Known as the Serai Taook in its native Turkey, the Sultan chicken has been a rare breed since its arrival in England in 1854. Elizabeth Watts of Hampstead, England, the editor of the London-based Poultry Chronicle, received the fowls from a friend living in Constantinople. She wrote that the birds arrived in dreadful condition; dirty and mud-stained, feathers matted together. It was months later, once the birds had a chance to molt their ruined feathers, before she could be sure they were pure white.
The word Serai is the Turkish word for the Sultan’s palace and Taook is Turkish for fowls. Thus the breed became known as the “Sultan’s Fowl,” “Fowl of the Sultan,” or simply as “Sultan.” Legend has it that Sultan chickens were used as living ornaments in the gardens of Sultans. Interestingly, the original importation that the birds did less damage to grass runs than would be expected of a Cochin or Brahma – the runs remaining green.
The Sultan is unique in that it has more distinguishing features than any other breed; having: a V-shaped comb, crest, beard, muffs, large nostrils, wings carried low, vulture hocks, feathered shanks and toes, and five toes on each foot. The wings are held drooped in a way that obscures the thighs and upper hocks. Sultans are pure white in color and have slate blue shanks and toes. They tend to stand somewhat erect.
The first Sultan chickens came to America in 1867. A woman in New York sent them to author and poultry expert Geroge O. Brown, who wrote that the chickens were the tamest and most contented birds he ever owned. He noted that they were more fond of grains and insects than vegetables, and that they “almost constantly” sang that contented chicken song.
Sultan chickens lay large white eggs, are non-sitters, and once had a reputation of being a good table fowl – the breast being large and the flesh being delicate and white. They lay well from March through September. Early breeders made outcrosses to Polish chickens to add new blood.
Sultan chickens were included in the first standard, then called the Standard of Excellence, published by the American Poultry Association in 1874. Males weigh 6 pounds and females weigh 4 pounds. The breed has only one recognized variety: White. Blue and Black Sultans are also sometimes found, likely due to crosses made with Polish chickens.
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.