By Tasha Greer
With a name that literally means heartbreakers, you are almost guaranteed to fall in love with Crèvecœur chickens. From the tip of their crested, v-combed heads to their slate gray feet, these fancy, French culinary classics are ideal as pets or a specialty meat breed.
Honestly, the only heartbreaking thing about Crèvecœurs is how close they came to complete extinction. After surviving the ebbs and tides of history since at least the 12th century, overbreeding for aesthetic features and World War II nearly did this lovely breed in.
Thankfully, today, the Crèvecœur chickens are making a comeback. Their unique brand of chicken chic makes them ideal for homesteaders with a modern aesthetic. Plus, their rare status makes Crèvecœurs perfect for livestock keepers looking to restore a devilishly darling ancient breed to its former glory.
Crèvecoeur chickens are named for a place called Crèvecœur-en-Auge in the Normandy region of France. Situated between the departments of Calvados and Orne, this area is famous for delicacies like Camembert cheese and Calvados apple brandy. It’s also a destination for lovers of medieval history, complete with a restored, working medieval castle called Chateau de Crevecoeur.
Legend has it that the Lord of Crèvecœur brought the first crested chickens to the area from the Netherlands around the 12th century.  Although that history is uncertain, Crèvecoeurs do have similarities to the Dutch Crested chickens which likely trace their origin back to the primitive and extinct Russian Pavlovas.
After their importation to France, the Crèvecœurs underwent genetic updates to become a delicacy meat breed, with good laying capacity of large white eggs. They were probably crossed with other breeds, such as the Dorking from England, that were famous for their superior taste and tenderness. The Crèvecœurs then went on to play a role in the development of other French breeds like the Houdans, Faverolles, and La Flèches.
Due to their fine-bones, and high meat to offal ratios, this breed was once the most common meat chicken in all of France. Lore has it that once upon a time, two Crèvecœur capons (fattened, castrated males) would cover the cost to lease a family-sized tract of farmland for an entire year. Before the hybrid industrial broiler chicken was popularized, a staggering 150,000 Crèvecœur capons made their way through the Grande Halle de la Villette, the primary processing facility near Paris, on an annual basis. 
As the chicken craze took hold in the late 1800’s, this unique breed became an ornamental favorite. Show breeders began emphasizing the decorative feathering features by increasing the size and fullness of the crest and fluffiness of the beard.
Unfortunately, those ornamental lines lost their meat utility and some of their egg production in the process. Although, still technically called Crèvecœurs, the ornamental lines of this breed often bear greater similarity to the non-utility Polish chicken than the once famous farm chickens from Normandy.
During World War II, it’s said that German Officers wanted to enjoy all the delicacies the French Bourgeoisie culinary culture had to offer. In that pursuit, they harvested Crèvecœurs to the point of almost eradicating the breed from existence. Fortunately, some farmers managed to preserve Crèvecœur breeding stock in secret hideouts.
Today the Crèvecœur is making a slow but steady comeback as a pretty pet. Foodies are also helping support the recovery of this storied meat breed.
Crèvecoeur Breed Characteristics
Crèvecœurs first made their way stateside in the mid-1800’s. They were accepted into the American Poultry Association (APA) with established Standards of Perfection in 1874  as a general utility breed used for meat and eggs.
Back then, Crèvecoeur chickens were known to fatten quickly. Additionally, they could lay 150 large white eggs per year which put them in the fair to good laying range. They also tended to molt early allowing them to re-start laying in fall and lay sporadically through most of winter.
Today, Crèvecoeurs are commonly considered an ornamental or pet breed. However, to restore this breed to its former pre-WWII glory, we need more homesteaders and backyard breeders to value Crèvecoeurs for their excellent meat qualities, off-season egg production, as well as their charming appearance.
The only Crèvecoeur color variety presently accepted by the APA is black. Out of direct sunlight, their feathers are described as coal black. In direct sun, green sheen can be seen on the crest, back, and tail feathers.
White feathers are generally considered a defect in the black color variation. However, older Crèvecoeurs occasionally develop a few random white feathers. Like aging humans, these are simply a sign of distinguishment, not a genetic flaw.
Blue, White, and Cuckoo color variations of Crèvecoeurs are also accepted in their home country of France.
When researching Crèvecoeur chickens, note that many of internet photos that turn up don’t meet the breed standard. Quite a few are Polish chickens or Polish/Crèvecoeur crosses. To assist with the recovery of this rare breed, seek breeders focused on breed strains that exhibit both the notable appearance details and dual utility.
Appearance wise, Crèvecoeurs have large feather crests on the top if their heads. This is the result of a genetic mutation that causes feathers to grow from a cranial hernia.  The crest is a dominant trait when present in DNA and traces its genetic history in domesticated chickens back to at least 3rd century A.D. The crest area is also a risk point for brain injuries.
Many chickens including the famous ornamental Polish chickens exhibit this crested quality. However, the Crèvecoeur crest is unique in that it sits like a top hat, pointing slightly backward on their heads. Whereas the Polish crest spreads more uniformly in all directions.
Crèvecoeur chickens also have pronounced beards that cover the lower half of their faces. These beards make their small round wattles and striking red, devilishly adorable hornlike V-combs nearly invisible.
Additionally, Crèvecoeurs have elongated boat-like bodies on relatively short legs. Their body shape is very similar to the Dorkings. This gives them a rounded full figure further differentiating them from the upright and lean Polish breed.
Crèvecoeurs are also confused with another rare French breed called the Houdans. However, you can distinguish these two breeds easily by counting toes. Crèvecoeurs have four toes while Houdans have five.
Full-Size and Bantams
Full-sized Crèvecoeurs bred for meat and egg production should weigh in as follows.
- Pullets: 6 lbs.
- Hens: 7 lbs.
- Cockerels: 7 lbs.
- Cocks: 8 lbs.
Many ornamental Crèvecoeurs are smaller than these averages. Bantam Crèvecoeurs are also available from specialty breeders. However, they can be expensive and hard to find.
To learn more about bantam chickens, check out Bantam Chickens: Small But Mighty
Crèvecoeurs are docile and very intelligent. Unlike the Polish breed, they aren’t jumpy. They are curious, attentive, calm, and keen. When tamed, they can be affectionate pets.
Across many websites Crèvecoeurs are listed as predator prone and poor foragers. However, that’s only true in ornamental breed lines. Those lines have fluffier crests and beards that make it difficult for Crèvecoeurs to use their peripheral vision to spot predators or moving insects.
In my trials of utility-type Crèvecoeur chickens, they’ve shown themselves to be alert and capable of evading aerial and land predators by flying and hiding. They’re also excellent scratchers and strategic insect finders on pasture. They eat a broad diet of greens and arrive first for treats due to their overall attentiveness.
Caring for Crèvecœurs
Hardiness ratings vary widely for this breed depending on their primary purpose. The original Crèvecoeurs were well-suited to the humid and cool, but not freezing, conditions of the Normandy region. When first imported to the U.S. in 1852, 1867, and again in the 1870s, they were regarded as “too tender” for the eastern and middle states. 
Overall, this breed is most ideal for use in moderate climates. However, if you offer your flock heated warm-up zones in cold weather and shade in summer, Crèvecoeurs will keep themselves comfortable.
Highly ornamental Crèvecoeurs may not be well-suited to humidity and can be subject to illness if their crests or necks get wet often. Extended periods of wet crests, particularly in cold climates, can make this breed prone infections that some websites refer to as chicken “colds”.
Please note, though, chickens don’t get mild colds the way humans do. Visible signs of cold-like illnesses are often the result of severe and possibly zoonotic, infectious diseases. Check in with your veterinarian or your local agricultural office if your Crèvecœurs (or other chickens) seem to have colds.
Overall, for any crested breed, keeping poultry in a covered shelter during inclement weather will reduce risks of illness or injury related to their crests.
Some websites suggest the Crèvecoeur feather crest makes this breed more prone to lice. I suspect this is possibly only an issue for Crèvecoeur/Houdan crosses. The Houdan breed is somewhat prone to beak disorders that make preening difficult.
For healthy, well-bred Crèvecoeurs, a dry dust bath, a comfortable place to preen, and a clean coop will minimize risk for lice.
Several sites including the Livestock Conservancy (a trustworthy source of chicken information), indicate this breed may have intestinal sensitivity. I haven’t encountered this issue. However, the general recommendation for prevention is to offer probiotics during stressful periods like seasonal climate changes or periods of extreme weather.
Another interesting feature of Crèvecœurs is that they often molt in early in summer. In my area, they molt in July and August. As a result of their molt-timing, they often lay heavily in early spring, very little in summer, and heavily again in fall. They also lay sporadically through winter.
Their egg production in the first-year ranges between 120-150 eggs. Older hens can continue to lay as many as 100 eggs per year for the rest of their lives.
Crèvecoeurs can fly and will roost high when possible. However, with their fine-bones and heavy weight potential, keep roost options under 3 feet tall to minimize injuries.
Generally, Crèvecoeur roosters are calm and docile. However, they are also good flock leaders and will stand guard on pasture and attack potential predators. Establish a good rapport and move with caution around Crèvecoeur roosters. Also, cull overly aggressive stock to maintain docility when breeding.
A ratio of 1 rooster to 10 hens is ideal. Also, don’t allow hens to be over-mated by roosters as that will increase the risk for crest-related injuries and illness.
Young Crèvecoeur hens are unlikely to go broody. Older hens occasionally attempt to sit nests. But they aren’t always diligent mothers. Use broodier breeds to sit your Crèvecoeur eggs or incubate and brood them yourself.
Crèvecoeurs tend to do better in a mixed flock than other crested chicken breeds because of their intelligence. However, like other crested breeds, head injuries are always a concern. Avoid keeping Crèvecoeurs with bullying breeds.
Pros and Cons of Raising Crèvecœurs
Crèvecoeurs are one of my absolute favorite breeds. But they may not be right for every homestead. Here are some quick pros and cons to help you decide if they’re right for you.
- Great as Pets
- Good for Meat Production
- Winter Egg Production is Possible
- Novel, Rare Breed in Need of Restoration
- Cranial Crest Care Required
- Hard to Find Stock that Meets all Standards
- Too Cute to Eat for Some
Overall, Crèvecoeur chickens are perfect as pets or for homesteaders looking to raise rare breeds for specialty meat production. Just be sure to buy from breeders adhering to both the useful and aesthetically unique qualities of this breed.
There are a few more things you might find interesting about Crèvecœurs.
Do people tube feed Crèvecoeurs to fatten them faster?
The French have a long history of hand-feeding certain kinds of poultry for faster fattening. This process called “gavage”.
Historically, the poultry keeper herded free range chickens into a pen once or twice a day. They picked up each bird individually. Once the birds were relaxed, the handler would insert a funnel into the birds mouth and use it to fast-track fermented grains into the crop. Poultry didn’t seem to mind this form of force feeding and Crèvecœur capons were frequently fattened this way.
Today, some farms use a factory variation wherein they confine birds to crates full-time for the last couple weeks of life. Then, they use robotic racks to force feed birds several times a day. Modern Crèvecœurs are rarely fattened using this modern method of force feeding.
Are Crèvecoeurs Critically Endangered?
In 2007, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a list of domesticated livestock breeds at risk for extinction due to a shortage of breeding stock. Crèvecoeurs were on that list.
Thankfully, many organizations mobilized to begin restoring at risk breeds. Today Crèvecoeurs are out of the critically endangered zone, though they are still considered threatened.
What Color are Crèvecoeur Ears?
Crèvecoeurs are one of the few breeds whose ears don’t always match their egg color. In France, white ears are standard. Elsewhere red ears are allowed.
Fall in Love with Crèvecœurs
As a Crèvecoeur connoisseur, I think these curiously crested, devilishly delightful v-combed, and boldly bearded beauties are worth the risk of a broken heart. Though, honestly, today, the only thing breaks my heart about Crèvecoeurs is the thought of not having a few of these crested cuties in my flock!
Whether you keep them as pets, off-season layers, to support breed restoration, or use them as a meat flock, you are bound to fall in love the charm and utility of these ancient French heart breakers.
Are you thinking about getting chickens or do you already have a flock? Learn more in this blog post Raising Chickens: Beginner’s Guide (+ Pro Tips!)
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