By Laura Haggarty
One of the more unusual looking chickens you may run across is the Frizzle. Frizzled chickens are not so much a breed, as a type of bird. Any breed of chicken can be bred to be frizzled, but the most commonly seen Frizzles are based on Cochins, Plymouth Rocks, Japanese, and Polish chickens. Frizzles are among the hothouse flowers of the poultry fancy, by nature of their plumage which requires special care and breeding to obtain and maintain.
The origin of Frizzled chickens is unclear, some sources state they originated in India, some have them in Italy, some say they were in England as early as the mid 1600s. Whatever their source, they are relatively popular here in the USA now, especially among those who breed bantams for exhibition. However they’re also fun for folks who just want some unusual eye candy in their backyard flock!
Frizzles can be purchased from several hatcheries, including McMurray, Welp, and Sand Hill. Generally those available from hatcheries will be based on Cochins. For the other breeds one must find a breeder who specializes in the other types, and breed clubs are a good place to start to find such a breeder.
There are actually several genetic types of Frizzles, which make some look more extreme than others. The Frizzle gene is an incompletely dominant Pleiotropic gene. That means that it is a single gene that has an influence on a number of traits within the bird, primarily phenotypic, or those that can be outwardly seen. I don’t want to get into a too extensive discussion of the genetics of the bird: a really good explanation can be found in the book Genetics of the Fowl by F.B. Hutt. There’s also a wonderful discussion on the topic that can be found at the website for the Polish Breeders Club (and thanks go out to them for some info that I’ve used in this article!): http://www.polishbreedersclub.com/frizzling.htm.
The reason that Frizzles look like puffballs is the way the mutated gene makes their feathers curl. Normally, the shaft of a chicken feather lies relatively flat and smooth. With the effect of the F gene (frizzling), the shaft of the affected feathers actually curl or spiral, which makes the feathers lift up and away from the Frizzled bird’s skin. Due to the nature of their feathers, many Frizzles do not fly well, and their feathers are more prone to breakage than flat feathered birds (especially females in breeding pens.)
Due to the incomplete dominance of the gene, it’s not often that you get two Frizzles who look exactly alike. When breeding Frizzles, it’s best to breed a Frizzled bird to a non-Frizzled bird. If a Frizzle is bred to a Frizzle, you can wind up with offspring that carry too much of the F gene, and which are called "Curlies." Curlies can sometimes look almost naked, and have feathers that are weak and break easily. So breeding Frizzles is a task not for the faint of heart. But if you’re willing to devote the time and space to them that they need, you can wind up with some really spectacular birds, such as the ones seen in these photos by breeder Donna McCormick, of Alexandria, Kentucky. Donna has had Polish birds for 17 years, and as you can see, works with some unusual and strikingly colored birds. You can find her website at http://bluegrassbantams.com/ where you can also see some of the Silkies she’s been breeding over the years.
Laura Haggarty has been working with poultry since 2000, and her family has had poultry and other livestock since the early 1900s. She and her family live on a farm in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, where they have horses, goats, and chickens. She is a certified 4-H leader, co-founder and Secretary/Treasurer of the American Buckeye Poultry Club, and a Life Member of the ABA and the APA.
To learn more about the American Bantam Association, visit: www.bantamclub.com; write: P.O. Box 127, Augusta, NJ 07822; call: (973) 383-8633.
More Frizzle Photos