Breed Profile: Breda Chicken

A Unique Dutch Heritage Chicken

Breed Profile: Breda Chicken

Breed: This same breed has been known by many names: Breda chicken, Breda fowl, Kraaikops, Guelders, Guelderlands, Guelderlanders, Breda Gueldre, Grueldres, Grueldrelands. The Dutch Kraaikop means crow’s head, owing to the shape of the head and beak. This should not be confused with Kraienköppe, a separate Dutch/German-developed show bird. 

Origin: Although the Breda chicken (known as Kraaikop) has been recognized in the Netherlands for several centuries, its roots are unknown, and there is much debate among poultry experts. Most agree it was developed in the Netherlands, although some believe it has Belgian or French origins. It is a composite breed, most likely of crested ancestry. Its feathered legs suggest a connection to the Malines breed.  

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Location of Breda and Gelderland adapted from Wikimedia maps by Alphathon CC BY-SA 3.0 and David Liuzzo CC BY-SA 4 International

 Breda Chickens Have Early Ancestry 

 The Dutch Poultry Association (Nederlandse Hoenderclub) mark its provenance as from the city of Breda and province of Gelderland (also known as Guelders). A large crested fowl with a flat comb and feathered feet features in Jan Steen’s 1660 painting The Poultry Yard (De Hoenderhof) and is reminiscent of the Breda chicken. However, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the breed was described. 

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Jan Steen’s 1660 painting De Hoenderhof (The Poultry Yard)
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Section of Jan Steen’s 1660 painting showing Breda-like chicken

 History: The Breda chicken was a common breed in the Dutch provinces of Gelderland and Brabant. However, the popularity of new hybrids led to its decline in the late nineteenth century. Even so, the breed was put to use by crossing with Cochins to formulate market hybrids. In France, it was crossed with Crèvecoeurs, Houdans, and Five-toed fowl. In the early twentieth century, it began to recover as a show and production fowl. The hens were considered prolific layers. The breed’s distinctive head shape was chosen as the Dutch Poultry Association logo in 1900. It was still a common breed in the Netherlands at this time. Bantam Breda chickens were first exhibited in 1935. However, as commercial hybrids gained popularity, the Breda chicken’s status dwindled to rare breed. The BKU Club was founded in 1985 to protect the breed and maintain its standard as a heritage chicken breed

 The breed was known as Guelderlands or Guelders in the United States and was present from the early eighteenth century. It was common before the Civil War. In 1867, it was still described as a common breed in Wisdom of the Land by Solon Robinson. He praised its plumpness, but did not consider it a good layer or sitter. He and other early writers only mentioned black coloring. Shortly after this, the breed was largely displaced by Asiatic imports and the explosion of new US-produced secondary breeds. Guelderlands went into a steep decline to effective extinction.  

The Breda chicken is a unique dual-purpose heritage breed from the Netherlands, with striking looks and adorable temperament. Recently, it has become an endangered rare breed. 

Some imports in the early twentieth century of mainly cuckoo birds, with some blue and some white, attempted to regain a foothold in the American market. These were the first birds known as Breda chickens in America. They never gained popularity and their numbers diminished. Around 2010, there were new imports of several colors, which are slowly gaining a following among rare poultry breeders. Their unusual appearance may be an obstacle to mainstream acceptance, although those who keep them are fascinated and enthused by them. They have not been recognized by the American Poultry Association, mainly due to confusion with the similarly-named Kraienköppe. They are listed as “inactive” by the American Bantam Association. 

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Black pair by Dr. Waltz, Waltz’s Ark Ranch

 Breda Chickens Are Unusual and Rare 

 Conservation Status: Breda chickens are an endangered rare breed. Although not a landrace, it is a very early composite breed, blending traditional lines of European origin. Its unusual features could represent unique genetic resources. 

 Description: Full-sized Breda chickens are of medium size, large-bodied with a prominent breast and a broad back, maintaining a characteristic upright posture, with strong thighs and long, closely-feathered legs and vulture hocks. The short, well-arched neck bears the distinctive “crow-shaped” head, featuring a stout curved beak bearing large nostrils, and a short, tufted crest behind the comb-free forehead. 

Varieties: Black is the most common in the Netherlands and early exports. Other colorations are white, blue, cuckoo, and mottled. 

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 Comb: Uniquely comb-free, flat patch of red skin sits where comb would be. 

Popular UseDual-purpose chicken breed — eggs and meat. 

 Egg Color: White. 

 Egg Size: 2 oz./55 g. 

 Productivity: About 180 eggs per year. 

 Weight: Adult hen 5 lb. (2.25 kg) or more; rooster 6½ lb. (3 kg) or more. Bantam hen 29 oz. (800 g); rooster 36 oz. (1 kg). 

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Mottled trio showing progression to white with age. Photo by Dr. Waltz, Waltz’s Ark Ranch

 Breda Chickens Are Friendly and Hardy 

 Temperament: These birds make a calm, docile, and kid-friendly chicken breed, remaining alert and curious about people and their surroundings. When keeping different chicken breeds together, they do better with gentle companions. 

 Adaptability: They are a robust and cold-hardy chicken breed, well adapted to temperate climates. As excellent foragers, they are ideal if you want to raise free-range chickens

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Cuckoo pair by Dr. Waltz, Waltz’s Ark Ranch

Quotes: “Breda are my favorite type of chicken. With their exotic, almost prehistoric looks and their sweet and intelligent disposition they are a perfect bird for a pet or small flock.” Verna Schickedanz, Chicken Danz Farm, Waverly, KS. 

“Breda have quickly become a favorite here at the Ranch — they have to be the most captivating breed we’ve ever worked with.” Dr. Waltz, Waltz’s Ark Ranch, Delta, CO. 

Sources: Russell, C. 2001. Breda Fowl. SPPA Bulletin, 6(2):9. via Feathersite http://www.feathersite.com/ 

Chicken Danz Farm https://www.chickendanz.com/ 

Nederlandse Hoenderclub https://www.nederlandsehoenderclub.eu/ 

Waltz’s Ark Ranch http://www.naturalark.com/ 

Rolf de Ruiter, Aviculture Europe http://www.aviculture-europe.nl/nummers/15E02A05.pdf 

Feature photo: Blue and mottled by Verna Schickedanz, Chicken Danz Farm

Originally published in the June/July 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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Blue hen by Verna Schickedanz, Chicken Danz Farm

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