Monday, December 10, 2012

Red mottled Houdans

Does anyone have pictures of Red Mottled Houdans? Daniel Maennle in Germany raised the question. It’s a variety that has been raised in the past, but none have been reported in recent years. He wonders whether red mottled Houdans might look like Orloffs or Leghorn or Polish tollbunt, a mix of brown, black and white.

Please let me know and I’ll pass them on to Daniel! I’m eager to see them, too.

The black and white Mottled Houdan is an historic breed that was included in the original 1874 Standard. The solid White Houdan was added in 1914. Solid black, blue mottled and red mottled varieties have been raised but are not recognized by the APA.

Houdans are an Old French breed that became popular as a dual purpose production breed in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Houdans were developed from early French market hybrids. Historically, they were considered one of the best table fowl breeds, but are also good egg layers. This historic illustration comes from Lewis Wright’s 1890 Illustrated Book of Poultry.

Feathers decorate their faces. The ones below the beak, around the throat, are the beard, and the ones on the rest of the head, below and around the sides of the eyes, down to the beard and over the earlobes, are muffs.

The V or horn comb, required for exhibition in the U.S., is unusual. Crevecoeurs, the solid lack birds shown with mottled Houdans in this illustration from the 1924 Toutes les Poules. and Sultans also have V combs. In England and France, the leaf comb, shaped like butterfly wings, is still recognized. Leaf combs are the result of the V comb crossed with a single comb. Dr. J. Batty’s Poultry Colour Guide, 1977, shows these drawings of leaf and horn combs. Lewis Wright’s Illustrated Book of Poultry, 1890, shows a prominent leaf comb. Polish, Crevecoeur and Sultan chickens also have V combs.

They are crested, like Polish chickens, with which they share some heritage. The crest is not only feathers – the skull actually has a knob on it. They get their fifth toe from the Dorking, another inherited influence. They lay large chalk-white eggs. At 8 lbs. for a mature rooster and 6 ½ lbs. for a hen, they are also meat birds. The quality of their meat commends them to gourmet menus. It is fine-grained, white and juicy. The delicate bones reduce the proportion of bone to meat. All around, it is a fancy bird with a delightful appearance that is a serious producer.

Houdans are good foragers but are amenable to being kept in confinement. They are considered non-sitters, so their eggs must be hatched in artificial incubators or under hens of another breed. They are good winter layers.

Houdans have suffered from excessive crossing with Polish, to increase the size of that irresistible crest. Some birds have so much crest they can hardly see. While increasing the crest, crossing with Polish has reduced Houdans’ size. Devoting a flock to maintaining Standard size and keeping the crest in proportion is a worthy goal. Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire is experimenting with crossing his Houdans with a white Dorking rooster, to increase their size. His goal is hens that weigh five pounds by six months of age.

“The biggest overall issue is that there are not enough of them,” he says. “We need more people breeding them.

The feathered faces require some extra care. The birds need easy access to fresh water without getting their feathers wet. If they get dirty, they should be washed and dried so that it doesn’t interfere with their ability to eat and drink. Mr. Marquette provides one-gallon chick waterers for all his Houdans.

“This keeps their crests clean and dry,” he says. “In the winter, it is necessary to empty the waterers at night fall so that they don't freeze and crack.”

Houdans are included with the Crested Breeds in the Polish Breeders Club, headed by Jim Parker, who keeps both large fowl and bantams:

RR #6, 3232 Schooler Road
Cridersville, OH 45806

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