Some Historic Breeds Are Better Adapted to Cold Weather
By Christine Heinrichs
With the blast of Arctic air that covered the Midwest recently, several people contacted the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities to inquire about chicken breeds that do well in cold weather. Most chickens manage cold well, but some breeds are especially well adapted.
Overall, chickens are heavily feathered and insulated against the cold. Breeds with more feathers do better. Oriental Game breeds such as Malays and Shamos as a group may suffer in cold weather. Naked Necks, with about half the feathers of other breeds, nevertheless seem to fare fine in cold weather.
“Naked Necks are just tough chickens,” said Craig Russell, SPPA president.
Generally, the comb is the most sensitive part of the chicken and most likely to suffer cold damage. Frozen combs do not regenerate – it’s like dubbing. The experience is stressful for the chicken, so it’s best avoided. If your chickens have large single combs and they are coping with temperatures below freezing, a coat of petroleum jelly on the comb can provide some protection.
A heat lamp in the coop, even a regular light bulb, can provide sufficient additional warmth to protect birds from damage. Chickens generate warmth with their own bodies, so more birds means more warmth.
Sometimes the biggest challenge is keeping the water from freezing. Electric water dishes are available. Make sure your chickens have fresh water available.
Silkies, with their hair-like feathers, are subject to chill if their feathers get wet. Keep an extra eye on them.
If you are looking for breeds adapted to cold climates, here are suggestions:
Chanteclers were developed as a Canadian breed and remain the only recognized Canadian breed. Their small, low, cushion combs are well suited to cold weather. They are good winter layers. They are big birds, cocks weighing more than 8 lbs. and hens more than 6 lbs. When the last rooster being kept at the University of Saskatchewan died in 1979, the breed was declared extinct, but small flock owners across Canada and the U.S. had maintained them. The numbers were relatively low, and some breeders graded other breeds into their birds to strengthen them. Chanteclers are a modern composite breed, so they can also be re-created. As a result, there is some discussion about purity of the existing stock and whether birds come from original or re-created lines. You may determine for yourself to what extent you wish to be involved in that discussion.
“I’m willing to testify that at least some modern stock is pure,” said Mr. Russell.
Wyandottes were developed in New York State in the 1870s, another location known for cold winter weather. They feather out well and come in several colors. The Columbian color pattern comes from Wyandottes that were exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair. They are a good dual purpose breed.
Dominiques, with their rose combs, are reliable and sturdy. They have a long American history going back to colonial times, so they have survived many cold winters.
Buckeyes are the only American breed credited to a woman, Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. They are named for the Buckeye state and the Buckeye whose color they have. With their pea combs, they are well-suited to those cold Ohio winters and a good all-around breed.
Norwegian Jaerhons are a long established Scandinavian breed that was standardized in the 20th century. They are smaller, 5 lbs. for cocks and 3-1/2 lbs. for hens, with attractive patterns. A good choice for a hardy dual purpose breed.
Join SPPA by sending $15 to Dr. Charles Everett, 1057 Nick Watts Rd., Lugoff, SC 29078 for a year’s membership that includes a Breeders Directory that will put you in touch with breeders of these and many other poultry breeds.