It’s doubtful that any other single breed of chicken has inspired more people to keep poultry as a hobby or fancy than the Cochin. When this breed made its debut outside of China, it was met with astonishment, wonder, and awe. Cochins are gigantic with an abundance of feathers and a calm disposition. Together with the Brahma, Cochins fueled what became known as “hen fever” – a national obsession for all things poultry that overtook America and England in the mid-18oos.
The Cochin was developed in China, where breeders paid particular attention to its large size and the eggs it produced. It was designed to have tolerably good table qualities at 12 weeks, but it excelled as capon – best harvested at 15 to 16 months, where it would weigh about 12 pounds. Meat texture at other stages of harvest was found to be coarse and the breed’s meat tended toward a larger portion of dark meat than breast meat. Their eggs are also extremely large and the majority of them come during the winter.
Though promoted with great enthusiasm as a productive, all-around breed, Cochins never reached commercial success. Stephen Beale in his 1895 book, Profitable Poultry Keeping, wrote that, “The Cochin then and now being the least profitable of all of our breeds of poultry [1850-1895].”
The breed has traits that offer both advantages and disadvantages. They’re great eaters and are indiscriminate in their preferences. This combined with their unmatched profuseness of feathering makes them an ideal choice for colder climates and gives them the ability to eat enough to produce both animal heat and eggs during the heart of winter. They feather slowly, but are very hardy and, like the Brahma, will thrive under conditions where other breeds would perish. However, Cochins are predisposed to becoming too fat, which can stop egg production and even lead to death via a disorder of the liver. Lewis Wright, in his 1892 book The Practical Poultry Keeper recommended that Cochins should receive a daily ration of green food to keep them healthy.
Cochin hens are inclined to broodiness and will hatch more than one batch per year if allowed. As a broody fowl, they have no equals. Even roosters will occasionally brood the chicks, though Cochins tend to wean the young a bit soon if used to hatch chicks early in the year while it’s still cold. They’re considered the best fowls for hatching and brooding ducks and turkeys. Because of the size of Cochins, be cautious of hens breaking thin-shelled eggs.
But of all the unique characteristics of this wonderful poultry breed, there is one that stands above all others – personality. Cochins are noted for extremely gentle dispositions. Males rarely become aggressive – not as true in the Bantam version of the breed – or even quarrel. They’re easily tamed and may find themselves more suited to your home than your poultry yard. They’re not inclined to wander nor do they scratch as profusely as other breeds. A fence two feet tall will keep them contained and they endure confinement easily. It’s said that Cochins, even under adverse conditions, immediately set out to make themselves comfortable.
Cochins are recognized by the American Poultry Association in several color patterns: Buff, Partridge, White, Black, Silver Laced, Golden Laced, Blue, Brown, and Barred (listed in order of development). They were admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1874. Cochins are a good breed for those looking for a large, astonishing chicken that happens to have a docile, gentle disposition. They represent all the best in maternal characteristics and will even, when not brooding, supply wonderfully large brown eggs. Because they don’t fly, they’ll require low roosts. Muddy pens should be avoided as frostbite of their feathered toes can easily occur.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.