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It is doubtful that any other single breed of chicken has inspired more people to keep poultry as a hobby or fancy. When the Cochin chicken made its debut outside of China it was met with astonishment, wonder, and awe. Cochins are gigantic with an abundance of feathers and calm disposition. Together with the Brahma chicken, the Cochin fueled what became known as “hen fever” – a national obsession for all things poultry that overtook America and England around 1850.
The Chinese had developed the breed paying particular attention to large size of the bird and to the eggs it produced. It was designed to have tolerably good table qualities at 12 weeks, but it excelled as capon – best harvested at 15-16 months, at which time it would weigh about 12lbs. Meat texture at other stages of harvest was found to be coarse and the breed’s meat tended toward a larger portion of dark meat than breast meat. The eggs of the Cochin are extremely large, and the majority of them come during the winter.
The Cochin chicken, though promoted with great enthusiasm as productive all around, never met with commercial success. Stephen Beale in 1895 wrote in his book, Profitable Poultry Keeping, “The Cochin then and now being the least profitable of all of our breeds of poultry [1850-1895].”
The breed, then and now, has characteristics, which offer some advantages and disadvantages. Cochin chickens are great eaters of food, and indiscriminate in their preferences. This combined with their unmatched profuseness of feathering make them an ideal choice for colder climates and gives them the ability to eat enough to produce both animal heat and eggs during the heart of winter. They feather slowly, but are very hardy and, like the Brahma chicken, will thrive under conditions where other breeds would perish. Cochins are predisposed to becoming too fat. Such fattening can stop egg production and even lead to death by disorder of the liver. Lewis Wright, in his book The Practical Poultry Keeper, circa 1892, recommended that Cochins should receive a daily ration of green food to keep them healthy.
Cochin hens are inclined to broodiness and will hatch more than one batch per year if allowed. As a broody fowl they have no equals, even the roosters will occasionally brood the chicks; though Cochins do tend to wean the young a bit soon if used to hatch chicks early in the year while it is still cold. They are considered the best fowls for hatching and brooding ducks and turkeys. Because of the size of Cochins, be cautioned that the hens can easily break thin-shelled eggs.
But of all the unique characteristics of this wonderful breed of chicken there is one more that perhaps stands out above all others – personality. Cochins are noted for extremely gentle dispositions. The males reputedly seldom become aggressive (not as true in the Bantam version of the breed) or even quarrel. They are easily tamed and may find themselves more suited to your home than your poultry yard. They are not inclined to wander nor do they scratch as profusely as other breeds. A fence two feet tall will keep them contained and they endure confinement easily. It is said that Cochins, even under adverse conditions, immediately sets about making themselves comfortable.
Cochins are recognized by the American Poultry Association in several color patterns: Buff, Partridge, White, Black, Silver Laced, Golden Laced, Blue, Brown, and Barred (listed in order of development). They were admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1874.
This is a good breed of choice when a large, astonishing chicken is desirable, which happens to have a docile, gentle disposition. They represent all the best in maternal characteristics, and will even, when not brooding, supply wonderfully, large brown eggs. Because they do not fly they will require low roosts. Muddy pens should be avoided as frostbite of their feathered toes can easily follow.
Status: See CPL