White Wyandotte Chickens: Heritage Poultry Breeds

A great heritage poultry breed for areas with harsh winters, the White Wyandotte chicken is known for producing a good line of hens with strong mothering qualities and a calm temperament. In the years after the Civil War, an American-bred, general-purpose chicken was found in many areas of the North and Northeast, especially in New York. Its exact origin is unknown and is confounded by the various names that were used in different parts of the country, including Mooney, Sebright, and American Sebright. This chicken’s exact makeup is also murky. The Dark Brahma and Silver-Spangled Hamburg probably served as the basis, but it has been suggested that a French breed called the Breda and the Cochin were also used. The Silver Sebright, a large laced bird, was also reported as a parent. Confusingly, in Britain the Sebright is a small bird developed in the mid-1800s. John P. Ray of Hemlock, New York, and a Mr. Whitaker of Michigan stand out as breeders of specific strains that contributed to the emerging breed.

When this breed was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1883 as the Silver-Laced Wyandotte, it was decided to consolidate the breed’s many names. This proved to be a wise move, for afterward the Wyandotte’s popularity grew. Fred A. Houdlette suggested the new name in honor of his father’s boat, the Wyandotte, which itself was named in homage to the Wyandot people of North America. Wyandotte chickens were recommended, along with the Dominiques and Plymouth Rocks, for farmers who wished to raise fine table birds for market, especially in the early spring. Wyandottes were eventually found throughout North America, and they were exported to Britain, where they still enjoy some popularity.

Several other color varieties of the Wyandotte were admitted to the Standard before the White was entered in 1888, although the White was reported as early as 1872. The White Wyandotte was developed from sports of the original Silver Laced. This bird is pure white, with no creaminess or brassiness. Every broad feather, shaft, and fluff is snow white, and the plumage fits together smoothly. The rose comb, wattles, and earlobes are bright red. The beak, legs, and toes are yellow, as is the skin.

The Wyandotte is a medium-weight bird that is well suited to colder climates. Its rose comb also survives better in freezing temperatures than a single comb does. Hens are good mothers, and their pleasant disposition makes them adaptable to confinement. The hens also lay a good quantity of brown-shelled eggs. White Wyandotte cockerels plump up sooner than many other heavy breeds. The Wyandotte is known for its “curvy” shape. The neck is short and well arched, flowing into a short, broad back, and the saddle rises into a concave sweep with the tail. The breast is broad, deep, and round. The word round also describes the body and the stout thighs. The short legs are set well apart. Cocks weigh up to 8.5 pounds and hens 6.5 pounds.

Raisers of the Wyandotte have encountered some difficulties. For many years, the egg size was often small and gave poor hatching results. These problems contributed to the Wyandotte’s near disappearance after the spread of large-scale production techniques. Modern breeders need to guard against undersized birds, single combs, and individuals with narrow breasts in order to maintain the original type. An exhibition form also exists today.

Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post this profile from The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds (Copyright 2001 by Yale University), by Janet Vorwald Dohner. This 500-page book is a definitive reference about heritage livestock, describing the history and characteristics of almost 200 breeds of poultry, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses. TheEncyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry is available on Amazon.