Breed Profile: Egyptian Fayoumi Chicken
Hardy Chickens That Lay White Eggs
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Breed: Egyptian Fayoumi chicken, also known locally as Ramadi or Biggawi.
Origin: Faiyum Governorate of Egypt, southwest of Cairo, west of the Nile river.
History: Egyptian Fayoumi chickens are believed to be an ancient breed of Faiyum, where they may have been introduced in the early 1800s during the Napoleonic occupation, having descended from the Silver Campine. Another theory is that they were introduced from a village called Biga, Turkey, at that time. Programs established in the 1940s and 1950s have preserved, improved, and distributed the breed to local farmers.
Iowa State University (ISU) imported fertile eggs in the 1940s as part of a poultry genetics program to study disease resistance. The hatchlings were crossed with American breeds. Descendants were found to be too flighty to be useful, but were kept at the ISU research farm for analysis of genes that control poultry diseases. In the 1990s, useful genes were identified and isolated, and since interest has grown in their use as layers.
Egyptian Fayoumi chickens were imported from Egypt into the UK in 1984, where they are recognized by the Poultry Club as a rare breed chicken (rare soft feather: light).
The Egyptian Fayoumi chicken was introduced into other African and Middle Eastern countries, where the breed has been studied and developed as a production bird. It is one of the varieties tested and developed as part of the International Livestock Research Institute’s program to improve low-income African smallholder access to productive and well-adapted birds, the African Chicken Genetic Gains Project (2015–2019).
Conservation Status: Not at risk.
Description: Light bodied with a long neck and almost vertical tail. The head and neck are mainly silver-white, with white or red earlobes and brown eyes, while the body is penciled with black barring with beetle-green sheen. The Egyptian Fayoumi rooster has silver-white feathers on the saddle, hackles, back, and wings and beetle-green-sheened black feathers in the tail. The female’s body, wings, and tail are penciled. Beak and claws are horn colored. Comb and wattles are red. Egyptian Fayoumi chicks are initially brown-headed with grey-speckled bodies, only developing the characteristic colors as they fledge.
Varieties: Normally silver penciled, as described above. The gold penciled is similarly patterned, but with gold base coloring rather than silver-white.
Skin Color: White, with dark blue-gray legs, and dark meat.
Comb: Single with even serrations.
Popular Use: The main use in Egypt is for meat, whereas in Asia they are crossed with Rhode Island Red chickens for egg and meat production. In Europe and America, they are kept for eggs, and they have been extensively studied in the US, Africa, and Asia for their disease resistance.
Egg Color: Off-white or tinted.
Egg Size: Small with high yolk content, lower than average cholesterol, thick shell.
Productivity: 150–205 eggs per year and high fertility (over 95%). Egyptian Fayoumi chicks have a high hatch rate and mature quickly: hens laying by 4.5 months; roosters crowing at six weeks old. They have lower protein requirements than other chickens.
Weight: Average hen 3.5 lb. (1.6 kg); rooster 4.5 lb. (2.0 kg). Bantam hen 14 oz. (400 g); rooster 15 oz. (430 g).
Temperament: Active and lively, but flighty, fast, and will scream if captured, although some individuals have been tamed through early gentle handling. They are strong fliers and renowned escape artists. If you are bringing home new birds, breeder Ian Eastwood recommends enclosing them until they are used to their new environment or they will likely fly or roam off. However, in the long run, they dislike confinement and fare better if allowed to free-range. Confined birds are prone to feather picking. Egyptian Fayoumi roosters are fairly tolerant of other males. Females do not readily become broody until they are two to three years old.
Adaptability: As thrifty scavengers that forage well, they need little supplemental feeding or healthcare and are able to fend for themselves when kept free-range. They cope well in hot weather, being ideally suited to tropical and sub-tropical climates. They adapt easily to different climates, such as those in Iraq, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, USA, and Britain. Their hardiness and resilience are legendary, being resistant to bacterial and viral chicken diseases such as spiroketosis, salmonella, Marek’s disease, virulent Newcastle disease, and leucosis.
Biodiversity: Geneticist Susan Lamont at ISU found the Fayoumi’s genetics very different from other breeds’. She said, “The Fayoumis are a good argument for preserving biodiversity to prepare for challenges that may arise in the future.” These include their unique disease-resistant traits, which can be introduced into production chickens.
Quote: “The Fayoumi fowl is able to deal with less than ideal conditions, heat, and a lower than normal protein feed, while still able to produce high-quality eggs in good number. If you can forgive its slightly flighty nature, then this pretty bird, a real street urchin of the poultry world, will prove a useful addition to the smallholder’s portfolio.” Ian Eastwood, Egyptian Fayoumi chicken breeder, UK.
Originally published in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.
Sources: Hossaryl, M.A. and Galal, E.S.E. 1994. Improvement and adaptation of the Fayoumi chicken. Animal Genetic Resources 14, 33–39.
Meyer, B. 1996. Egyptian chicken plan hatches . . . 50 years later. The Iowa Stater. Iowa State University.
PennState University. 2019. Researchers find genes that could help create more resilient chickens. Phys.org.
Schilling, M.A., Memari, S., Cavanaugh, M., Katani, R., Deist, M.S., Radzio-Basu, J., Lamont, S.J., Buza, J.J. and Kapur, V. 2019. Conserved, breed-dependent, and subline-dependent innate immune responses of Fayoumi and Leghorn chicken embryos to Newcastle disease virus infection. Scientific reports, 9(1), 7209.