Welsummer Chicken Complete Guide

Welsummer Chicken Complete Guide featured image

By Tasha Greer

Go Dutch with Welsummer chickens. These pretty partridge-feathered hens, and their dashing rooster partners, will add a touch of Dutch charm to any flock. Renowned for their premium terracotta eggs, Welsummers offer profitable appeal. Plus, their flat, silken feathers protect like glossy raincoats, making them great for cool, wet, or maritime climates.

On a minor note, these sweet talkers are famous for their gift of gab. But given their natural beauty, extraordinary eggs, charming eloquence, and potential use in your Dutch oven, Welsummers are well-worth considering.

Welsummers

The genetic history of the Welsummers, also sometimes listed as Welsumers or Welsums, is not well-documented. However, two bits of origin lore are commonly shared.

The first is that they are an old landrace that has been around for centuries. The other tale is that a young farmer’s son in the small village of Welsum, in the Netherlands, began breeding chickens for their egg color to earn premium rates on egg sales.

In either case, in the early 1900’s a Dutch breed of chickens that laid extraordinarily beautiful reddish-brown eggs became so popular they eventually garnered international attention. The village of Welsum has claimed the breed as its own and even erected statues in their honor. [1]

Welsummer Chicken

Breed History

In 1921, Welsummers made their international debut at the World Poultry Congress in The Hague, Holland. They were well-received by chicken revelers for their uniquely dark and often speckled eggs.

Early Welsummers were mainly identified by egg color rather than uniform appearance. Throughout the 1920’s, strides were made to standardize the breed in terms of feather, leg, and eye color and other physical features.

During that time, they may have been crossed with foreign breeds like Malays, Brahmas, Cochins, Faverolles, Dorkings, Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, and another Dutch breed called the Barnvelders. Yet, even at the 1930 World Poultry Congress in London, there were significant variations between Dutch and English Welsummers. [2]  

Also, in their early heyday, Welsummers were purported to lay epic quantities of eggs and grow into giant meat birds. That was quickly disproven by actual performance. For most of their history, they’ve been regarded as fair layers of stunning eggs, with minor utility as a meat breed.

Welsummers have been popular in the Netherlands, the UK, and Australia for nearly a century. Rumor has it even Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, keeps a Welsummer flock. Yet, they’ve been slow to catch on in the U.S.

Though they arrived in the US around 1928, they weren’t accepted into the American Poultry Association (APA) standards of perfection until 1991. The long delay was partly due to lingering disparities in breed characteristics. However, the main issue was poor timing.

Welsummers were formalized as a breed just as industrial broilers and factory egg layers were taking over the market. With limited egg quantity and slow growth rates, Welsummers didn’t fit the new mold. Thankfully, renewed interest in color eggs is changing that.

Welsummer Breed Characteristics

Welsummers are classed as a dual utility breed. However, that’s debatable given that many Welsummers fall short of the listed typical weights. My hens topped out at 4 pounds, far less than their average listed weight of 6 pounds.

From a practical perspective, the Welsummers’ true value is the same as it was in the early 1900’s. Adding a few terracotta colored Welsummer eggs to a carton, filled with production brown eggs, can bump the selling price up 20% or more in some areas.  

Egg Production

Modern Welsummers are slightly better layers than their ancestors. Some keepers report getting up to 250 eggs per year. The general expectation is 150-180 eggs the first year and 120-140 the second year. After that, hens continue laying in lower numbers for 4-6 years. My five-year-old hens lay about 100 eggs per year.

Welsummer egg color varies from light brown to dark chocolate with noticeable red hues and frequent speckles. For the most interesting displays, seek breeders selecting their breeding stock for egg color.

Welsummer Egg Speckled
Welsummer Egg Speckled

Welsummer Appearance

In the US, only one variety of Welsummer is accepted by the APA. [3] These are generically described as partridge. In their homeland, they call them red partridge for the deep dark, red color of their breast feathers and glowing, coppery golden red of their head feathers. Outside the Netherlands, those red hues, especially in hens, seem more muted and can trend closer to gold, orange, and coppery.

As a general overview, Welsummer have reddish breasts, golden heads and hackles, and brownish backs that end in dark tail feathers. In the hens, hackle and back feathers are patterned with markings reminiscent of lacy henna. Spangled patterning is considered a defect by many.

Welsummer roosters are known as the epitomal representation of “roosterness”. Lore has it that Cornelius (Corny) the Corn Flakes Mascot was based on a Welsummer rooster. They display uniquely deep red hued hackles with coppery gold backs. Their undercarriage has green-hued black feathers with red stippling. Their tail plumage is full, green-hued black and brilliantly glossy. They look like a patchwork quilt of saturated color.

Hens and roosters are upright, active birds with broad backs and full breasts and tails. They have a single comb and medium wattles. Their ear lobes are small, almond-shaped, and reddish. White ear lobes are a defect. They have a short beaks and clean, yellow legs. They are browless with red, almond shaped eyes.

Welsummer chicken resting

Autosexing

Day old Welsummer chicks can also be autosexed by appearance. Female hatchlings have darker lines near their eyes and on top of their head than males.

Full-Size and Bantams

Welsummers also come in two sizes with different defining characteristics.

Full-Size Welsummers

Full-size Welsummers are mainly used for deeply colored eggs with secondary meat production.

  • Pullets: 4.5 lbs.
  • Hens: 6 lbs.
  • Cockerels: 5 lbs.
  • Cocks: 7 lbs.

Bantams

Bantam Welsummers generally aren’t bred for dark egg color, but instead for feather color and docility.

  • Pullets: 26 oz.
  • Hens: 30 oz.
  • Cockerel: 30 oz.
  • Rooster: 34 oz.                   

Temperament

Welsummers are known for being aloof. You can easily train them to come for treats and to follow you for food. You can acclimate them to being handled if you start young. Yet, they generally don’t enjoy being held or petted.

Despite their low tolerance for cuddling, they are calm, sweet chickens who love to gossip. They aren’t as loud as the Sussex breed and don’t have the broad vocabulary of the Buckeyes. But they do chatter the better part of the day. They also sound off when agitated or excited.

Welsummer aloofness also extends to other chicken breeds. They tend to be less social than other breeds in a mixed flock. They avoid being picked on by bully breeds when given enough room to keep their distance in the run and on the roost.

Welsummer juveniles with Buckeyes
Welsummer juveniles with Buckeyes

Caring for Welsummers

Welsummers are easy to care for in cool, maritime climates. In other climates, you may need to provide weather protection.

Heat Protection

In a hot climate, offer heavy shade, cool water, and safe places to comfortably sit out the heat. Foot baths or mud to stand in will help cool them during hot, dry weather.

Cold Tolerance

Welsummers native conditions are cool, humid, and cloudy year-round though not freezing cold. In my North Carolina climate, a bit cooler than Welsum, my hens huddle in the coop on cold days. They frequently tuck their toes under their feathers to warm their feet and roost in the warmest spots in winter. Overall, their behaviors suggest limited cold hardiness.

Predator Protection

Welsummers seem especially prone to aerial attacks. My guess is that their back feathers resemble predator-loved partridges (or rabbits). They’re also docile, lightweight, and poor at flying, making them prone to ground predation too.  

Good aerial predator protection, secure pasture, and predator-proof night protection are ideal for this breed. Welsummers are also suitable for confinement in large coops and runs, with some access to fresh forage or vegetable scraps.

Roost Recommendation

Welsummers seem to have tender feet. Flat roosts and low set bars work well to prevent injury.

Roosters

Welsummer roosters are calm and aloof like the hens. But there are outliers who become territorial and require culling. A ratio of 8-10 hens per rooster works well.

Chicken Feed

Welsummers require regular access to chicken feed and fresh greens for ideal health. To maintain their weights, offer high protein treats during molting, heavy egg production periods, or going into winter in cold areas. Scratch with cracked corn is also a welcome, warming treat for cold days.

Broodiness

Welsummers rarely go broody and are easily distracted from the nest when they do.

Egg Color Care

For all brown egg layers most of the shell pigment is transmitted through the protein-rich, viscus fluid secretion called the cuticle. [4] That pigment is mainly made of protoporphyrin-IX and a little zinc chelate synthesized in the shell gland (uterus). [5]

Welsummers, and other dark egg layers, make larger quantities of this pigment than light brown egg layers. It takes 20-25 hours to make an egg. But this special pigment is added mainly during the last 90 minutes prior to oviposition (laying). It’s like a coat of paint that goes on after the drywall.

The pigmentation process is delicate and time sensitive. Small stressors like nest competition around that 90-minute pigment window and bigger stresses like mites, poor housing, dietary problems, and insufficient space can lead to blotched, unattractive eggs.

Right-sizing your flock for your space, monitoring health, and creating cozy, quiet nest options will support a stress-free laying environment. Also, for pristine pigmentation, avoid needing to wipe or wash eggs by changing nest litter and collecting eggs more frequently.

Note, color irregularities are common for the first several months when a pullet starts laying. Color is most stable and intense 3 months after point of lay until 18-24 months of age. Then, as hens age, they make less protoporphyrin-IX and lay larger eggs which further dilutes the color.

Welsummer Older Hen Egg
Welsummer Older Hen Egg

Pros and Cons of Raising Welsummers

Still not sure about Welsummers? Let’s recap some pros and cons.

Pros

  • Stunning eggs!
  • Gorgeous feather colors
  • Easy autosexing of chicks
  • Great for cool, wet climates

Cons

  • Not the most productive layer or meat bird
  • Poor choice for extremely hot or cold weather
  • Aerial predator prone

Welsummers are a terrific addition for colorful egg cartons and barnyard ambiance. But you’ll likely want to mix them with more productive birds for homestead practicality.  

Welsummer FAQs

There’s one last question we need to answer about Welsummers.

Is Cornelius Rooster (Corny), the Kellogg Corn Flakes Rooster, really a Welsummer?

Many articles claim that Cornelius the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes rooster is a Welsummer. I have my doubts about this bit of lore.

First, when the Corny campaign kicked off in the US in 1957, Welsummers weren’t common in the US. [6] Next, the rooster image on the box has a three-pointed comb whereas Welsummer roosters have five-pointed combs.

Next, in my quest to confirm Corny’s breed, I came across a claim that the rooster idea was inspired by the renowned Welsh harpist Nansi Richards. Supposedly, Richards visited Will Kellogg when he was looking for a new advertising campaign for Corn Flakes. Richards suggested using a rooster because of the association with crowing and morning. Also, the Welsh word for rooster “ceiliog” sounds like Kellogg. Rumor also has it that the campaign colors (red, green, and white) were even inspired by the Welsh flag.

If the Welsh story were true, then it could be the similarities between the “Welsh” and “Welsum that led to the mistaken assumption that Corny was a Welsummer. However, I was informed by a representative from the Kellogg’s corporation, Mr. Kellogg died a several years before the Corny campaign began. Also, the Kellogg’s historical records department has not been able to confirm the Welsh or Welsummer connections.

While I reached a dead end in my research and can’t prove that Corny is a Welsummer, one thing is certain. It’s a feather in Cornelius’s cap to be associated with such a fine Dutch Breed like the Welsummers!

Going Dutch with Welsummers

Keeping a few Welsummers for their glorious protoporphyrin-IX rich, terracotta eggs is a perfect way to add a touch of Dutch to your flock and upsell eggs. Occasionally using Welsummers in your Dutch oven and autosexing chicks are also nice perks of these partridge-like poultry.

If you need more convincing that this breed is well-worth keeping, ask Prince Charles or the hordes of Welsummer chicken lovers who descend on the village of Welsum every 5 years to pay homage to this uniquely Dutch breed! Welsummers may or may not have inspired a Corn Flakes campaign, but they are certainly the official mascot of Welsum, their ancestral hometown.

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!)

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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

References:
[1] http://www.aviculture-europe.nl/nummers/10e01a07.pdf
[2] https://ia800205.us.archive.org/21/items/cu31924003077199/cu31924003077199.pdf
[3] https://amerpoultryassn.com/accepted-breeds-varieties/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26240390/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24235220/
[6] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/aw-throwback-kelloggs-cor_b_12901216

Welsummer Chicken Complete Guide pin image

4 thoughts on “Welsummer Chicken Complete Guide”

  1. I have a number of Welsummers in my flock. They are very hardy and great foragers but not super egg layers. My rooster is also a Welsummer, extremely beautiful but aggressive. He’s great with his hens, even making nests for them and sweet talking to them from the nest. I have one hen who does go broody and is a great mom. I have to say they’re my favorite breed.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this article! It is so thorough. I was interested in Welsummer for the pros, but all the cons are things I really need to avoid due to my hot, arid climate and proximity birds of prey roosting sites.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Join me online