Twelve Utterly Bizarre Chicken Breeds
A chicken is a chicken is a chicken, right? I mean, they all taste like chicken. Aside from their propensity for crossing roads, no one really thinks much about them, or do they? Below I have listed some of the most fantastical chicken breeds created by enthusiasts.
Sometimes being fortunate enough to be born, or hatched, into the upper classes can mean you're not just better off but fancy. Just like with dog breeds royalty around the world have kept their own favorite chicken breeds which are too high maintenance for most of us to want to bother with. Take, for example, the Onagadori.
This spectacular bird was bred to decorate the Imperialist Garden of Japan. They look more or less like every other chicken except the roosters sport fantastically long tails which take years to grow and can exceed twenty feet in length! Of course, this comes at a cost. Since chickens are not accustomed to such flamboyant plumage, they actually take a lot of extra care to maintain. Only the most pampered of roosters can keep the feathers of their tail from breaking and keep growing their beautiful train. This isn't to mention that they drag on the ground and need to be kept extra clean as well. They are indeed a spectacle to behold, but perhaps that's where they should stay. Onagadori probably aren't going to find too many people willing to primp them for their own vanity.
Polish chickens aren't actually from Poland. They're a very old Dutch breed, mostly bred these days as show birds or to add a little flair to a flock. They come in an assortment of colors and are always having a 1980s sort of hair day. They have an extra piece of bone that creates a dome on the top of their skull that pushes their head feathers outward. This gives the hens a lovely bouffant and the roosters a crazy swoosh of rock and roll hair. They are a lively egg-laying breed that are sadly also kept as "hawk bait" by some to protect more expensive chickens. They make for particularly easy targets for predators because their crest often obscures their vision making them slow to respond to a threat: basically the fainting goat of the chicken world. But that's not to say they aren't also adored by a great number of enthusiasts just for their beauty, their plucky personality, or their delicious eggs!
There's nothing quite like a Satanic-looking chicken with a crazy name to match. La Fleche were originally bred in France for the dual purpose of providing meat and eggs, but that doesn't explain why they're most often jet black birds with what appear to be fleshy little devil horns. La Fleche do poorly in confinement and the French pride themselves in their free-ranging chickens. This means these birds are aloof around people. Far from following their owners to hang around, these interesting little fowl like to secret themselves away on obscure corners of the property. I think they're plotting, but that's just my theory.
Silkie Bantams are a very weird breed indeed. They hail from China, and although they might look like dust bunnies, they're actually chickens that maintain their chick-like down feathers their entire life. Even their little legs are hairy. At the end of each leg, they have not four but five toes.
In the U.S. they're mainly kept as pets because they're tiny and adorable, but they're also great "broodies" (hatching the eggs of other chickens who want nothing to do with motherhood) and lay a fair amount of tiny eggs on their own. In Asia, they're considered a delicacy because they have black skin, meat, and bones. Their blue-black meat has shown to have different nutritional properties than regular chickens; in particular, it has higher carnosine content. However, in the US, they have been crossbred a lot with other breeds, and only some strains retain black skin and bones.
Ever look at a Manx cat and think, "Gee, I wonder what a chicken would look like with that gene?" Here is your chance to find out! Rumpless chickens exist almost wholly within the Araucana breed. When they hatch, they are short of a few vertebrae, in particular the ones that would normally hold up tail feathers, so they end up looking more like a dodo bird than a chicken. And since they are hailed from Araucanas, they lay blue eggs.
Never has there been a more tragically titled chicken than the Scots Dumpy. Are they the drunken hobos of the chicken world? Or is there some other reason their name is so unflattering? Well, Scots Dumpies have been around for hundreds of years. They're achondroplasic chickens, which means that they're dwarfed. Although their bodies are the same as most large fowl, sometimes exceeding seven pounds in weight, they only stand two inches off the ground. Of course, being such an ancient breed, they have lots of names: creepers, crawlies, and stumpies.
Their meat is considered more succulent because with short legs they can't get as much exercise, which makes them more tender for the table and easier to catch! They are a breed going extinct because 25% of the pure Dumpy eggs (those that receive two copies of the dwarfing gene) will die before hatching.
Modern Game Bantams
Legs, legs, legs, that's what Modern Games have the most of. In fact, when paired with a Scots Dumpy, you can almost hear the faint sound of laughter. About 100 years ago these birds were bred for cockfighting, but that wasn't to last as cockfighting became illegal in England, their home country. They continued to be very popular in the US for fighting until Louisiana became the last state in the union to ban cockfighting in 2007. As of 2019, it is also federally illegal in all US territories. By that time these birds had endeared themselves not just to the seedy world of cockfighting but also to show breeders and pet owners. It's at this point they started to be bred to be smaller, less aggressive, and come in every color under the sun. They are said to be especially personable and continue to be a very common show bird.
Seramas are the teacup puppies of the chicken world. They're sweet, lovable, and come in a wild assortment of colors, feather patterns, and feather types. They're one of the few breeds that allows frizzles (curly feathers) and silkied (down feathers) onto the show table. Not allowed on the show table, but still in existence, are also booted varieties with feathered feet. They come in over 2,500 different colors and are so loved in their native Malaysia that Serama-only beauty pageants are a huge deal there. Because they are only the size of a pigeon, these tiny wonders make for great house pets both in Malaysia and abroad. They are the world's smallest breed of chicken and have been flaunting their stuff in the United States since they were first imported in 2001.
Indoor Serama Rooster
For many years breeders of egg-laying breeds have struggled with the issue of having too many roosters. In the old days, roosters would be raised and eaten. Today there are not that many people that like to eat adult roosters, which have the rubbery consistency of shoe leather. Besides, raising roosters comes at a cost. If you intend to raise the roosters for meat you still have to feed them for several months before you can figure out which ones are hens and which ones are roosters.
That's where Cream Legbars came onto the scene. They were created as a blue egg-laying breed that had one very special trait: the ability to sort at hatching. As you can see by the photo, the females have "chipmunk stripes," and the males are a lighter, more solid color. Now extra rooster chicks could be immediately slaughtered or made into pet food and the only ones left would be the future egg layers. This has made them very popular in many homesteads. In the US some strains lay blue eggs while others lay green and sometimes a white one is hatched.
Colorful Egg Breeds
For some people, it's all about beautiful chickens. For others, it's all about beautiful eggs. Normally eggs come in white, brown, and sometimes brown with speckles, but this isn't enough for the owners of Easter Eggers. These Araucana mixes lay blue and sometimes green eggs if they are crossed with a brown egg layer.
And if you'd rather have chocolate-colored eggs, the Marans are probably where it's at. They produce dark brown eggs, and when you cross them to a blue egg layer, you get dark green "olive eggers." If speckled eggs are your thing, some lines of Welsummers can really add character to your egg basket. Pink eggs can be laid by a variety of breeds including Plymouth Rocks (which is the first photo in this article.) There are rumors purple-tinted eggs are also being bred somewhere out there.
So we've seen chickens with devil horns and vaulted skulls, but what about a giant red rubber glove jutting from their head? Buttercups have to be some of the more extreme-looking chickens with their giant, fleshy, double combs. Their combs fuse together and form a cup on the top of their head. Now if only you could teach them to collect rainwater and pour it into a bowl, you might have something really useful there.
The ability to breed naked chickens has been around a long time, but no ones really bothered to do it because who wants a naked chicken?! That is until in 2002 when some mad scientists decided that bald is beautiful. Actually, they theorized that naked chickens would be easier to process and that they would thrive in hot and humid climates where feathered chickens suffered from heat exhaustion. So in Tel Aviv, these chickens came into existence, but they didn't last long.
Apparently without feathers, the chickens cooked themselves alive, getting terrible sun burns. They also overheated quickly, having no feathers to shield them from the sun's rays. And if that wasn't enough, roosters lost all sense of balance when doing the hoochie coochie with their hens. Obviously, this meant very few naturally bred bald babies. The project was abandoned, but featherless chickens still exist in the pet population. Some are created on purpose but most are the result of unfortunate crossings. The lucky ones get sweaters knitted for them.
Bonus: Dong Tao "Dragon Chickens"
Since writing this article, a new bird has shown up on the block, or rather the Westernized internet. Dong Tao chickens are from Vietnam and are a closely held secret there where it is illegal to import them to any other country. These birds seem to derive from fighting breeds but seem to be mostly bred as a delicacy for moneyed individuals. It's their bizarre feet that garner such attention. They are thick, stumpy, covered in scales, and can grow as wide a man's wrist. I'm honestly not sure what to make of them!
© 2012 Theophanes Avery