Cochin Chicken Mysteries and Facts

Cochin chickens

By Tasha Greer

Cochin chickens aren’t a typical choice for hardcore homesteaders. But perhaps they should be!

Most chickens are too destructive to let in a vegetable garden to do pest control. Cochins, though, can be kept out of beds with just 2-foot obstacles. They only do minimal scratching and are ideal as fertilizers under your fenced mini-fruit trees.

Cochin hens also make excellent egg warmers. Between their feather mass and tendency to be broody homebodies, they’ll happily sit several clutches each year. They can even incubate duck and turkey eggs.

Why not let craze-worthy Cochins make weeding more fun and do your homestead hatching for you?   

Cochins

Cochin’s history is the stuff of myth and mystery. One legend claims these large and highly ornamental chickens were reared and revered in the secrecy and sanctity of monasteries in Asia or Europe. Then, somehow in 1845, they made their way onto boats in Shanghai and landed on the shores of England and the U.S.

Since their exact provenance was unknown, they were initially called “Shanghai” chickens. Once it became clear that Shanghai had been the port of call, not the point of origin, their name was changed to Cochin.

Cochin derives from a region of the previously French province Cochin-China, now known as Vietnam. That region too is also not universally accepted as the point of origin for the first Cochins. However, the second name stuck and the “Cochin craze” began.

Since the mid-1800s, chicken enthusiasts everywhere have fallen hard for these fluffy, friendly, fatties.

Cochin Breed Characteristics

Now, I hope you didn’t take offense at the reference to Cochins as “fatties”. This isn’t meant as an insult. It was their original purpose. The famous first Cochins were said to be as “big as ostriches, and roared like lions, while were gentle as lambs.”[1]

Those early Cochins were touted as an alternative to the fat Christmas goose or a well-trussed turkey. In particular, the capon (castrated male) was considered a decadent luxury with lots of dark, firm meat.

The original Cochins were taller, heavier, faster-fattening, and not as feathered as the Cochins of today. Naturalists and geneticists even speculated that they’d descended from the extinct dodo bird rather than just the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) that led to all other chicken breeds. They were also described as good layers of extra-large eggs.

Since then, tastes have changed. The 6-week fattening broiler came to be. And no one wanted to spend 12-16 months feeding chickens that were more likely to find their way into your lap than your stew pot.

Today, Cochins are considered mainly ornamental with an emphasis on heavy feathering on their legs, tail, and feet. They have a short-wide stance that gives them a round appearance. Their small heads fade into their feathering but their bright red, single comb stands out against any of the many color options.  

Due to their extensive breeding for exhibition, Cochins are no longer considered a good meat source. Additionally, their egg production is on the low side ranging from 110-150 eggs per year. Although, some Cochin keepers report up to 180 eggs per year. Size-wise, their brown eggs range from medium to large rather than the nearly duck-sized eggs Cochins were once known for.

There are also lots more Cochin color combos to choose from than the original Buff, Black, Partridge, and White first accepted into the American Poultry Association (APA) in 1874.

Full-Size and Bantams

Cochins come in full-sized birds and bantams. In both cases, their purpose is mainly as ornamental, family friendly, pet chickens. However, from a homesteading perspective, large-sized Cochins do make great garden and hatchery helpers.

Breeding bantam class Cochins might also be useful as a revenue stream to offset feed costs. Especially if you hatch them out at the start of spring and around Easter, many families enjoy the experience of picking up pet chicks direct from the farm.

Full-Size Cochins

To date, the APA has accepted nine full-sized Cochin colors into the Standards of Perfection.[2] Buff, White, Black, and Partridge colors were the original colors accepted in 1874. Later added colors include Barred, Blue, Brown, Golden-laced and Silver-laced.

Similar to the Blue Orpington, the Blue Cochin feather color is genetically unstable and often results in fewer than half the offspring retaining the same color qualities. Other colors, like the Partridge[3] and Barred[4] were created by crossing Cochins with other large breeds like the Brahmas and Wyandottes.

Although the full-sized Cochins are now mainly considered an ornamental breed, they do still have some utility as light duty layers. They may lay longer into winter than other breeds as well.

Additionally, if you are willing to castrate cockerels at 8 weeks of age and raise them on a diet of milky porridge (oatmeal, corn grits, and fermented scratch) for more than a year, they can make a tasty treat called a capon.

How much do full-size Cochins weigh?
  • Pullets: 7 lbs.
  • Hens: 8.5 lbs.
  • Cockerels: 9 lbs.
  • Cocks: 11 lbs.
  • Capons: Up to 12 lbs.
Buff Cochin Hens
Buff Cochin Hens

Bantams

Bantam Cochins are smaller versions of the original that have been mainly bred as pets and for ornamental purposes. APA Cochin bantam colors include Barred, Birchen, Black, Blue, Brown, Brown Red, Buff, Buff Columbian, Columbian, Golden Laced, Lemon Blue, Mottled, Partridge, Red, Silver Laced, Splash, and White.

Reports on Bantam egg production are limited. The average seems to be at best 2-4 eggs per week with intermittent outages in hot weather and part of winter. These petite pets also aren’t ideal as a meat source.

Bantams Cochins are more active than their full-size counterparts. Bantam Cochin roosters may be more adversarial with each other than full-size Cochin roosters. Despite their diminutive size, a little more supervision in the garden is advisable to keep plants and soil safe compared to larger Cochins.

How much do bantam Cochins weigh?
  • Pullets: 24 oz.
  • Hens: 26 oz.
  • Cockerel: 26 oz.
  • Rooster: 30 oz.                 
Cochin bantam rooster
Cochin bantam rooster

Temperament

Cochins are universally known as one of the calmest, friendliest chickens you can find. Even roosters tend to be friendly and cuddly.

As chicks, they are often big eaters who can be found face first, asleep in their feed between meals. Because they aren’t as active as other chicks, they are easy to tame and handle. That makes them ideal for up-and-coming chicken keepers (with adult supervision).

Juvenile Cochins can be easily trained to follow you so you can lead them from the run to the garden and back again. Additionally, they don’t have much to get up and go. So, once you arrive at your destination, they’re unlikely to wander off to forage.  

The downside of their trusting, cooperative natures is that they don’t have to have a strong sense of predator or danger awareness. That can be a problem if you don’t have a good poultry protection plan in place.

Cochin chicks
Cochin chicks have fuzzy feet!

Caring for Cochin Chickens

Cochins require brooders, coops, and runs that offer sanctuary from the risk of predation or accidents. These beautiful birds simply don’t have the mindset of self-preservation.

Simple brooders with easy to find food and water work best for these big eating, slow starters. Chicks and juveniles can be slow to feather and may require more time in the brooder and in the protection of a warm coop in cold climates. As adults, confined coops and runs and close supervision are critical.

Hardiness

Once fully feathered, Cochins are quite cold hardy. For hens, their single combs tend to be on the smaller side, sitting closer to their head making them less prone to frostbite than other feathery breeds like the Orpingtons. Roosters, however, still require wind protection to prevent frostbite in icy conditions.

If their feathered feet become wet by day, that can exacerbate the risk for frost-bitten feet by icing over as night conditions cool. Keeping Cochin’s feet dry and offering clean, thick litter to bed down will help.

In terms of heat hardiness, due to their low activity levels, they are more heat resistant than they look. Cool water, access to shade, and permission to lounge about are all they need except in the most extreme heat.

Coop Care

As a large, squatty breed, Cochins require very low roost areas to avoid injury. Wide, flat bars tend to work better. A 2” x 4” or 2” x 6” shelf, set 6-12 inches off the ground will offer Cochins the pleasure of roosting without the risk of injury.

As natural followers, if you keep Cochins in a mixed flock, they may try to follow others to higher roost bars. So, you can also add a wide ramp up to the roost and train them to use it.

Diet

Cochins are naturally big eaters prone to excessive weight gain. If you are using them to sit nests, a little extra weight gain won’t be an issue. They’ll likely lose it while their focus is on egg care rather than eating. However, in general, tailoring their diet to keep them full-figured but not overly fat will reduce health risks like fatty liver disease.[5]

If Cochins gain too much weight, reduce their rations and substitute in some extra leafy greens to keep them trim. Lack of laying in a young hen is often a sign of extra weight. Also, you can skip the scratch. Doing so will also help ensure they don’t pick up the habit of scratching in the garden too.

Also, since these pretty pets aren’t ideal free-range foragers, consider keeping grit near the feeder for easy access.  

Roosters and Breeding

Generally, Cochin roosters are as amiable as hens. Still, a ratio of 1 rooster to 6 ladies is ideal to manage competition and protect your hens’ saddle areas.

Given the low energy levels of Cochins, romantic interludes may be limited. As such, fertility rates between Cochins tend to be low. Confirm that eggs are fertilized before letting your hen attempt to hatch.

Also, be careful not to overstress Cochin hens by pairing them with more active roosters.  

Buff Cochin Rooster
Buff Cochin Rooster

Pros and Cons of Raising Cochins

Cochins offer so much more than pretty feathers. They can be a real asset in the right conditions. However, there are also some situations when you should absolutely avoid them. Let’s look at some pros and cons to help you decide if they will be right for you.

Pros

  • Naturally broody
  • Great pets
  • Possible revenue source when bred as pets
  • Well-behaved garden companions (with supervision)

Cons

  • Not great for eggs or meat
  • No eggs when they get broody or fat
  • Absolutely terrible for free-ranging without protection
  • Can require extra care in a mixed flock (roost bars, roosters, food portioning)

Overall, Cochins are one of the prettiest, most amiable pet garden chickens I can think of. And if you love to hatch eggs but hate managing an incubator, they might be just the ticket!

Cochin FAQs

There are a few more things you might find interesting about Cochins.

What about the frizzle Cochin?

If you want some extra fun, check into frizzled Cochins. These crimped feathered birds are becoming more common. Frizzled feathers aren’t a breed quality. But it’s also not a deal-breaking defect. It’s a genetic anomaly that many ornamental breeders enjoy exploiting.

Frizzle Cochin
Frizzle Cochin

When considering frizzled Cochins, keep in mind these birds have been bred for the frizzle, not necessarily for all the other qualities that make Cochins such great garden-friendly pets. Ask the breeder for details of care and utility before you bring them home.

Do Cochin Chickens Need Conservation?

As the chickens that started hen fever and the Cochin-craze, it’s hard to believe that these backyard beauties even rank on the Livestock Conservancy Heritage Breed Conservation List[6]. However, when backyard chicken breeding fell out of favor for many years, so did the Cochins.

Thankfully now, so many people are keeping pretty pet chickens for fun that Cochin populations are now recovering.

Do Cochin Roosters Sit Nests?

One last interesting fact about Cochins, roosters will sometimes sit nests.[7] It’s not a common occurrence but it happens enough to give more credence to the idea that the Cochin may have other bird genes with co-parenting traits built in.

Go Cochin Crazy!

Cochins may not be the go-to homestead breed in the way that Barred Rocks or Rhode Island Reds are. But, in the right setting they can cut out the need for an incubator and make gardening an exciting social event.

Even for the most practical homesteaders, it’s okay to get a little carried away by hen fever and go crazy for Cochins!

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Tasha Greer is an Epicurean Homesteader and author of Grow Your Own Spices and Weed-Free Gardening.

Struggling to find funny chicken names? Check out >> 500+ Funny Chicken Names.

Do you want to add one or more solid black chickens to your flock? Check out >> 15+ Black Chicken Breeds: Beauties for Your Backyard Flock

References:
[1] https://www.coachhouse.com/origin-and-history-of-the-cochin.html
[2] https://amerpoultryassn.com/accepted-breeds-varieties/
[3] https://www.cochinsint.com/uploads/8/8/2/1/8821267/origins_and_history.pdf
[4] https://www.coachhousecochins.com/non-standard-colours-explained.html
[5] http://www.poultrydvm.com/condition/fatty-liver-syndrome
[6] https://livestockconservancy.org/heritage-breeds/conservation-priority-list/
[7] https://livestockconservancy.org/heritage-breeds/heritage-breeds-list/cochin-chicken/

free range white cochin chicken in yard

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