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History has it that the first chicken show was a contest to settle the dispute of whose rooster was most magnificent. This was conducted in a pub in England, about 1800, the bartender acting as judge, a copper pot as prize, and the roosters competing are said to have been Hamburgs. One can well imagine the pride of each exhibitor, their Hamburg roosters stately in bearing, with beautifully arched sickle feathers, leaden blue legs, large white earlobes, and bright red rose shaped combs.
Hamburg chickens were to be found in Holland by the fourteenth century, but it is unclear when they first arrived. The Dutch developed what is now known as the Silver Penciled and the Golden Penciled Hamburgs. Sometime prior to 1785 Penciled Hamburgs made there way to England. The English enjoyed the breed and created the Black, the Silver Spangled, the Golden Spangled, and the White varieties. Hamburgs arrived in America prior to 1856 and were much desired for egg production. While all the varieties of Hamburg chickens were embraced in America, the White Hamburg, created but shunned in England, owes much to the attention of American breeders.
The breed was first called the Hamburg chicken in the early 1840s, and some writers document the fact that the best birds came from Holland and from Hamburg. Prior to this time it was known by many different names, including: Pheasant fowl, Pheasants, Yorkshire Pheasant, Silver Pheasant-fowl of Yorkshire.
The nature of the breed is one of great activity and alertness. Hamburg hens were known to prefer nesting in hedgerows and had the habit of roosting very high in trees. Early during the breed’s time in England, there was a popular belief that Hamburg chickens were a hybrid of a cross of common chickens and pheasants.
Hamburg chickens are quite prolific egg layers. The breed’s true gift is not in number of eggs per year, but in continued laying of a large number of eggs over several years. Pullets begin to lay at about 4-5 months of age. Though the young can be a bit delicate until this age, once mature, Hamburg chickens are quite robust. The breed does not bear confinement too well. When given free range, Hamburg chickens are active, small consumers of grain, great foragers, and even a bit noisy. By about 1890, Hamburg chickens lost favor as a utility breed to other egg breeds in America; the dark colored bones of the breed never made it popular as a market fowl in England or America.