By Terry Beebe – The Poland is a unique breed of poultry. It has various names worldwide, which include Padua and Polish chicken and although all of these names would lead you to believe that the breed originated from the country Poland this has never been proved.
It is believed that the breed originally came from Eastern Europe and possibly Russia but again this is all still speculation. What is fact is that the oldest reference found to date is the stone statue in the Vatican which bears a very close resemblance to a crested fowl.
Another discovery was in a Roman archaeological dig in the south of England where a skull from a bird was discovered and was exactly the same as the skull on today’s Poland breed. It therefore suggests that the Polish chicken did originate from this area and was imported into the U.K. by the Romans. This also suggests that the breed is possibly one of the oldest in existence today.
Anyway, enough history but it does give a basic insight into how important it is to keep this stunning breed alive and also that the future and protection of this and many other rare poultry breeds need to be conserved.
Over the last 17 years, my wife and I have been devoted to-and obsessed by-the Polish chicken. This breed is what I class as the “Royalty of Poultry.” It is, without doubt, one of the most stunning of all poultry breeds, the crest is its crowning glory and sets it apart from any other breed. The crest is what causes the fascination and interest in Poland. The times we have been asked, “where are its eyes” with the answer they are under there somewhere always creates even more gasps of delight, especially from the public who have never seen this breed before.
There is another enormous plus to the Polish chicken breed and that is the color variation which is, to say the least, quite vast. Not only do we have plain, laced, and white crested, but also they vary in large, bantam, non-bearded, bearded, and last but not least, a frizzle feathered variety.
The Polish chicken is classed as a soft feather lighter breed and this description does mean exactly what it says, they are no use as a meat bird and although they do lay a decent white egg they are not a prolific layer. Another major point to remember is that Polish chickens are also non-sitters, meaning that you either use another broody as a surrogate mother or artificial incubation. There is the very rare occasion when the hen will sit for the full term but I have found that even if she hatches the chicks as soon as they appear they are killed without mercy, and to me is not worth the risk.
Range of Colors
The range of colors is quite extensive. The most popular are the White Crested variety: these come in black, blue, and cuckoo. There are also buff and partridge available but these are rare and not standardized as a color. By standardized, I mean that the color has been accepted by poultry clubs around the world as a recognized color variation for the breed.
We have the self or plain colors of which there are white, black, blue, and cuckoo. All of these colors are the same color all over the body including the head.
The laced varieties are also the same color over the whole of the body and these are available in gold, chamois, and silver. These colors are very striking and have black or white lacing subject to color. These are possibly the most popular with the keeper who just wants beautiful birds for the garden, although the exhibition versions have to be seen to be believed.
Without going into detail, of all the variations these are the most popular, and the ones which are the most available. All the above come in a large also a small and useful bantam version with both sizes also being bred in the frizzle feathered variety.
There are a large number of breeders worldwide but in the U.S. they are well-represented by the Polish Breeders Club. I spent a weekend in November 2006 at the Crossroads of America Poultry Show, where this club had over 340 Polish chickens of all types on display. The atmosphere at the show was excellent and a good weekend was had by all. Even if the exhibition side of poultry is not of any interest to you, joining the club is a very good idea for an unlimited supply of information and help. Membership is open to everyone and there are newsletters and information available to all members.
Care & Maintenance
The Polish chicken is kept all over the world by an ever-increasing selection of very serious breeders. The breed is what needs to be classed as high maintenance, but over the last few years, there has been a large increase in the number of people who want to keep the Polish chicken for its appearance and ornamental value. Thankfully all this adds to the future conservation of the breed.
As a breed of chicken, the birds are quite hardy and resilient but there is a definite need for more care and attention with the keeping of these birds. Certain things are really best avoided, one of which is mixing Polish chickens with any other non-crested breed. This is definitely not a good idea. There is also the fact that they are not really suitable to be allowed to run outside in all weather. Again, this is asking for trouble and problems. The main reason for both these points is the fact that with the crest of the Polish chicken being quite large, it does create a disadvantage when dealing with other breeds. I have seen the results on many occasions of crest pecking and in some cases, this can prove to be fatal. As for being outside in bad weather, when the crest becomes wet and dirty it can lead to both eye infections and the lack of ability to see to eat and drink, and the results can be fatal. Do not let any of these problems put you off from keeping the breed but I feel that these potential problems need to be addressed. This not only saves the birds from unnecessary suffering but also saves the owner from being upset if a loss does occur.
This is quite easy to achieve. If the birds can be kept in a fully covered chicken run and coop, then over half the problems will be solved. Keeping the crest dry and clean is the most important part of this maintenance. If the crest does get soiled it is easy enough to wash and then dry. Do this with care and gently but this is really the only way to help keep them clean. The use of a good insect repellent sprayed into the crest feathers helps to keep away the crest mites which do appear if these practices are not carried out. The way you can tell if the mites are in the crest is the formation of a black dust-like appearance down near the base of the crest feathers. This needs to be cleaned and must not be left. If you leave these mites on chickens and the infestation gets really excessive, they get into the bird’s ears and eyes and will cause permanent damage. Again prevention is far better than cure. One note I will add is that whatever spray you use, make sure that the eyes and nose are protected and the spray does not get anywhere near the bird’s face. Common sense, I know, but a warning has to be made.
Drinkers and Feeders
To pick the best feeder and waterer for your Polish chickens, always take into account the crest. This is another way the birds get the crest both wet and dirty. A narrow lipped drinker preferably made from a smooth plastic is, in my opinion, the best product for the job. They not only help keep the crest out of the water but also does not damage the crest as it rubs on the side of the drinker.
With metal galvanized drinkers they can tend to go rough and also can stain the crest as the birds are using them. The use of open drinkers is definitely not recommended under any circumstances.
Feeders can be described in the same way as the drinker but I also recommend the use of pellets and not mash. The reason is that the dust from the mash can, and does, affect the eyes on the Polish chicken. The dust gets under the crest and always seems to find its way into the eyes, sometimes with terrible results.
This is also another item to consider but as with all breeds of poultry, I really do think the use of dust free shavings is the best bedding for chickens. The dust affects the respiratory system on any breed, but with the Polish chicken, it is the eyes as well as the respiratory which we are trying to protect.
Do you have any Polish chickens in your coop? We’d love to hear your experiences with them!
Originally published in the April/May 2007 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.