Developed as a distinctive Canadian breed, Chanteclers are a composite breed that thrives in cold weather. Their distinctive cushion comb and small wattles aren’t affected by cold weather. Winter temperatures as low as minus 32 C don’t faze them. Their plumage, a tight outer feathering over a thick layer of down, is as distinctive as the comb. It’s fundamental to their cold hardiness.
“It is a real down jacket!” said Gina Bisco of New York State. “If you pick up a hen of some other breed, then pick up Chantecler hen, you really notice the Chantecler's thick, warm layer of padding.”
Gina's Chanteclers don't mind the snow.
Check out the entire article in the December/January issue of Backyard Poultry magazine.
Although Chanteclers adapt to confinement, crowded indoor conditions are too warm for their cold-hardy constitution. Breeding flocks kept in warm climes will erode the breed's cold-climate adaptation. Warmer temperatures, whether natural or artificially provided to increase laying, will inevitably select birds that are adapted to warmer conditions.
“Chanteclers' looks result directly from especially cold-adaptive traits,” said Ms. Bisco.
That became an issue for Ms. Bisco’s flock of about 70 birds during 2012’s hot summer. Over the 13 years she has raised White Chanteclers, summers in central New York have been relatively cool with few days as hot as 90 degrees. The Chanteclers have tolerated brief hot spells without lasting signs of stress. The summer of 2012 brought consistently hot weather. It started early in the year, with temperatures frequently rising into the mid- to upper 90s. Despite their shady pastures, by late July the Chanteclers showed signs of stress, including periods of reduced laying, poor shell quality and early molting. Some were infested with lice, despite having dust baths available. Ms. Bisco attributes the problems to the heat and drought.
Her Chanteclers normally do well in summer on a diet of local whole grains supplemented with some minerals and kelp, along with their foraging for insects, worms and greens. But in 2012 the heat and drought dramatically reduced the forage quality, and the worms disappeared completely. When she supplemented the diet of one group of Chanteclers with a commercially formulated gamebird crumble, their egg shells improved dramatically. Guessing it might be the higher levels of phosphorous, she increased the dicalcium phosphate for all the rest of the chickens, and found their shells also improved. Many of the molting birds started laying again during their molt.
“When things are really unusual, you sometimes stumble on things that you didn’t know would work,” she said.
Chanteclers such as Ms. Bisco's that have been bred for many generations in cooler summer areas may be expected to be more stressed, less healthy and less productive if taken to an area with hot summers. Chantecler strains bred in areas with cold winters and hot summers, such as the Midwest states, may be expected to be better adapted to heat stress.
She finds her birds happiest in shaded woodlands of the hilly forest ecosystem on her New York State farm during warm summer weather. They spend their days ranging in landscape different from the sunny pastures that suit most chickens. Their white color blends well into the dappled undergrowth. So well, when she tried to show them off to a visitor, all he could see was an occasional tail disappearing under blackberry bushes and wary eyes watching the stranger.
“By the time we reached each pen, it looked absolutely empty,” she said. The visitor never got a good look at any of the 40 or more Chanteclers in that wooded area.
That visitor did get to see a couple other groups of Ms. Bisco’s Chanteclers that day. A group of older, more experienced birds emerged from the woods and some friendly youngsters who had been raised with plenty of human handling came forward.
“Their concern with treats overcame what wariness they'd developed by that age,” she said.