by Brin Jackson
Depending in which country you live, by whatever name you know it, American or Canadian Bresse – the Bresse is an exceptional bird.
Known in France as the poulet de Bresse, or volaille de Bresse, this breed enjoys a vaulted reputation as being the best quality table chicken in the world.
The Bresse received legal protection in 1936 in France, and in 1957 was registered as a Protected Designation of Origin. Only white chickens raised within a specific area may be called “Bresse.” Outside it, they are given the name “Gauloise” and the breed name combines both. The Bresse Gauloise is raised within an area of the former historic province of Bresse, in Eastern France.
Four colors are recognised for the Bresse Gauloise: white, blue, black, and splash.
It is the white Bresse de Beny chickens and capons raised in the area of Bresse which have the Protected Designation of Origin and are marketed as poulet de Bresse.
The white variety is the best known and regarded as a premium product and commands higher prices.
Table of Contents
The American Bresse and Canadian Bresse Chicken
First imported into the United States from France in 2011, due to import restrictions, all Bresse chickens in the U.S. and Canada, are called either American Bresse or Canadian Bresse. For simplicity in this article, the name is shortened to Bresse.
As in France, four colors are recognised in the U.S. and Canada: white, blue, black, and splash.
To be authentic, you must be able to directly trace the bird’s genetic lineage to the flocks of eastern France. These chickens are a genetically distinct breed that metabolizes its feed in a particular way, distributing certain types of muscle across their bodies in a certain pattern, producing meat with a unique and distinct flavor. They have light bones and thin skin.
These differences from other breeds are due to over 500 years of breed selection creating a bird that cannot be replicated by crossing other unrelated breeds of chickens to create a Bresse look-a-like.
These are impressive and beautiful birds with their large red combs, bright white feathers, and steel-blue legs. Newly hatched chicks have yellow legs.
The Bresse chicken makes a perfect dual-purpose meat bird or egg layer. A hen may produce up to 250 large cream to light brown eggs per year.
General Breed Characteristics
Overall, a medium sized bird. Elegant, alert, fine-boned, thin white skin.
- Weight: Rooster: 7.5-8.5 lbs. Hen: 5.5 – 6.5 lbs.
- Body: Well built, long, slightly upright carriage in roosters, level in hen carriage.
- Neck: Short. Roosters have a neck full of long, thin hackle feathers.
- Head: Short and fine.
- Back: Broad, quite long. Roosters slightly inclined downward to the tail, hens level to the tail.
- Shoulders: Broad and balanced to their body size.
- Wings: Carried upright and straight, tightly closed and close to the body.
- Saddle: Well-developed.
- Tail: Full, well-developed main tail carried at 45 degrees.
- Breast: Full and prominent breast.
- Abdomen: Well-developed with depth.
- Comb: Red, single, fine texture, triangular serration.
- Wattles: Red, medium size, smooth and fine texture.
- Ear Lobes: White, medium-sized, almond shaped.
- Eyes: Yellow to brown. Brown being desired.
- Beak: Moderately long and stout. Bluish white.
- Thighs: Balanced to size and visible in shape.
- Legs: Slate Blue. Medium, free of feathers coming straight down from body.
- Toes: 4.
- Plumage: Close-fitting, white.
The Bresse tends to have a calm, even temperament toward humans, but can be dominant toward other breeds of chickens within a flock.
They are happiest when allowed to forage rather than being enclosed. With this in mind, depending on the number of birds, they do well in small to large types of chicken tractors which can be moved about the property, or raised in a large chicken house with enough outdoor space for them to forage.
As with any breed, aggressive birds may need to be culled.
Caring for Bresse Chickens
When considering purchasing this breed, ask yourself what will you do with them – are you:
- Raising a specific number of birds to process?
- Raising them to add to an existing flock with the intention of allowing them to lay eggs and perhaps process them later? or,
- Raising them to create a steady supply of Bresse on your farm?
Feeding practices will vary depending upon your answer.
- If raising them to add to your flock, or to maintain a breeding flock, you can raise them as you would any chick: Starter, grower, layer pellets.
- If you intend to raise them in a traditional manner for processing, the chicks will be fed starter then free range on pasture or a mix of pasture and woodland. This allows the birds to forage for insects and greens. They may be supplemented with a low protein pellet but ensure they will do most of their eating outside in a natural habitat. At approximately four months of age, the birds are brought into the barn or enclosure for finishing – approximately two weeks. Their diet becomes one of fresh, raw milk mixed with grains. Finishing the Bresse in this way ensures the distinct genetic fat marbling throughout the meat in order to enjoy the breed’s renowned flavour.
Always have fresh water available, and provide shelter – particularly night-time shelter safe from predators.
Pros & Cons of Raising Bresse Chickens
- Chicks can be purchased from a number of reputable farms/hatcheries in the U.S. and Canada.
- Sold as straight run (unsexed), price ranges from: $6.78 – $34 per chick. (2023). Check with the supplier as there may be minimum and maximum quantities available per order, and they often sell out fast.
- Search for high-quality hatcheries or passionate smaller breeders.
- Straight run chicks are unsexed chicks. Expect half to be roosters, half hens.
- As with any chick, heat sources/brooders growing spaces are required.
- Providing adequate housing/shelter for birds to be raised either as free run or pastured birds.
- Providing adequate nesting boxes/materials if raising Bresse for egg production.
- Hens may go broody and hatch eggs.
- If you are interested in raising a flock, you will need to practice gene diversity. This may prove problematic due to the small genetic pool in the U.S. and Canada.
- Start-up costs for raising purebred birds can be costly.
- Greenfire Farms originally brought the Bresse stock to North America. There are also lines at Grade Eh Farms in the Lower Mainland, British Columbia, Canada.
- Hens lay a lovely, large cream to light-brown egg.
- They are excellent foragers and free-ranging birds. This is their preferred environment.
- They are an attentive bird. My experience has found them to be a friendly breed.
- Their meat is succulent and flavourful.
Bresse Chicken FAQS
Can they be coop raised?
Though they can be raised in a coop, allowing a minimum one square foot per bird, the Bresse chicken likes to have open space and, if possible, pasture to forage and roam. This produces a happy contented bird.
Can Bresse eat corn?
As a rule, they are pasture raised, limiting the amount of corn and grain they are fed until the last several months before processing when the amount of grains and dairy is increased to finishing age. Keep in mind that corn is very low protein with less than half as much protein as a layer feed or a meat bird feed, so if you feed straight corn, egg production and meat production will suffer.
Can Bresse tolerate heat? Cold?
In my experience they tolerate a range of temperatures. In the Pacific Northwest, temperatures often fluctuate from rain and snow to mild and hot.
The American and Canadian Bresse chicken is a true dual-purpose bird producing both a delicious finished bird and medium to large pale to light-brown eggs. They are tolerant of heat and cold and prefer to free-range whenever possible.
Though some sources say the Bresse is a shy, flighty bird, I find them to have a calm and curious nature. I conclude each of these beautiful white feathered, steel-blue legged birds is unique!
Want to learn more about raising chickens? This beginner’s guide to raising chickens (+pro tips) will help you ask yourself all the right questions, and it will also give you a realistic idea of what to expect as a chicken owner.
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