Breed of the Month: Chantecler chicken
Origin: The white variety of the Chantecler chicken was originally developed in Canada in the early 1900s by crossing a Dark Cornish, White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, White Wyandotte, and a White Plymouth Rock.
Recognized Varieties: White, Partridge
Standard Description: A cold-hardy, dual-purpose breed that was originally bred for Canadian winters. Admitted into the APA in 1921. The breed is noted for having nearly no wattles and a small cushion comb.
Video provided by Cackle Hatchery.
Calm and gentle. Hens have a propensity to go broody.
White: Yellow beak; reddish bay eyes, yellow shanks and toes. Standard white plumage.
Patridge: Dark horn beak that may be yellow at point; reddish bay eyes; yellow shanks and toes. Standard partridge plumage.
Combs, Wattles & Earlobes:
Cushion-shaped comb. Comb, wattles, and earlobes are very small and bright red.
Egg Color, Size & Laying Habits:
• 150-200+ per year
Conservation Status: Watch
Size: Cock 8.5 lbs., Hen 6.5 lbs., Bantam Cock 34 oz., Bantam Hen 30 oz.
Popular Use: Eggs and meat
What with all the beautiful and unusual breeds of chickens and bantams available to the average fancier, why would anyone choose the rather mundane, albeit rare, Chantecler? Generally speaking, there are good reasons why rare chickens are seldom seen except in the yards of the most fanatical fanciers. The seldom-seen breeds and varieties often have certain inherent defects or weaknesses that discourage the vast majority of the keepers of our feathered friends from continuing on with them. These shortcomings might range from poor production, poor reproductive function, susceptibility to common poultry diseases, an objectionable wild temperament, genetic difficulty in reproducing difficult color patterns (perhaps because of the way the Standard was drawn up), or susceptibility to certain vices, to a host of other reasons.
None of the reasons enumerated above are true of the Chantecler. Perhaps because the breed is the only one of Canadian origin it never caught on to any great degree in the United States. One might imagine there could be a certain amount of national loyalty. But I suspect the breed’s major drawback in the minds of many is the lack of the unusual and the lack of what some might call frills in the Chantecler. It was, after all, developed as a production bird by Brother Wilfrid Chatelain of Quebec in the early 20th century. The good friar’s goals were to develop a cold-weather bird that would continue to produce eggs in the harshest of conditions and to also supply a meaty carcass for the table. It would be the ultimate dual-purpose chicken for northern winters. To that end, he selected the most desirable attributes from five common chicken breeds of the day: White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, Dark Cornish, White Wyandotte, and White Plymouth Rock. He crossed these breeds and their progeny from 1908 until his creation was finally introduced to the public in 1918. Even after that date, he continued to cross in superior specimens in the effort to improve upon what had been accomplished. The White Chantecler is one of the fortunate varieties for which a detailed written record of development was kept for future generations by its creator. In fact, Chantecler bantams were created more or less from his formula.
His would be a white bird, the best color for dressing out meat birds at a relatively young age.
It would have a very small cushion comb and tiny wattles to prevent frostbite during subzero nights. In keeping with the pragmatic and practical nature of Wilfrid’s religion, the Chantecler would be a “no-frills” kind of bird, as economic issues would take precedence over the unusual and the emotive.
Before the White Chantecler was recognized as a breed by the American Poultry Association in 1921, a dentist in Alberta was already working on a similar creation in several color varieties other than white. Dr. J.E. Wilkinson wanted the culmination of his work to be recognized in honor of his home Province. But when the A.P.A. Standard Committee considered his petition for acceptance, they determined his birds were too similar to the Chantecler to be recognized as a different breed. So in 1935, the A.P.A. recognized the Partridge Chantecler instead of a Partridge Albertan. While Dr. Wilkinson was initially unhappy with the decision, he did eventually accept it. Unfortunately, he passed away not long after, and so the Partridge Chantecler and the other color varieties he was working on soon fell victim to neglect. Oh, a few breeders continued to show the Partridge, primarily in Alberta until the onset of World War II, but then there was a long dry spell for this new variety of Chantecler. Without a promoter/breeder, Wilkinson’s unrecognized colors soon fell by the wayside.
Enter Chantecler Fanciers International (CFI) in the fall of 2007. The club’s originators came from agricultural backgrounds and had acquired an appreciation for utility from their early farm years. They saw potential for a breed with qualities that conformed to their utilitarian and practical values. These chickens would not be encumbered with faddish features. No impractical color patterns, no strange or weird shapes, no mutant feathering, no fluffy butts on which manure would cling, no artificial insemination required, no top hats to attract lice and cannibalism, no feathered feet on which to accumulate mud and manure balls, no muffs and beards to be picked out by bored pen mates, no lethal creeper or ear tuft genes. Just a balanced type of poultry with moderately hard but profuse feathering and yes, head appendages that stand up to freezing temperatures. Production would continue to be a priority, along with exhibition traits. Apparently, there exists a good number of fanciers that appreciate these attributes, as Chantecler Fanciers International national meets regularly draw 100 plus entries of white, partridge and buff in large fowl and bantams combined. Buff is not recognized yet by the ABA and APA, but that prospect does remain a short-term goal of the club. A few other colors are being worked on, such as black and Columbian, but those varieties need a lot of work and more breeders before they can seriously be considered as contenders for recognition.
If the reader is attracted to the particular qualities offered by the Chantecler breed and would like to associate with like-minded fanciers and breeders, he or she is invited to contact the secretary of Chantecler Fanciers International. Contact information may be found in the classified section of Poultry Press, Backyard Poultry, Feather Fancier, and several other publications devoted to poultry.
Or just visit the club website at Chantecler.club. There you will find photos, articles, a breeders directory, a link to our discussion forum, and information to join – along with a handy Paypal option for remittance of the minimal $10 per annum dues. The “members only” section of the website contains nearly all of our quarterly color newsletters issued since the club was formed. There is also an active Facebook group, CFI Members, which is reserved for CFI members and licensed poultry judges only. At any given time we number between 80 and 100 or so members across the United States and Canada, and would be happy to have you join us. Finally, if you have made it this far thank you for reading.
See the Full List of Breed of the Month Features: