Did you ever wonder why some people have brown hair and some people have black hair and some people have blond hair? Or why some people are left handed while others write with their right hands and kick with their right feet? Those sorts of things are determined by our genes. Genes are the tiny, microscopic particles that make up our bodies. People come in all shapes, colors, and sizes because of our genes. Did you know that chickens come in all shapes and sizes and colors too? At Living History Farms, we have many types of chickens. Farmers in the year 1850 kept one style of chicken. Farmers in 1900 kept a different style.
At the 1850 Pioneer Farm, there are black and white chickens called Dominiques. This is a very old style of chicken and people think it is one of the first styles bred in New England when settlers first came to America. They are a bit smaller than other chickens, but pretty friendly. They even come into the log house to visit and lay their eggs sometimes.
There are Cochins at the 1875 era Tangen House in Walnut Hill. Cochins have lots of fuzzy feathers and are really fluffy. They even have feathers on their feet. This kind of chicken came from China. Americans liked to raise the fluffy chickens to show off at county fairs and shows.
Cochins can be different colors based on their genes. There are around 18 different colors of Cochins! Some even have curly feathers and are called frizzled. At Living History Farms, we have Buff Cochins (the yellow ones) and Black Cochins. They come in different sizes, too. Maude is our Bantam Cochin. Bantam means she is smaller than the other ones, but don’t let her size fool you, she really rules the roost.
These red chickens are called Rhode Island Reds, and they were popular on farms in Iowa 100 years ago.The 1900 era Farm also has chickens called Silver Laced Wyandottes. They have different colored feathers and are good chickens to use for chicken legs. When they are young they are black and yellow striped, and very cute. You can see a short video of Wyandotte chicks here. The video was take by Murray McMurray Hatchery, an Iowa Poultry breeder.
Maybe you have a sibling that is a better student than you, or a cousin that is better at sports? We all have special talents, and so do chickens. Some are good egg layers, some are good for meat, and some are good at roosting; that is sitting on eggs. Each chicken variety is important for their talents, just like all people.
You can visit with our chickens at all three of these historic sites. Come and see if you can find what makes each of these types of chickens special to you! When you see chickens at the museum, walk towards them slowly and never chase them. Talk with the interpreters, the guides in the historic looking clothing, before you touch the chickens. Some chickens are very friendly; others might not be. If you ask, you may be able to check the chicken coops for eggs or maybe even pet one of the birds and feel their soft feathers.
Do you know what the different parts of a chicken are called? Do you know what a wattle is? How about a hackle? Where is the chicken’s fluff? Check out this link from the American Poultry Association to learn about all the different parts of a chicken!