Breed Profile: Welsummer Chicken
Welsummer Chicken Egg Color Is an Attractive Speckled Dark Brown
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BREED: The original name is “Welsummer” chicken, as it is still outside of Europe, while the Dutch changed the name officially to “Welsumer” in 1978.
ORIGIN: In the early twentieth century, farmers in Welsum and neighboring villages along the river IJssel in the Netherlands started selecting chickens for large brown eggs. The original chickens were of mixed origin, as typically found in farmyards of the region at the time. The breeds of their ancestors are unknown, but most likely a blend of foreign breeds. Welsummer chicken egg color was paler to start with, and commonly speckled. Then, as the market for dark brown speckled eggs grew, the hens who laid them became the foundation of the region’s breeding stock. These birds were initially varied in color and appearance (although red-partridge roosters were preferred), as all selection focus was on egg size and shell color.
History of Breeding and Welsummer Chicken Egg Production
From the early 1920s, the Netherlands has been a large exporter of eggs. Large brown eggs were popular at home and abroad and fetched the best market rates. The Barnevelder chicken was already known for this trait, and in 1911 was added to local flocks so that the two populations merged. This produced a darker egg overall, while the Welsummer speckling was retained.
After the First World War, breeders rebuilt their flocks from depleted stocks. Some breeders crossed with Partridge Leghorns to improve Welsummer chicken egg production. Consequently, two varieties emerged: one dark red-brown, laying the darkest eggs; the other lighter red-brown, laying more but paler eggs. Despite unresolved disagreements between breeders, an official standard was published in 1924 and the Dutch Association for the Improvement of the Welsummer Breed set up in 1928. Its aim was to promote high production of large brown eggs from purebred flocks to meet the growing demand. This favored the darker “Red Partridge” color, as these birds laid the darkest eggs. However, diversity in appearance continued for some time, as the birds were bred for utility rather than show.
After the 1921 first World Poultry Congress, German and British breeders purchased hatching eggs and breeding birds. In Germany, the standard became a darker red, and both countries developed other varieties and bantams. Around this time, there were imports into the United States and Canada of lines from the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK.
Becoming a Rare Breed
The industrialization of production after the Second World War favored high-yielding hybrids, so traditional breeds, including the Welsummer, declined.
In 1969, only a few enthusiasts maintained the breed in the Netherlands, and founded the Welsummerclub. This marked the breed’s move from utility to show breed, with more focus on conformation and color, although some breeders maintain variations in appearance and only enter eggs to their annual show.
In 2009, the Welsummer Club of North America was founded to promote and improve breeding stocks in America.
CONSERVATION STATUS: At risk in the Netherlands, with 350 large fowl and 500 bantams recorded in 2012. However, their popularity abroad has resulted in over 4000 in Germany, plus over 15,000 bantams in 2020, and about 3000 large and 4000 bantam breeding hens in the UK in 2002 (UN Food and Agriculture Organization data). They are also present in other European countries and Australia.
BIODIVERSITY: As a traditional composite breed, they preserve a variety of traits from different origins, including a unique coloration of plumage and eggs.
Characteristics of the Welsummer Chicken
DESCRIPTION: The body is light to medium-sized. The sturdy frame supports broad shoulders and back, carried horizontally, a deep rounded chest, and strong legs. The hen has a full abdomen. The head is rather small, with large orange eyes. The face, ears, wattles, and comb are red. Wattle and comb size is compact, especially in the hen. The beak and legs are yellow, with horn shading on the upper beak. The hen’s tail is rather short and compact, while the rooster’s is full and flowing.
VARIETIES: Their unique color pattern, Red Partridge, is the only standard variety in the Netherlands and America. Both pullets and cockerels of exhibition level can be raised from the same flock. The rooster has red neck and back hackles that bear very little markings, over a black breast and thighs with brown flecks, and a glossy beetle-black tail. Hens have a golden-brown head and hackles, with black striping lower on the neck. The front of the neck and the breast is a rich chestnut-red. The back and wing bow are dark red-brown with fine black stippling. Pale feather shafts add to the exquisite detail of the body and neck feathers. Tail and wing feathers are black and brown. The thighs and abdomen are brown with slate-gray shading.
Other nations have devised other colors based on the Partridge pattern, commonly Silver Duckwing and Golden Duckwing, but also Blue and Pearl variations.
COMB: Single, erect and quite small, with regular serration, larger in the male.
WEIGHT: Hen 4.4–5.5 lb. (2–2.5 kg); rooster 6–6.6 lb. (2.75–3 kg); bantam hen 2–2.2 lb. (0.9–1 kg); rooster 2.4–2.6 lb. (1.1–1.2 kg).
TEMPERAMENT: Calm and active, they can learn to feed from the hand but are unlikely to enjoy handling. They are communicative and can be quite loud.
ADAPTABILITY: They prefer free range and cooler climates, but are adaptable. However, roosters’ combs can suffer frostbite in cold weather.
POPULAR USE: Eggs.
Welsummer Chicken Egg Color and Production
EGG COLOR: Dark brown and speckled, becoming lighter as the laying period progresses, while the speckles retain their intensity. Bantam eggs are paler.
EGG SIZE: Very large, 2.3–2.5 oz. (65–70 g); bantam: small, 1.4–1.6 oz. (40–45 g).
PRODUCTIVITY: 150–180 eggs per year (bantams: 150–200 per year). Hens rarely go broody, although bantams do sometimes. Usually, chicks can be sexed at one day old, as males have lighter, less defined markings, but the difference is not always clear. However, by 4–5 weeks old, the growing breast feathers are clearly different colors.
PERSONAL NOTE: All in all, I find this breed fits in well with my mixed flock, has a pleasant personality, and gives a steady supply of excellent eggs.
- Ruud Kreton. 2006. Welsumer. Aviculture-Europe
- Welsummer Club of North America
Originally published in the February/March 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.