Ryan B. Walden, Wisconsin – It was the winter of 2007, I had been chickenless for several months, and the snow was deep. Cabin fever was at its peak. As if by magic a hatchery catalog appeared in my mail. My last flock had been Buff Orpington chickens and I was going to order more. As I read the catalog over and over I became attracted to the Barnevelder chicken. They are a medium size, dual-purpose chicken breed (providing both eggs and meat) from Barnevelder, Holland. Roosters weigh about 6-7 pounds and hens weigh 5-6 pounds. The most common, and only APA recognized, Double-laced variety gets its name from the hens’ reddish-brown feathers, with two lustrous black lines, one at the outer border and a second closer to the shaft. Males are black with some reddish brown highlights. They are a very calm showy chicken. The combination of good looks and status as extremely rare sold me on the Barnevelder chicken.
The problem was that I wanted 25 chicks, too few to ship from Texas. A neighbor mentioned she wanted some chicks so we combined our orders and on April 18, my chicks arrived. Final count: 25 straight run chicks; 15 cockerels, 10 pullets. The chicks were very hardy and I had 100 percent survival until the chicks were about six weeks old. At that point, I found out that raccoons eat chickens after one killed a pullet. The coon returned the next night for another chicken dinner but I told him that was not a good idea, don’t do it again and that was the end of the coon problem. It is all in the way you explain things.
Barnevelder chickens are classed as extremely rare and that status comes with a price. Some hens lay a very light brown egg, a serious fault for a chicken known for laying very dark brown eggs. If possible the light colored eggs should not be used to produce replacement birds. The second problem has been an increase in blood in chicken eggs. I purchased my birds from a hatchery in Texas and I have no way of knowing the origin of the flock. The problem could be caused by inbreeding. I have located a flock in Iowa and I plan to add a new bloodline to my flock to see if it reduces the problem.
Barnevelder chickens have many positive points besides good looks and large brown eggs. They are very clean, spending a great deal of their time taking dust baths and preening themselves. They tolerate cold well but do not like snow. I shovel the snow in the pen so they will come out and enjoy the sun. They will come out when it is below zero but if there is snow they won’t come out when it is in the 30s. In case you are wondering who is in charge, the chickens or me, it is not me.
Barny is very quiet for a rooster and only crows a few times a day. My Orpington rooster had something to say about everything. The hens like to talk and at times can be rather loud. Unlike other chickens I have raised, the Barnevelder chickens forage close to the coop, usually within 25 yards. When they have been out for about 30 minutes the flock will return to the pen. They stay in the pen for about 15 minutes, then venture back out to forage for weed seeds and insects. This flow continues from the time they are released (about 4:00 until dusk when they go in the coop for the last time). They are very good at foraging and do a great job of composting grass clippings and weeds.
The next items may not be considered positive. Barnevelder chickens are very good at training people. My first glimpse of this trait was demonstrated by two cockerels, Extra Crispy, and Original Recipe. I would let the chickens out to free range and at dusk, they would go back into the coop, all except these two cockerels. They would see me coming and start running. They would race around for about 10 minutes, then go into the coop. This game went on for several weeks. It ended when they became the first to live up to their names.
It was now Amelia Earhart’s turn to show her talents. She would fly out, forage around, and then fly back into the pen. This went on several times a day. I have had many chickens, and there were always a few that would fly out of the pen. Until Amelia came along I had never had a chicken put herself back in. The problem began when Amelia gave flying lessons. Her students learned the fly out but could not grasp the fly in part. It was necessary to start clipping chicken wings.
I give my chickens vegetable trimmings, scraps from the kitchen, and coffee grounds. When they see me with the white pail they come at a run. Barny talks to his girls and shares the “good stuff” [popcorn] with them. The hens take the goodies and run away to eat it. They like their coffee grounds and pail of warm water in the morning. They also get rather upset with me if I am late with their groceries.
Barnevelder chickens are a group of chickens that need dedicated people to help bring them up to the standard. They lend themselves well to small areas. They are very showy, calm, quiet, and lay large brown eggs. They are also good at recycling your grass clippings and coffee grounds. Be aware that you will be the one making the adjustments but the laughs are worth it.
Size: Standard: 6-7 lb.; Bantam: 2.25 lb.
Rarity: Very rare
Recognized Varieties: Double-laced, Blue-laced, White, Black, others
Egg Laying: Good (3/wk)
Egg Color: Very dark reddish brown, with matte finish
Egg Size: Large
Comb Type: Single Comb
Skin Color: Yellow
Shank Color: Yellow
Hardy In Winter: Less cold hardy; good in damp conditions
Behavior: Well adaptable to confinement or free range; calm, docile
Broody: Mixed reports on setting & brooding
Data adapted from and courtesy of John Henderson/Henderson’s Chicken Chart, all copyrights apply. To review The ICYouSee
Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart, an alphabetical list of more than 60 chicken breeds with comparative information, visit www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/dual.html, or search online “Henderson’s chicken chart.”
Illustrations copyright of the American Poultry Association, Pat Horstman, Secretary/Treasurer.
What are your favorite chicken breeds? Is the Barnevelder chicken on the top of that list? We’d love to hear from you!
Originally published in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.