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Known as the Serai Taook in its native Turkey, the Sultan chicken has been a rare breed since 1854 when it first arrived in England. Mrs. Elizabeth Watts of Hampstead, England, the editor of the Poultry Chronicle, published in London, received the fowls from a friend living in Constantinople. She wrote that the fowls 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. 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, it was noted of 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.
This breed is unique in that it has more distinguishing features than any other breed; having: 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 such that they obscure the thighs and upper hocks. Sultans are pure white in color and have slaty 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. Mr. Brown wrote of the Sultan chickens that they 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 lbs and females weigh 4 lbs. The breed has only one recognized variety: White. But probably due to crosses made with Polish chickens, Blue Sultans and Black Sultans are sometimes found.
Status: See CPL