Breed of the Month – Maran

This month we’re looking at the Maran, an attractive, popular breed of chicken that are prized for their beautiful dark brown eggs. They have orange eyes and white skin. In the UK you’ll usually find Marans with non-feathered legs, but they can also have feathers.

MaranOriginating from the town of Marans in the west of France the breed was created in the 1920s by mixing the local feral fowl with fighting birds imported from Indonesia and India. You don’t need to worry about them being aggressive though – the Maran breed is known for its docile nature.

Further breeding and the introduction of other breeds “improved” the Maran to make it a good dual purpose bird who produces roughly 150 dark brown eggs per year and is also suitable for the table.

The breed’s popularity spread and it was first introduced to the UK in 1929 by Lord Greenway. He was originally interested in the gourmet flavour Maran meat has but was soon fascinated by the colour of the eggs and showed them at Crystal Palace in 1934.

The Maran was accepted into the British Standard in 1935 and The Marans Club was formed in 1950 in the Grosvenor Hotel, London. The club is still going strong today and you can find out more information about the breed on The Marans Club website.

marans_eggsIn modern times the Maran is a popular breed both as pets and show birds, becoming a favourite at poultry shows. They are docile, hardy, tough and disease resistant.

They are an active breed and prefer a free range lifestyle over being kept in a chicken run or enclosure. All of the above qualities make them an ideal bird if you’re new to chicken keeping.

The club recognises the following varieties of the Maran: Brown-red, Silver Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, White, Wheaten, Columbian, Black, Black-tailed Buff, and Silver Black.

The following colours are also under assessment to be included in the Standard: Golden-blue, Silver-blue, Splash, Golden-salmon, and Silver-salmon.


Chicken Breed of the Month – Appenzeller Barthuhner

Every month we’ll be opening your eyes to the variety of chickens available and featuring a new breed of chicken. This month it’s the stunning Appenzeller Barthuhner, the lesser known relation of the Appenzeller Spitzhauben.

Appenzeller BarthuhnerThe Appenzeller Barthuhner, or “bearded chicken” as their name literally means, were first developed by a Swiss nobleman in his native Swiss province of Appenzell. He created the breed as he was looking for a chicken that could withstand the cold, harsh Alpine winters.

This means that the Appenzeller Barthuhner became a large, bearded, hardy bird that was good at foraging, even in dense woodland, and continued to lay eggs even in the depths of winter.

They lay around 3 – 4 large, white eggs per week (190 – 200 eggs per year) and are usually kept as show birds or pets in the UK. Only the large fowl variety is recognised in the UK and standardised colours are Black, Blue, Partridge, and Black-Red.

The breed is also known for its docile nature, although cockerels can become aggressive with each other during breeding season, and hens need very little additional food in order to produce large numbers of eggs.

Unfortunately they never gained much popularity in Europe or America and are now included in the Rare Poultry Society’s threatened breed list. It is thought that there are only three large fowl and one bantam Appenzeller Barthuhner chickens in the UK.

A concerted effort is now being made by chicken breeders to save the Appenzeller Barthuhner and fans report that they are a rewarding and worthwhile breed of chicken to add to you chicken house.


Duck Breed of the Month – Pekin

In this new feature for Jim Vyse Arks Chicken Chat we’ll be looking at a different breed of duck every month. To kick off the breed of the month we’re looking at the Pekin – popular both commercially and as pets.

snow ducksThe Pekin duck is most famous for its commercial use, particularly in America where 95% of the duck meat eaten comes from Pekin duck. However, the breed is also popular as a pet and show bird because of their cream feathers and bright orange feet and bill.

The breed was originally developed in China from the Mallard breed and where small with black feathers. Eventually the breed grew bigger, developed white feathers, and was domesticated by Chinese farmers.

In 1873 the first small group of Pekin ducks were exported to America and became immediately popular for commercial purposes. The breed was also introduced to the UK in the 1870s and entered the British breed standard in 1901.


Although Pekin ducks look white they should actually be cream, white feathers are considered a defect according to breed standards. Their feathers are thick and fairly soft so they should be kept away from too much mud in the winter months.

They have bright orange feet and beaks, meaning that they are often confused with the Aylesbury and Cherry Valley ducks that look similar.

European Pekins have an upright stance, similar to penguins, whereas the American Pekin is closer to the ground.

They are classed as a “heavy” breed with drakes weighing 4.1kg on average and females weighing 3.6kg.

Egg production

Despite being bred for their meat rather than their egg laying abilities the Pekin produces a fair number of  eggs, around 60 – 140 large white eggs per year.

Female Pekin ducks aren’t particularly broody so if you’re planning on breeding them you may want to consider artificial incubation methods.


Pekin ducks are usually calm, friendly, and enjoy being companions both to other ducks, humans, and other breeds of animal. Just like geese they can make excellent guard animals as they will make loud noises should predators or strangers approach.

Pekin ducks are also very intelligent and enjoy foraging and exploring their surroundings as well as swimming.

They are usually too heavy to fly, although they may be able to lift off the ground for short bursts. Clipping their wings is the best way to avoid them flying if you do have a particularly determined flier, although this is normally unnecessary with Pekins.

Keep an eye out next month when we’ll be looking at the beautiful Silver Appleyard!

Breed of the Week: Appenzeller Spitzhauben

Source: Purely Poultry

Source: Purely Poultry

These striking looking birds originate from Switzerland and are popular both as pets and exhibition birds. The Appenzeller chicken actually comes in two varieties, the Spitzhauben that we’ll be looking at today and the Barthuhner that we’ll be looking at next month.

“Spitzhauben” means “pointed hood” which refers to the frilly hats worn by the local women in the Appenzeller region of Switzerland.

After the Second World War the breed faced extinction and it was largely due to German breeder, Kurt Fischer that the breed is still around today. The breed was first brought to the UK in the 1970s with a Mrs Pamela Jackson buying the first major importation of hatching eggs from Switzerland.

Since then the breed has gained popularity and importations of birds and eggs are still made from Switzerland in an attempt to broaden the gene pool. The Spitzhauben is incredibly popular with hobby chicken keepers, although it isn’t as popular with exhibitors as other ornamental breeds.

As well as being a beautiful breed the Spitzhauben also lays a useful number of eggs and is a superb forager who enjoys being kept in a free range environment.

You can find out more information about the Appenzeller Spitzhauben on The Appenzeller Spitzhauben Society of Great Britain website.

Here’s our Appenzeller Spitzhauben factsheet:

Appenzeller Spitzhauben Factsheet      

Name: Appenzeller Spitzhauben

Type: Large fowl and bantam

Weight: Large fowl – Cock: 3.5 – 4.5lbs Hen: 3 – 3.5lbs

Bantam – Cock: 600 – 800g Hen: 500 – 700g

Popularity: Common as pets and gaining popularity as a show bird

Purpose: Ornamental but a good layer

Eggs: Medium sized white eggs. Hens lay 230 – 280 eggs per year

Physical features: V shaped comb, feathered crest in both sexes, impressive plumage

Colours: There are five recognised colours available in the UK, as well as a Cuckoo variety that has not yet been bred or imported. Recognised colours are: Gold Spangled, Silver Spangled, Black, Blue, and Chamois Spangled

Other characteristics: Appenzeller Spitzhaubens are active birds that prefer to kept in a free range environment or large poultry enclosure. They will roost in trees if allowed so providing plenty of perches will keep them entertained.

They are rumoured to be flighty but Spitzhauben fans report that will gentle handling this can be overcome. The Appenzeller Spitzhauben could be the perfect breed if you want to add a more exotic looking bird to your flock without sacrificing egg production.

We’ll be taking a break from Breed of the Week for a few weeks but we’ll be back in October when we’ll be introducing our Breed of the Month feature starting with the Appenzeller Barthuhner!

Breed of the Week: Brahma

Brahma cockerel (Source: Omlet)

Brahma cockerel (Source: Omlet)

Brahmas are often known as the “King of chickens” because of their large size and upright stature. The breed was first developed in America after very large birds were imported from Shanghai.

Because of this they were originally known as “Shanghai birds” and have similar origins to the Cochin breed. However, their distinctive head shape and pea comb differentiates them from the Cochin.

Their large size meant that the Brahma became the principal meat bird in the USA from the time of their development until the 1930s. After this the commercialisation of meat birds meant that larger breeds fell out of favour.

The Brahma was first imported to the UK in December 1852 when nine “Gray Shanghaes” were sent to Queen Victoria as a present from George Burnham. British breeders then developed the Dark variety of Brahma that were later re-imported back to the USA.

Here’s more about the big, beautiful Brahma:

Brahma Factsheet                                     

Name: Brahma (originally known as the Shanghai bird)

Type: Large fowl

Weight: Cock: 5.5kg Hen: 4.5kg

Popularity: Popular as pets and show birds

Purpose: Originally meat birds but now mostly pets or show birds

Eggs: Large brown eggs and hens lay all year around

Physical features: Large, upright bird with a large head. Legs are yellow with abundant feathering around their feet.

Colours: There are two recognised varieties – Light and Dark. There are also a number of recognised colours, although not all breed societies accept all colours. Available colours are: Buff, White, Gold, Buff Columbian, Black, Blue, Partridge, and Barred.

Other characteristics: Despite their large size Brahmas do not often pose as a threat to other, smaller breeds. This means that they are a great breed if you want to keep a mixed flock.

They are very trusting and easy to tame. They also don’t make much noise, even the cockerels don’t have a loud crow, so they’re ideal if you live in a more urban area.

The Brahmas’ beautiful foot feathering means that care needs to be taken during the wet winter months as mud balls can build up between their toes causing discomfort and damaging the foot feathers.

Due to their large size they do take up more room than other chickens and they will need stronger perches, so you’ll need to consider this when choosing a chicken house and any runs or enclosures.

You might find that a bespoke service is a better option to ensure that your chickens have as much room as they need to move around and perch.

Breed of the Week – Cochin

cochin_chickenThe Cochin breed of chicken originated in China in the 1850’s and was originally known as the Shanghai or Cochin-China chicken. Their name comes from an original Chinese word meaning “nine jin yellow”. “Jin” is a Chinese unit of measurement and perhaps referred to their large size or their plentiful plumage.

It is believed that they were bred for their feathers that were then used to fill duvets. They were later imported to Britain and America in the mid-19th century. The first birds to be imported to Britain were gifted to Queen Victoria perhaps explaining why they gained such popularity in Great Britain.

The birds that went to America were the subject of considerable development and a bantam breed, named the Pekin bantam, was created. However, this breed should not be confused with the true Pekin bantam.

Cochin’s are friendly, docile, and tend to be submissive when kept in mixed breed groups. Their laid back nature does tend to make them lazy and they have been known to suffer from metabolism and heart problems.

They prefer to be kept on shorter grass and although they are one of the larger breeds of chicken they don’t require a lot of space to roam.

They’re a favourite with show producers, breeders, and hobby keepers a like because of their friendly nature and attractive appearance.

Here’s more about the Cochin breed:

Cochin Factsheet

Name: Cochin (originally known as the Shanghai or Cochin-China)

Type: Large fowl and bantam

Weight: Heavy – usually 8lbs+ and have cock birds have been known to reach 12lbs

Popularity: Very common both as show birds and pets

Purpose: Ornamental

Eggs: Medium sized, brown eggs. Hens lay roughly 2 per week

Physical features: Large, rounded body, yellow legs, red earlobes, reddish eyes. Very fluffy plumage with feathers covering the legs and feet.

Colours: There are a wide variety of colours available in the modern Cochin. Recognised varieties include: Black, Buff, Partridge, White, Barred, Brown Red, Golden Laced, Mottled, Silver Laced, Birchen, Blue, Columbian, and Red.

Other characteristics: Although Cochin hens aren’t prolific layers they do make good broodies and protective mothers. They are easy to tame, cope with being kept in enclosures well, and are quieter than other breeds.

As the Cochin is a larger breed of chicken care will need to be taken when considering which chicken house to buy. They’ll need stronger perches, large nest boxes, and a wider door.

Their environment in wet weather will also need to be considered as their feathery feet can be damaged or become caked in mud when it rains. Some chicken keepers opt to house them in wood chip runs to prevent the feathers becoming damaged.

Breed of the Week – Rhode Island Red

rhodeislandredThe Rhode Island Red, as the name suggests, was first developed in the US state of Rhode Island in the 1890s. The people of Rhode Island were so impressed with the bird that it became, and still is, the state bird of Rhode Island. A monument was erected in 1925 in Adamsville, where the bird was first bred, in honour of this hardy, friendly breed.

Originally bred as a dual purpose bird it was a popular choice for farmers, small holders, and hobby chicken keepers a like. Rhode Island Red hens are exceptional layers, capable of producing an egg everyday if they’re happy and healthy.

The breed arrived in the UK in 1903 and quickly gained popularity among chicken keepers. The Rhode Island Red could be considered one of the best known chicken breeds in the world. Despite this however, in recent years the breed has become less popular and is now classified as “recovering” by The Livestock Conservancy.

Over the years the Rhode Island Red has been extensively crossed with other breeds, such as the Sussex, to produce many of the modern hybrid chickens we see today including the Warren.

Here’s more about the Rhode Island Red:

Rhode Island Red Factsheet

Name: Rhode Island Red (shortened to “RIR” in chicken keeping circles)

Type: Large fowl

Weight: Classed as a heavy breed although they remain active in comparison to other breeds in this category

Popularity: Increasing in popularity again thanks to small time chicken keepers

Purpose: Dual purpose – although more commonly used for eggs/as pets

Eggs: Medium/large light brown eggs

Physical features: Red feathers – ranging from light to dark, glossy bronze. Yellow legs, red earlobes and eyes.

Colours: As the name suggests the Rhode Island Red is always red. Generally birds are rust coloured but variations can occur from maroon to bordering on reddish black.

Other characteristics: Rhode Island Reds are extremely cold hardy and hardy in general, as well as being friendly, docile, and active. They enjoy foraging and make a great bird to free range.

They are fantastic pets, ideal for families, and are described as intelligent by fellow chicken keepers.

Although a hardy breed of chicken can live happily with more basis accommodation we still recommend having a chicken house that is safe, secure, and practical. Comfortable nest boxes are a must for a breed like the Rhode Island Red as they spend so much time in them!