Breed: Bantam Houdan
Temperament: hens docile, easy to handle
Cost: from $30
Lifespan: average 7- 8 years
Recommended for: enthusiasts
Maintenance: medium – high
The Houdan has a very bulky appearance and is said to be representative in appearance to the French National emblem (‘Le Coq’). They should have a long, broad body with a deep well rounded breast. Legs are short and the thighs hidden by body feathers. The tail on both sexes is full, the male displaying long, curved sickles.
The plumage of the Houdan is invariably black and white spangled. Although both black and white versions of the Houdan are available, only the mottled variety (black with white dots) are accepted by the Australian Poultry Standards. The standard also calls for mottled legs. Like so many other mottled breeds, the birds tend to become whiter (or “gayer” as it is more commonly known) with increasing age and may not be suitable for showing after the first two seasons or so.
The Houdan carries head adornments, in the form of a crest and beard. In addition to these the main features that differentiate the Houdan from other breeds are the five toes on each foot and the leaf comb which gives the effect of two branched antlers in the front of the crest.
A native of France, the Houdan (pronounced ‘oo-dan’) is an old breed which was once a highly prized table bird of the finest quality which also produced a fair sized white egg. Originally the Houdan was a regional fowl kept by farmers living in the vicinity of the market town Houdan, near Paris. The Houdan was speedily adopted by the English as an exhibition fowl at the expense of its productive qualities. Continuous breeding of exhibition strains of Houdan during many successive generations for crest alone has greatly deteriorated the laying powers of this breed.
The popularity of the Houdan as an exhibition fowl was short lived and it was displaced by the rush of bigger, bolder and brighter composite breeds like the Orpington and Rhode Island Red. The Houdan was bantamised in the UK during the Second World War when the acute shortage of grain and corresponding urgent need for eggs and meat necessitated small, economic livestock. Despite this, the Houdan was almost lost to obscurity until a recent revival has seen it start to make a comeback.
The Houdan is one of the heaviest of the light breeds but comes in two sizes, the standard and the bantam. Recommended weights for the standard size are 3.2-3.6 kg (7-8lb) for males and 2.7-3.2 kg (6-7lb) for females. The Bantams Houdan is a more convenient size for a suburban backyard, with desirable weights being 680g-790 g (24-28 oz) for males and 620-740 g (22-26 oz) for females.
Houdan are described by their owners as having an extremely docile nature, with an inclination for petting and handling, especially if obtained while still young. Hens make the best pets, although they can be described as non-broody and do not make good mothers.
Health and lifespan
Care should be taken to make sure the crest of the Houdan is kept clean, free of mites and trimmed back to improve vision if required, (some heavily crested birds may experience difficulty finding/seeing food and water bowls). Housing should be kept clean, and fresh water should always be available. Special water containers may be required to prevent crests becoming soaked. As with other fowl, they should be wormed 2 to 3 times per year, deloused (with special powder) as required. Birds may also require treatment for Coccidiosis.
Houdan have an average lifespan of 7 to 8 years.
Houdan are a smaller bodied bird and subsequently are very cost efficient to keep. As with any poultry the birds must have constant access to an appropriate formulated brand pellet. They should also receive green feed (silver beet, lettuce or even grass clippings) at least twice per week. (On this subject be warned – your green plants and flowers will always be considered fair game unless the birds are fenced out of no go zones). Fresh water must be available 24 hours per day.
Breeding and cost
Due to the vulnerable status of the breed at present, top quality breeding stock is best left in the hands of experienced breeders. Fanciers wishing to breed Houdan as successful exhibition birds would pay between $50 to $100 per bird depending on the reputation of the original breeder and his/her stock.
There are a limited number of Houdan breeders in Australia at present, which may make the birds a little difficult to obtain. There is however enough lower quality or non exhibition quality stock in circulation for anyone to own some. Such stock is till most certainly beautiful, unique and rare. People wanting Houdan as backyard layers or as a feature for their garden should expect to pay between $30 to $50 per bird.
Space and exercise
The average yard is suitable for 3 to 6 hens although numbers should always be kept according to available space. As with other fowl, these birds must be locked in at night for protection. A good general rule is to provide 1.5 to 2 metres of floor space for each bird in the hen house.
During the day they may roam the yard. Generally they should be penned in the breeding season.
When deciding to keep poultry in the backyard spare a thought for your neighbours as roosters can be a problem with their early morning crowing!
Although the Houdan came to Australia around the 1870’s or 80’s it does not appear to have been a well received breed. One of the most likely reasons being the over-development of the ornamental crest coming at the expense of their utility qualities of laying and meat producing. Currently Houdan fowl may be a little difficult to obtain because (following their fall from grace as a utility breed) there are not many breeders of this fowl around.
Check with your local Council before purchasing any birds as some do not permit the keeping of poultry in built up areas. Roosters may not be permitted according to individual Council regulations.
The Rare Crested Breeds Network of Australia (Polish Centre)
PO Box 62
Camberwell, VIC, 3124
Phone: (03) 9836 4757
Exhibition Poultry Association of NSW
Dr David Cuppit
PO Box 1048
Windsor, NSW, 2756
Phone: (02) 4577 6830
Darwin Poultry Club
PO Box 624
Private Boxes, Palmerston, NT, 0831
Phone: (08) 8988 2429
Feather Clubs Association of Queensland
14 Avery Court
Greenbank, QLD, 4124
Phone: (07) 3800 5686
South Australian Poultry Association
PO Box 1926
McLaren Flat, SA, 5171
Phone: (08) 8383 0009
Tasmanian Poultry Fanciers Association
PO Box 243
Deloraine, TAS 7304
Phone: (03) 6362 2920
Victorian Poultry Fanciers Association
15 York St
Linton, VIC, 3360
Phone: (03) 5344 7284
Exhibition Poultry Breeders Council of WA
Mrs June Punch
16 Chester Ave
Dianella, WA, 6059
Phone: (08) 9276 7716