Empordanesa and Penedesenca Chickens
Perfect Chicken Breeds For Hot Climates
By Christine Heinrichs
Penedesenca chicken. Empordanesa chicken. They roll off the tongue, like guitar chords to a background of castanets. Their Spanish names are unfamiliar, but these breeds could be perfect for a hot weather climate.
“Not very many breeds are as good as they are in hot climates,” said Jason Floyd of Hang-town Farms in California, who keeps about 20 breeding birds in both breeds and several color varieties. “They generally lay better in hotter climates. I haven’t kept track, but I’m certain mine lay better than 160 eggs a year.”
These two local Spanish breeds from the Catalonia district have been revived in Spain, but only the Penedesenca chicken and some White Empordanesa chickens have been brought to the United States. The Black variety is accepted in Catalonia, but the American Poultry Association has not recognized them. There are no bantams of either breed.
Both the Empordanesa and the Penedesenca chicken are Mediterranean egg breeds. They are brown egg layers, laying unusually dark eggs, ranging from warm terra cotta to a very dark chocolate brown. Birds are small, averaging around five to six pounds for roosters and four pounds for hens. The Black variety is more of a dual-purpose chicken breed, with roosters weighing up to six-and-a-half pounds.
“Partridge and Wheaten are said to lay the darkest eggs, though I have seen dark eggs in all the varieties, including the White Empordanesa,” Mr. Floyd said. He has kept a flock for several years and created a website, www.penedesencausa.com, to distribute information about the breeds, which are not recognized in the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection, available.
Penedesenca chickens are unusual in that they lay dark brown eggs despite their white ear lobes. They may have acquired the dark brown egg trait from some unknown Asiatic breed, but the facts are lost. Penedesenca chickens may be black, wheaten partridge, or crele.
Empordanesas have the usual red ear lobes for brown egg layers. Their plumage is similar to Catalanas, buff with contrasting tails — either black, blue or white. Only the White Emporadenesa has been imported to the U.S. The two breeds are similar, except for their ear lobes. Penedesenca chickens should have ear lobes more than two-thirds white. Emporadenesa earlobes should be no more than 30 percent white, enclosed by red.
Spanish Farm Breed
Penedesenca chickens were first described in December of 1921 in their native Catalonia in Spain. In 1928, at the Sociedad La Principal de Vilafranca del Penedés, Professor M. Rossell I Vila expressed concern for the survival of the local Penedés chicken breed, which was being replaced by imported chickens. He framed it as a patriotic duty.
Penedesenca chicken breeders took up the call and were actively breeding flocks by 1933. Penedesencas disappeared from public view during the upheaval of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. A Spanish Standard for the most common black variety, Black Villafranquina, was accepted in 1946.
In 1982, Spanish veterinarian Antonio Jorda took up the cause and began working to preserve the breed from extinction. Initially, he was intrigued by the very dark brown eggs he bought at the market in Villafranca del Penedés, in the region of Penedés. He asked around and found local farmers raising small flocks of birds with white earlobes, slate legs and lateral rear appendages in the comb.
The Penedesenca chicken’s comb may have a mass of side sprigs at the back of the single comb, or it may look like a cross from above, with one large sprig sticking out from each side. The comb starts as a single comb but expands into several lobes at the rear. In the Catalan language, this is called a “carnation comb” (cresta en clavell) or a “king’s comb.”
The hens they found had varied plumage: mostly partridge or wheaten, a few black or barred. The roosters had black chests and tails with red backs. With some stock and eggs from the flocks he and his colleague, Amadeu Francesch, found, they launched the project. Over the years, they standardized Black, Crele, Partridge and Wheaten varieties. They also began work to save the Emporadanesa.
They worked at the Poultry Genetics Unit of the Institut de Recerca i Techo-logia Agroalimetaries of the Generalitat de Catalunya in the Center Mas Bove of Reus, Tarragona, Spain. Eventually, they increased their flock to about 300 birds.
Hardy and Alert on Open Range
Both the Empordanesa and Penedesenca chicken are heat hardy and alert. They are well-suited for farms in hot climates. They are more wary of predators than many breeds are. Roosters are excellent flock protectors. They are not aggressive though they are generally skittish in closed in areas.
“When I have hawk problems, I lose Ameraucanas but not Penedesencas,” he said. “That flightiness is what makes them what they are.”
Since 2001, three individuals have imported eggs from Spain to the U. S. Mr. Floyd hopes to arrange another importation soon. The required paperwork and fees ($180) are manageable, but someone will have to fly to Spain to pick the eggs up in person and fly them back in the pressurized passenger compartment, to avoid subjecting the eggs to temperature and pressure changes.
“Both the Empordanesa and Penedesenca chicken are very rare in the United States,” said Mr. Floyd. “They are wonderful breeds deserving far more attention than they receive. These are the ultimate farm chickens for hot areas.”
Christine Heinrichs writes from California and works closely with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Founded in 1977, the nonprofit works to protect more than 150 breeds of animals from extinction. For more information, visit www.albc-usa.org.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry April / May 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.