Chicken Breeds, Warren Chickens, Silkies, Wattles and Combs.
In my quest to learn something about the chickens at Caenhill CC I thought I would investigate some of the different chicken breeds.
This was when I discovered how many there are and was slightly overwhelmed. To begin there are Foundation Breeds which are pure breeds of poultry with their own written standard. The idea is that any offspring will be a replica of its parent. These Foundation Breeds can be put in different categories: British Foundation breeds; European and Mediterranean Foundation Breeds, and Asian Foundation breeds. There are at least 38 types.
In addition there True Bantom Breeds. The term True Bantom was used in 1970 to describe small poultry breeds that do not have a large version. The term Bantom is often used to describe small birds but officially they should be called minitures - small versions of large breeds. There are at least 13 True Bantom breeds.
Also, there are also what is known as Manmade Breeds. This is where at least two of the Pure Bred Breeds are crossed with the intention of creating a new breed. Included in this category are American, British, European, Japanese Long Tailed and Modified Feathered breeds. There are at least 28 recognized Manmade Breeds.
So, where to start!
I decided to begin with a type of chicken that Chris has identified – Warren Chickens. Hilda, Hayley and Harriet are Warren rescue chickens.
These three chickens are usually in the animal rescue area waiting for treats. I have discovered that Warren Chickens are usually a cross between two Manmade Breeds – the American Rhode Island Red and the British Light Sussex. Commercially the combination of a Rhode Island rooster bred with a Light Sussex hen results in female offspring that are a red/brown/orange colours and male offspring that are white.
This allows early identification of the sex of the bird. Females are valued as a productive egg layers and the males are used in meat production.
Warren hens can usually lay about 300 eggs a year and it is estimated they produce about 75% of all eggs sold in Britain. They can start laying at about 20 - 24 weeks old and will lay an egg every day for about 14-18 months. After this time egg production may stop for 2-3 months. This period is called a moult and it is when the bird looses all its old feathers and energy is required to grow a new set.
Although chickens can live at least 10 years it is common commercial practice that once they begin their moult egg laying birds are replaced with a new stock of young ones. This is when fortunate chickens are rehomed. Well cared for rescue chickens may continue to lay a large number of eggs although often a smaller amount each year.
Warren chickens are known to be inquisitive but docile in nature and they enjoy the company of people. Hilda, Hayley and Harriet certainly display these qualities.
Another recognized breed of chicken at Caenhill CC are the Silkies. If I remember correctly they were brought to the farm after someone moved into a new home and found three Silkies had been left behind. I am only aware of two Silkies at the farm now: Milky Silky, who used to hang around with Daisy the cow, and Marshmallow. They are both white although Silkies also can be a number of other colours including all black.
Silkies are a Modified Feather Manmade Breed. The modified feather breeds need to be in a protected environment as they would be unable to survive if they became wet, muddy or cold. Although feather colour does vary they always have black skin and feet. Their feathers are silky soft and lack the hooks that hold them together. This means they are unable to fly and they need to be kept dry as their feathers aren't waterproof. Apparently if they become wet they do not object to being dried with a hair dryer. They have feathered feet, a 'pompom' on their head, five toes and a walnut-type comb (which is a small flat structure on the front of their head). I also read that they have turquoise earlobes although this is not something I have noticed. Something to look out for perhaps.
Like Warren chickens Silkies are a friendly bird and although they are not prolific egg layers they are apparently good mothers that will adopt eggs from less broody birds.
Wattles and Combs
While finding out a little more about chickens I started wondering about the fleshy growths on their head. The ones on top of the head are called combs and the ones that hang below their chin are called wattles.
They grow on male and female birds and are believed to have an important function circulating blood to keep the birds cool in hot weather. They also help attract a mate as a bright red comb is the sign of a healthy bird. A rooster with a large bright comb is likely to be top of the pecking order. This is also true amongst hens.
There are several types of comb and the most common I have noticed at Caenhill CC is the single comb. It forms a semicircular head ornament starting at the beak and traveling over the top of the head. The only chicken, apart from the Silkies, that I have noticed with a different type of comb is Patrick. I think I am right in identifying this as a buttercup type. Keep a look out for it.
Hopefully you have learnt something new about chickens. Reading about them has helped me spot individuals more easily and I have particularly noticed the interesting variations in their feather colours. Now Ken has finished his moult I think he is looking particularly smart.
Practical Guide to Keeping Chickens, Ducks, Geese and Turkeys. By Fred Hams. ISBN13:978-0-7548-2352-0