Andalusian chickens, Black Spanish chickens, and Minorca chickens all have a long and gloried history as the poultry royalty of Spain. Over the centuries, the people of Spain have developed truly extraordinary chickens that never fail to catch the eye at poultry shows. Flamboyant and showy, they have the appearance of poultry royalty as they look at you majestically from their cages. Because they are primarily white egg layers, backyard popularity has been elusive in American markets which are dominated by brown egg lovers and lovers of heritage chicken breeds. Nevertheless, they each have dedicated followers that continue to propagate beautiful specimens and ensure that the breeds survive. Several of these birds stand out among the crowd and could be good choices for the small farm holder interested in walking.
Black Spanish Chickens
First, the Black Spanish chicken is truly the aristocrat of the poultry world. The chicks can be rather flighty, as all Mediterranean breeds can, but the adults hold themselves as benefits a Spanish Don: Head up, one foot forward, calm. No other breed of chicken so embodies the word “aristocrat” in its posture, as does the Spanish chicken. The breed is of ancient and unknown lineage.
Spanish chickens have been widely known and recognized for their ability to lay a very large number of very large, white eggs — gaining recognition for this even before 1816 in England. The breed came to America from Holland, and from 1825 to about 1895 was one of the best-known breeds of poultry. They were exhibited at the first poultry shows in both America and England.
The downfall of the Spanish chicken came because of a combination of two attributes: the breed’s delicacy and its white face. As breeders paid more attention to increasing the size of the white faces in the Spanish chickens, a great loss of hardiness was observed. This combined with the delicate nature of the chicks soon led to a loss of popularity as hardier breeds began to arrive.
The great, white faces of Spanish chickens have a soft and smooth texture to them. Early writers compared this texture to that of “kid-gloves”. But cold weather has a tendency to damage their faces, causing them to roughen and develop red sections. Early writers also recommended that Spanish chickens be fed from receptacles raised 12 to 15 inches off of the ground, to allow the bird to see the grains and to prevent damage to the faces. Another interesting point is that the faces of Spanish chickens continue to grow until the birds are 2 to 3 years old. So, although young Spanish chickens of 7 to10 months of age may give promise as to what they may look like at full maturity, their faces will continue to grow and improve. In growing chicks, the one with bluish faces will often be found to grow into the best adults. Care in feeding should also be exercised as over-feeding can cause scabs to form on the faces of Spanish chickens. Likewise, too much protein will cause the birds to peck each other.
Spanish chickens were admitted to the American Poultry Association standard and recognized under the name of “White Faced Black Spanish” in 1874. They are a non-sitting fowl with: dark brown eyes; dark slate shanks and toes; white earlobes and faces; and lay chalk white eggs. Males weigh 8 pounds and females weigh 6.5 pounds.
An ancient and rugged breed of fowl, the history of Andalusian chickens history is not known; though it is likely rooted in the Castilian chicken breed.
In type, it resembles the Spanish chicken, but a pound lighter in weight. Like the other breeds of Mediterranean origin, it has white ear lobes and lays a large number of white eggs.
Andalusian chickens stand high in productivity, making it an excellent choice if you are raising chickens for eggs. It is one of the best layers of eggs, an excellent winter egg producer, has white flesh with plenty of breast meat — though the carcass is not very plump, it is an active forager, rugged and hardy. The chicks feather and mature quickly; cockerels will often begin crowing at seven weeks of age. The body type, more coarse than a Leghorn, is easy to produce and maintain. The chief distinction on the Andalusian chicken breed is the blue color of its plumage.
Each feather should be a clear bluish slate, distinctly laced with a dark blue or black. Blue colored fowls are produced as a result of crossing black fowls with white fowls. When two Blue Andalusian chickens are mated together 25 percent of the chicks will come black in plumage, 50 percent blue, and the remaining 25 percent white or splash (white with blue or black splashes).
The best colored Blue Andalusian pullets are produced by mating a dark blue male to a properly colored hen. The best colored Blue Andalusian cockerels are produced by using slightly dark parents of both sexes. There is a tendency for the color to become too light as generations go by. The periodic use of black offspring will repair this defect. The blue ground color should extend down to the fluff.
Andalusian chickens are wonderfully designed for foraging on range. The breed’s rugged nature makes it hardy even in cold climates although their single comb can be frostbitten without access to appropriate shelter.
It does not stand confinement well, however, and is predisposed to feather eating. An excellent traditional cross is an Andalusian male over Langshan females. This produces a hardy brown egg layer that matures early. Andalusian males weigh 7 pounds and females weigh 5.5 pounds.
The Minorca chicken its name for the Island of Minorca, off the coast of Spain, in the Mediterranean, where it once could be found in large numbers. Spanish tradition relays that the breed came to Spain from Africa, with the Moors. In fact, it was sometimes referred to as the “Moorish fowl.”
Another popular history is that it came to Spain from Italy with the Romans. What we do know is that fowls of this type were widely distributed throughout the region known as Castile — the tablelands north of Madrid.
The one-time director of the poultry school in Barcelona, Don Salvador Castello, was quoted as saying the breed was once well known in the provinces of Zamora and Cuidad Real. It is clear that the Minorca chicken descends from the old Castilian fowl.
Minorca chickens are the largest of the Mediterranean class and are a sight to behold. They are non-sitters, excellent layers of large white eggs, laying perhaps the largest such, and very hardy and rugged fowls. The breed has proven excellent on all soil types and adapts readily to range or confinement.
In America, the breed made a name for itself due to its great egg laying ability combined with its hardiness and proclivity to excel on range. The breed produces a large carcass, but the meat tends to be dry, excluding it from the list of best dual-purpose chicken breeds. Historically Minorca chicken breasts were stuffed with lard, that is, “larded,” before roasting.
Minorca chickens were admitted to the American Poultry Association standard as a recognized breed in the following varieties: Single Comb Black and Single Comb White, 1888; Rose Comb Black, 1904; Single Comb Buff, 1913; Rose Comb White, 1914. Males weigh 9 pounds and females weigh 7.5 pounds.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.