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Of Chickens and Breeds

Well… after a lot of thought, discussion, research, and searching; I have decided that recreating a Wisconsin Creole/French-Canadian flock of laying birds is nearly impossible. With my target date of 1800, there is little reference to types of chickens. Although chickens were extremely common on even the smallest of farms during this period, standardization of breeds was not common (the American Standard of Perfection started in 1874). There are some breeds that we knew existed then and still exist today but not in their original form due to standards and selective breeding. Also, most chickens kept by farmers would have been a cross of whatever was available to the farmer, especially in remote places like Wisconsin. These crossed birds were not-so-affectionately called dunghill birds, especially by the elite that kept well-bred birds almost as a hobby (as well as for fighting). Some of these dunghill birds of the 18th and 19th century eventually became standardized and are some of the breeds we have today. Others have been forgotten and have disappeared.

By 1800, a common flock of chickens here in Wisconsin would have been a local mix of French and British fowl. In order to recreate a mixed flock of this sort, I have decided to work towards having a flock of three different birds that represent various aspects of what would have been seen here in Wisconsin historically. The breeds I have selected (and this may change over time as research dictates) are as follows.

1.) Black Star (Barred Rock x RI Red) – Although this is not an historic breed, it resembles many chickens of the period that I have seen in images and it especially looks like a number of French breeds that I have seen, especially the birds that have more gold hackles. Additionally, as a cross-breed, it is somewhat representative of a possible dunghill fowl that could have been in Wisconsin around 1800. I also chose this breed since I have a few already (luck of the draw among my random birds of last year) and they have been good layers of brown eggs.

2.) Barred Rock – This will represent a second type of dunghill bird of more British origin. By the 1750s, in New England, a barred fowl known as the Dominique develops as a local dunghill bird. Dominiques are still bred today, but due to modern standards, only have a rose comb. Historically they also had single combs. Although the Barred Rock is a slightly more modern breed (mid 19th century) and was developed out of a cross between a Dominique and a Java, it is pretty representative of a single-combed Dom. I have chosen this breed for this reason.

3.) Dorking – The Dorking is a very old English breed that dates back to Roman times and was brought to North America quite early. I have chosen this five-toed, white egg laying, English variety as my 3rd breed in order to show a “pure” British stock bird that may have been more recently brought in and introduced to my flock.

And there we have it… the start of my shift to a flock that is slightly more indicative of what a Wisconsin flock of fowl may have looked like in 1800.

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