Detail of the head of a cock, showing the characteristic butterfly comb
|Other names||French: Poule de Houdan|
|Country of origin||France|
Standard-sized (in French)|
Bantam (in French)
|Use||meat, eggs, fancy|
|Comb type||shaped like a butterfly or oak-leaf|
|ABA||all other comb clean legged|
|PCGB||rare soft feather: heavy|
The Houdan or Poule de Houdan is an old French breed of domestic chicken, belonging to the group of crested chicken. It is named for its area of origin, the commune of Houdan, in the département of Yvelines to the west of Paris. The Houdan has an unusual butterfly-shaped comb, and is one of few breeds to have five toes rather than the usual four.
The origins of the Houdan breed are unknown; as they predate modern agricultural writing, little can be said with certainty. The breed was described in detail in 1858. The Houdan combines a number of distinctive features, which in the nineteenth century gave rise to speculation about the breeds that might have contributed to its development. Cross-breeding with the Crèvecœur or perhaps the Polish was suspected to have given the Houdan its crest, and with either the Dorking or a native five-toed fowl of France was thought have to resulted in its fifth toe.
Houdans have small earlobes and wattles, a backward flowing crest, and facial feathering consisting of a beard and muffing near the ears. On hens, comb and wattles are sometimes completely obscured by the feathering. Houdan combs are V-shaped in the American standard, and butterfly-shaped in the British, Australian and French standards.
The most common colour variety is mottled (or caillouté, "pebbled" in France), a pattern of black with white spotting. In the past there was a lighter variation of the mottled pattern; in the 1800s, it may have been more similar to the splashy mixture of white and black which today is called Exchequer. Four other colour varieties are recognised in the Poultry Standard for Europe of the Entente Européenne d'Aviculture et de Cuniculture: black, cuckoo, pearled grey, and white.
Originally a dual-purpose fowl kept for both eggs and meat, and for part of the 1800s one of France's main meat breeds, the Houdan today is primarily a rare show bird. However, with a fairly quick rate of maturation and the ability to lay a respectable number of white eggs, it is still occasionally kept in backyard flocks.
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