The Appenzeller Barthuhner is a remarkable chicken breed that originated in the 1870s in the Appenzell province of Switzerland. There, in the remote village of Wolfhalden, a local noble, Lord Züst, took it upon himself to develop a chicken breed that could forage in the woods and fields and survive the bitter cold of the Swiss Alps. The foundation stock for the Barthuhner breed included local chickens that were probably the ancestors of Russian Pavlovskaya hens. Züst sought to create a large bird with a small comb and wattles, a beard to warm its neck, and an ability to reliably lay large eggs throughout the winter.
After many years of selective breeding Lord Züst achieved his goal and produced a magnificent and hardy fowl, the Appenzeller Barthuhner. “Barthuhner” translates to “bearded chicken.” It is important to note that the Barthuhner is completely unrelated to the similarly named Appenzeller Spitzhauben chicken breed that also originated in that area. Origin is the lone trait shared between these very different breeds although it is frequently misstated that the Barthuhner and the Spitzhauben are closely related.
The Barthuhner proved briefly popular in Switzerland and then began a slow decline in numbers. In 1963, Züst’s great-grandson began a campaign to save the breed, and he was successful at generating broader interest in the breed. Today, the breed can be found in two varieties –partridge and black—but the population remains shockingly low. A recent census revealed fewer than a dozen of both varieties in all of Germany, for example, and the total number of specimens on the planet probably numbers fewer than a hundred.
Given the excellence of this breed, their rarity is confounding. We have imported dozens of breeds and varieties of rare chicken breeds at Greenfire Farms, and only infrequently do these new breeds exceed our already-high expectations. The Barthuhner is one such breed. We simply love this breed of chicken. These are large fowl, and the roosters are powerful and commanding in their appearance. But, their demeanor is calm and confident, and they quickly become accustomed to the company of humans. They can easily be trained to eat out of your hand, and we have not seen a rooster that is human aggressive. Their eggs are large and usually white, the hens can be relied upon to lay 150-190 eggs per year. As you might imagine, these birds easily endure cold winter temperatures, but they have also survived hot Florida summers without visible signs of stress.
Greenfire Farms has both the partridge and black varieties of Barthuhner in our breeding program, and we are pleased to now offer for the first time this remarkable breed to America’s poultry hobbyists.