Raising chickens is a great introduction to homesteading. My husband and I jokingly refer to chickens as “the gateway drug.” We started with a flock of two dozen birds, and since then, have grown to raising several hundred chickens (including meat birds and dedicated layers) each year.
When you think about popular chicken breeds, there are a few that always come to mind – Cornish Cross, White Leghorn, New Hampshire Red, and so on.
The Welsummer chicken breed, in my opinion, is a grossly underappreciated bird. Popular in Australia and the United Kingdom, Welsummer chickens haven’t gained quite as much traction in the United States – but for no good reason.
This chicken breed presents backyard chicken keepers with a whole host of benefits. I’ll give you a full overview of all of them (as well as tips on how to raise Welsummer chickens) in my Welsummer chicken breed review.
What is the Welsummer Chicken Breed?
Believe it or not, Welsummer chickens are relatively young as a breed, having only been around for about 100 years or so. They first came into existence in the Netherlands as a popular dual-purpose chicken breed during the post World War I era.
Home to many landrace varieties of chickens, the Netherlands was at the time considered somewhat of a hot spot as it related to chickens.
Many varieties have been bred since then. Named after the Dutch town of Welsum, the Welsummer chicken breed became so popular there, that the town now has a statue of the bird to commemorate its creation.
The Welsummer is a conglomeration of multiple chicken breeds. Some are standard, while some were landrace, with Welsummer chickens containing genetics from partridge Leghorn, partridge Cochin, partridge Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, and Barnevelder chickens.
Some people believe that Welsummer chickens may have some Brahma, Malay, and Croad Langshan genetics, too.
Whatever the case may be, Welsummer chickens are remarkably resilient, and a great choice for any backyard farm.
The chickens didn’t make their “Debut” until 1921, when they first appeared at the Hague’s World Poultry Congress. Here, the chicken was eagerly accepted into popular tradition by European poultry enthusiasts, with some of the first specimens coming to the United States in 1928.
What Do Welsummer Chickens Look Like?
Welsummer chickens are quite beautiful to behold. These birds have a partridge feather pattern, which makes sense given its genetics.
Most of its body is a dark brown in color with a few white or light brown feather shafts. It has neck feathers that are a rich golden brown with dark brown shading, providing the chicken with a golden mantle.
Roosters look quite different from hens. They have saddle feathers and hackles that are a deep chestnut in color and free-flowing in nature. Unique, the sickles, chest, and under feathers of this bird are all an iridescent green.
As a single comb bird, “pure” Welsummer chickens should have five points to the comb, and everything, from the comb to the earlobes and the wattles, should be red.
Welsummers have horn and black colored beaks along with yellow shanks and skin. Each foot has four toes and the eyes are a red-bay color.
These chickens aren’t the largest you can raise, but they’re far from being the smallest. Hens usually weigh around six pounds, while roosters tip the scales at seven or eight. They have full breasts, and an upright posture.
Although the Dutch standard for the Welsummer chicken breed was set in 1924, Americans did not admit the breed to the American Poultry Association until 1991.
Here, they are classified as a Continental Breed. The only recognized variety is partridge. However, they are also gold and silver duckwing varieties out there.
There is also a recognized bantam breed of this chicken. If you’ve ever raised bantams, you probably know that the key difference between a standard and a bantam is the size.
Bantams lay lighter colored eggs, and are single-combed. Otherwise, despite being substantially smaller than their standard counterparts, bantam Welsummers look more or less the same.
Behavior of Welsummer Chickens
Welsummer chickens are calm, docile, friendly, and incredibly intelligent. They aren’t known for being territorial, nor are they overly aggressive with other breeds.
If you are already raising a flock of backyard chickens, you probably don’t have to worry about introducing Welsummers to the mix.
Unlike some chicken breeds, like New Hampshires, who can be a bit aggressive or pushy with food, these chickens will mostly keep to themselves.
That being said, they don’t usually fall to the bottom of the pecking order, either. They are usually right around the middle of the mix, not likely to be bullied but not likely to be the main offenders, either.
Welsummers, however, can be incredibly loud. They will raise a lot of ruckus whenever the mood strikes them, often calling out for no reason at all.
They are good foragers, and will do a nice job of finding their own food when allowed to free range. They also are not excellent flyers, making them easy to contain if you don’t wish to allow them to free range all over the neighborhood.
Although it’s a good idea to erect some kind of fence to keep them out of your neighbors’ lawns, you don’t have to worry about building the fence too tall or too secure to keep them in.
Welsummers do well in both warm and cool weather, provided that they have decent shelter. Native to Europe and used to the colder winters there, they do best in colder climates but can thrive in hotter environments when given some shade.
Are Welsummer Chickens Good For Eggs?
Welsummer chickens are decent egg producers. As with most dual purpose breeds, Welsummers aren’t the best egg producers you’ll find, and they aren’t the best meat producers, but they offer a great compromise between the two if you only want to raise one breed of chicken.
On average, a Welsummer hen will lay anywhere between 160 to 250 eggs per year. If that seems like a lot of variation, it is, and it’s likely due to the fact that there are so many component breeds that make up the Welsummer’s unique genetic background. You never quite know what you are going to get.
However, on average, a Welsummer will lay around four eggs per week during its prime laying age and at the peak of summer. They tend to slow or stop egg production entirely during the winter months, but should start back up once the springtime arrives.
The eggs are known for being quite stunning. They are a rich, deep brown, often with dark speckles. The pigmentation is so rich and beautiful that you sometimes might find yourself removing it from the eggs when you clean them!
Unfortunately, Welsummers are not unknown for going broody very often, and they also aren’t the best of mothers. Therefore, you will want to rely on other methods, like using an incubator, if you want to raise chicks on your farm.
One unique feature of Weslummer chicks, however, is that they are autosexing. You will be able to tell the difference between a rooster and a hen when it hatches because the two genders have such distinct appearances.
Are Welsummer Chickens Good For Meat?
Welsummers are commonly raised in other countries for the quality of their meat, but they haven’t quite caught on in the United States as of yet. They have a good quality carcass that is, on average, around three to four pounds at sixteen weeks (for cockerels).
You won’t have to raise them quite as long as other meat birds but they won’t’ be the largest, either – that is more or less the case with all dual purpose chicken breeds.
However, as a heritage breed, it will be hard for you to find anything that comes close to comparing to the quality of Welsummer chicken meat. The meat from these birds is rich and flavorful with a good proportion of white to dark meat.
Health Considerations of Welsummer Chickens
There are very few issues you need to take into consideration when it comes to raising Welsummer chickens. They aren’t prone to many health problems that you won’t find with other chicken breeds, although it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for things like internal and external parasites.
They are hardy and robust, and don’t usually suffer from age-related heart or muscle issues, as some larger chicken breeds do.
You do need to keep an eye out for frostbite in the wintertime. This will only strike the large wattles and combs of these birds, and it’s not fatal or even a major health concern to worry about if it does.
However, it can make your chickens uncomfortable and lead to other health issues if left untreated (for example, the tissue there can completely die).
To prevent it, make sure you keep your chickens in a warm, well-ventilated coop (you do not need to heat it, but make sure moisture has a way to escape – chickens release a lot of moisture as they breathe in their sleep at night!).
On especially cold nights, you can dab a bit of Vaseline on the combs and wattles of your birds – roosters will be especially susceptible. Making sure your stocking density is up to par for the size of your coop can help them stay warm, too.
Besides that, Welsummers are tough chickens that aren’t prone to very many health problems. Feed them the proper diet and give them plenty of room to roam, and they’ll live naturally until around nine years of age (unless you use them for meat before that point).
Benefits of Raising Welsummer Chickens
In addition to all the benefits mentioned above, there are a few other reasons why you might want to raise Weslummer chickens.
For starters, the eggs! They may not be the most prolific egg layers, but if you really want that beautiful palette of colors in your morning egg basket, the Weslummer is a bird you are going to want to add to your flock. There’s nothing quite like those gorgeous terra cotta eggs.
Since these chickens dress out at a respectable weight, you can also easily raise them for meat without having to spend a ton of money. They are great foragers, so they will do a great job of filling in the gaps in your feed budget.
As long as they have plenty of room to free range, they will eat most of their fill on garden morales so that you don’t have to provide them with a ton of grain.
Welsummers are self-sufficient birds and, while they aren’t necessarily the smartest in the flock, they are relatively wiley.
In fact, people who raise them claim that they are better at staying away from predators as their dull coloring helps camouflage them from any ground- and aerial-based predators.
These chickens are friendly and approachable so you don’t have to worry about being attacked every time you go in the coop. They are suitable for people with small children, other chickens, or other pets.
Challenges of Raising Welsummer Chickens
There are very few reasons not to raise Welsummer chickens – except for the fact that they aren’t the most common ones you’ll see for sale at your local farm and garden supply store.
However, if you’re expecting an egg every day or just about every day, that would be one reason not to choose this breed.
Although they do lay a respectable number of eggs, you aren’t going to get as much egg production out of a Weslummer as you would a White Leghorn, Golden Comet, or similar hybrid.
They are friendly, but don’t necessarily love being picked up and played with. If you only want to raise chickens as your pets, then Welsummers might not be the best choice. They are not lap chickens by any means.
Finally, remember that Welsummer chickens are not the best mothers. If you want to raise your own chicks, you will need to hatch eggs by using a foster hen to sit on the eggs for you or by using an incubator.
Where to Find Welsummer Chickens For Sale
As with most chicken breeds, you can find Welsummer chickens for sale at most online hatcheries. These birds aren’t quite as common as others, like Rhode Island Reds or White Leghorns, so you may have to do some searching in order to find the best price.
Your local farm and garden supply might not have them in stock as they would other birds during the springtime chick rush, but often, they can order them for you.
Check around with local breeders and take some time to visit any farms near you where Welsummers are raised. This will give you the opportunity to make sure your birds were raised in the healthiest conditions and are from the best breeding stock possible.
Raising Welsummer chickens is not difficult, particularly not when compared to other breeds of chickens. In fact, the most difficult part of raising Welsummers will likely just be finding a place to buy them!
However, once you’re able to source a few chicks for your backyard flock, I can guarantee that you’ll be glad you did.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).