These Rare & Heritage Chicken Breeds Are Odd Birds!

These unique heritage chicken breeds range from distinctive to off the wall, and they can be difficult to find. But, for many, they’re worth the time and effort to track down.

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by Nikki WellanderFebruary 7, 2022
PHOTO: noBorders - Brayden Howie/Shutterstock

When Michele Sullivan Burns of MSB Poultry in Mineral Wells, Texas, met her first Crèvecoeur rooster, his hard-rock hairdo drew her in. A child of the 1980s, Burns knew she wanted to learn everything she could about the bird in front of her and add more like him to her flock. She brought the pompadoured roo home with her, named him Tommy Lee and thus entered the world of unique chicken breeds.

The reasons people get in to the world of rare and heritage breed chickens are as varied as the birds themselves. For Sullivan Burns and many others, it started with the wow factor. For others, like Christine McGoron of American Heritage Farm in Perry, Michigan, it started at the request of her 4-H participant son. 

The reasons go on from there, from wanting to introduce more colorful eggs to finding breeds that are cold hardy. However, many of the reasons people continue to raise, breed and care for these rare birds tend to be much more unified.

Raising unique—and frequently endangered—breeds provides chicken farmers, hobbyists and enthusiasts a way to stand out. 

Crèvecoeur 

Crèvecoeur chickens’ oomph comes from the plumage atop their heads. The roosters have a V-shaped comb, and the hens and roosters sport a spiky pompadour, earning them their Casanova-style name, which is French for “broken heart.” 

Before the World Wars, the Crèvecoeur was one of the most popular livestock breeds in France because of its high-quality meat. After WWII, it was thought to be nearly extinct.

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Now, the Crèvecoeur is classified as “critically endangered” by The Livestock Conservancy, a nonprofit organization focused on preserving and promoting rare livestock breeds.

Difficult to Find

It can be especially difficult to successfully find, hatch and raise them. “They do not go broody, their hatch rates are minimal and for some reason, they like to die as chicks, even with all the right stuff done,” Sullivan Burns says. “Make sure you have time for them, good feed and the ability to either have an avian vet close, or be able to address medical needs when warranted.”

According to The Livestock Conservancy, these birds don’t do well in temperature extremes and thrive in more moderate climates. Lara Rice, who raises Crèvecoeurs at River’s Edge Farm in Fryeburg, Maine, says that during cold, wet, northeastern winters, their crests and beards can frequently form icicles. So it’s vital to keep them from getting wet.

In addition, their coiffed feathers can pose other problems, such as impeded eyesight and isolation when among other breeds.

“Our Crèvecoeurs are terribly low on the pecking order and are often picked at due to their attention-drawing crests,” Rice says. “They are like magnetic pompoms, just drawing other chickens in.”

For their flaws, though, Rice says Crèvecoeur chickens are extremely adaptable and resilient, as well as have excellent personalities. This breed is the friendliest she has ever raised—so much so that she refers to her Crèvecoeurs as her “other dogs.”

“If you want a chicken with looks and personality, the Crèvecoeur is a dream,” Rice says. 

Crèvecoeur Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

Courtesy Michele Sullivan Burns

Read more: Check out these 20 cool chicken breeds to consider!


Naked Neck 

Naked Neck chickens, or Turkens, are exactly what their name implies. Their feathers stop just below their beak and restart at their shoulders, and their bald necks help them be more heat tolerant and resilient.

“They are very good at adapting to weather changes,” says Kim Lockhart, who raises Naked Necks in Tennessee. When she was initially researching what kind of chicken breeds she wanted to raise on her farm, heat and cold tolerance were both at the top of her wish list. This made the bird a perfect fit for her state’s four seasons and high humidity.

Lively Birds

Naked Necks also have a lively personality, Lockhart says. For Roxanna Willoughby of Winlock Naked Necks in Winlock, Washington, that quirkiness is exactly why she chose to raise them. Naked Necks are more intelligent than many other chicken breeds. And this sometimes gets them in trouble.

“If I leave the gate open and they get out of their area, they can be a challenge to round up,” Willoughby says. “With other breeds, I could simply herd them back in. Whereas the Naked Necks might refuse to go back through the gate unless they want to. They don’t recognize boundaries and may decide to escape a fence and go on a walkabout.”

Still, it’s that big personality that she points to as her favorite part. She likes to spend time interacting with her chickens each day. Raising them for meat and eggs has its benefits, too. They have 50 percent fewer feathers than other chicken breeds, which makes for easier processing. They also make excellent mothers and lay more than 200 eggs per year.

“Before I started raising them, I thought they kind of resembled vultures,” Willoughby says. “Now, fully feathered chickens look rather odd and boring to me. Once you raise [Naked Necks], you’re hooked.”

Naked Neck Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

Courtesy Winlock Naked Necks

 

Phoenix

Male Phoenix bring the pizzazz to the table. Just like peacocks or squirrels, these roosters put their money where their behind is, with long, colorful tail feathers. Before adding a Phoenix to your flock, though, make sure you’re up to the trials of these pretty birds. 

The first thing I tell potential buyers is that these chickens are very nervous, anxious chickens that can be wild and hard to handle,” says Lyndsi Greim of Sumner Knoll Farms in Dade City, Florida. “Out of all our breeds we raise, the Phoenix breed is the craziest. However, if Phoenix chicks are purchased and handled daily, they can become quite docile towards their owners.”

A Tale of Tails

Not only can the chickens themselves have rebellious personalities, but those lovely tails—the very reason many people gravitate toward the breed—require special care. The long tail feathers are extra sensitive and fragile. So the Greims modified their coops to have higher roosting bars, waterers and feeders to help keep them from getting damaged. 

The Phoenix breed is best for those hoping to add ornamental or show chicken breeds. In addition to their keeping challenges, they’re also not great layers. The hens do make excellent mothers, though, says David Curneal, who raises a flock of Phoenixes in Eagle Mountain, Utah.

Even still, the main draw to the breed is all in the aesthetics.

“I love the appearance, with the long, flowing tails and intense bright colors,” Curneal says. “I’ve enjoyed my flock for many years.  And I’m sure others will enjoy them as well.”

Phoenix Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

Courtesy Sumner Knolls Farms

 

Sultan

According to The Livestock Conservancy, Sultan chickens have the most combined defining features of any of the heritage chicken breeds. Just behold their large, fluffy crest, muffs and beard!

Other distinguishing structural features include:

  • V-shaped comb
  • five toes
  • feathered legs and feet
  • a pure white color

The breed gets its name from its origins in Turkey as the chickens Sultans would have grazing their gardens. 

For Candi Hay of Frizzle Feathers Farm in Atlanta, Georgia, out of the 16 chicken breeds she raises, her Sultan is the most unique and eye-catching. She currently only has one Sultan in her flock. But Hay looks forward to adding more in the future.

Obvious Ornamentals

However, she emphasized that Sultans are an ornamental breed, as they tend to require more supervision and aren’t great egg producers. What they lack in function, though, they make up for in other positive traits. 

“She is the chicken I never knew I needed,” Hay says. “She has a quirky personality, is very unusual look and is beautiful to watch. If you want a chicken solely with tons of personality and that’s beautiful to look at, this is your breed. I now think everyone should have at least one.”

Sultan Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

Consolvo Images/Shutterstock

 

Araucana

Araucanas can be a difficult breed to raise if your goals are to adhere to breed standards or produce show-quality birds. Each of their defining traits—blue eggs, ear tufts and rumplessness—comes from care to detail in breeding and genetics. 

For example, the protruding ear tufts on Araucanas can vary from bird to bird. Some will have no tufts at all, while others will have one tuft. And some will have one on each side of the face.

The gene that carries the tufted trait, though, proves lethal in chicks in the homozygous state, or if they are passed two dominant tuft genes. 

Benefits of Rumpless

For this reason, many Araucana breeders choose to breed a tufted to a nontufted to reduce fatality in chicks, according to the Araucana Club of America. The rumpless trait, while not lethal, can pose difficulties to the birds as well, in trying to pass the gene on. 

Rumpless Araucanas are missing their last two vertebrae, their oil gland and their tail feathers. This leaves the bird vulnerable to extreme cold and wet weather. It also causes difficulty in mating.

Lastly, the blue egg gene does not carry through to all laying hens. Some will lay olive- or brown-shelled eggs, according to the ACA. 

All these characteristics together contribute to the rarity of these chickens and the difficulty of raising them. For Jason Fishbein, of Araucana Addiction in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, that struggle is why he chose Araucanas. 

“I breed for the love and the challenge of working with the breed,” he says. “I wanted to raise them because I figured if I was going to have chickens and spend time breeding, I might as well have a breed that is not common and can use help to improve in general.”

Outside of the difficulty of the breed, it’s worth giving Araucanas a shot, as they are intelligent and friendly birds. “The breed is an all-around great breed; [they] lay well and will always be a unique member to a flock,” he says. 

Araucana Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

Courtesy Araucana Addiction

 


Read more: Get the egg color you want with these chicken breeds!


Frizzle

While not a breed in and of themselves, frizzles make the list of weirdos within the chicken world because of their crinkly feathers. A bird is a frizzle—meaning its feathers curve up and out—when it carries a frizzle gene.

Any chicken can carry the frizzle gene. So these birds carry some of the personality traits of their primary chicken breeds. However, frizzle breeder Kim McNair, of Brighton, Colorado, says her frizzles are some of the friendliest chickens she’s ever met.

“They have the sweetest and friendliest attitudes,” she says. “They are a lot like small dogs, wanting to be held and getting belly rubs.”

A Note of Caution

Before adding frizzles to your flock, though, be sure you have precautions in place to keep them safe and warm. Frizzles of any breed tend to be more fragile and less cold hardy.

If you are interested in breeding frizzles on your farm, do so with caution. Frizzles should only be bred to nonfrizzles. If two frizzles are bred, it creates a frazzle, in which the bird’s feathers are brittle and the skin extremely sensitive.

In addition to this, other health and physical issues may occur in frazzles.  

Frizzle Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

Courtesy Frizzle Feathers Farm

 

La Flèche 

La Flèche are known for their large, protruding V-shaped comb. Their devilish appearance has earned them pseudonyms like “devil bird” or “Satan’s fowl,” according to Oklahoma State University. The chicken itself is black, with its large, red horn-shaped comb protruding from the head of both the hens and roosters. 

La Flèche chickens are rare in the U.S., earning them the designation of critically endangered on The Livestock Conservancy’s list. This is in part because the chicken breed fell out of favor once brought to the U.S., as it’s not as cold hardy as other breeds. 

Rare Is the Reason!

For McGoron, though, that rarity is why she chooses to raise the birds. Her foray into La Flèche began when her son wanted to raise one for a 4-H project. Soon, however, one chicken led to more La Flèche chickens finding their way onto McGoron’s farm, which now focuses exclusively on heritage livestock breeds. 

McGoron believes strongly in helping raise the numbers—and awareness of—the originating poultry breeds from which others stemmed, which contributes to the sustainability of chicken agriculture. Plus, raising heritage chicken breeds is a great niche market, she says. 

La Flèche Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

t.balikh/Shutterstock

 

Silkie

Silkie chickens, while not endangered or particularly rare, are one-of-a-kind in the world of chicken breeds because of their fuzzy feathers. Though this is their distinguishing characteristic, other qualities—like turquoise earlobes and an unusual fifth, feathered toe—also set silkies into a league of their own.

Plus, according to many who raise them, Silkies may as well be pets, for their charming personalities and lack of exceptional egg or meat production. 

Franchesca Duval, head chicken wrangler at Alchemist Farm & Garden in Sebastopol, California, says every chicken breed—and every chicken within it—is different and has its own energy.

“A Perfect, Benevolent Chicken”

However, the most over­arching quality for Silkies is their sweetness. She describes Silkies as “the crown jewel” of mothers, complete with extra fluff and warmth to hatch their chicks. You could give a Silkie a rock to hatch, and it would sit there and try forever, Duval says.

They’re also excellent mothers to chicks that aren’t their own. You can give a Silkie a chick of any age or breed, and it will raise and love it.

“If there was a perfect, benevolent chicken that had the emotion of patience and kindness, it would be a Silkie,” says Duval, who describes herself as a midwife of chickens. 

Silkies are also great with children. Duval constantly sees her kids and her Silkies hanging out together, with one of the chickens often riding around in the basket of a bike or the back of a wagon.

Overall, Duval recommends Silkies to anyone who wants to enjoy their chickens, especially those who are looking for small birds for a small space. 

“You won’t find a chicken more personable than a Silkie,” she says.

Silkie Stats
  • Size: Large Fowl
  • Egg Color: White
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Use: Dual-Purpose (Meat & Eggs)
  • The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) Status: Critical

chicken breeds
Courtesy Alchemist Farm & Garden

You Do You

No matter the size of your flock or farm, including off-the-wall chicken breeds is a good way to add something new, interesting and exotic. I hope this guide to some of the weirdest chickens can help you figure out where to start! 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Chickens magazine.

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