The Most Unique Chicken Breeds in the World

From The Tallest Chicken Breed in the World to the Smallest, Distinctions That Separate Some Breeds From All Others

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The Jersey Giant, originally developed as an alternative to turkey, is the heaviest breed. Photo courtesy of Maria Hall, www.mariasjerseygiants.com.

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E
very chicken breed has a unique set of attributes, but a few breeds have the distinction of being the only one of its kind. Without further ado, let’s look at some chicken breeds with distinctive features that set them apart from all others.

The tallest breed is the Malay. Thanks to its long neck and long legs, combined with an upright stance, this chicken may grow as tall as 2-1/2 feet. That’s the same height as your dining table. Imagine enjoying a picnic in your backyard and having this stately chicken casually grab the sandwich off your plate as it wanders by.

The heaviest chicken breed is the Jersey Giant. The Jersey Giant chicken was originally developed as an alternative to turkey. Hens mature to 10 pounds, cocks to 13 pounds. That’s about the same weight as a gallon and a half of milk, a bowling ball, a house cat, or a small turkey.

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The smallest breed is the Serama. This true bantam (meaning it has no large counterpart) comes in three standard weight classes, the largest of which (class C) is less than 19 ounces for both cocks and hens. The smallest class (A) requires cocks to weigh less than 13 ounces, hens less than 12 — that’s about the same size as a pigeon.

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The Serama, a true bantam, is the smallest chicken breed — not much bigger than a pigeon. Photo courtesy of Myranda Pauley, Florida.

The only American chicken breed with a pea comb is the Buckeye. This chicken breed was developed in Ohio, “the Buckeye State,” as a dual-purpose farmstead chicken that adapts better to cold weather compared to single-comb breeds — the combs of which are more subject to frostbite. The breed name originates with the Ohio Buckeye tree, which produces nuts that are similar in appearance to a chestnut and are about the same color as the Buckeye chicken’s mahogany plumage.

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The Buckeye is the only American breed with a pea comb; its color is similar to that of a buckeye nut. Breed photo courtesy of Jeannette Beranger, ALBC. Buckeye nut photo courtesy of Laura Haggarty.

The only hen-feathered chicken breed is the Sebright. Hen feathering means the hackle, saddle, and tail feathers of the cocks, as well as their color markings, are nearly identical to those of a hen of the same variety. Campines have a modified form of hen feathering, insofar as the color pattern of same variety-cocks and hens is identical, but the shape of the Campine cock’s sex feathers lies between the short, rounded feathers of a hen and the long, pointed feathers of typical roosters. By contrast, all the feathers of a Sebright rooster are rounded, like a hen’s.

The only chicken breed in which the cock and hen are identical in conformation is the Cornish. These broad-breasted, muscular chickens are hard feathered, have a wide skull topped by a pea comb, and short, thick legs set wide apart. The main difference between the genders is weight: Cornish cocks weigh 10{1/2} pounds, hens 8 pounds; bantam cocks weigh 44 ounces, hens 36 ounces.

The chicken breed with the fewest feathers is the Naked Neck. This breed, sometimes called a Turken, has half the number of feathers of other breeds of comparable size. The Naked Neck has been crossed with a broiler-type chicken to develop the so-called featherless chicken, which has only a few wisps of feathers on its pink skin, allowing it to waste little energy growing feathers instead of meat. Both the Naked Neck and its featherless hybrid cousin require shade to prevent sunburn, and in the coldest regions, their housing must be heated.

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The Naked Neck has the least feathers of any breed, with about half the number of feathers as fully feathered breeds. Photo courtesy of Dana Ness, DVM, Washington.

The first chicken in the United States was the Dominique. The exact origin of this dual-purpose farmstead breed is unknown. Its name may derive from early chickens brought in from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). The Dominique has a rose comb and comes in one color — irregular barring, or cuckoo. It looks similar to the more regularly barred Plymouth Rock, which was developed from the Dominique and with which the Dominique is often confused, but the two breeds are readily distinguishable by their different comb styles.

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The Dominique was the first chicken breed created in the United States; it is easily distinguishable from the (single comb) barred Rock by its rose comb. Dominique pullet and cockerel photo courtesy of Bryon K. Oliver, Dominique Club of America, www.dominiqueclub.org.

The most commonly kept chicken is the Leghorn. The single comb white Leghorn chicken is also the best layer, which accounts for its worldwide use for egg production. A commercial strain Leghorn averages between 250 and 280 white shell eggs during the first year and some hens lay as many as 300 eggs. In 1979 a strain of superior Leghorns developed at the University of Missouri averaged more than one egg per day per hen. One of the hens laid 371 eggs in 364 days, and another laid an egg a day for 448 days straight. Besides being fantastic layers, Leghorns are early maturing (they start laying at about 20 weeks of age), hardy, and heat tolerant, and they have good fertility and superior feed conversion efficiency.

The breed with the longest tail is the Onagadori. This Japanese breed, the name of which means Honorable Fowl, has tail feathers that are a minimum of 6-1/2 feet long and can grow to more than 33 feet long. Related longtail breeds in North America — Cubalaya, Phoenix, Sumatra, and Yokohama — cannot grow such luxuriant tails because they lack some of the genetic factors controlling the growth of excessively long tails, including full expression of the Onagadori’s nonmolting gene; as a result, these other breeds occasionally shed their tail feathers and have to start over growing new ones.

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The above rooster is of partial Onagadori heritage, bred and raised by David Rogers of Megumi Aviary. According to David, there are no known pure Onagadori in the U.S. It is 62.5% pure. Though it is not pure enough to be considered a true Onagadori, it may be said that it is Onagadori-like; having standard color, carriage, and feather type. At 5 years of age it has tail feathers that are 10-1/2 feet long, and they are still growing. — Ed.

The breed with the longest crow is the Drenica. Selectively bred for the sound and duration of their crow, cocks of the breeds designated as longcrowers must have a crow that lasts at least 15 seconds. Cocks of all-black Drenica breeding, also known as Kosovo Longcrowers, weigh only 4 pounds but consistently crow for up to a full minute. Some people attribute this feat to superior lung capacity, while others argue that the long-lasting crow stems from this breed’s restless and aggressive nature.

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The breed with the longest crow is the Drenica. Photo courtesy of Salih Morina, Kosovo.

The best flier is the Sumatra. More pheasant-like than any other chickens, Sumatras have been seen flying 70 feet to get across a river. That’s a considerably shorter distance than chickens flew at the annual International Chicken Flying Meet (which was discontinued in 1994), where in 1989 a bantam hen set the record by flying more than 542 feet. But the latter had the advantage of starting from atop a 10-foot scaffold and getting nudged in the behind with a toilet plunger. Sumatras, on the other hand, reportedly have flown unassisted, except perhaps by a stiff sea breeze, between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java—a distance of some 19 miles.

The chicken that lays eggs with the darkest shells is the Marans. These hens are good layers that produce eggs with dark chocolate-brown shells, although some individuals lay eggs with speckled shells. Marans hens may brood, but many breeders discourage broodiness because it interferes with production of the unusually dark-shelled eggs, which generally bring a premium price. The Penedesenca hen may also lay a dark-shelled egg, but eggs of Marans chickens tend to be more consistently dark.

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Marans Chicken lays the darkest shells.

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Marans lay eggs with the darkest shell of any breed; shell color varies with genetics, age, diet, and season. On the official Marans egg color chart (above), eggs 1 through 3 are of unacceptable color for the breed. The most typical colors for quality stock are 5 through 7. Egg color scale chart courtesy of The French Marans Club; Blue Marans hen photo courtesy of Kathleen LaDue, Maryland.

The only breed with a pure white face is the Spanish. This breed, known as the white-faced black Spanish or the clown-faced chicken, has long white earlobes and a white face made all the more striking by its bright red comb and wattles against a background of glossy black plumage. The Minorca also has large white earlobes, but lacks the white face, yet looks so much like the white-faced black Spanish that it is sometimes referred to as the red-faced black Spanish.

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The black Spanish is the only breed with an entirely white face. Photo courtesy of Dyanna Byers, California.

Originally published in the June/July 2012 issue of Backyard Poultry.

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Comments
  • The Icelandic chicken landrace has the most genetic diversity of any tested chicken in the world, due to being isolated on Iceland for more that 1,000 years. The have tested at 78% difference between any other chicken.

    Reply
  • What an interesting diversity of chicken breeds! Something for everyone.

    Reply
  • Onagadori doesn’t mean “Honorable Fowl.” The name consists of three kanji:
    O 尾 – meaning “tail”
    naga 長 – meaning “long”
    and tori 鶏 meaning “fowl.”
    When tori is combined with other words, the Japanese language rule of dakuon, or “dulled consonant”, comes into play and the t in tori becomes a d; thus, “Onagadori.”
    This old misnomer of Onagadori meaning honorable fowl has been around for decades and it comes from someone years back not knowing or researching how Onagadori is written. They assumed the o sound was the o sound written as the honorific prefix お.
    The thing about Japanese is, just as with English, there are homophones. The kanji character 尾 for tail and the hiragana character お for an honorific prefix sound the same: like to, too, and two in English; but they have different meanings.
    In addition to that, the kanji 鶏 can also be read as niwatori (garden-fowl; i.e. chicken) and kei. Most Japanese characters have at least two possible readings; kun-yomi (the Japanese reading) and on-yomi (a reading borrowed from Chinese). The old form of Onagadori was 長尾鶏 nagaodori, or pronounced as choubikei.
    All of that aside, I like your article and you have my blessing to use my photo. I only wish you had gotten the breed’s name translation correct.
    Sincerely,

    David Rogers

    Reply
    • P.S. Because Japanese has a different word order than English, Onagadori wouldn’t be read as “tail long fowl.” It simply means long tail fowl.
      David Rogers

      Reply

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