Dorking, Houdan and Faverolles

by Edward Brown

Races of Domestic Poultry - 1906


by Edward Brown - 1906

Nomenclature: Dorking is used in all countries.

Varieties: Dark or Coloured, Red, Silver-grey, White, Cuckoo.

Classification: Table.

Colour of flesh: White.

Colour of legs: White.

Colour of egg-shells: White.

Origin — It has been suggested that the Dorking fowl originated in Italy, and that its introduction was a result of the Roman occupation of Britain. The basis upon which this theory is built is very slight indeed, and circumstantial rather than direct, as the earlier references to this race do not carry us back further than the seventeenth century. In a work [1] published in 1854, by Mr. G. Ferguson, he states that ‘from 1683 to the present time we have ample proofs that the principal fowls of this description have been bred at Dorking or its environments, and that they have had for a considerable period, and do still retain, the credit of supplying the market with the finest specimens both for appearance and the table.’ What authority the writer had for tracing back the Dorking to 1683 is not stated, and consequently we are unable to form any judgment as to its reliability. That, however, does not carry us to the Roman period, and it may be briefly stated that Columella, a Roman writer who lived about the beginning of the Christian era, described a breed which was evidently in many respects similar to the present-day Dorking. He stated that those hens are reckoned of the purest breed which are five-clawed, but so placed that no cross spurs arise from the legs.’ He further says: ‘Let them be of a reddish or dark plumage, and with black wings... Let the breeding hens, therefore, be of a choice colour, a robust body, square build, full-breasted, with large heads, with upright and bright red combs...Those are believed to be the best bred that have five toes.’

Further evidence is given as to the fifth toe especially, for Pliny, whose ‘Historia Naturalis’ was published A.D. 77, says: ‘Superiority of breed in liens is indicated by an upright comb, sometimes double, black wings, ruddy visage, and an odd number of toes.’ The evidence here given is by no means sufficient, and we are compelled to assume a great deal; but in Ferguson’s work, already referred to, he states that from the southern parts of Italy friends had procured three specimens which were facsimiles of our Dorking fowls, with the exception of the size, which was smaller. During a visit to Italy in 1903 we found birds bearing some resemblance to the Dorking, although these may have been the descendants of fowls taken from Britain to the Peninsula. From the ancient references quoted it may be taken for certain that a breed of the Dorking type was known in Italy at the period of the above-named writers, and, judging the habits of the Romans from our own, it is not unreasonable to assume that when they held Britain they introduced into this country animals from their own land. Be that as it may, it is very evident that fowls of the Dorking type have been known in Britain for a very long period of time, far beyond any direct record that we possess. It is unnecessary to give excerpts from English writers, because many of these quotations would hardly help us. It was not until the nineteenth century that we have any definite information as to the fowl under its present name. We find from a work published in the early part of the eighteenth century by the great Frenchman, De Réaumur (the English edition being issued in 1750) — but which does not deal much with breeds — the following statement [2] : ‘The hens of one of these species I mean have five toes, viz., three fore and two hinder ones; the second of these two hinder claws, which is the supernumerary, is much larger than the other; it seems not, however, to be the most useful to the foot, as it keeps frequently off the ground. As for the rest, this kind of hen is one of the largest, and deserves, on account of their considerable bulk, that we should endeavour to multiply them.’

History — The first definite description of the Dorking, or Darking, as it was then called, with details enabling us to recognise it, is found in Moubray’s ‘Practical Treatise,’ which was first published in 1815. [3]

‘The Darking Fowl, so called from a town in Surrey, where probably the variety was first bred, and where, and in its vicinity, they are to be found in great plenty and perfection, is, in the third degree, the largest of our fowls, well shaped, having a long, capacious body and short legs, and is a plentiful layer. The genuine colour entire white; chief distinctive mark, five claws upon each foot. The white is probably not so pure as that of certain of the dunghill fowls, nor is the colour of the flesh, that inclining to yellow or ivory shade. The Darking are the species generally made into capons. In a large agricultural survey of the county of Sussex an attempt is made to deprive Darking of the honour of originating this famous variety of fowls, with what degree of success it would be a waste of time to inquire; it is sufficient we possess such a variety, and know where it is in perfection. The surveyor pretends that the Darking fowls are all raised in the Weald of Sussex, and that Horsham is the chief market for them; that their having five claws is by no means their true and original characteristic, such peculiarity being merely fortuitous, and, in fact, objectionable; and that those so marked are deemed a bastard breed. No doubt it is probable that having five claws accidentally brought into notice certain fine and well-formed individuals; but from those proceeded a distinguished variety, and that variety bearing the name of Darking, seems a sufficient proof in favour of that town and its neighbourhood. In the meantime, the appellation “Darking fowl” has been in use, I apprehend, far beyond the memory of anyone now living; and it is not at all improbable the large Sussex breed has originated from a Darking cross, the peculiar mark of five claws employed, compared with that of the Sussex or common cocks, which were not so distinguished. Such is a common case in crossing varieties of livestock, the home variety in the end gets uppermost, as being the majority. In fine, five claws form an original distinction in the common cock and hen, adverted to by Buffon; nor is there anything inconvenient or injurious in it, the fifth claw being seldom of sufficient magnitude to cumber the foot, or cause it to scratch out the eggs, as has been apprehended.’

What Moubray here says as to the name being a sufficient proof of the breed having been originated around Dorking cannot be accepted, but at any rate it is proof that it had been greatly developed in that district, and there can be no question that at one time the finest Dorking fowls, as we have since come to call them, were bred largely in the Weald of Sussex. There is, however, other evidence to show that fowls of this type were not confined to the South of England, for it is stated that in Cumberland birds having five toes, and with a square body, were bred there, being known as the Jew breed, and in other places as the Silver Pheasant breed, whilst in Scotland they were called the old Scotch breed. As one writer in the Gardener’s Chronicle in 1848 stated: ‘This Jew kind is said to be very ancient in Cumberland; and it is still very usual for the Lancashire men to carry oft any fine birds of this race which they see among the mountain cottages. However, it would be a vain attempt to trace the origin of a breed which was accurately described 2,000 years ago by a Roman writer; and, as Roman stations abound in Cumberland, it is quite possible that a poultry-fancying praetor, 1,500 years since, might send or carry in the same year the first couple of Dorking fowls to the banks of the Thames, and to the old camp at Ambleside, or Castle Hill at Keswick.’

Economic Qualities Pre-eminently the Dorking is valued for its meat properties. Whilst there is a considerable difference in the laying powers of the varieties, and in families of those varieties, at the same time we do not regard the Dorking as a first-class layer. It produces large-sized, white-shelled eggs, and is an early layer, which is always a distinct advantage in the production of table poultry, because the chickens can be hatched out early in the year. It would be a mistake, however, to unduly increase the laying qualities of the breed, because this would be at the expense of the table properties, and the Dorking, by its fineness of flesh, its delicacy of skin, the whiteness of the flesh and legs, and the abundance of meat carried upon the body, must be regarded as one of the best table fowls that it is possible to obtain. Birds of this breed, however, do not fatten quite as well as when crossed with some other varieties, and we are inclined to think that, so far as the fattening is concerned several breeds which owe their origin to some extent to the influence of the Dorking look better when finished off, though this does not apply so much in the case of the younger specimens as in that of the older birds. It is a fact undoubtedly, as can be proved by observation at the Smithfield and other table-poultry shows, that the Dorking seldom looks as smooth and even as some of the cross-breds, and a few other pure breeds. One great point to keep in view, and it has not been as much regarded as might have been expected, is fineness of bone. In order to obtain huge size for exhibition purposes, there has been a tendency to coarseness of bone, probably due to some extent to extraneous influence. This is a point which should be carefully avoided. Whilst there must be a substantial frame, at the same time we do not desire any coarseness in the bone. The one great disadvantage which the Dorking has when bred pure is that it is found unsuitable for heavy or clay lands, for under these conditions it does not thrive well, as it appears to be unable to withstand such influences. It is important to know this, because we always advise those living upon clay lands not to go in for the production of first-class table poultry, but rather to select the yellow-legged varieties, and make egg production the primary consideration.

Description — It would require much more space than can be afforded to discuss all the different influences that have been at work in making the Dorking such as we know it today; but from the evidence which is obtainable we may accept the statement that the Dorking, as bred 100 years ago and previous to that time, was to a large extent white in plumage, although there were many other colours. In an edition of Moubray’s ‘Treatise’ published in 1854, the white is there acknowledged as the pure Dorking, and the writer goes on to say [4] that ‘this, the genuine Dorking breed, owing to the innumerable crosses to which they have been subjected, is now becoming exceedingly scarce, and can scarcely be met with beyond a very circumscribed district in Surrey.’ It is interesting, in connection with the discussion as to the colour of the pure Dorking, that Columella said, speaking of the fowl already referred to, ‘Let the white ones be avoided, for they are generally both tender and less vivacious, and are also not found to be prolific.’ There is further evidence also that a good many of the fowls of this type which have been found in South Italy during the last hundred years have been chiefly white in plumage. The question, however, is one which is fill of difficulties, and we can leave it as here stated.

Moubray’s work gives the following subvarieties of the improved Dorking

(a) Grays: speckled, spangled.

(b) Reds: speckled or pied, pencilled.

(c) Black breasted: silver, golden, Japan.

(d) Cuckoo-breasted.

In Ferguson’s work the Dorkings are divided into the following subvarieties: white, coloured, grey, mottled grey, spangled or speckled, brown, rubles, cuckoos, virgils, bride-laced, Japans, Norfolk-fords, grey-fords, and muffs. As to some of these we have no present knowledge, and as descriptions are not given in the works referred to, it is impossible to say what they were like, more especially as the writer suggests that they were either cross-breds, or that the names were merely local distinctions.

The present purpose is to describe the Dorking as we know it today. Many people are apt to exalt whatever belongs to the past, and to depreciate the present. Whilst, therefore, we may accept the statement that there were some good Dorkings fifty years ago, at the same time it must be conceded that there was a great uncertainty in type and in character. That there were first-rate birds is evident from an interesting letter which appeared in the Live Stock Journal, nearly thirty years ago, from Mr .A.B. Allen, of New York, who said: ‘I first visited England in 1841, and in looking over the poultry there, this bird (the Dorking) struck me as being the shorthorn of barn-door fowls — that is, the best for general purposes — and I resolved to take some of them back to America with me. I accordingly selected two cocks and half a dozen pullets, and got them safely to my farm in the State of New York. They were of brilliant variegated plumage, chiefly brown-spangled and partridge colours of the darker shades, and the cocks black-breasted. They had shortish white legs, five toes, and both single and double combs: the bodies were pheasant-shaped, long, round, and full, with a deep breast, like a shorthorn ox; the head was fine, well-set on to a small, clean, graceful neck; they were thickly feathered, hardy and thrifty, excellent layers, steady sitters, and careful nurses. Well fatted, the hens weighed 6 to 7 pounds each, the cocks nine to ten pounds; when caponized they came up to 12 pounds. They were the best table fowls I ever ate. They had white skins and flesh, with little offal. So far as I have been able to ascertain, I was the first importer of the Dorking fowl into America. Subsequently many other importations followed. Some of these were of larger size than mine, but possessed the same characteristics. They varied in plumage from light or silver to dark grey, partridge colours to brown-spangled and almost black. Pure White Dorkings were also imported; but instead of being small, like bantams, as suggested by a correspondent, they were nearly as large as the coloured, but not quite so hardy.’

Recent breeding has undoubtedly led to greater fixity of colour, and, as we see below, the number of varieties is considerably reduced. This, however, is generally the case when attention is fixed more especially upon certain types, and no attempt is made to take advantage of variations in the formation of new varieties. The main points in the Dorking are that the head shall be large; the neck thick, rather short, and with full hackle; the breast full and prominent, with long, perfectly straight breast-bone; the body large, square, and deep; the back broad and rather long, flat on the shoulders, narrowing slightly towards the stern; wings large and well carried up; tail large and flowing in the cock, carried moderately up, and with long, broad, and well-arched sickle feathers the thighs thick and stout, but covered by the plumage; the legs short and strong, but fine in bone, and the feet large and broad, with five toes. In all the breeds of Dorkings, without exception, the legs and feet are pure white in colour, as also are the toe-nails; the beak is horn colour. Weight: males, 9 to 12 pounds; females, 7 to 10 pounds.

Varieties — It is very difficult indeed to trace the evolution of the varieties of the Dorking, which have been reduced rather than increased in number. We have seen that in the early fifties of last century eight at least were named, but some of these are no longer to be found, and were probably then merely slight variations of three or four leading types. It will have been noticed that the Whites were not included, which is surprising, as they were known long before that time.

Dark or coloured — Much controversy has arisen as to Coloured Dorkings. The editor of the 1854 edition of Moubray’s ‘Poultry Book’ stated that the Black-breasted Dorkings were produced by crossing with Spanish, which statement is supported by the testimony that about the period named Dorkings of this variety were decidedly flatter in front than we are now accustomed to see. It would appear that the variety, as we know it to-day, was really produced by Mr. J. Douglas, then manager of the poultry-yard at Clumber, and no secret was made of the fact that a cross had been employed. Mr. Douglas selected hens of a grey and brown Dorking type; these he mated with a male imported from India, and in the last edition of Wright’s ‘Book of Poultry’ he gave the following particulars with regard to that bird [5] :

‘The bird was a model single-combed Dorking in all but the fifth toe, which was absent; and it is quite wrong to say that he was of the Malayan type, for there was not the least type of Malay about him; he had white legs and all the characters of the Dorking, except, as before stated, the fifth toe. I firmly believe that he must have been a cross from a bird of the Dorking tribe — taken out to India — with what cross I could not say, but certainly not the Malay.’

There can be no question that for many years the Dark Dorking was distinctly a coarser bird than we know it today, but the advantage of the out-crossing was considerable, and its evil influences have to a large extent been obliterated by breeding. The Dark Dorking is the largest of the race. Taking the general type already mentioned as the basis, the variations are that there is a good deal of black upon a greyish-white or steely-blue background. It has a single comb, with red earlobe, though often this is slightly tinged with white, and it has a black breast. The appearance is very striking when viewed sideways, by reason of its square shape. The Coloured Dorking is the heaviest in bone of all the different varieties, and special care requires to be taken in that direction. In flesh qualities the Dark Dorking does not compare favourably with the silver-grey, as it does not fatten so well, nor is the breast so thickly covered with muscle as might be expected. An attempt has been made to introduce a Dark Dorking with rose comb, but it has not met with popular favour.

Red — A variety which would appear to have been commonly seen in Kent and Sussex, but which is now seldom met with, is the Red, although it has been kept by a few breeders for at least sixty years. One of these breeders, Mr. Harry Hamlin, of Edenbridge, read a paper at Edenbridge, July 29, 1899, in which he said:

‘My own recollection of these beautiful fowls dates back some thirty years ago, when my father, the late Mr. Henry Hamlin, of St. Piers’ Farm, Lingfield, Surrey, finding this good old breed becoming very rare, decided to carefully preserve them, which he did until his death, and which I have continued to do ever since, with the greatest pleasure, profit, and satisfaction. One great point in favour of the Red Dorkings is that they have never been crossed with Asiatic fowls, which gives coarseness of bone, thick yellow skin, and looseness of feather. In viewing a pen of Red Dorkings, the first thing that strikes us is the beautiful red hackles of the cock, and his most compact shape and general absence of all coarseness. We also notice his well-formed single comb, which is smaller than the present-day Dorking, and which, with his face, earlobes, and wattles, are of a beautiful red. We notice that his breast and tail are black; his legs are beautifully white, with some pink on the inside of shank; that the legs are very short indeed, and that he has five well-developed toes on each foot. If you take this fowl in hand you will be astonished at the weight, owing to great quantity of ineat on the breast.’

Respecting this variety Mr. Harrison Weir writes [6] : ‘The Red Dorkings were at one time common in Kent and Sussex, and are not a new breed, as some writing on the subject have stated. The Reds are mentioned by almost every writer for over 300 years as the best of all. They were quite common fifty years ago. The late Mr. Hamlin, liking their appearance, kept them pure, and those I had were the descendants of them. Kept pure by his sons —- Mr Hamlin, of Highfields, Speldhurst, Kent (selecting his more for the lacing), and Mr. Harry Hamlin, of Haxted Mill, Edenbridge (selecting his more for the richness of the red colour) — I had a very fine Black-breasted Red cock from him a short time ago. These birds are the old Kent and Sussex five-toed breed, and their crow has the ring of that we used to hear about our home-steads fifty years ago and more.’

Mr. Hamlin very emphatically repudiates the suggestion that the Red Dorking is related to the Red Sussex.

Silver grey — The Silver-grey Dorking may, without depreciation of other varieties of that breed, reasonably be claimed as the handsomest of its family. Its beautiful gradations of colour in both sexes, its conformity of size and shape, the compact yet substantial build of body, the pure whiteness of legs and feet in the best specimens, offer an attractive combination. For many years the efforts of some of the most skilful breeders have been devoted to its perfection, and we may claim that it is of a higher type of excellence than ever before. We have only to read the descriptions of Dorkings as bred thirty to forty years ago to see that, whilst the birds then kept were good, they had not attained the same quality as is now to be met with. This has not been at the expense of size or flesh qualities, for the birds are as large, if not larger, and the external points have not been secured by either coarseness of meat or of bone.

Whilst the Coloured Dorking frequently attains a slightly increased weight as compared with the Silver-grey, the latter has finer flesh and bone, and thus the actual quantity of muscle found on the body is remarkably even between the two varieties. Weight is not in itself a determining factor in all cases, for the relative quantities of bone and of flesh must be taken into consideration. It is in this direction that the Silver-grey excels. The French, who are nothing if not practical, have adopted this variety in preference to any other Dorking, and it has had considerable influence in making some of the breeds, which are specially favoured across the English Channel. Size is not the first consideration with our French neighbours, who look to quality, and several of their finest races are not very large in frame, but when properly fattened are found to carry a great quantity of flesh.

It is essentially as a table fowl that the Silver-grey Dorking excels. The fineness of bone, delicacy of flesh, and large proportion of breast-meat, win for it one of the first positions among domestic poultry. To retain these should be the aim of every breeder, who must remember that there is no antagonism between external appearance and profitable qualities if the true principles which underlie our livestock are understood. The hens are by no means to be despised as layers, and whilst they do not equal some of the non-sitters in the number of eggs produced, they are early layers — a most important quality in connection with table poultry. The eggs are large, white in shell, and of excellent flavour. There are many who prefer a Dorking egg to one from any other breed and it is unquestionable that they are excellent. This is to be expected when we remember the flesh qualities of the fowls.

White — It is generally admitted, that the original type of Dorking was chiefly white in plumage, but it was allowed practically to become extinct until resuscitated a few years ago for exhibition purposes. The White is distinctly different from those already named, in that it has a rose comb. But we find [7] that at one time this feature was by no means a fixed character. Further, it is scarcely so square in body as either of the two former, more of the thighs being seen. It is pure white in plumage, and upon lawns or grass it is a very beautiful bird indeed. Generally bred for ornamental purposes, it is not nearly so widely kept as the two varieties before named.

Cuckoo — There is a variety of Dorking which has now and again attained a measure of attention, but thus far has not won much favour. In this variety the plumage has a light bluish-grey ground, each feather barred across with bands of darker grey or blue, and uniform throughout, both in cocks and hens. It is a hardy variety, and it is to be regretted that it is not more developed.  


by Edward Brown - 1906

Nomenclature: In all countries, Houdan.

Variety: One.

Classification: Non-sitting.

Colour of flesh and skin: Creamy-white.

Colour of legs and feet: Pink-white, mottled with blue or black.

Colour of egg-shells: Dead white.

The Houdan, both in its native country — France — and in Britain, appeared as if it would step into the first rank of domestic poultry, as measured by general distribution and universal popularity for utility purposes, but it has failed to reach the position anticipated for it, and has lost ground considerably of late years. In the United Kingdom a reasonable explanation can be found, as seen below.

Origin — Many suggestions have been put forward as to its descent, some of which were due to characteristics found in other breeds, and the inference was-accepted that these breeds had been used in making the Houdan as we know it today, but without a particle of direct evidence. From the fact that it has five toes on each foot the Dorking has been claimed a one of its ancestors, and the crest has suggested descent from the Polish [8] . But later observations have shown that we cannot fully accept these statements That the fowl originated in the Seine-et-Oise department of France seems to be undoubted, and at one period it was almost universal there. M. La Perre de Roo says [9] ‘that some authorities suggest that it has descended from the Padoue (Polish), from which it has inherited the crest; and also the Dorking, from which it has taken the peculiarity of the fifth toe. But all is pure conjecture without any positive proof, and its relationship with the Dorking is very doubtful, because it has neither the comb, the plumage, nor the form of body of that breed. It is certain that the Houdan has existed in Beauce for centuries, taking its name from the little town of Houdan, chief of the canton, arrondissement of Mantes, Department of Seine-et-Oise, where large quantities of fowls of this race are raised and fattened for the Paris and London markets.’

Although M. La Perre de Roo adduces no evidence in support of the claim for the antiquity of the breed, it is not improbable that birds of this type have been known for more than a century in the Houdan district, where poultry-breeding has for long been an important industry. We have already seen that the Polish fowl was at one time common in Normandy [10] , and doubtless was distributed over a wide area; also that the late Charles Darwin classed the Houdan as well as the Crèvecoeur as sub-races of the Polish. Our view is that the descent was through the Crève, not direct. That Crève influence has been used in later years is undeniable, both in France and England, but our present purpose is to learn the prior origin. It should be remembered that French authorities claim that the Dorking was received into the South of England from Normandy, that it has been bred there since the time of the Roman occupation of Gaul, and that five-toed fowls of this type have been known in Northern France for many centuries. In support of this statement M. La Perre de Roo speaks [11] of the ‘race commune à cinq doigts’ (common fowl with five toes) as follows: ‘The breed is characterized by the peculiarity of a fifth toe which she carries on each foot, and is found in the neighbourhood of Courtrai, Bruges, Ghent, and other Belgian towns, and also in the northern departments of France, where it has a high and well-merited reputation.’

So nearly allied does this author regard it with the Dorking that he uses the same illustration for the Silver-grey Dorking hen and the common five-toed hen. Perhaps this may explain the striking preference in France for Silver-greys, as Dark Dorkings are seldom seen; but we must confess that in our peregrinations in France we have not met with the type to the extent here suggested, although fowls more or less of this shape and colour of plumage are found in all countries. It is impossible to decide whether the Dorking came to Britain from France, or was brought direct by the Romans, but we do know that large numbers of Dorkings have been sent to France from this country in recent years. M. Mégnin, in ‘Élevage et Engraissement des Volailles,’ mentions the common five-toed fowl as one of the progenitors of the Houdan. Taking the evidence so far as obtained, the following table of descent may be accepted:

Black Polish --->Crèvecoeur

Crèvecoeur x Common five-toed fowl ---> Houdan

Since 1878 there has been further infusion of Crèvecoeur blood, as shown by the darker plumage which for a time prevailed, and M. Lemoine [12] says that Light Brahma influence has been used to increase the size of body. This may be true in France, but in Britain the Crève and the Dorking have alone been employed.

History — It may be accepted that the Houdan was widely distributed over Southern Normandy in the early part of last century, but would appear to have been introduced into Britain about 1850. At first they were known as the Normandy fowl, of which Wingfield and Johnson thus speak [13] : ‘The old birds are entirely speckled in black and white; they have a small erect top-knot, not drooping backwards like a lark-crest. The plumage of the male bird is much darker than that of the hen. In shape they are lengthy, but become contracted towards the tail. The cock’s tail is of great length; his comb and wattles are also of large size. The chickens are very peculiar, having at first perfectly black backs and white breasts [14] , but they gradually become speckled, like the old birds. They have five claws, and the skin of the leg is pied black and white.’ They are mentioned under the same name by Moubray (edition 1854), Ferguson, and other writers of that period. No reference is -made to the shape of the comb, which is characteristic of the breed, but descriptions were not very precise. They were first brought prominently forward by Mr. Geylin in 1865, in a pamphlet entitled ‘Poultry-breeding from a Common Point of View,’ in which it is stated that they have a triple comb, ‘the outsides opening like two leaves of a book, and the centre having the appearance of an ill-shaped, long strawberry’ — the first reference to this peculiar form we have been able to trace. In the first edition of Wright’s ‘Book of Poultry’ (1874) it is stated that ‘when first imported the fifth toe was very uncertain,’ and in the last edition (1902) Mr. S.W. Thomas says that ‘twenty years ago a leaf-comb was quite the exception’; but we bred Houdans in 1875, and then the leaf-comb was general, as also the fifth toe, as proved by the illustrations published about that period.

Thirty years ago, taking its economic qualities into consideration, it was anticipated, and not without reason, that the Houdan would become almost universal in this country, and for a few years it obtained a large measure of popularity; but, for reasons given below, that has not proved to be the case, neither as an exhibition or utility fowl. With a few exceptions, it is only bred to a limited extent, and. in France also other breeds — notably the Faverolles — have taken its place. But it has yet considerable value for crossing purposes.

Economic Qualities — The Houdan in this country has always been recognised as a most useful fowl, and had it not been for the crest, we believe that it would have attained a much greater amount of popularity, more especially amongst utilitarian poultry-keepers. It is a good layer of large-sized eggs, and makes an excellent table fowl. In neither direction does it compare with what may be termed specialized breeds, but with the combination of these two qualities it is specially suited to farmers, and also from the fact that the chickens are precocious. The one drawback to the breed has undoubtedly been the crest. In a moist climate such as we have in the United Kingdom crested fowls need special care in that they should be sheltered during wet weather, otherwise the rain, passing between the feathers of the crest, makes them more liable to cold. All this involves trouble, and although some breeders, as a matter of course, cut the feathers from the heads of Houdans, still, the majority of people cannot trouble themselves in this way. To some extent the same is found in France, and it is suggested by some writers that Houdans do better in a dry climate and upon dry soils. There can be no question that, for practical purposes, with the exception just referred to, the Houdan is a most valuable breed, and as the smaller-crested birds are found the better for practical purposes, anyone going in for Houdans would be wise to select these in preference to the larger-crested show-birds. M. Lemoine [15] thus speaks with regard to this breed:

‘At Houdan a large portion of the eggs are hatched by turkeys, and breeders regularly compel the turkey-hens to hatch when required. The Houdan chicks are very precocious, and they take fattening well at the age of four months. The food employed is generally barley-meal mixed with milk, but the fattening is not pressed to a very high extent. The poulterers seek, above all, what they call the “soft pullet,’’ which is sold very easily.’

In the Houdan district large numbers of chickens are raised in winter for the spring markets, and at one time — to a greater extent formerly than now — the Houdan was chiefly depended upon for this purpose, as its quickness of growth, light bone, and excellent flesh qualities, make it very suitable for that special trade. Hatching usually commences in October, and continues until March — that is, the hatching of chickens intended to be killed — but birds bred to be used as breeding-stock are not usually brought out until March and April, and the pullets are depended upon to produce the early eggs in the autumn. These young pullets are mated with two or three year old cocks in October, to minimize as far as possible their immaturity, to which the measure of loss of vigour noted in recent years can be attributed. As already stated, hatching is largely by means of turkeys. The eggs of Houdans are of a dull white colour, and are of a good size, averaging in adults nearly 2¼ ounces.

The following description of the method of feeding chickens will be read with interest [16] :

‘The food employed for chickens consists of stale breadcrumbs mixed with hard-boiled eggs and cooked rice, and plenty of boiled milk, which, however, is often given with bread alone. This food is continued for eight to ten days, when the eggs and rice are stopped, and after that time fine barley-meal mixed with skim-milk is given alone. Boiled milk, however, is continued several times per day during the next three or four weeks, which is found very appetizing and beneficial... At the age of three and a half to four months the birds are fatted.’

For crossing purposes the Houdan is found very useful, and some of the best layers we have known were Leghorn-Houdans, and excellent table chickens are produced by mating the Dorking or Indian Game or Wyandotte with this breed. Unfortunately, in confinement the Houdan is very prone to the objectionable habit of feather-eating. It is desirable to note that the smaller-sized hens are usually the better layers.

Description In describing the Houdan, we must not forget that considerable modifications have taken place in birds bred in England. This is not peculiar to the Houdan, nor yet to fowls, as it is seen in other directions also, but more has been done in this case to change the type than is usual. Of late years the French Houdans have been brought more into character with the English than was formerly the case. The following description of the French Houdan is taken from M. Lemoine’s work [17] :

‘The Houdan cock has a fine presence, somewhat proud, carrying the head high; beak is a little curved; the breast large; the feet short, strong, carried widely apart, and with five toes, of which the three anterior rest upon the ground, and the two hind-toes are well separate; it carries a crest of fine feathers, falling backwards; the whiskers are fully furnished, the beard standing well out; the comb is fleshy, and represents the shell of an open mussel, a little serrated at the edges ; in the middle of the two parts of the comb which compose it there is a third rudimentary comb; the wattles are long and red; the earlobes white, short, and covered by the whiskers; the plumage is black and white mixed, regularly marked, some of the feathers being white and some black, but they are black and white, not grey.’

The legs are pinky-white, mottled with black. The Houdan hen is in all respects similar to the cock, with the differences of sex. When we examine the English Houdans it is to find that the type, as already stated, has been considerably modified. In the first place, the comb is much more defined, and the crest very large in comparison with those bred in France. In all cases there is the tendency to incline backwards, and thus to fully expose the comb; but, instead of the more scanty crest seen generally upon French Houdans, there has been a large increase in size, and, without giving it the shape of the Polish crest, making it a more prominent feature. This has undoubtedly been arrived at by crossing the Crève into the Houdan.

A further point is seen in that the majority of English Houdans are much darker than those met with in France. At one time there was the same tendency across the Channel, but this has been abandoned, and the lighter plumaged birds are preferred.

We think that there has been an improvement in the colour of the legs, which at one time were rather inclined to be too dark; but now it is recognised that pinky-white, mottled with blue or black, is much more in accordance with the birds themselves. The general shape and carriage of the bird is bold and active. Weight: males, 7 to 9 pounds; females, 5 to 7 pounds. But as Houdans have always been recognised as good layers, considering their table qualities, an undue increase in size would be undesirable.  


by Edward Brown - 1906

Nomenclature: In all countries, Faverolles.

Variety: Salmon, Light, Black.

Classification: General Purpose.

Colour of flesh and skin: White.

Colour of legs and feet: White.

Colour of egg-shells: Dark cream.

For more than twenty years we have been familiar with a fowl in France bearing some resemblance to the Faverolles, but which was regarded as a mongrel, the result of indiscriminate crossing. About 1886 the name began to be given in the Paris markets to birds having a distinctive character to the Houdan. In that year the late Mr. Alexander Comyns, B.A., the editor of Poultry, went on a quest, but his account [18] confirmed our own observations, namely, that no fowls could be found deserving separate recognition. Since that time, however, much has been done both in France and England.

Origin — Some of the leading French writers on poultry do not recognise the Faverolles as worthy of notice, but we are fortunately able to obtain information from other sources. It is generally accepted that the breed owes its existence to a variety of crosses made upon the common fowls of the Seine-et-Oise and Eure-et-Loir districts of France, where poultry production is a most important industry. M. Cornevin [19] says that it has been formed by crossing either between the Dorking and the Cochin, or the Houdan with the Cochin and Langshan. Neither of these crosses would account for the Faverolles, which has characteristics due to none of the breeds named. In the article by the late Mr. Alexander Comyns referred to above he says, speaking of the fowls found in the Houdan market, that (1886) ‘they are cross-breds, showing a trace of Houdan, Dorking, Brahma, and sometimes Cochin,’ with indications of what he terms Cossacks, but which we believe from other evidence to have been single-combed Crèves, and he adds that he ‘saw a great many black, single-combed, bearded birds of good size.’ In a work published about twelve years ago Mr. Rouillier-Arnoult, of the Poultry School at Gambais, says [20] that ‘to get a true explanation of the breed it is necessary to go back about forty years. Faverolles then possessed a common race of fowls and Houdans. When the great feathered races of Cochins, Brahmas, and Dorkings appeared, the infatuation for these fine-looking birds was excessive, and cocks were used of these breeds to cross with the common fowl, particularly with that of Houdan. From these crosses, made without method, came mongrel fowls, but with the size and strength of the males, whilst keeping that delicacy of flesh which contributes to the success of any fowl in France.’ Here we have, as far as can be traced, the origin of the Faverolles, shown in the subjoined table of descent.

Polish --> Crèvecoeur

Crèvecoeur x Five toed common fowl --> Houdan

Houdan x Dorking --> Mongrel of Houdan with Dorking

Mongrel of Houdan with Dorking x Light Brahma --> Faverolles

It will be seen that to the Dorking and Houdan influences are due the white flesh and legs and the fifth toe; to the Dorking the single comb; to the Crève and Houdan the whiskers and beard; to the Brahma the feathering on the legs and the tinted-shelled egg. Mr. J.P.L. Marx points out [21] that when first imported into Britain the single comb and beards were difficult to breed, and we should expect from the ancestry that there would be considerable variation.

History — The name is obtained from a village called Faverolles, in the Department of Eure-et-Loir, about midway between the towns of Houdan, Dreux, and Noyent-le-Roi, and in a district where poultry-raising is carried on extensively, supplying a large portion of the fowls sold on the Houdan market, one of the most important in France. Faverolles were gradually evolved without any definite desire on the part of breeders to establish a new breed, who had in view the production of good table chickens and winter eggs. It was stated by a visitor to that district in 1896 [22] that ‘out of ten farmers [in the Houdan country] nine keep Faverolles and one Houdans; also, 98 per cent. of the fowls on the central markets of Paris under the name of Houdans are Faverolles, which weigh several pounds more than the former. About 1895 an Irish lady, who had attended the French Poultry School at Gambais, imported a number of specimens into the Green Isle, where they were found most valuable; but in the previous year they were introduced into England, since which time they have won a large amount of favour among practical poultry-keepers, due to their hardihood and prolificacy. It cannot, however, be said that they are satisfactory to breeders, due to the uncertainty in colour, but that is always the case with new races produced by such a mixture as found in Faverolles. That is in process of correction, and the type will ultimately be fixed. We can only hope that in so doing the sterling economic qualities of the breed will not be spoiled, of which there is always a danger.

Economic Qualities — The Faverolles is essentially a business fowl, bred by reason of its hardi-hood, prolificacy, rapidity of growth, and fattening quality. A French writer has said that ‘as idea, farmyard fowls they started unrivalled, their superiority being uncontestable, having large size, early maturity, excessive hardiness, good laying properties, superior quality of flesh, splendid sitters and mothers. No fowls, either, are better adapted for cold countries-owing to their small combs not being liable to be frozen, and on account of their downy and warm feather clothing.’

These claims have been fully supported by our experience in all parts of the United Kingdom, and the absence of crest, which has been so fatal to the Houdan in our moist climate, makes the Faverolles the most suitable French fowl for our conditions yet produced. The chickens are quick in growth, and very fleshy. As crosses they are excellent. In the spring of 1904, in an experiment made at the College Poultry Farm, Theale, the Faverolles Buff Orpingtons made the most rapid growth out of sixty birds. Five cockerels of this cross attained an average weight of 2.9375 pounds and eight pullets an average weight of 2.3203 pounds in twelve weeks. The hens are very prolific layers, more especially in winter, of medium-sized eggs, and make excellent sitters and mothers.

Description — In body the Faverolles is large, broad, and deep; the breast is broad, prominent, and with a deep keel; the back broad at the shoulders, flat, and square; wings rather small and carried well up; the neck is short and thick, well covered with hackle; head short and broad, with no crest, and a short stout beak, horn in colour; comb single, moderate in size, evenly serrated, and fine in texture; wattles small and fine; it has thick, full board and muffs, short, and standing well out; earlobes white and small, hidden by the whiskers; the tail is full, with broad medium sickles; legs medium in length, wide-set, and strongly built, but not heavy in bone; toes five, firmly placed the outer sides of the legs, which are pinky-white, and the outer toe on each foot, are sparsely covered with soft feathers, but there should be no appearance of hock feathers on the thighs; the carriage is sprightly and active, but the birds are very tame, and can be kept easily in confinement. Weight: males, 6½ to 8½ pounds; females, 5 to 7 pounds. At first birds of all colours were met with — partridge, salmon, red, ermine, black, and white — but selection is gradually eliminating all but those named below.

Varieties — As already stated, there is great divergence of plumage, but the following are now attaining greater evenness of colour. In all the beak is horn, the legs and feet pinky-white, combs and wattles red.

Salmon In the cock, breast, wing-bar, primary feathers, thighs and under-fluff, and tail black; beard and muffs black, ticked with white; hackles and wing-bows straw; back and shoulders a mixture of black, white, and brown. Hens largely wheaten-brown.

Light — Like the light Brahma, namely, silvery-white, but with striped hackles, and wing feathers and tail edged with black.

Black — Self-coloured.


[1] ‘Rare and Prize Poultry,’ by G. Ferguson, Secretary to the London Poultry Improvement Association (London, 1854), pp. 86-87.

[2] The Art of Hatching and Bringing up Domestic Fowls’ by M. de Réaumur (London, 1750), p. 443.

[3] A Practical Treatise on Breeding, Rearing, and Fattening all Kinds of Domestic Poultry’, by Bonington Moubray (London, 1824) pp. 16-18.

[4] A Practical Treatise on Breeding, Rearing, and Fattening all Kinds of Domestic Poultry’, by Bonington Moubray (London, 1824) p. 124.

[5] New Book of Poultry,’ by Lewis Wright (London, 1902), p. 370.

[6] Stockkeeper, March, 26, 1897.

[7] ‘Ornamental and Domestic Poultry,’ by Rev. E.S. Dixon (London, 1850), p. 279.

[8] Vide ‘The Houdan Fowl,’ by Chas. Lee (London, 1874), pp. 9-10; and ‘Practical Poultry-Keeper’, by Lewis Wright (London, 1885), p. 190, etc.

[9] ‘Monographie des Races de Poules,’ par V. La Perre de Roo (Paris, 1902), p. 79.

[10] See Crèvecoeur.

[11] ‘Monographie des Races de Poules,’ par V. La Perre de Roo (Paris, 1902), p. 39.

[12] La Basse-Cour,’ par E. Lemoine (Paris), p. 69.

[13] ‘The Ponltry Book,’ by Wingfield and Johnson (London 1853), p. 225.

[14] A characteristic of Hondan chicks.— E. B.

[15] ‘La Basse Cour Pratique,’ par E. Lemoine (Paris), p. 68.

[16] ‘La Basse Cour Pratique,’ par E. Lemoine (Paris), p. 71.

[17] Ibid., pp. 66-67.

[18] Poultry, May 21, 1886, p. 235.

[19] ‘Les Oiseaux de Basse-Cour,’ par Ch. Cornevin (Paris, 1895), p. 215.

[20] ‘Artificial Incubation and Rearing,’ par Rouillier-Arnoult (Paris), p. 33.

[21] New Book of Poultry,’ (London, 1902), p. 457.

[22] Feathered World, October 23, 1896, p. 438.