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Passion for Poultry
May 20, 2009   
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An ordinary chicken can be a fascinating creature.

Chickens were domesticated about 4,000 years ago. At first they were only a source of food, but soon people noticed that certain specimens had special traits of character or appearance.

The tails of Japanese Onagadori roosters can grow almost 13 meters long. There are many breeds that produce long, almost one-minute crowing that is often referred to as singing.

At the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, Marco Polo mentioned hens with "cat fur," or Silkies. For many years, people thought they were a cross between a chicken and a cat. No wonder, since they do look as if they didn't have any feathers but only a down coat. Their faces, like the rest of their skin, are blue.

As far as color is concerned, the Ayam Cemani breed is unique; everything about them is black: eyes, feathers, meat, bones, insides. Only their blood and liver are dark red.

The Cochin chicken is round. Ideally, its shape should be perfectly rounded, without any body part sticking out from the spherical outline. The Modern Game breed, on the other hand, must be as thin as possible, stick-like even. Malaysian Serama chickens are the world's smallest, weighing just 300-400 grams or less and growing no bigger than a soda can. The biggest Brahma chickens, in turn, can be as heavy as eight kilograms.

Creating the Yamato breed, whose name refers to ancient Japan, breeders wanted the head to look like an old, wrinkled pine tree. Redcap chickens have combs shaped like hedgehogs; the comb of the Houdan breed from France looks like deer antlers; while La Fleche chickens have combs like a devil's horns. That's nothing compared to the comb of Augsburgers, which are shaped like a ragged saddle. The curly-feathered Frizzled Polish chickens, mentioned by the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz in his epic poem Pan Tadeusz, look as if they have just been hit by lightning.

The flagship Polish breed is the zielononóżka (green-legged chicken)-a thoroughly patriotic breed. In the late 19th century, when Poland was split among three neighboring powers and did not exist on the map, housewives in the Małopolska region wanting to manifest their Polishness would breed zielononóżka chickens as these were of purely Polish origin. They are semi-wild birds that love to run free and cope very poorly-like the Poles-with being held captive and crammed into industrial coops.

Then there are crested chickens. The crest gene emerged about 800 years ago in Eastern Europe and then spread to the whole of Europe and the world. Today there is no book on chickens that doesn't mention this variety. All crested chickens were called the Polish or Poland breed until 1868, when a congress in Dresden renamed them the "Paduan" breed. Today the original name survives outside German-speaking countries practically all over the world, from Britain, the United States, through the whole of South America right on to Japan. In Poland-believe it or not-Crested Polands were referred to as Paduans until recently, but the time finally came to restore their true local name.

Polish breeders not only insisted on restoring the "stolen" name of the crested fowl, but they also traversed villages and farms in search of interesting birds-and found them. This year, thanks to fowl found running around remote homesteads, two breeds have been recreated.

The czubatka dworska (crested manor chicken) has a proud aristocratic bearing and a small crest that was characteristic of Polish crested chickens bred at Polish manor estates-hence its name. The crest is reminiscent of the kalpak, a type of hat popular in 17th-century Eastern Europe. The czubatka dworska's full and thick tail is reminiscent of the wings worn by the Polish heavy cavalry, or hussars.

The karzełek polski (Polish dwarf), often referred to in Polish as the Lilliputian, Japanese or Midget, is a miniature bird with a defiant and tough nature. Though it weighs just over half a kilogram, a rooster of this breed can chase a rival 10 times its weight away from its territory. These chickens live half-wild, independent and always go their own way. The hens often disappear for 21 days, only to turn up from their secret hiding place with a clutch of chicks in tow.

All the Polish breeds are excellent for keeping in homesteads, agritourism farms and gardens. Breeding native chickens has lately become a fashionable pursuit. Internet forums for enthusiasts and breeders are mushrooming, and many exhibitions are being held. One such event, entitled Beautiful Polish Chickens: The Pride of Any Garden, will be held May 30-31 at the Botanical Garden in Warsaw's Powsin park. Apart from Polish breeds, visitors will also be able to view an exhibition of photos of the world's most beautiful chickens as well as animal paintings by Ewa Lasek. Enthusiasts of bonsai trees will have a separate corner for themselves.


Stanisław Roszkowski
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