CHANTECLER CHICKEN

Origin Quebec, Canada
Distribution Canada (principally Quebec and Ontario), USA
Status Rare

HISTORY

The Chantecler chicken is a composite breed, derived from the following: Dark Cornish, White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, White Wyandotte, Columbian Wyandotte and White Plymouth Rock.

Brother Wilfrid was the poultryman in charge of the flocks at the Cistercian Trappist Monastery at Oka, Quebec, a small community located west of Montreal on the north shore of the Ottawa River.  He realized that there were no birds of Canadian origin at Oka and decided to breed a truly Canadian fowl (Wilfrid, 1922). This task took 9 years to complete.

Brother Wilfrid wrote a letter in 1941 explaining how he chose the name Chantecler. The name was taken from a hero in the French poet Rostand’s fable. popular in Paris about 1910, about the love between the rooster Chantecler and a golden pheasant hen.  He thought that the name, derived from two French words, “chanter” – “to sing” and “clair” – “bright”, was ideal for his new breed.

G.Toupin (1922) wrote the actual description of how the breed was developed, while still a student at Oka Agricultural Institute. He was a professor when the breed was eventually shown to the world.

In 1908, Brother Wilfrid was in charge of the poultry yards at Oka and when his father visited him they both realized that all the breeds at Oka were either European or from U.S.A. Brother Wilfrid decided that he had to do something about this situation and devoted many hours to planning how he could develop a breed that was unique to Canada.

He decided that the breed should be dual purpose, white, and a good winter layer; above all, the comb and wattles should be relatively frost resistant. He studied all the breeds available at Oka and decided that the first breed to be used should be the Cornish because of its small comb and wattles. To improve egg production he bred the Cornish Male to a White Leghorn female. The progeny of this cross were of a gray colour but with no meat qualities. The second cross in the first year was to mate a Rhode Island Red male to a White Wyandotte female. This resulted in white progeny with black spots. There was however one beautiful male which had true Columbian Wyandotte colouring.

Knowing that the female transmits the feather colour and the male the conformation, Brother Wilfrid decided to mate this male with the best-coloured females from the first cross. The progeny was off white in colour and the majority had the characteristics of the Cornish. Unfortunately egg production was poor and the colouring was not standardized.

Brother Wilfrid decided that he had to make major changes and decided to use a large White Plymouth Rock male on the best pullets. Even at this stage he was not happy with conformation or production and resorted to the true tool of any dedicated breeder, culling.

By 1913 this aggressive culling had improved the progeny so he divided these birds into 2 flocks. In one of them he decided to conduct inbreeding and in the other half he decided to use a good White Wyandotte male.

By 1916 he thought he was close to the breed he had in mind except for body weight. Among the spring 1916 progeny there was one large pullet that weighed 3.5kg. (This is 1kg heavier than today's Standard for the breed.) Despite its size this bird produced 90 eggs in 120 days. This is 75% production in the early 1900s probably in buildings with no insulation.

At this stage he decided to risk breeding this pullet to a large White Plymouth Rock male weighing 4.55kg (This is also heavier than the accepted Standard of 3.8kg for The White Plymouth Rock). These risks were justified and the progeny were excellent.

In 1918 the best males from the heavy male and heavy female matings were bred to the best hens from the originally divided lines of 1913.

Obviously using the heavy lines would result in progeny with single combs, as the genes would be there from the White Plymouth Rock. Again, extensive culling was practiced and single combs were eliminated. Even today (2003) one or two single combs will show up in some matings and these have to be culled. At this stage Brother Wilfrid decided that the Chantecler could be declared a new breed for Canada (Taupin, 1922)

An association, started in 1918, adopted strict rules to control breeding and ownership. A member could not sell, lease, lend, give or exchange any living bird of the new breed nor sell hatching eggs to anyone who was not a member of the association. It was also a requirement that the Association be given a full list of birds owned by members. This might not be a bad idea today especially with rare breeds of poultry.

The White Chantecler gained a lot of publicity at The First Canadian National poultry Conference in 1919 and was officially declared a breed in 1921.

Recent Developments in the Breed

In the 1990s there was an acrimonious discussion in the Canadian poultry press as to whether or not the original Chantecler was extinct. One faction said that they were extinct and that the current Chanteclers were a reconstituted version using Brother Wilfrid's formula. The other side of the coin (breeders in Quebec) insisted that their birds were descended from the original birds from Oka.  Whatever the truth, the breed is enjoying a resurgence in interest and most young stock is sold well in advance of the hatching season. In December 1999 the Quebec government officially designated the Chantecler as a provincial heritage animal.

The increased interest today has resulted in one breeder setting up 4 families of Chantecler and with careful attention to detail is bringing this bird back to the original Standard as visualized by Brother Wilfrid. This is not an easy task, and following in the steps of Brother Wilfrid, heavy culling is an ongoing task.

Future of the Breed

The future of the breed the will be on small hobby farms or family farms. The breed may be able to contribute added genetics to the commercial strains of today, but the answer to this question can not be known until a genetic analysis has been conducted. For its historical and heritage value the Chantecler should be supported and every effort should be made to recognize its contribution to the Canadian poultry scene

The most important need is to obtain permission from the various Marketing Boards to maintain a genetically viable breeding unit of the breed. This unit would have to be monitored by the boards and a qualified geneticist to ensure that it's integrity was maintained as a truly pure breed.   DNA analysis of this breed would be useful to assist in determining if it has any genes that could contribute to our knowledge of poultry genetics.

CHARACTARISTICS

Appearance          

The body is long and deep and should slope towards the tail. The small cushion comb is attached toward the front of the head and is seated along the head among the feathers. The wattles are very small and tucked close to the neck. The head is broad (from the Cornish origin). The beak is curved and has a strong appearance because it is short as in most Cornish types. The breast is wide and deep.

Brother Wilfrid wanted a good winter layer with small combs and wattles to minimize frost bite in winter. The comb is classified as a cushion comb and fits close to the curve of the head. The back must be broad and long a blend into the tail which should be at thirty degrees to the horizontal. The breast should be deep and well fleshed. The skin is yellow and the legs are set wide apart and with strong bones.

Colour  

Pure white with yellow skin.  The only other colour other than the white is the Partridge that was developed in Alberta, and accepted as a breed in 1935.

Size

The Standards call for the males to weigh between 3.4kg to 3.9kg depending on age, and the female to weigh between 2.5kg and 3kg depending on age. (American Standards of Perfection, 1985).

Reproductive traits

A good strain will lay up to 210 eggs per bird in 1 year's lay and the eggs should weigh about 58 to 60 grams. The egg colour is a light brown

Hardiness

Small combs and wattles minimize frostbite in winter.

Uses

Dual purpose meaning the breed was intended to produce a reasonable number of eggs and have carcass value at the and of it's productive life.

GENETICS

Effective population size

There are two schools of thought regarding the effective population size in poultry, to limit the danger of genetic drift.  Dr. D.McQ Shaver indicates that the effective population should be 500 females and 50 males.  Dr. Imre Bodo has used a formula to indicate the effective population size with the optimum figure being 50. Using this formula the population could be 25 males and 25 females or 150 females plus 15 males. The former numbers give a figure of 50, while the latter yields a figure of 54.5.

The formula used by Dr. Bodo is 4x number of females x number of males divided by the total of males + females.  George Henderson stated that 4 families of one male and one female per family would have the closest relationship of half cousin to half cousin if the males were rotated on a specified pattern.

POPULATION

The world population size is estimated at 1750 to 2250.  Most of the birds outside Canada are in the U.S.A.

Current Canadian population size is 1000 to 1500 (estimate, Andre Auclair, April 2003). The greater part of this population is based in Quebec in small farm flocks:

BREED SOCIETY

Association Promoting and Breeding the Chantecler Fowl,
Secretary: Andre Auclair, 2400 Rang St Louis,
St Paulin, Quebec, JOK 3GO.
819-268-2037

References

Letter from Brother Wilfrid, January 1941, in "The Canadian Poultry Review" Page 30.
Gryner, Linda, 1996, The Chantecler and other Rare Poultry, Gold in the Hand Books
Toupin, G., 1922, Monograph of the Chantecler.
H. Leblanc, E.E.A. Technical Advisor of the Chantecler Breeders Association.
Brother Wilfrid, 1922, The Chantecler Breeders Manual.

Compiled by Dan Price-Jones and Ted Lawrence, Rare Breeds Canada

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