By Tasha Greer
Lakenvelders are descended from chickens that thrived in Armageddon. Yet today, this breed is at risk for extinction. They need chicken keepers with a passion for intelligent, ornamental, and useful breeds to help them recover from threatened status.
These decorative dual utility chickens are renowned for their excellent abilities to avoid predation. They’re also fantastic foragers able to lay abundant eggs on a diet of mostly forage when given free range. Also, if you need an animal to alert when visitors or predators are near, this breed evolved from stock raised specifically for their capacity to crow.
While not ideal for urban or small coops due to their noisiness and flightiness, Lakenvelders can really shine on partially protected pastures.
Lakenvelders may be direct ancestors of some of the earliest domesticated chickens. Legend has it that around 4,000 years ago, a group of Indo-Aryan wise men (known as Ah-Brahman) migrated from the Indus Valley to Mesopotamia and brought their chickens with them.
Some of those Ah-Brahman and their poultry pets settled into a Palestinian city, critical to ancient international trade, known as Tel Megiddo. That city is also called Armageddon in Greek. There those chickens were bred extensively for their rooster crow. Later the hens were bred for egg production.
Around year 1 of the current era, Jewish immigrants relocated from Tel Megiddo to Holland and Germany. They brought some of those Tel Megiddo chickens along with an egg-based, boiled bread recipe with them. Those ancient Armageddon chickens are the ancestors to the black and white beauties we know as Lakenvelders today. Meanwhile, that ancient bread recipe may have migrated on to Poland and evolved into the egg washed, boiled bagels of today.
This breed was associated at one point with the tiny hamlet of Lakerveld (also Laeckervelt and Lackervelt) located in the Netherlands in an area known as South Holland. By the 1860’s, the breed was also well known throughout the North Rhine-Westphalia area of Germany.
Although the breed name may have evolved from the location of Lakerveld, the word Lakenvelder roughly translates from Dutch into English as “white spread over a black field”. It’s also translated to mean “a shadow on a sheet.” Today the term Lakenvelder primarily references the unique black and white appearance of this stunning breed.
Lakenvelder Breed Characteristics
According to the Dutch poultry painter Cornelis Simon Theodorus van Gink, Lakenvelders could be found near Lakerveld as far back as 1727. They made their official poultry show debut in 1835 in West Hanover, Germany.
By the early 1900’s they gained a measure of popularity in the U.K. and the U.S. But they were only recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) as a breed in 1939. Today, Lakenvelders are recognized in one color variety which is a bright white body with dark black head, neck, and tail feathers and a blue gray under color.
Ideally, the head and neck feathers should have as much black as possible. The tail should be a deep lustrous black. The body and back should be white, with black ticking in the saddle area. Wings should be mostly white when folded, with black webbing on the wing tips, strong, and carried close to the body.
Lakenvelders have single, medium-sized bright red combs that are firm and upright and slightly rounded to follow the curvature of the head. The comb should be serrated, but not too deeply. In the U.S. five-point combs are the preference. Elsewhere the number of comb points aren’t considered important for this breed.
Wattles should also be bright red, medium-sized and rounded with no wrinkling. Their beaks are medium in length, strong, and nicely curved. Their eyes are large, bright, dark red, and prominent. Ear lobes should be small, oblong, white, and close to the head.
In terms of body composition, Lakenvelder breasts are rounded and carried forward like game birds. Their skin is white. Their thighs are short and strong. Shanks are medium length, smooth, and slate colored.
Their posture is upright, with a strong broad but fine head leading to a medium length neck that is well-arched. Their back is also medium in length and moderately broad. It’s almost horizontal with a concave sweep to the tail. The tail should be about 45 degrees from the body.
Overall, they have a regal, refined, but compact appearance and seem ready for action at any moment.
Lakenvelders have multiple historical uses. They are beautiful ornamental chickens adored for their striking appearance. Hens can lay 150-200 medium, white to tinted eggs per year. This is a small quantity by modern standards. However, unlike industrial layers that require formulated feed for good egg production, Lakenvelders can lay at this level mostly on a diet of free-range forage and kitchen scraps.
Additionally, although Lakenvelders don’t get very large, their meat is delicious. Since the roosters tend to be aggressive at maturity, those not needed for breeding make for a wonderful supplemental meat source.
Full-Size and Bantams
Lakenvelders are accepted by the APA in full and bantam sizes. Full-sized Lakenvelders weigh in as follows.
- Pullets: 3.5 lbs.
- Hens: 4 lbs.
- Cockerels: 4 lbs.
- Cocks: 5 lbs.
Bantam Lakenvelders are hard to find. They weigh in around 1.5-1.7 pounds.
Lakenvelders are not the ideal chicken for beginners. Roosters can be aggressive and territorial. They will attack predators to protect hens which make them useful in free range situations. The roosters also crow sporadically and loudly from before dawn until after dark.
Lakenvelders tend to be flighty. They are also determined foragers and will go to extremes to escape confinement. They trained to come when called using food. Hens can also be nest trained to facilitate egg collection. However, their preference for roosting high, such as up in trees, can make it hard to get them to voluntarily go into an enclosed coop with a low roost at night.
Overall, Lakenvelders are best suited to free range situations where predator resistant chickens are necessary. Historically, this breed might have roamed free on rural farmland, fed themselves on gleaned grain, and roosted in barn rafters. Today, they might work well on electric fenced pasture.
Caring for Lakenvelders
Lakenvelders are most ideal for moderate climates similar to the Netherlands or Mediterranean regions. They can also handle heat if offered shade and cool water.
Lakenvelders don’t love the cold. However, they can survive it if allowed places to warm up. On my homestead, they often cozied up with my goats in deep bedding on cold nights. They might also enjoy being closed in the barn on cold nights with the similarly colored black and white belted Lakenvelder cattle breed (that are also in need of preservation).
All chickens are prone to predation and Lakenvelders are no different. But as a smart, alert, and predator aware breed, Lakenvelders can survive longer in less protected situations than many common domesticated breeds.
I had two Lakenvelder hens roost in trees and the barn and free range in my goat pasture for over 3 years. Ultimately, something got them.
If you can offer Lakenvelders places to roam and roost high in areas surrounded by an electric fence and livestock guardian dogs, their chances of long-term survival will be greater.
Lakenvelders are wonderful escape artists. If you want to keep them in a protected run, clip both wings to reduce their flightiness in enclosures and limit risk for injury.
Even with clipped wings, their powerful thighs give them the ability to jump high. As such, they even clear 6-8 foot fences to escape runs. Completely enclosed runs are best for this breed.
Scatter feed around the run to simulate foraging to keep them entertained. Also, offer as many foraged food sources as possible to support their health needs.
Lakenvelders are most comfortable roosting high on natural branches. Similar to jungle fowl, they prefer tall, well-branched trees when possible. If keeping them confined, try using scavenged 3-4 inch diameter branches turned into roost bars.
They also prefer to roost near the ceiling when possible. Offer a soft landing by keeping a thick layer of litter on the floor as they are likely to fly down even from ladder roosts.
A ratio of 1 rooster to 8 hens is ideal for fertilized eggs for hatching. Keep more aggressive roosters confined separately from hens, except when necessary for breeding. That way you won’t have to risk being attacked to collect eggs.
Lakenvelder hens rarely go broody. They are also very vocal before, after, and while they lay. They prefer elevated nest boxes. They also shy away from too much nest competition. To avoid having to track down self-chosen nest areas, provide extra nest boxes in a mixed flock. (See Chicken Nesting Boxes: Guide to Purchasing or DIY for more on this topic.)
Lakenvelders are smaller in size than many common domesticated breeds. However, they are powerful and tend dominate pet type breeds such as Orpingtons or Cochins. They seem to hold their own with other dominant breeds such as Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, or Buckeyes.
Pros and Cons of Raising Lakenvelders
If you need a little help figuring out whether Lakenvelders are right for you, let me offer you some pros and cons from my experience.
- Good Egg Production on Foraged Diet
- Protective Roosters
- Great Predator Awareness
- Beautiful Old-World Breed
- Not Ideal for Small Runs
- Flighty Breed
- Aggressive Roosters
- Exceptionally Noisy
Overall, Lakenvelders are one of the few ornamentally beautiful breeds that have enough predator awareness to survive free ranging, and in some cases, semi-protected outdoor roosting conditions. Unfortunately, they don’t make great pets for children or for those who have noise concerns.
There are a few more things to be aware of regarding Lakenvelders.
What about Golden Lakenvelders?
Some breeders, particularly in the U.S., are offering a chicken called a “Golden Lakenvelder”. These chickens look similar to the black and white Lakenvelder except that they have golden feathers in place of the white feathers.
In other countries, these chickens are called Vorwerk chickens. They are named for Oskar Vorwerk, the German poultry breeder, who worked to perfect this distinct strain.
The Vorwerks were created using Lakenvelders as well as Andalusian, Buff Sussex, and Buff Orpington chickens. They tend to be tamer than Lakenvelders and more suitable for confinement. They also tend to require more predator protection.
Although some people use the term Golden Lakenvelders to describe the Vorkers, others adamantly consider that to be an inaccurate description. However, since neither the Vorwerk nor the Golden Lakenvelder have been accepted into the breed standards in the U.S., either description may be used.
Do Lakenvelder Feather Colors Change?
One last thing to know about Lakenvelders is their feather colors become more intense with age. It can take up to three moltings for them to reach their full black and white feather colored potential.
Additionally, their blue gray under color often gives them a silverish hue. As a result, some people call them silver Lakenvelders.
As ancestors to the earliest domesticated chickens from the Indus Valley by way of Armageddon/Tel Megiddo, Germany, and the Netherlands, Lakenvelders are truly a world class breed worth keeping. Homesteaders with pasture and a love of history can help perpetuate that 4000-year ancestral legacy by breeding and raising this rare and threatened breed at home.
If you know how to handle aggressive roosters, there’s no gray area when it comes to Lakenvelders. They are the black and white best choice for eggs and meat, if you’re looking for an old-world breed that is a cost-saving forager and predator resistant.
Are you thinking about getting chickens or do you already have a flock? Check out >> A Beginner’s Guide to Chickens.
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