Breed Profile: Barnevelder Chicken
Barnevelder Eggs Famous for Dark Shells
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Breed: Barnevelder chicken
Origin: In the vicinity of Barneveld, Gelderland, The Netherlands, from around 1865, local fowl were crossed with Asiatic “Shanghai” breeds (the forerunners of the Cochin chicken), which increased their size, introduced brown shell coloring, and extended laying into winter. These birds were further crossed with the Brahma chicken, which was also developed from the Shanghai fowl, and the Langshan. In 1898/9, they were mated to an “American Utility Fowl”, advertised as such in the Netherlands, although American origins are undocumented (they resembled a single-combed golden-laced Wyandotte and laid red-brown eggs). In 1906, the Buff Orpington chicken was crossed in. Through selection of chickens that lay dark brown eggs, the Barnevelder chicken emerged.
How Barnevelder Chickens Gained Popularity Due to Their Dark Brown Eggs
History: From 1910, the name Barnevelder chicken was coined for the improved local hens that laid large dark brown eggs. Although shown at a major agricultural show in The Hague in 1911, their lack of external uniformity earned the disrespect of the show circuit. As poultry expert Muijs described them in 1914, “The so-called Barnevelder chicken can best be compared to a mongrel dog; as among them one finds birds of all descriptions, including single combs and rose combs; yellow, blue, black and greenish-colored legs, clean and feathered legs, and no common feather pattern and color can be identified.” Their popularity stemmed from their brown eggs, which customers believed to be tastier and longer lasting, this being in the days before people seriously asked, “Do different chicken egg colors taste different?” Dark brown eggs led to worldwide fame, after birds were shown at the first World’s Poultry Congress in The Hague in 1921. UK breeders were enthused by the dark eggs and started importing at this time. The birds still had a varied appearance: double-laced, single-laced, and partridge.
Already interest in standardizing features was emerging. Avicultura writer Van Gink wrote in 1920, “Today’s Barnevelders look like dark golden-laced single-combed Wyandottes, … in addition to this color variety there exist numerous others which gives the impression that the Barnevelders are a rather mixed bag … At certain times birds are predominantly of the Wyandottes’ type while at other times they remind one of the Langshan, although the latter are in the minority.” In 1921, the Dutch Barnevelderclub was formed and the breed’s appearance standardized, although not yet double-laced, as it is today. In 1923, the double-laced standard was admitted to the Dutch Poultry Club. The British Barnevelder Club formed in 1922 and submitted its standard to The Poultry Club of Great Britain. In 1991, the breed was admitted to the American Standard of Perfection.
How Standardization of Barnevelder Chickens Lead to Their Decline
Whereas the pursuit of dark eggshell led to loss of production performance, standardization of appearance led to loss of the desired eggshell color. As hybrid chickens became more popular, Barnevelder chickens lost their place as production birds, and inbreeding lead to degeneration. In 1935, the Marans chicken was used in an attempt to reinvigorate the breed and improve egg color and production. This proved only partly successful as plumage colors were not maintained.
Conservation Status: An early composite Dutch heritage chicken breed, with only private enthusiast and national club support, it is now rare in Europe and even rarer in America.
Barnevelder Chicken Traits and Performance
Description: Medium-sized with broad breast, full but close feathering, upright stance, and wings carried high. The dark head has orange eyes, red earlobes, yellow skin, legs, and feet, and a strong yellow beak with darker tip.
Varieties: The most common coloring is the double-laced. The hen has a black head. On chest, back, saddle and wings, her feathers are a warm golden-brown with two rows of black lacing. The Barnevelder rooster is mainly black with red-brown on back, shoulders, and wing triangle, and laced feathers on neck. Black markings bear a green sheen. Double-laced is the only color accepted by the American Poultry Association. Black evolved as a sport in the Netherlands and is recognized in Europe. Other colors—white, blue double-laced, and silver double-laced—and bantams have been developed by crossing with other breeds, often Wyandottes. Colors, patterns, and weights vary according to country standard. The British double-laced is now called the Chestnut Barnevelder chicken.
Popular Use: Eggs. Roosters for flavorsome meat. Ideal for backyard chicken keepers.
Egg Color: The dark brown probably arose through a sport that was selected due to the popularity of the color. Shanghai hens and the original Langshans did not produce eggs as dark as this. The strong shells vary from pale to dark brown: the more eggs laid, the paler the shell becomes, as the shell gland is worked. Show birds lay paler eggs than utility strains.
Egg Size: 2.1–2.3 oz. (60–65 g).
Productivity: 175–200 eggs per year. They lay throughout the winter, although at a lower rate.
Weight: Rooster 6.6–8 lb. (3–3.6 kg); hen 5.5–7 lb. (2.5–3.2 kg). Bantam rooster 32–42 oz. (0.9–1.2 kg); hen 26–35 oz. (0.7–1 kg).
Temperament: Calm, friendly, and easy to tame.
Adaptability: Barnevelder chickens are robust, cold-climate birds, coping well with all weather. They need regular access to grass and are good foragers. Free-range chickens do best, as they are inclined to lethargy if penned. Poor fliers. They rarely go broody, but when they do, they make good mothers. Hens reach sexual maturity at six months; roosters, at nine months.
Quote: “Whilst they are active and prefer to be free-ranged, they are docile with plenty of character. Their cold-hardiness and good nature makes them easy to look after for the chicken keeper.” Neil Armitage, UK.
Originally published in the August/September 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.