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The Houdan chicken breed derives its name from a village in the Department of Yvelines, France which is west of Paris in Normandy. It is believed that the breed was developed over centuries using the common five-toed fowls that existed during the time of the Roman author Columella, AD 4 to AD 70. These once common fowl which were present in France and Belgium were combined with the old crested race of chickens found in Caux, Normandy to create the Houdan breed. Houdan chickens were historically held in the highest esteem for meat and production qualities.
The first Houdan chickens were imported into England from 1853 through 1865. In the spring of 1865 Mr. Dorose imported Houdans to America. In 1867 at Worcester, Massachusetts, John B. Gough, the famous temperance lecturer, exhibited the first Houdans. The White Houdan chicken was developed in America by Mr. F.D. Baermen and was the result of crosses of Mottled Houdans with White Polish chickens. White Houdans became a recognized breed in 1914.
Mottled white on a black background, Houdan chickens have both beards and crests and make a distinctive impression. They have five toes on each foot, with legs and feet mottled black on white. They are a medium-sized fowl with a long, compact, and well-proportioned body. They have v-shaped combs in America, but historically their combs were described as “leaf-shaped” – appearing much as a butterfly with its wings open.
Without question, the Houdan chicken is a very useful and productive breed. The only curiosity is that it did not secure permanent popularity in either America or England. Houdan chickens are excellent egg layers, equaling Leghorn chickens in dry, sunny conditions. They bear confinement well, are non-sitters, and can be kept on any soil type. The chicks are easily reared and grow fast. Houdan chickens fatten easily, are of medium hardiness, and are noted for producing less offal than a Dorking chicken, but being just as fine for the table. The breed has achieved the much sought after “Label Rouge” certification for excellence in taste and production in France. Houdan roosters are ardent and require a large flock of hens – fertility is excellent.
Mottled Houdans were recognized by the American Poultry Association as a standard breed in 1874. White Houdans were recognized in 1914. Males weigh 8 lbs and females weigh 6.5 lbs.