.
It’s so pretty, it was recognized by the APA for exhibition in 1952. Back then, production was as significant as beauty.
Timing is everything, though, and the Delaware’s usefulness was soon eclipsed by the industrial focus on the bottom line. The Cornish Rock cross replaced it in commercial flocks. Its composite background as a crossbred bird undermined its popularity in the show ring, and poultry keepers stopped raising it. It all but disappeared. The Delaware, after all that careful breeding and selection, was relegated to a historical footnote.
Dedicated breeders are re-creating this vigorous, fast-maturing breed.
Their fine meat, both flavor and size, are recommended for small poultry production flocks. It’s also a respectable layer. Delawares are good broody hens and good mothers.
Males are protective and good flock leaders. Although they are brave and free range happily on pasture, they don’t fly over the fence and leave home. The chicks are tiny fat balls of fluff with a funny, serious look.
SIZE: 6 1/2 – 8 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: Pale brown
PLUMAGE: Distinctive white with black accents in hackle and tail
CHARACTERISTICS: Modern American dual purpose creation
Cochins are big, round puffy chickens, masses of soft feathers creating a rounded silhouette. Their fluffy feathers make them look even larger than they are. Those soft feathers beg to be touched. Combined with their calm and friendly disposition, they make excellent backyard birds. The hens are often good broody hens and mothers.
Cochins were developed in the U.S. from birds imported from Shanghai in the 19th century.
Cochins are a dual-purpose breed, big for meat and good egg layers. Cochins are one of three breeds in the Asiatic class. The others are Brahmas and Langshans.
Mostly they are shown as exhibition birds. See them at poultry shows. The American Poultry Association recognizes Buff, Partridge, White, Black, Silver-laced, Golden-laced, Blue, Brown and Barred varieties of the Cochin. Many unrecognized colors are also raised, including Red, Silver Laced, Mottled and Splash. Seventeen color varieties of bantam Cochins are recognized by the American Bantam Association, including Black Tailed Red, Birchen, Golden Laced, Columbian and Lemon Blue. They are second only to the English Game bantam in popularity.
Their soft feathers require extra care to stay clean. Keep them out of the mud.
Some see Cochins as clownish. Because their feathers completely cover their feet and legs, they look like they are doddering around. The chickens take themselves perfectly seriously, though, and continue as dignified ambassadors of another time and place.
SIZE: 8 1/2 – 11 lbs.
EGG COLOR: Brown
PLUMAGE: Abundant and soft
CHARACTERISTICS: Large, fluffy birds, much admired for their feathers.
Cornish are blocky and muscle-bound, rocking from side to side as they walk. The Cornish is a bulldog among chickens, a roast chicken on legs.
Don’t confuse them with the industrial Cornish/Rock hybrid cross. Traditional Cornish are a beautiful breed with a long English history. The breed takes its name from Cornwall in England, the Cornish coast. Originally, they were Indian Games, descended from Asils and Malays brought to Falmouth and other Cornish ports from India, and the local English Games. In America, they became known as Cornish, perhaps to avert the suggestion of cock fighting associated with Indian Games.
Keeping those short, burly chickens vigorous can be a challenge. They are inclined to gain weight — the meat producer’s goal, but not any healthier for chickens than for people. Fat interferes with fertility and egg production. A fat hen lays fewer eggs. Cornish need exercise as well as nutritious but not high calorie food to stay at their best. They do well on pasture, where they can stay active eating plenty of grass to keep their legs and feet bright yellow.
Pure White, Buff and White-laced Red varieties are recognized. Bantams are one of the ABA’s 10 most popular breeds, shown in a dozen recognized colors. Cornish are one of the largest bantam chickens, at nearly three pounds for roosters and over two pounds for hens. Even the little ones are big.
SIZE: 8-10 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: Brown
PLUMAGE: Short, hard feathers, vibrant colors glistening with sheen
CHARACTERISTICS: Big, stocky meat birds
Dorkings are the classic breed, historically the Five-Toed Fowl of England, the white-skinned meat bird of the English-speaking world. They take their name from the English market town of Dorking in Surrey, which now has a museum in their honor.
They are good dual-purpose chickens, with big, hefty bodies and good egg production. Their short legs slow them down in the snow, but otherwise they tolerate cold weather well.
Dorkings are depicted in Roman mosaics. They may have arrived in England with the Roman soldiers who invaded 2,000 years ago.
Other historians set the date of their arrival in England later, to 1066 with the Norman Conquest. A breed with such a long history exerts a powerful attraction.
Many color varieties have been developed over the centuries. Red has the longest history. Cuckoo, black and white barred feathers, is another old variety. Colored, Silver-Gray and White have been recognized since the first Standard in 1874. Dark Birchen Gray, Brown Red, Light Gray, Spangled, Clay, Dark Red and Black are also raised.
This is a global chicken breed. Dorking fanciers have breed clubs in Australia and New Zealand as well as Europe and North America.
This star quality breed is on display at historic sites such as Virginia’s Frontier Culture Museum and Massachusetts’ Plymouth Plantation. Both sites allow birds to range, which suits Dorkings well.
SIZE: 7-9 pounds
EGG COLOR: lightly tinted
COMB: Both single and rose comb varieties are recognized
PLUMAGE: Medium length and hardness
CHARACTERISTICS: Five toes, white skin.
Buff Orpingtons are so popular that some may not know that Orpingtons can also be black, white and blue. They all share the full-feathered body with a U-shaped back. The single comb stands up with five spikes. Orpingtons are the image of a storybook chicken.
The breed was developed late in the 19th century. Orpingtons quickly became popular for their production of both meat and eggs. Orpingtons have long been a favorite of the English Royal Family. Queen Victoria herself kept a flock of Orpingtons. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, kept Orpingtons, the Buff variety reputed to be her favorites. Prince Charles remains a champion of Orpingtons.
Their feathers are their glory, broad and smooth, but without the fluffiness of Cochins.
Orpingtons are a general-purpose breed. They are big meat birds that lay well. Estimates of laying vary, from 50 to 120 eggs a year. Orpingtons are active and good foragers but calm and friendly in disposition, making them popular as companions. The hens also are good broodies and attentive mothers.
Orpingtons come in many other colors that are not yet recognized, such as chocolate. Buyer beware. Reports have varied. Deal with reputable breeders. They can also advise you as to the laying history of their strains.
In England, many other colors are raised, including gold laced, cuckoo, lemon cuckoo, lavender, porcelain and splash.
SIZE: 8-10 lbs.
EGG COLOR: Light to dark brown
COMB: Single, five points
PLUMAGE: Broad and smooth fitting but not fluffy
CHARACTERISTICS: Big, strong, beautiful chicken with a good disposition
Leghorns are the traditional egg-laying breed. They are an Italian breed, in the Mediterranean class. They are non-sitters, which means they will not be broody. They continue to lay eggs while their broody sisters raise the next generation.
Leghorns are so popular that the APA recognizes sixteen different varieties, nine colors and both rose and single combs. Fanciers raise others, such as Exchequer, a black and white Scottish variety. Leghorn bantams are among the top ten most popular bantams shown.
Standard Leghorns are a bit high-strung and can be flighty around humans, although some settle down with attention. Harrison Weir in his 1910 Our Poultry describes them as having “charming bright alertness and elegance of form.” Their tails twitch back and forth, expressing their changing moods and interests.
In America, the Leghorn became “America’s Business Hen” in the 1880s, setting it on the path to industrialization. Today, Leghorns have the most efficient feed-to-egg conversion ratio of all the Standard breeds. They produce more eggs in relation to the amount of feed they consume than any other breed.
Egg size in some varieties has declined. Breeders are working with flocks to bring all Leghorn eggs up to large size eggs.
Summer heat doesn’t bother them, although they need shade to escape direct sun. They lay regardless of triple digit temperatures. Eggs are fertile all year.
SIZE: 4 1/2 – 6 pounds
EGG COLOR: White
COMB: Single or rose
PLUMAGE: Broad, long feathers fit close to the body
CHARACTERISTICS: Champion egg breed. Thrives in warm climates.
White Faced Black Spanish
White Faced Black Spanish are big black chickens with white faces topped off by bright red comb and wattles.
They are the oldest breed of the Mediterranean class, the ancestor of white egg chickens. Records show their white faces in the 16th century. They were popular early in American colonial history.
There are somewhat leggier than the other Mediterranean breeds, and their necks stretch up a bit longer, too.
The ABA recognizes a Blue variety as well as Black.
That white skin should be smooth, but some folding is inevitable. Size is more desired than smoothness. The APA requires that the distinctive white face be “attractive, but not of grotesque proportions.”
That long white face has been over-emphasized by breeders in the past. Victorian fanciers gently massaged the faces of their show birds to get the largest and smoothest face, with the texture of white kid leather. In 1912, exhibitors aimed to show Spanish roosters with faces nine inches long by five or six inches wide. Fanciers may no longer massage their birds, but they will pluck out any errant feathers that appear on that white face and may dust it with baby powder before judging.
Cold weather can mar the perfection of their white faces, a reflection of their warm Mediterranean background. Such magnificent birds deserve nothing less than perfection.
BREED: White Faced Black Spanish
SIZE: 6 1/2 – 8 pounds
EGG COLOR: Chalk white
PLUMAGE: Moderately broad and long, fitting close to the body
CHARACTERISTICS: White face, longer than the bright red wattles
Sicilian Buttercup have a cup-shaped comb, like a little crown. They are a Mediterranean non-sitting egg breed.
Their name connects them to Sicily, but their forebears probably came from North Africa. They are similar in color to Egyptian Fayoumis, which sometimes have a double comb similar to the Buttercup crown.
Trade was common among Mediterranean nations over the centuries and chickens traveled with the traders. The egg breeds were valued livestock.
Their coloring is exotic. They have willow green legs. Males are different from females. The ideal Buttercup rooster has a brilliant red comb complemented by a light horn beak. His head is covered in lustrous reddish orange feathers from the head that extend down to his cape. His tail is black, glistening with green highlights in the sun. The hen is golden buff spotted with black. Their regal coloring adds to their royal look.
The comb must stand straight, not flop over, and not have a third row of points.
They are a flighty breed in disposition. They prefer to keep their distance from their keepers. They may literally fly, and prefer to roost high. Free ranging Buttercups may roost in trees.
If they are handled daily from the time they hatch, they can be tame around people. When they are trained with treats such as sunflower seeds, they will come forward to greet visitors.
BREED: Sicilian Buttercup
SIZE: 5-6 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: White to tinted
COMB: Cup-shaped crown
PLUMAGE: Moderately long and broad, fitting close to the body
CHARACTERISTICS: Unusual crown comb. Melodious voice.
Polish chickens are the ones with a top hat, a feathery crest on top of their heads. It’s not only feathers. They actually have a bony knob on their skull.
The crest is the distinguishing feature. It’s full and round. Feathers on the crest may be the same color as the rest of the bird, such as Golden, Silver, White, and Buff Laced, or may contrast with the rest of the bird, such as White Crested Black and White Crested Blue.
Polish chickens were popular through the centuries as good layers. Four varieties were included in the first Standard in 1874, with four more following in 1883. The others are more recent additions.
They aren’t necessarily from Poland, although they were certainly popular in Eastern Europe. They may have taken their name originally from the city of Padua, Italy. Or it could come from that feathery knob, the round poll, as in polled cattle, or the poll of pollarded trees.
Polish chickens also may or may not have beards and muffs. Bearded Polish have a beard and muffs that form a collar of three ovals on the face.
Frizzled Polish go up a notch in feathering. The frizzle gene can be bred into any breed, making the feathers curve and curl. Frizzles are shown as a separate class but are judged according to their breed standards.
SIZE: 4 1/2 – 6 pounds
EGG COLOR: White
COMB: Small V-shaped
PLUMAGE: Broad and abundant
CHARACTERISTICS: That crest of feathers on the head.
Faverolles have feathered legs but the feet are only half covered. They have five toes, inherited from their Dorking forebears. Their faces are feathery with beards and muffs.
Faverolles are a French breed developed in the late 19th century from local Houdans, Asiatic breeds, and Dorkings. They are a French response to the big Asiatic breeds that were such a sensation then. Taking their name from a French town, Faverolles includes the final “s” in both singular and plural.
They are known for laying eggs through cold weather, but their large bodies make a good meat breed.
Faverolles are the only APA-recognized breed with the Salmon color variety, a silver wheaten pattern, which is very different on cocks and hens. The rooster is a patchwork of contrast, from the black muffs and beard on his light yellow head and neck to his straw yellow sickles over a black tail, but the hens are a warm salmon brown with white fluffy faces. The APA also recognizes White Faverolles in large fowl and bantams, but the ABA recognizes Black, Blue and Buff as well.
The color is tricky to get exactly right for poultry competition, but all Faverolles are solid utility birds. Hens may show lacing on their salmon feathers. Their showy colors attract attention, but their homely virtues and plentiful eggs make them valued backyard birds.
SIZE: 6 1/2 – 8 pounds
EGG COLOR: Light brown
PLUMAGE: Fluffy but not as soft as a Cochin
CHARACTERISTICS: Five toes. Good winter layers.
ALL OTHER STANDARD BREEDS
Ameraucana chickens lay blue eggs. The blue egg trait is dominant to white and brown.
The breed was developed from the Araucana, a South American breed, after the Araucana breed was recognized in 1976.
Ameraucanas have muffs and beards, but not the ear tufts of Araucanas. They have tails, which the Araucana does not. Araucanas actually have two fewer vertebrae and no uropygial gland. They are different from each other, although they developed from shared heritage.
Ameraucanas are good layers, known for laying well into the winter. Ameraucanas are larger than the small Araucana.
Araucanas brought to the United States in the 1930s had varied traits, including muffs, beards, ear tufts and might or might not have tails. The APA adopted a definition for Araucanas that specified ear tufts and no tail. Breeders organized to breed the other traits into a separate breed, initially called American Araucanas. That became Ameraucana, and the breed was recognized in 1984.
Both breeds are considered egg breeds. Both are recognized in several color varieties and raised in other, unrecognized, colors. Bantams of both breeds are also recognized and shown.
Ameraucanas are attractive and hardy, and those blue eggs are distinctive. They are a popular addition to backyard flocks. Because they are a recognized breed, they can be shown at poultry shows. The small comb and fluffy face give them a chubby look.
SIZE: 5 1/2 – 6 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: Blue
PLUMAGE: Abundantly feathered with well-spread tails and curved sickle feathers.
CHARACTERISTICS: Muffs and beards, tails
Naked Necks look as if they were crossed with turkeys! Their long, skinny necks stick up, topped with a big red comb and bright red wattles hanging down.
They are sometimes called Turkens, but they aren’t related to turkeys and don’t have geographic relation to the country of Turkey. They probably originated in Hungary or Eastern Europe and were championed by German breeders, who developed them into a breed.
As unusual as they look, nakedness isn’t a new trait. The naked neck gene occurs in chicken flocks around the world. It also causes them to have half the feathers of other chickens.
Naked Neck chickens are strong and hardy. Fewer feathers means it’s easier for them to stay cool, but they also tolerate cold weather well. They rarely get sick, apparently immune to most diseases. They lay well and make good meat birds. Having fewer feathers to pluck is certainly an advantage there.
Naked Necks can be any color, but only four are recognized for shows: Red, White, Black and Buff. The ABA also recognizes Blue and Cuckoo.
The naked gene is dominant, so it can be bred into other breeds. One popular cross is the Naked Neck-Silkie, which results in a cross called “Showgirls.” The bare neck topped with the Silkies’ topknot of hair-like feathers gives the impression of a dancer dressed in a fancy costume.
BREED: Naked Neck
SIZE: 6 1/2 – 8 1/2 pounds
EGG COLOR: Light brown
PLUMAGE: Smooth but sparse
CHARACTERISTICS: Bare red-skinned neck
Sumatra chickens are a landrace originally from the island of Sumatra in western Indonesia. A landrace is a locally adapted breed that has developed over time by adapting to its environment.
They are a long-tailed breed. The males have long flowing feathers that may drape onto the ground.
They are known for their gleaming black feathers, with an iridescent green “beetle” sheen. They are also shown in white and blue varieties.
They are hardy and good foragers. They need a high protein diet when they are growing those long feathers. The hens will be broody and are good mothers.
Although they come from a very aggressive background known for great fighting spirit, Sumatras are now tame although active birds. They are small and fly well, using their powerful wings to take off vertically. Plan on large pens for Sumatras.
The first trio was brought to the U.S. in 1847, shipped directly to Boston from Angers Points on the island to Boston. There, they were bred with local American gamefowl.
They have small pea combs and brown eyes set in mulberry or plum-colored skin on their faces, called gypsy coloration. Their multiple spurs, a defect in other breeds, are desirable on Sumatras.
They lay well. Their light eggs make them an exception to the rule of thumb that birds with dark earlobes lay brown eggs.
SIZE: 4-5 pounds
EGG COLOR: White or lightly tinted
COMB: Small pea
PLUMAGE: Long, flowing feathers
CHARACTERISTICS: Graceful, regal carriage
Easter Eggers lay pastel colored eggs. That blue egg gene is dominant, so it can be bred into chickens of any breed in a single generation. Voila! Colorful eggs.
The drawback is that they are mongrel chickens that do not meet any exhibition standard.
The shell is actually blue. Brown eggs have an outer layer of color over white shells, the final step before the egg is laid. When that brown, which can range from light to dark, is layered over blue, it looks khaki to light green.
Some South American chickens have a gene for laying pink eggs, so Easter Eggers may lay pink eggs, too. Thus, the name.
Easter Eggers rarely are broody, since they are developed as non-sitting egg layers. That’s okay, since they won’t reproduce their traits reliably anyway. That’s the definition of a breed, chickens that resemble each other enough to be readily recognized by traits that can be described. Breeds breed true — their offspring resemble their parents in predictable ways. A breed has unique appearance, productivity and behavior.
Easter Eggers are a mix of breeds. So they may have any kind of plumage, may or may not have muffs and beards, and be any color. They may be beautiful and be good egg producers.
There is no Standard definition of Easter Egger. Keep these birds purely for fun and eggs.
BREED: Easter Egger
EGG COLOR: Pastel blue, green and pink
CHARACTERISTICS: Those pastel eggs are irresistible.
Sex-Links are chickens that hatch with distinctively different feather colors on males and females. Knowing which is which reduces the chance of acquiring an unwanted rooster. They are the result of crossing different colored parents of standard breeds. The resulting chicks tend to be hardier and more vigorous than either parent.
Red roosters, such as New Hampshires and Rhode Island Reds, father both red and black sex-links, depending on the mother’s color. For black sex-links, a red father on a Barred Rock mother produces black chicks, but males have a white dot on their heads. Females grow up black with a few red feathers, males grow up looking like Barred Rocks, with a few stray red feathers. They are sometimes called Rock Reds.
Red sex-links result from a red father and a white or mostly white mother, such as White Rock, Sliver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island White or Delaware. Female chicks are buff or red and male chicks are white.
Popular sex link hybrids include Golden Comets (New Hampshire on White Rock) and Cinnamon Queen (New Hampshire on Silver Laced Wyandotte).
Sex Links are not recognized breeds, so they won’t win any prizes at poultry shows. They are commercial chickens, bred to lay eggs.
They lay a lot of eggs for a few years, and then are spent, which means they have laid all the eggs they have.
BREED: Sex Links
SIZE: 6-7 pounds
EGG COLOR: White or brown
COMB: Usually single
CHARACTERISTICS: Lays lots of eggs
What is your favorite chicken breed?