It is not always easy to categorise a pure chicken breed. The chicken breed may be divided into a variety and again subdivided into a strain. Illustrations of a breed may be taken as an example. For many birds, there will be variation in several characteristics, e.g., feather colour, comb type and leg length. Males are invariably bigger and more colourful than hens. Breeds are maintained by the rigorous standards of judging that are applied to fanciers at the many poultry shows held across Australia each year, as well as articles in magazines such as Australasian Poultry.
Pure breeds are usually categorised into:
Almost all breeds have miniatures. In some classifications, miniature breeds are also referred to as light breeds or bantams. They are normally exact replicas of their heavier counterpart. There are also those breeds which have reduced numbers of females (around 500 or less), which are classified as rare. Reference is sometimes made to pullets and hens, and cock and cockerels. In both cases the former refers to the bird before the first adult moult, which always weigh less than the mature or adult bird. Some breeds are reluctant to go broody and these are usually referred to as non sitters. The breeds described here are but a sample of what is available worldwide, but are those breeds which are likely to be of interest to Australian poultry keepers.
The Ancona originates from Italy and although this particular bird displays a tendency to be flighty, it is easy to train and makes a great breed for family and backyard producers.
The Andalusian originates from the Mediterranean. This breed is characterised by bright white earlobes, reddish-brown eyes, a non-sitter and is also a flighty bird.
Originating in Chile the Araucana breed is characterised by tufts of feathers growing out on either side of the head like ‘mutton chops’. The Araucana has a Small pea comb, very small bright red wattles and ear lobes.
This breed has been developed from the Australian Pit Game, but the Australian Game chicken is very different in stature. Australian Game was originally known as “Colonial Game” which was considered as a good meat breed.
Australorp is an abbreviation of Australian black Orpington, and as the name would suggest, the Australorp is a breed that originated in Australia (in approximately 1890), from the English Orpington.
Originating from Holland, the Barnevelder is a placid bird. Their initial attraction was their high numbers of large brown eggs. The Barnevelder has orange eyes with yellow legs and feet.
There are three distinct breeds of the Belgian poultry variety. These include:
• Belgian d’Anvers
• Belgian d’Uccle
• Belgian de Watermael
The Brahma originates from Asia and is a large and versatile bird. They are easily broody, are placid and tolerate the cold very well.
A Belgian bird, the Campine do not often go broody, they are good layers but are a bit flighty. Their shanks and toes are leaden blue.
The Dorking originates from Great Britain and may date back to the Roman invasion of England. It was very popular for meat and eggs.
Faverolles are good layers and are gentle and affectionate. In Australia there are keepers of two distinct varieties: The ermine (white with black) and the salmon coloured.
The Frizzle is of Asian descent and is a purely exhibition breed. It is docile, poorly mobile and not a good layer.
The Hamburg chicken variety originates from the Netherlands. Though small, these active birds are well renowned for their ability to lay up to 220 eggs a year, and also a good feed-to-egg ratio and quick maturation.
The Houdan, originally a French bird, has five toes which suggests that it may be related to the Dorking which also has a fifth toe.
Indian Game, also known as Cornish Game, originate (as their alternative name suggests) from Cornwall, England.
Historical evidence suggests that the Japanese Bantam originated in Vietnam, not Japan, however this breed has been very common in the gardens of Japan’s upper class for the last few hundred years.
The Langshan originates from China and is probably the most popular breed in Australia.
Leghorn chickens remain perhaps one of the most popular chicken breeds due to their ability to produce approximately 300 – 320 eggs per year.
Malay Game are a fierce, proud bird that stands very tall. It is the tallest breed of chicken and may stand over 90 cm high.
The Minorca is one of the heaviest of the light breeds and originates from the Mediterranean. The breed was developed in England from imported Castilian fowl of Spain.
Modern Game birds are not good egg producers and their meat is not exceptional. Therefore, Modern Game are predominantly used for ornamental purposes only.
As the name suggests the New Hampshire originates from New Hampshire in the US and formed the basis of the early broiler industry, although it is a dual purpose bird. Its shanks and toes are of rich yellow colour.
Old English Game are a descendant of English fighting cocks, and have a close relation to the original Jungle Fowl and were traditionally bred as a fighting bird.
The Orpington is one of the main ancestors of the world commercial egg laying record holder, the Australorp.
The Pekin Bantam has short legs and are fully feathered from head to toe. Arguably the most popular breed in Australia where there are breeders of 15 different varieties.
As its name suggests, the Pit Game is a descendant of the English fighting bird that was often used in cock-fighting which is now illegal in many countries, including Australia.
The Plymouth Rock is a very popular breed in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It is a friendly, hardy, dual purpose breed, which was originally used to produce commercial broilers.
The Polish is a European breed of chicken, which is believed to have originated in the Netherlands. The English language name of these birds is “Misnomer”, as they do not originate in the country of Poland.
Rhode Island chickens are a very popular dual purpose poultry breed. The red variety is capable of producing 200- 250 large eggs annually, however, the cock is very aggressive.
The Rosecomb is an attractive small bantam which is lively by nature and is thus highly flighty. As a result, it is a breed more suitable for experienced poultry keepers instead of first time chicken keepers.
The Sebright is a true bantam and for this reason it is best suited for ornamental purposes only. This breed originated in England and, like other smaller bantams, it is a poor egg producer as it only averages 140-160 eggs per year.
The Silkie is an Asian bird that makes a great pet due to its stunning appearance and great gentle nature. Their feathers are distinctively fluffy, and as a consequence, they must always be sheltered from the elements as their feathers are not waterproof.
As its name might suggest, the Sussex originates from the United Kingdom. It is a great breed for either meat or eggs, depending on how it has been bred.
The Welsummer lays large brown eggs however, it is a non sitter. Its head is small and its comb is upright and has evenly serrated points.