There are breeds of poultry so spectacular they scarcely seem real.

chicken breedsAppenzeller
Comes in black, gold-spangled and silver-spangled (the most common) and is named after the lace bonnets worn in the Appenzell region of Switzerland. Has flighty tendencies, so not one for beginners

chicken breedsBrabanter
Ancient rare Dutch breed with a forward-facing crest similar to the Appenzeller, but with a tri-lobed beard and muffling around the face, which was the subject of d’Hondecoeter’s painting A Hen with Peacocks. Suitable for novices, with a little care

chicken breedsBrahma
One of the largest breeds, with heavily feathered feet and a vast square frame, it has Asian roots, but was created in America in the 1840s; several were sent to Queen Victoria. Good for children, but prone to being bullied by a mixed flock and needs wide doorways

chicken breedsPolands
They come in chamois, gold, silver, self-white, self-black, white-crested black, white-crested cuckoo and white-crested blue, plus a frizzle variety with shaggy, forward-turned feathers. Friendly and easy to handle, but prone to health problems

chicken breedsFrizzle
The frizzle gene appears in many breeds, including the Pekin and Poland, but is now recognised in the UK as a breed. Its feathers offer little protection from wind and rain, but they make good broodies and an even greater talking point

chicken breedsHoudan
Named after Houdan in France and arrived in the UK in the 1800s, where it was bred as an exhibition bird. Has an impressive crest and five toes (linking it to the Poland and the Dorking, from which it was created). Its crest needs attention, so it’s not recommended for beginners

chicken breedsModern game
Striking, fine-boned bird with a long neck, tightly feathered tail, slim body and long legs bred purely for showing after cockfighting was banned in 1849. The tiny bantams are popular, but are easy prey for hawks and cats so need sheltered pens

chicken breedsRussian Orloff
Named after the Russian Count Orloff Techesmensky in the 1880s, it has an upright carriage, small wattles, walnut comb and a beard and whiskers. A hardy type that is suitable for novices (with some care)

chicken breedsTransylvanian naked neck
Brought to Britain from the Transylvanian region of Hungary in the 1870s, its bare neck looks shocking. As delightful in character as it is ugly, it’s easy to handle, friendly, hardy and is an excellent layer of large eggs

chicken breedsPekin
A ball of fluff on legs with gloriously feathered feet, it’s also known as a miniature cochin, even though it’s no relation. The first buff pekins were brought to the UK by the British army returning from Beijing in 1860. An ideal garden pet, it comes in lavender plus partridge, white, birchen and silver partridge

chicken breedsDutch booted
Named after the extravagant feathering on the feet and hock joints (known as sabels in Dutch), this exhibition bird is becoming increasingly popular as a pet. It comes in spectacular colours, including lemon millefleur

chicken breedsBarbu d’Anvers
The dandy of the poultry world, also known as the Bearded Antwerp Bantam (barbu means bearded), it has an owl-like face, a ‘boule’ of neck feathers and a wealth of beard and muffling. The hens are friendly, but the cockerels can be aggressive

chicken breedsSebright
Exquisite, doll-like bantam, hen-feathered laced with black. It was formed by a group of English poultry fanciers who wanted to develop the perfect bird. Not for the novice, they’re prone to Marek’s disease

chicken breedsSilkie
Ancient, diminutive Asian breed with fur-like feathers and blue earlobes, five toes (like the Dorking and Houdan) and almost black skin. Calm, docile birds, they make delightful children’s pets. Keep away from mud

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