There are two types of Chantecler chicken: a white one, and a partridge one. Another type, “Fauve Buff”, is under development (as of 2008.)
Chantecler Chickens have a long body, sloping backwards, with a deep breast, yellow skin and white feathers.
Their head is large, with a bright-red face, a small, nut-coloured crest, a short beak, and small wattles that don’t protrude too much (larger wattles are vulnerable to freezing.)
The females weigh between 5 ½ and 6 ½ pounds (2.5 and 3 kg); the males between 7 ½ and 8 ½ pounds (3.4 and 3.9 kg.) The birds can live 5 to 7 years.
A female can lay about 210 eggs a year. The eggs have a pale brown shell, and weigh 2 to 3 oz (58 to 60 grams.)
In April 2003, there were estimated to be between 1750 to 2250 Chantecler Chickens in Quebec, in Canada and in the United States, largely on small farms. There is an organization to promote them: “Association pour la promotion et l’élevage de la volaille Chantecler.” Its headquarters are in Saint-Paulin, Québec. To maintain the defined standards for the breed, there must be constant culling to prevent naturally-occurring deviations.
Up to 2008, each Chantecler farmer was only allowed to raise a maximum of 99 of the birds a year, and they had to be consumed personally or traded at the farm gate. In 2008, as a result of an agreement signed between the “Fédération des producteurs de poulets” (“Federation of chicken producers”) and the “Fédération des producteurs de races patrimoniales du Québec (FPRPQ)” (“Federation of patrimonial breed producers of Québec”), Chantecler Chickens were finally permitted to be raised commercially outside the strict quota rules which had made them not commercially viable. Part of the reason behind wanting to make the breed commercially viable is to ensure the survival of the breed.
At the time of the agreement in 2008, 600 million chickens of all breeds were raised per year in Québec. Chicken marketing rules favoured other breeds of chickens ready for market at 39 days, whereas the Chantecler breed needs 4 to 6 months. The 2008 rules envisage an eventual ramping up of quota allotments. At the beginning, though, they restricted each Chantecler producer to own a maximum of 10 farms with a maximum of 150 egg-laying hens on each farm to produce Chantecler eggs and chicken for market, but even that is estimated to produce 100,000 Chantecler birds for market in total each year. The negotiations and expert opinions behind the agreement determined that would be the minimum needed for the bird to survive through demand for it.
Nevertheless, the Chantecler Association anticipates that Chantecler will be a niche product, given the overall size of the chicken market in Québec, and so they are planning promotions for it (which up until now were forbidden to them.)
The Chantecler breed was developed by a Trappist monk named M-Wilfred Châtelin (1876-1963) in 1917 at the Oka Agricultural Institute in Oka, Québec. He was in charge of poultry at the school, because he had been appointed the manager of small farmyard animals (“régisseur de la basse-cour”) in 1904.
The Chantecler story has it that Châtelin’s father visited him to see his work, and questioned why the breeds were either European, or American, but none were Québecois. Wilfred decided to take up the challenge, and began planning to develop a “native” breed.
His two priorities were egg-laying during winter, and that the birds should have crests and wattles that would be frost-resistant. He was also aiming for white feathers.
The Chantecler breed would emerge after ten years of step-by-step cross-breeding by him between 5 existing breeds: Dark Cornish, White Leghorn, Rhode-Island Red, White Wyandotte, Columbian Wyandotte and White Plymouth Rock.
- First cross: Châtelin started with a male Cornish Hen, as that bird has small crest and wattles, and a female White Leghorn, as they are good layers. The resultant chicks were grey-feathered, and not good eating;
- Second cross: This was between a male Rhode Island Red, and a female white Wyandotte. The chicks were white, with black spots. But one, a male one, had the true Columbian Wyandotte colour;
- Third cross: he bred this white male from the second cross with females from the first cross;
- Fourth cross: a male white Plymouth Rock with females from the third cross. In 1913, Châtelin divided the fourth cross into two streams: in the one stream, he continued breeding with descendants of the fourth cross. With the other stream, he introduced a male white Wyandotte;
- Fifth cross: by 1916, Châtelin felt he was getting close and wanted to focus on the weight of the bird. He crossed a large female from the fourth cross with a large white male Plymouth Rock;
- Sixth cross: In 1918, he crossed males from fifth cross with hens from fourth cross, and with this, he arrived at the breed known as Chantecler today.
In 1918, Châtelin formed an association to set up and maintain rules about the breed. No member could sell, give or lend a bird to anyone who wasn’t a member. And members had to maintain an inventory of all their birds. And anyone who joined had to bring all of his birds to his first meeting: any birds not deemed up to standards, were destroyed (with the association compensating the new member.)
The breed was announced and publicized at a chicken conference in Canada in 1919, and officially recognized as a breed in 1921. The history of the development was recorded in 1922 in a document titled “Monographe du Chantecler” by a G. Toupin, who had been a student at the school.
Literature & Lore
In 1999, the National Assembly of Quebec designated the bird part of the nation’s agricultural heritage.
In 1941, Châtelin explained in a letter that he based on the name on a rooster, “Chantecler”, in a 1910 play by the French writer Edmond Rostand (1868 – 1918), who also wrote “Cyrano de Bergerac.” His Chantecler tale was inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Nonnes Preestes Tale of the Cok and the Hen, Chauntecleer and Pertelote.”
35 années d’expérience en aviculture. S.l., Oka, Institut Agricole, Bull. #4. 1939.
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Chantecler chicken. Retrieve January 2008 from http://albc-usa.org/cpl/chantecler.html
Basse-cour de La Trappe, catalogue. Oka. La Trappe : Institut Agricole, 1918.
Deglise, Fabien. Slow Food Québec veut « sauver » le poulet Chanteclerc! [sic] Montreal: Le Devoir. Monday, 16 October 2006.
Deglise, Fabien. Le poulet Chantecler est sauvé! Montréal: Le Devoir. Tuesday, 22 April 2008.
Dix années de pratique et d’expérimentation à la basse-cour : traité d’aviculture spécialement adapté aux exigences actuelles de la province de Québec. Oka. La Trappe : Institut Agricole, 1914.
Douze années de pratique et d’expérimentation à la basse-cour : traité d’aviculture spécialement adapté aux exigences actuelles de la province de Québec / par le régisseur de la basse-cour de l’Institut agricole d’Oka. Oka. La Trappe : Institut Agricole, 1916
Fondation canadienne des ressources génétiques des animaux de ferme. “Poulet Chantecler.” Retrieved Jan 2009 from http://www.cfagrf.com/Chantecler_chicken_French.htm
Gaudreault, Marie-Noël. La Chanteclerc [sic]: notre poule nationale. in Aube #2: Équinoxe. St-Sylvestre, Québec. Plume,de feu. publishers.
Le Guide Avicole du fermier et de l’aviculteur spécialisé. Monographie de la poule canadienne Chantecler – 35 Ans d’Expérience. Oka, Institut Agricole. 1938.
Manuel des éleveurs de la poule canadienne “Chantecler” . Oka. La Trappe : Institut Agricole, 1922.
Origine et monographie de la poule canadienne “Chantecler”. Oka. La Trappe : Institut Agricole, 1918.
Schippers, Hans L. Dr. Chantecler Chicken History. Retrieved January 2009 from http://www.cherrycreekcanadians.ca/chanteclerhistory.htm .
Smith, Wayne. The Chantecler. 2001. Retrieved January 2009 from http://jubileeacres.fateback.com/chanteclerbywayne.html .
Smith, Wayne. Making of The First Canadian Standard Breed. 2001. Retrieved January 2009 from http://jubileeacres.net/themeaningofstandardbred.html .