The creation of the Wyandotte breed came about from the desire to have a chicken breed that was suitable as an ‘all-rounder’ – that is for both eggs and table fare.
Wyandotte’s are good layers of light to dark brown eggs averaging about 200 eggs/year.
Of course, other colors came along later, but the Silver Laced Wyandotte was the first and arguably the prettiest of the Wyandotte breed.
In this article we discuss the history of the Silver Laced Wyandotte, its temperament, egg production and crucially, if it’s the right hen for you.
The History of Silver Laced Wyandottes
The Wyandotte is one of Americas’ oldest and most well-known and loved breeds. It is unusual in that it was really the first American chicken ‘created’ with dual purpose in mind.
Early Americans had many different breeds providing them with eggs and meat, but no one breed provided both well. All chickens had been brought over from Britain and Europe so there were several different breeds available, but none had been specifically bred to fit the needs of the early settlers and homesteaders.
Originally the bird that would become the Wyandotte was called the American Sebright, Sebright Cochin or Mooney.
These birds had been mentioned as far back as 1873 and were found over much of the US after the Civil War, however there is little or no information that I have been able to find about this ‘proto’ bird.
To add to the confusion the Sebright as known in England, is a bantam, not a full size bird, nor is it in any way related.
Silver Laced Wyandottes: The Creation
Four men – H.M. Doubleday, J. Ray, L. Whittaker and F. Houdlette were the innovators of their time. They sought to create a bird that was truly a utility bird providing both meat and eggs to the average American family with minimal cost.
They worked separately in Michigan and upstate New York to try and perfect the Mooney bird.
In the early specimens there was rose comb and single comb varieties, but when the breed was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1883, rose comb was the desired ‘standard’.
Although the exact origins of the Silver Laced Wyandotte are unknown, genetic material from the dark Brahmas and silver spangled Hamburgs are likely contributors. Also possible contributors to the genetic pool were Breda and Polish fowl.
The name of the bird – the Wyandotte – was an acknowledgement of an Indian tribe – the Wyandot – who had originally befriended and helped the settlers in upstate New York and Ontario, Canada. It was suggested by Fred Houdlette in honor of his fathers’ boat, which had also been named in honor of the tribe.
When poultry farming became ‘industrialized’ in the mid twentieth century, the Wyandotte were cast aside as not productive enough. It did not produce eggs in sufficient quantity nor did it put on meat quickly enough for it to be profitable.
Over the years the number of Wyandottes declined steeply and it became an endangered breed in its own country – the US.
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The Silver Laced Wyandotte was listed as a ‘priority’ breed by the ALBC until 2016 when it was removed because numbers had recovered enough to warrant an upgrade.
This is yet another breed that was threatened by the almost meteoric rise of the ‘industrial’ hen. Thankfully, thousands of backyard keepers fell in love with this beautiful bird and gave it a second chance.
Sadly, its’ sister bird, the white Wyandotte has not enjoyed such a resurgence in popularity and remains critically endangered.
Silver Laced Wyandotte Standard and Appearance
In total the American Poultry Association recognizes nine varieties of the large fowl and ten bantam varieties.
The Silver Laced Wyandotte were admitted to the American Standard in 1883, the first of the Wyandotte varieties to do so.
The many varieties of Wyandotte were admitted as follows:
- 1883 – silver laced
- 1888 – gold laced, white
- 1893 – buff, partridge, black
- 1902 – silver penciled
- 1905 – colombian
- 1977 – blue
The birds are somewhat round and fluffy. All the fluffiness helps to keep the hen warm through the cold winter months. They are a medium weight bird with the rooster weighing in at 8.5lb and a hen at 6.5lb.
The bird has a fairly ‘curvy’ shape with a short but well arched neck. This leads down into a short but broad back on a medium length bird. The saddle rises up giving a slightly ‘U’ shaped silhouette. The body is broad and deep, well rounded, almost voluptuous.
Eyes are a reddish bay color and deeply set.
Legs, toes, beaks and skin are all yellow. The legs are short and stout, widely placed for perfect balance. There are four toes to each foot.
Comb, wattles, earlobes and face should all be a vibrant red. The bird has a rose comb which is highly useful in cold, frosty climates. It is much better at tolerating frost and freezing than a more pronounced comb is.
Some of the problems associated with these birds have been narrow backs, undersized chicks and poor hatches. In fact, the two latter problems are both significant contributors to the scarcity of the White Wyandotte.
It has been noted that there are significant differences in color tones between the UK and US birds.
Disposition and Egg Laying
Wyandottes are said to be of good temperament, although some can have strong personalities making them seem aloof. They are a friendly bird but not ‘cuddly’ and can be quite talkative, although this can vary greatly from bird to bird.
They are usually fairly dominant with other birds so are often near or at the top of the pecking order. They don’t appear to bully other birds but are assertive and are seldom bullied.
As for egg laying, they are reasonable layers averaging around 200 light to dark brown eggs each year.
They make great mothers and are prone to being broody which many folks find undesirable since they don’t want or can’t have more chicks. Also, the desire to be broody cuts down on egg production quite significantly. Several people use them to hatch eggs from breeds that aren’t good at being moms or being broody.
They tolerate confinement well but are good foragers when allowed to free range.
The Wyandotte has copious, gorgeous feathers making it suitable for colder climates such as the upper Mid-West states, Canada and the Northern New England states. It will tolerate warmer weather, but needs to have shade readily available and of course plenty of cool water.
The bird is known as a rose-combed bird, which is ideal for colder climates as they will not easily get frost-bitten as the comb sits much closer to the skull. Occasionally, you will find a Wyandotte with a single comb, but these specimens are not recognized by the APA and should not be used for breeding.
Average life expectancy seems to range between 6 – 12 years depending on the line of the birds.
They are not prone to any unusual chicken ailments. Since they have thick, dense feathering, lice and mites can be a problem if not checked on regularly.
All that fluffiness at the back end can lead to some poopy feathers, so the occasional trim may be necessary to keep them clean and tidy. If mating is a problem you may need to trim the feathers to help facilitate fertilization.
Is The Silver Laced Wyandotte Right For You?
The places that Wyandottes do very well are in 4H projects and the show ring – especially in the mid-West states.
Actually, the Wyandottes are popular show birds in the UK, Europe and Australia too!
Generally the Wyandotte is a calm and tolerant bird, which makes for an easily handled and compliant bird. This is very important in the 4H arena where the birds are generally raised by youngsters, so this makes them an ideal ‘beginner’ bird.
Birds need to have a ‘bomb proof’ demeanor for the show ring. They must endure being caged all day in close proximity to strange birds. They need to be able to handle the stress of being picked up, prodded and judged – not sure I would have the temperament for all that, but Wyandottes seem to take it in their stride!
As a backyard hen, they are quite placid and certainly beautiful to look at. As we have mentioned, they are good with children so are well suited for a family with children.
This breed is ideal for you if you’re looking for a strong yet docile breed that lays well.
While the Silver Laced Wyandotte is an excellent forager, their aloofness makes them a bit naive and prone to predator attacks. The Wyandotte is often more involved in the grubs and goodies they are foraging for than keeping an eye out for predators.
The Wyandotte is a decent free-range chicken, but it might be wise to keep your hens with a rooster, so at least someone is watching out for aerial predators. And while their interesting colorations can help deter predators, it isn’t usually enough to protect them fully from an attack.
A note on Bantam Varieties: Like most breeds, the bantam variety of the wyandotte is very similar to the standard version. Temperaments and climate tolerance are similar as well. However, it is important to note that most bantams, of any breed, tend to be just a tad flightier and less friendly than the standard versions. As always, temperaments vary within the breed, from bird to bird.
If you have a mixed flock, consider adding a few of these beautiful birds. They are beautiful ‘eye candy’ and pretty low maintenance hens.
If you are just starting out and want a pretty and productive flock that people are sure to admire, the Silver Laced Wyandotte is a real contender.
They may not be as prolific egg producers as the sex links, but 200 eggs/year is not a bad rate of lay for a small family concern.
The fact that they lay throughout the winter months may be the clincher for you since many other breeds slow production or stop completely during the hardest months.
Do you already have some Silver Laced Wyandottes? Let us know in the comments section below about your experience with them…