Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Three French Hens

Three French hens could be selected from the three old French breeds recognized by the APA for exhibition. Houdan, LaFleche and Crevecoeur were all in the original APA Standard published in 1874. They have long histories, as far as the 15th century in the case of the La Fleche, the 17th century for the others. All are large birds, topping out at 8 lbs. for roosters and 7 lbs. for hens. All are white egg layers.

Houdans have been known as Normandy fowl. They are a crested breed, recognized in mottled black and solid white varieties. Solid black, blue mottled and red mottled varieties have existed in the past and may be raised by fanciers yet.

In the U.S., Houdans were a popular dual purpose production breed in the 19th and early 20th century. They have five toes, like the Dorkings. This illustration is a reproduction of Lewis Wright's Poultry, published in 1983 by Dr. J. Batty.

The La Fleche, which may be the oldest of the three, was selected and managed for egg production in Britain and North America. They take their name from the town of La Fleche, around which production was centered in the early 19th century. They probably resulted from crossing Polish, Crevecoeur and Spanish birds, which gave them their white ear lobes.

Their unusual horned V-shaped comb is remarkable, in the past causing these birds to be called the Horned Fowl. Although now clean-headed, some breeders report occasional offspring with small crests or tassels. The French standard requires a crest.

Although recognized now only in black, they were bred in other colors in the past. In 1580, Prudens Choiselat wrote that blacks, reds, and fawns were the best. Blue and white strains have existed in the more recent past.

The Crevecoeur is sometimes compared to the Dorking, which has history on both English and French sides of the Channel. They also have V combs, although earlier in history they also had leaf combs. Currently recognized only in black plumage, white and blue were raised in the past.

The Crevecoeur was also used as a production fowl in the late 19th and early 20th century. These Crevecoeurs and the La Fleche are Robert Gibson's, from Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire.

Other French breeds would also be welcome on the Third Day of Christmas: Faverolles are a modern composite that would not have been contemporaneous with the carol. The unusual Salmon color pattern, unique to this breed, is distinguished by its remarkable difference between the sexes. Roosters are brightly marked with varied colors, while hens are more demurely light and salmon pink. They have both beards and muffs.

Marans are not yet recognized by the Standard, but their advocates are working toward that goal. They are an attractive sturdy bird, known for their dark chocolate brown eggs.

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