Choosing Chickens - Polish Crested - Beauty, Brains and Rusticity.

Our photographs of the fabulous Polish race of hens, cockerels and chicks below speak for themselves but they have depths of personality and character and above all are so funny, charming and full of surprises that it would take a book to do them justice. Here we have Father and Sons. White-laced Crested and Bearded Chamois, frizzled Dad (in the middle) and  Black-laced Crested and Bearded Gold, frizzled and non-frizzled sons. Left to Right:- Rupert, Diavolo and Spike.

Bearded and crested Polish roosters gold black-laced and chamois

I'm starting my advocacy for old breeds, with an in-depth look into the Polish race. They qualify for all the requirements of a true all-rounder, they lay well, eat well, forage well, are reputedly delicious and on top of this are a beautiful addition to any garden. It's hard to believe that a creature which looks so frou-frou can be anything but ornamental and therefore totally unsuited to a backyard or smallholding but in the following article I hope to convince you that they are - and how!

The family portrait above was taken at night in a studio setting, not just because I wanted to show you the gorgeous feathering and shining personality of these birds but for another and far more practical reason. I was worried the brothers and father, living as they do in separate hen houses, though seeing each other daily in the garden, would start to fight. Polish are not aggressive but they do get a trifle silly if brought into unexpected close proximity. In the event, it was the Mother of the family, little Bungle, who started something, hence she was removed for some 'time-out' and did not appear in this picture. The female of the species is not only deadlier than the male but often as in this race the arbiter in disputes. A particular character in the above family is Josephine, Rupert and Spike's adopted Great Aunt (aged 10), who has been known to defend them against others in the flock, usually when they have started something they couldn't finish.


Polish gold black-laced hen with gold and chamois chicks


Josephine in one of her quieter afternoon-tea-with-Grandma moments (Bungle, as a chick, on the far left)

The History of The Polish Crested - The stuff of dreams 


The legend of the Polish breed is a long and romantic one and my favourite is the way in which they arrived here in France. On the 26th of January 1736, Stanislaw Leszczyński, King of Poland, lost his throne for the second and final time and came to France to the court of his son-in-law Louis XV. Packed in the King's luggage were his favourite Polish Crested chickens, who found instant favour amongst the ladies of the court and in particular, with Madame Jeanne Antoinette d'Étiolles, King Louis' then official mistress. So great was her love of them that in France the breed was renamed for her official title and soon became known under the sobriquet of 'poulettes Pompadour'. I can't help thinking that they were also the inspiration for her famous Pompadour hairstyle, which is still as popular today and was the same style made famous in pop culture by Elvis.

Gold black-laced frizzled Polish cockerelIn Italy, where these birds are the main ingredient of several famous traditional Paduan dishes, la Gallina Padovana is having a renaissance under the sterling efforts of the Slow Food Movement. The Polish race came to Italy in the Fourteenth Century. They were brought back from Poland by the doctor and astronomer, the Marquis Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio, who, like Mme de Pompadour centuries later, was struck by their beauty and elegance and described them as "resembling chrysanthemums". The Dondi family were friendly with the Polish royal family so it is probable that the Polish came to Padua through the same route as they were later to arrive in France.

The striking crest on the Polish, which makes them easily identifiable is supported by an actual bony cover, a cerebral hernia which protects the unusually elongated brain of the breed. The other cranial peculiarity of the breed is in the nostrils which are higher and flatter than normal. The tight space between the nostrils and the bone protuberance supporting the crest prevents the normal development of the cock's comb, which is often either completely absent or irregular or knobbly often double and resembling horns, hence Diavolo above! The unique feature of the skull of this breed make it readily identifiable and from evidence of Roman excavations and diggings, it is believed that these birds were already in England at this period.
 
Gold crested and bearded Polish chick

Apropos of this the bony cover which shields the brain, it continues to knit together and harden after hatching, so in the first weeks of life you should take particular care of the chicks. In other words do not place them in any danger of the mother hen jumping down upon them from any height.


Chamois white-lace Polish rooster cockerel and friends
 Rufus stretching his wings before the first business of the day - Breakfast

You are what your hens eat and so you need them to eat well.


Polish chickens in a recipe book (Mrs Beeton)
Paradoxically enough, Mrs. Isabella Beeton in her splendid, book of Household Management dated, 1861 (our much-used family copy opposite), shows that even at this date, long before Big Farmer/Big Pharma came into being, the Polish was a most interesting breed from a monetary point of view. I'll take issue however with her on the point of the eggs of the Polish hen being not as nutritious. A hens eggs reflect the hens diet and getting a hen to lay a large amount of eggs needs a large amount of protein in her diet, probably as here in the form of grain, such as triticale or legumes. High protein is not a normal diet for hens, as omnivores and if left to their own devices, they eat a balanced diet and lay fewer, higher quality eggs, with which to produce good strong chicks. The Polish will eat a vast quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables as well as roots, insects, wild grass seeds, various 'weeds', mosses and lichens. I have also seen them eat fungi, minerals and catch and eat small rodents and reptiles.


The Polish are also great at sorting out your compost heap, I use mine to sift through the well-rotted compost, laying it down on a tarpaulin so the chicks can remove woodlice prior to spreading it on the soil. I then leave them to work it into the ground, after which the quail take over to mop up any small nuisances which remain. Of course once the hens have learnt what's inside the bin, they are constantly trying to find ways to storm the battlements.

All weather Polish


Chamois crested and bearded roosters cockerels in the snow

Polish Gold and Chamois chicks in the snowThe Polish breed are exceptionally hardy in snow. They are the first out of the hen house, when other hens and cockerels just stand aghast staring at this strange white substance. Not only do the Polish venture forth but they even seem to like eating the snow. Even the young Spring-born chicks have no compunction to play out in the snow and I use the word in its true sense. The Polish breed are one of the few races I have come across where the cockerels actually play tricks on each other. The favourite game which mine enjoy is, taking advantage of the crest obscuring the rear view, the cockerels sneak up on each other and tweak their tail feathers. This makes the victim jump about a metre in the air whilst the others stand around making noises which I can only describe as laughter.


Polish chamois rooster and snow chickens


Where to keep Polish



Polish crested and bearded chamois hen
Waiting for the fall - Garbo at apple picking

An orchard is an ideal place for the Polish breed. This doesn't preclude you from keeping them if you don't have one but it provides an environment, where they can be of great help in pest and weed control, find a varied diet and also shade in the hot summer. Polish have very beautiful plumage, thickly upholstered with down under the feathers, like all poultry they are sun worshippers but in the very hot midday sun they are inclined to the shade. We have a walled garden on two sides with high thick hedges on the other two, so our garden can become very hot in Summer, to counter this we planted hedges and shrubs as well as tall leafy perennials. We also grew many trees from seed, such as horse chestnut and eucalyptus which are now mature and providing a good shady canopy. In the orchard, which was a traditional cider apple one, we grafted old eating varieties and I also underplanted with shrubs and roses, scramblers and ramblers. Polish by the way, as do many other hens love petals, particularly apple blossom and roses, usually, happily, they wait until these fall off the tree.

Polish hens don't go broody...


I read this over and over again in websites and even repeated it, albeit with reservations here in this article but the events of last year have made me aware that this is not true. Not just in our garden but from the experiences shared in comments by others when I posted a film about it on Youtube. 


 Polish crested chamois and chicks


I knew Garbo was sitting under the inside a large honeysuckle bush because I heard her snoring one night but I never knew she was serious until I found a tiny chick at the hen house food bowl! Getting them out of the bush and into an orange box to transport them to the house was quite an operation.

 So have I convinced you?


Polish cockerel finds a good nesting site

Polish hens are not good nest makers and can be careless of where they lay their eggs, at least this first generation was. The cockerels were forever remaking nests and trying to entice the hens to lay in them, only to watch the hen go off and lay in the middle of the garden. The next generation actually make good nests and have even on occasion made attempts to sit (UPDATED see above).

One of the few drawbacks to the Polish is that, due to their being viewed as purely ornamental, they have tended to be over-bred purely for the size of the crest. This can sometimes cause them problems and at one time some years ago there was a strange movement afoot to ban people from keeping them altogether and so would have died out one of the most beautiful, ancient and intelligent breed of poultry. Luckily this move did not succeed and all it needs, if you do come across an overheavy crest in one of your birds, is a careful trim, another good reason to have a good and trusting relationship with your birds. As for the rest, Polish are not great sitters (UPDATED see above) and I am also wary of them in damp weather as like all hens they can suffer from colds and unfortunately as they are ardent foragers they do tend to want to go out in the pouring rain. If you do not have a well planted area where you keep your hens, you would be well advised to make some sort of shelter whereby they can scratch around out of the rain.


What more can I say?



Now if you'd like to, sit back and watch the film:-


Thanks for dropping by and please feel free to share this article, comment, ask questions and relate your own experience of this wonderful race. Until next time, all the best from, Sue

Some ideas for poultry keeping with two great reference books I use all the time.

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12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post - great information/history! We just got 3 chicks yesterday and are very excited to have them!

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    1. Hi Megan, Thanks for your kind words and feedback. I think the Polish are a fascinating breed, I just can't imagine not having them, they add such grace, fun and I have to say wonderful chaos to any garden. They make great gardening companions too! Really good luck with yours but beware, three are just not enough!!! You can see some of mine in action in my latest video here, if you are interested, including Garbo and her babies, who have grown somewhat!! http://youtu.be/5OhZacG7wHs All the very best, Sue

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  2. In the picture with Rufus stretching his wings before breakfast, what breed is the grey chicken with the large iridescent beard?

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    1. Hi there, It is actually a male fantail pigeon he's very difficult to see because he is in a huddle with a black chicken and a blue fantail! I actually at the moment have two broodies sitting a dozen Polish eggs in some very interesting colours, including Tolbunt, chocolate and red, so I hope to be writing more about Polish shortly. I keep fantail pigeons in the garden free-ranging along with the hens, they all seem to get on OK, except sometimes Rufus gets a bit clumsy and treads on them. However, last year a fantail was attacked by a falcon and I happened to be running towards it at the time but Rufus got in first and actually forced it to leave the pigeon alone. I have also had hens adopt baby pigeons and pigeons sit hens eggs, so they certainly do communicate with each other! All the very best from the baie de Mont Saint Michel, Sue

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  3. This was very helpful! We are thinking about getting 6 Polish chickens, and this gave us much of the information we need.

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    1. Thank-you for your comments, they are most appreciated. I always hope my articles are of use, so your feedback is very valuable to me. Good luck with your Polish, they are such a wonderful breed and I'm sure you will have a great deal of fun sharing your garden with them. I have never found another race like them for playing tricks on each other, they never cease to amaze me! All the very best, Sue

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  4. Would you say that Polish Chickens would be able to withstand Canadian winters? I'd love to get a few, but we get down to -30C degrees sometimes, and they just look so small and lean!

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    1. Hi there, Thank-you so much for your question it is a very interesting one. Firstly, although certain species of their wild relatives, the Jungle fowl, live in the outer Himalayas, they tend to live below the snow line. So I always tend to think of chickens as being relatively warm weather birds. However, as you can see from the photos the Polish are equipped for much lower temperatures and it went down to below -15C (unusual for here) on the day some of these were taken. There are several sizes of Polish and we have: bantam, half-standard and standard, the Chamois/buff ones in the photos are half-standard and the Gold, black-laced are standard, the chicks shown in the snow are bantams. They were also all hatched here, which makes a difference as chickens like plants, will acclimatise to weather conditions if they start life in them. If you go to my most recent film you will see more of the characteristics of my Polish and some of the new colours I have and also you will see a photo of my little silver Sebright out in the snow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YYVTXx_qlc She was hatched here but her parents were from Scotland and they lived permanently inside as they were not acclimatised. Sebrights are normally totally warm weather birds, the eggs are not even fertile in cold weather. So I think you can play it by ear and start with eggs and thus enable your chicks to become acclimatised to lower temperatures. I would get the standard size if you can, even though, as I explained, I do show my bantams as chicks in deep snow. Even so you may have to create an extra shelter in the Winter because in my experience and particularly if it is sunny, they will want to be outside the coop during daylight hours. The other option is to keep them in a greenhouse in the Winter as this will cut down the wind chill factor and give them a straw bale or similar 'nest' to get into in extreme weather. I would also contact the American and Canadian Polish Chicken Clubs and see what they can tell you about the conditions their Polish live in. They are such wonderful birds, I would love you to be able to keep them! I always think that they are the nearest thing to a living teddy bear!! Hope this has helped and all the very best for 2017, Sue

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  5. I appreciate your article very much. I do not wish to freak you out, but the Holy Spirit insisted I buy some black Polish this year with my Dutch Welsummers and Ameraucanas. Finally today He told me why. He said when some of the black Polish cross with the Welsummers they will make the perfect cold weather laying chicken. I had one Wellsummer sitting a nest in winter at age 11. Her litter mate was killed at age 13 by a raccoon while roosting in a tree. She had become near-sighted in the last two months of her life. It is good to know you have a 10 year old Polish. If my livestock guardian dogs can keep the predators away these babies should have a long, happy and fruitful life. Bless you.

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    1. Hi there, Thank-you so much for your comments, I am always happy when people write to tell me they choose to raise Polish. They are such a lovely old race and as I've often written, the nearest I think we could ever get to having a live teddy bear! Yes our Polish do lay throughout the Winter, in fact my lovely Tolbunt Polish hen, who is one of the standard Polish I have, (most of the others are bantam and half-standard), is providing us every day now with an extra large size egg! My neighbour had a Polish hen, who is the grandmother of my Golden black laced Polish, and she was actually laying at 13 years old. Polish eat just about everything and they are also great foragers, my Tolbut will also climb trees to get at the best and freshest green-shoots of climbing plants, such as wild clematis. The Polish crosses I have are also laying now too and they are beautiful coloured and patterned birds with smaller neater crests, but these still act like hats and keep them warm, so they nearly all choose to roost outside.
      I am very interested in your guardian dogs, could you tell me what breed these are? My sister is having such a problem with predators on her Scottish moorland homestead. She has lynx, mink, martens and true wild cats, she sadly lost 18 hens last year.
      I wish you really good luck with your Polish, I am sure you will not regret the choice. They are not only productive but they bring such joy to the home as they have very warm and friendly personalities as well as having a real sense of fun!
      By the way I do get quite a volume of eggs in the Spring and Summer and I do freeze them, they keep for a year, probably more. If you are interested I have written an article on this here: https://simplyorganicrecipes.blogspot.fr/2015/01/how-to-freeze-eggs-home-raised-or.html#.WGfCImdVKlN Thank-you for your good wishes and I send ours to you from a very chilly day here in Normandie, Sue

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  6. I am just getting into the polish breed--are there any markings on the white crested black polish to avoid. IE--a black dot on it's head, or near the eye? Should the entire head of the chick be yellow?? Thank you.

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  7. Hi there, There are actually some really beautiful variations in the white crested black Polish, including a 'reverse' where the crest is black and body is white, sometimes with black spots on the neck. In general though for the white crested there will be some black at the base of the crest and you will see this in the chicks as a light shading but the main problem always with all Polish crested is if they have been bred as show birds. My advice would be to take a look at the parents, so go to the breeder's home rather than buy at an exhibition or fair. When birds are just bred for show and here, yes you will get perfect white crests but you may also get crests that are too big and the birds will grow up to have restricted vision and thus you will have to keep trimming them. This in particular when they are in full Winter plumage. I have some of my golden black-laced that have really large crests and it is a tricky process to trim them, even though my birds are very tame. If you are intending to exhibit your Polish then you should buy from a show breeder but do check that they are not over-bred in the crest 'department'! My goldens do have a few white feathers in their crests but I don't show mine and their personalities are so wonderful and they are such lovely birds it doesn't bother me. I bought a white crested black Polish in Paris at an exhibition some years ago. She was beautiful but she was so fragile, I don't think she had ever been outside before and certainly never free-ranged. Polish are actually very rustic and strong birds but because of their aesthetic value some breeders either don't give them their full freedom to roam and/or breed them from too small a gene pool. Furthermore, if you are intending to buy chicks under two weeks old, are you aware that they have a natural cranial hernia (this actually is what supports the crest) and this remains open in the chick and needs to seal over with bone in the first two weeks of life? You need to be careful if you are going to raise them with a broody that she can not get up above them and accidentally jump down on them in a run. I've actually lost a chick this way, with just a glancing blow to the crest. However once this period has passed, they are fine and it is well worth any inconvenience! I just find Polish such a wonderful breed to keep, they are a joy in the garden and have such wonderful personalities. They have very strong family bonds too and ignore all that stuff about them not sitting, the hens do go broody but mine have always nested outside and the males make the nests. Really good luck and be aware there are so many colours to choose from and you will never have enough!! All the very best and get back to me if you'd like more info and do check out my articles and videos (Pavlovafowl Youtube) to see our Polish family, Sue

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