Are you ready to meet with a fun, friendly, quirky chicken with personality and good looks? Well, wait no more here they are!
The Polish chicken has a long history with much of it lost in the mists of time, but it has become beloved by ‘chickenistas’ all over the world.
There really isn’t another bird that comes close to being as outrageously blessed with head feathers – they are unique in that respect.
They sport 1970s’ hairdo’….need I say more?
In this guide on polish chickens we discuss their temperament, egg laying capabilities, recognized varieties and also how to establish if it’s the right breed for you.
Here’s our guide to this unusual and striking bird.
History of the Polish Breed
Truly, the origins of this bird are unclear. There are several anecdotal stories of how it came into Europe.
My favorite is that in 1736, the King of Poland was unseated and fled to France. With him in his ‘luggage’ he brought his beloved Polish chickens.
They became the darlings of French society at the time, being loved by the French aristocracy and from then on their future was assured. As romantic as this might seem, it is highly unlikely to be true.
The truth is probably more mundane. The first real mention of them comes from the Netherlands where they were possibly imported from Spain. It is thought that the name Polish was derived from the old Dutch word ‘pol’ for large head.
There are paintings of the bird from the fifteenth century where it seems to be part of everyday life, so it has been around for a long time. It was declared a thoroughbred in the sixteenth century by the Dutch.
The Polish travelled from Europe to England (1700’s) eventually finding its way to the USA in 1830-1840.
It seems it was initially imported as a good white egg layer but was later surpassed by the white Leghorn for superior egg laying.
Its reputation as a good layer was eclipsed by its unusual appearance and so became an ‘ornamental’ breed and was bred for appearance rather than eggs.
It also goes under the names of ‘Paduan’, ‘Poland’ or ‘Tophats’.
Recognized Varieties and Breeds
Polish come in standard and bantam size and the American Poultry Association recognizes both in their standards book. The Polish is classified as a ‘Continental’ breed.
The types, colors and year of recognition by the APA are as follows:
- 1874: Non-bearded white crested black; non-bearded golden; non-bearded silver; non-bearded white.
- 1883: Bearded golden; bearded silver; bearded white; bearded buff laced.
- 1938: Non-bearded buff laced.
- 1963: Non-bearded white crested blue.
In the later years of the twentieth century, another variety has emerged: The Tolbunt.
It’s a stunning mix of white, brown and black – a real head turner. This color is not yet accepted to the APA, but I think it’s only a matter of time.
Needless to say, there are many different color mixes and varieties around, but if you want a bird that conforms to the APA you will have to stick with the colors noted above.
Polish Chicken’s Appearance
It’s hard to mistake a Polish chicken – the hen will have a ‘pom-pom’ hairdo which is fairly neat and tidy.
The roosters on the other hand look like ‘wild thing’ with the feathers giving a ‘bad hair’ day impression! The head feathers of both sexes grow up and then cascade over her head and face, sometimes causing visual problems.
The head crest is supported by a bony prominence which arises from the skull.
Polish chickens can also be bearded (depending on the variety), which sees a profusion of feathers around the head and face.
The rooster has the unusual, red V-shaped comb which often gets lost in his head feathers. Earlobes are white and wattles are red.
The coloring of the legs is gray and they have four toes to each foot. The feet and legs should not have any feathering.
The male bird can attain a weight of around six pounds, while the hen is usually around four and a half pounds. They are a white skinned bird.
The egg production of polish chickens can be widely variable depending on the line of breeding.
If you want a reliable daily egg layer, it would be wise to choose another breed since the Polish is so variable.
In general, they lay a fair amount of white, medium/large eggs. The average is around 200 eggs per year. As we have already noted, they will rarely brood although it is not unknown.
I could not find any information on the parenting ability of the Mother hen, so I assume it’s a fairly rare occurrence!
Is The Polish Breed Right For You?
Where the Polish really shines is in the show or exhibition area, whether it be your local agricultural show or a top poultry show. If you think you might like a bird that is a pleasure to work with and sure to attract a lot of comments, this could be your ideal bird.
Although buying a ‘show-line’ bird is expensive, there are many Polish out there that are inexpensive to buy and have the possibility to be show quality birds – you have to shop around after doing your homework on the ‘standard of perfection’ for the Polish.
You need to know that a lot of work goes into preparing birds for the top shows, but the local county shows are a bit more forgiving. These are the places to start to get a taste of all that is involved.
If on the other hand, you want a bird for the kids’ 4H project that is easy to work with and docile, not inclined to peck or have ‘temper tantrums’, the Polish could fit your needs very well.
The 4H projects emphasize ‘hands-on’ learning, so having a bird that is able to be handled frequently and thrive is a true blessing.
The majority of folks buy Polish for their backyard flock as something ‘different’. They are a bird sure to make you smile when you see them! They are good to raise with small kids in mind because of their gentle nature and children seem to be unable to resist holding and cuddling them – all of which the Polish hen will tolerate very well.
This breed bears confinement very well and due to its inquisitive nature and impeded eyesight, it’s probably best kept penned for safety. It will certainly need dry quarters for the winter months. The head feathering can be a big issue once they get wet and then freeze.
The Polish is not well known for its egg laying ability these days, but they do lay a good number of eggs in general, around 200 eggs/year.
It takes them a while to get into the swing of laying, but once they do they can lay pretty consistently. If you want an egg laying machine for your flock – the Polish is not it!
If your home flock is packed with assertive breeds such as Rhode Islands, Welsummers’ etc. the Polish may be picked on. They tend to be low in the pecking order because of their docile nature and good temperament – and pulling the head feathers seem to be irresistible to some birds!
Finally, the head feathers are especially prone to infestations of lice or mites, so the hens need to be checked regularly before the problem becomes especially troublesome.
The Polish is generally said to be a calm and gentle bird, suitable for children to have as pets.
They can be nervous and flighty, but this is usually attributed to the visual problems the bird has with head feathering. Talking or whistling on your approach to the bird will alert them that you are coming and they will be less inclined to startle.
Trimming of the feathers around the facial area is frequently necessary for the wellbeing of the bird, not only for the ability to see predators, but also to keep feathers out of the eye which could lead to an eye infection.
The hens rarely go broody, but this can obviously vary from strain to strain.
Although many Polish are bred purely for exhibition or ‘eye candy’, some breeders have chosen to remain truer to the origins of the bird and these birds are more likely to be better layers and tend toward some broodiness.
They are inquisitive birds who like to investigate things, so they can end up ‘stuck’ somewhere and require assistance in getting out. Because of this they are better kept in confinement which they tolerate really well.
If they get separated from the flock and cannot see the others they will often cry out and respond to the other hens calling them.
They are said to be low in the pecking order since they have such a mild and calm temperament, also most other chickens can’t resist pulling those head feathers which can lead to bald chickens….or worse.
Polishes’ are great foragers in the yard and can fly fairly well, so beware of them roosting in trees!
They are also pretty hardy, tolerating most climates well, although they don’t handle being wet too well. The crest should be dried if it becomes soaked.
Many breeders move their flocks inside a draft proofed building in areas of extremely cold and damp winters.
Health Issues and Special Needs
The chicks need to be carefully watched for the first few weeks of life due to the bony head prominence. This prominence does not knit together immediately, so one well aimed peck to the head could kill or seriously injure the chick.
The crest and beard if present should be checked frequently and regularly for infestations of lice or mites and treated accordingly. Feathers that impede vision should be trimmed lightly so that the bird can see.
If however, you are showing or exhibiting your birds, cutting the feathers will not be feasible during show season.
The Polish chicken doesn’t differ greatly in health problems from any other chicken other than noted above.
Folks who show their Polish take great pains and a lot of time preparing their birds to be looking their finest on the judging days. If you think you might like to get into showing your birds, contact the Polish Breeders Club.
The docility of these birds make them great project birds for kids to show in local county fairs since the Polish is always a bird that will attract looks and comments from visitors.
This quirky bird is sure to bring a smile to your face when you see them!
Although they may not be prolific egg layers, they are certainly worthy of a spot in your flock for the visual appeal alone.
They are currently listed as a ‘watch’ status on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, which means their numbers are low and are being carefully monitored.
It would really be a shame if the last King of Poland went to all that trouble only to have his breed become extinct!
We hope you will consider adding this beautiful bird to your ‘must have’ list.
If you already have some, let us know in the comments below…