Some chicken breeds have amazing feathers. Charlotte Popescu chooses some favourites
When it comes to keeping a few hens in the garden, there is a huge choice out there. Hybrids are very useful as they lay lots of eggs, but there are so many exotic looking breeds that offer something a bit different. Many of these sport or sprout surplus feathers around or on their heads or feet and it can make them look absolutely amazing.
Muffling is defined as: beard and whiskers covering the whole of the face but not the crest. The whiskers are also known as the muff which are tufts of feathers on each side of the face and attached to the beard (as in the Faverolles and Houdan). The beard is defined as just a bunch of feathers under the throat.
Here are some hens and cockerels with striking-looking feathers:
The Sultan. This rare breed is from Turkey. It wins the prize for sporting the most feathers in strange places. It has feathers everywhere: a large globular crest pretty much hides a comb consisting of two small spikes; the face is covered by thick muffling and there is also a beard which joins up with the whiskers. The Sultan also has legs and feet completely covered with feathers and the five toes are also covered.
Faverolles. This breed also has an abundance of muffling around the face. Earlobes and wattles are hidden by all the extra feathers. The extensive muffling reminds me of a young child wearing one of those plastic bibs! The legs are sparsely covered with feathers right down to the outer toe.
Brahmas, Pekins and Cochins have heavily feathered legs and feet. These feathers may make life slightly more difficult. Scratching in soil is more cumbersome and feathers can get very dirty in muddy conditions. The Barbu D’Uccles from Belgium and Sablepoots from Holland both have heavily feathered legs, feet and toes. It is thought that these breeds originally developed feathers on their legs to keep them warmer in colder climates.The French Marans hens and cockerels have lightly feathered legs and the rare Croad Langshan has feathered legs but none on the middle toe.
Araucana. This birds always have crests and muffling on their faces which extends around their necks making them look as though they are wrapped up in overcoats and scarves. They have ear muffs as well. They do not have wattles as there is not space for them. Cream Legbars that have been developed by crossing Araucanas with Brown Leghorns and Barred Plymouth Rocks do not inherit the muffling but always have small crests.
Thuringian. Thuringians are a rare breed from Germany. They have thick beards which are undivided and go right up around the face and cheeks. The ears are also covered.
Houdan. The Houdan from France is heavily crested (adopted from The Poland from which it was developed) and also has muffling around the face.
Orloff. The Orloff with Russian origins has a very strange appearance. The face has a beard and well developed whiskers. Earlobes are obscured by all the muffling. The eyes are shaded by heavy brows which make them look rather morose. Legs however are clear of feathers.
Quite a few breeds have crests. Here are some of the best worthy of a mention:
The Poland. This breed has an amazing pompom which in my opinion is just a little over the top. The enormous topknot is not practical for the poor hens and cockerels really struggle to see.
Silkie. Silkies are unique because they are covered in silky down which extends down the thigh and leg, nearly meeting the ground. They have quite a substantial head crest, a bit like a powder puff.
Sulmtaler. The Sulmtaler hen has a neat little crest but otherwise regular feathering.
Spitzhauben Appenzellers. These birds have rather a unique pointed crest bent forward. These Appenzellers are known as Spitzhauben (meaning pointed bonnet) as their crests are reminiscent of the frilly hat worn by women in the Appenzeller region of Switzerland.
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