Craig Russell

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2000, 5(2): 3-4

Group of French Fowls, from Profits in Poultry , O. Judd Co., 1889.

My recent article on La Fleche made me reflect about the French breeds in general. Since this is the SPPA, IÕll concentrate on the oldest types first. Birds of the La Fleche type can be documented further back than any other. The Crevecoeur and Houdans are usually grouped collectively with the La Fleche as the oldest breeds of French origin.

A number of poultry historians have speculated that the Crevecour is actually the oldest member of the group, and that it figured prominently in the development of the La Fleche and Houdan. Documentation of the Crevecoeur and the Houdan can be traced only to the 1700Õs. Both could be much older and might rival the La Fleche in terms of antiquity. The French certainly had a long history of crossing Polish with the old five toed breed (fowls that became known as Dorkings in England) to produce market fowl. Despite the often repeated suggestion that Crevecoeurs were developed directly from Polish by selection, it seems to be far more likely that both were developed by breeding the above mentioned market fowl and selecting for desired traits. Many writers have mentioned that, based on type and excepting the five-toe distinction, Crevecoeurs were linked to the Dorking.

Historically Crevecoeurs and Houdans displayed both leaf combs and horned combs. The leaf comb is a clear indication of horn or V combs crossed with single combs. As a point of interest, in England (and, I believe, in France), the Houdans are standardized with leaf combs. Despite the common misconception, it is easy to develop four toed fowl from a cross of four and five toed stock. Historically, both the Crevecoeur and the Houdan were more variable than the general perception common today. While the Crevecoeur was standardized in North America only as a black fowl, at one time white and blue were also known. This was also true for the Caumont or Pavilly fowl, which was essentially a Crevecoeur without the beard and muff. Despite the fact that this fowl was usually considered a race of the Crevecoeur, it often had a smaller crest and this could indicate some infusion of the original small crested La Fleche. If we need more evidence that the Crevecoeur was not developed solely from the Polish by simple selection, the Caux fowl shares the CrevecoeurÕs size and type and was considered by the French to be another race of that fowl. The Caux was crestless with a single comb.

In comparison, the Houdan was relatively uniform. White, Blue Mottled and Black specimens were occasionally reported, but well-established strains other than the Black Mottled were not developed until this fowl reached North America. In the end, only the Mottled and White varieties were standardized, but Black, Blue Mottled, and Red Mottled strains also existed. The Blacks probably failed due to similarity with the already recognized Crevecoeurs.

The Blue Mottled (which existed at least into the 1960Õs) may have been handicapped by their inability to breed true. The Red Mottled, with its unique pattern, started about the same time as the Whites, but took longer to perfect and did not come into its own until the early 1920Õs when the HoudanÕs popularity as a production fowl was already in decline.

The Black and the Blue Mottled varieties of Houdan may have contained a touch of Crevecoeur blood but were largely of pure French blood, if not quite of pure Houdan breeding. The development of the White and the Red Mottled varieties is more complex and makes an interesting story.

In a strange way both varieties are linked to the development of the Rhode Island Red. The single combed variety was recognized by the APA in 1904. Rose combed Rhode Island Reds were recognized by the APA in 1905 as American Reds. Two months later the APA called a special meeting at the prompting of R.I. Red breeders, and changed the name to Rose comb Rhode Island Reds. The breedÕs most successful exhibitor and one of its most ardent promoters was F. Donald Baerman. He gave up breeding Reds and turned most of his attention to a project he had started the previous year, development of a White Houdan. His strain was not the first and far from the only one, but it was the most widely promoted. Mr. Baerman was generally credited as originator when White Houdans were accepted by the APA in 1914. He developed his strain by a careful blending of White Polish, Mottled Houdan and White Dorking blood. Other strains were similar in development, but they were simpler blends of White Crevecoeur and Mottled Houdan, and at least one was made up purely of White Crevecoeur and White Dorking.

Despite his anger at the APA, Mr. Baerman liked the name American Reds and harbored the idea of developing an all red fowl that might be recognized by that name. An experiment along this line was the cross of Brown Red Games with Rhode Island Reds. Probably due to some tassel blood in the background of the games, some of the chicks had small crests. Mr. BaermanÕs mind was already on Houdans, so he quickly gave up on all red Reds and conceived the idea of a Red Houdan. He imagined a red fowl with white mottles rather than black and white spangles. The birds with the small crests were bred to both Mottled and White Houdans and their offspring selected. Later some Buff Laced Polish blood was infused. Red Houdans were first exhibited in 1922. They never made the APA standard, but had a considerable following for many years. Cyril Menges, young John Criner and Bruce Lentz all talked about them. I believe Bruce bred them for awhile. Red Houdans apparently died out in the late 1950Õs or early 1960Õs.

I wonder how few of my readers have seen either Crevecoeurs or Houdans of good size and type. Both breeds should approach the Dorking in type, but the Crevecoeurs should have a little more leg. Over the years the standard weights have been reduced, but they still stand at 8 lbs. for cocks, 6.5 lbs for hens, 7 lbs.for cockerels and 5.5 lbs. for pullets. Thirty years ago many of the best bred birds far exceeded those weights while today many specimens weigh no more than Polish or less, and tend to be very Polish in type. This can be attributed to several causes. Chief among these is a decline in the over all numbers of the breeds resulting in less care in selection of breeders. The related problem of careless inbreeding is also at fault, as is a craze for a Polish type crest, which has led to far too much crossing with that breed. Ideally these French crested breeds should have large, well-formed crests that do not interfere with the birdsÕ vision. In recent years Barb Piper of Michigan has done a good job with Mottled Houdans, but the breed needs and deserves more dedicated enthusiasts. The Crevecoeurs need a similar champion.

Most French poultry historians believed that the Crevecoeur was developed from crossing Polish with the old time common fowl of Normandy, which was often five toed. Such fowl were also common in Britanny. Many French writers claim the Dorking as originally French, believing that it was introduced to Britain during or after the Norman invasion in 1066. The British prefer to believe that a reverse movement occurred. In fact, the Romans were probably the original source of such birds in both areas and it is likely these fowl crossed the channel many times.

At one time the old five toed breed was common in Brittany, Belgium, and most of Northern France. Some idea of how closely allied these fowl were to the Dorking can be obtained from the French poultry writer, La Pere de Roo, who used the same illustration to represent both fowls in his book.





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