Beautiful Birds no. 18: The Barnevelder

The Barnevelder fowl is so named after its place of origin, the Barneveld area in the centre of Holland. The breed was created over 100 years ago in the quest to produce hardy fowl that would lay a good number of eggs throughout the winter.

In its ancestry are breeds such as Cochins, Malay and Langshans as well as the secret ingredient of local farmyard fowl. The specimens imported to the UK in 1921 were a mix of colours, including Partridge (or stippled) and what has become known as ‘Double-Laced.’ This variety is certainly the most popular colour of Barnevelder and, in my view, best encompasses the all-round attributes of the breed.

I was attracted to Barnevelders primarily by the stunning colour pattern of the female. The feathers are a rich brown shade with thick black concentric pencilling that has a green-sheen effect. They are beautiful to look at and are reminiscent of a Himalayan pheasant.

To add to their aesthetic qualities is their calm and placid nature. ‘Barnies’ are a great beginners breed as they will embrace handling, are hardy and will lay a reasonable number of eggs per year, providing their living quarters are conducive to good production. Poultry keepers can expect between 175 – 200 eggs annually from utility strains.

Barnevelders lay rather a dark brown egg. This feature was introduced to them with the use of Marans fowl, a French breed, in the 1930s.

The more prolific strains tend to lose darkness of shell pigment towards the latter stages of each laying season. However, this usually recovers for the beginning of the following season, after the annual moult has taken place.

It is worth noting that, in many cases, the egg colour of Barnevelder bantams is not the same as the standard bred fowl. This anomaly is thought to be because the feature was lost in the process of ‘miniaturizing’ the breed. ‘Barny’ bantams tend to lay a very pale coloured egg. However, there are likely exceptions and this fault may have been rectified in some strains by now.

Although there are additional standard colours aside from the Double Laced, they are seldom seen these days. Other varieties exist on the Continent, such as Blacks and Whites. However, the Blacks are visually very similar to the Black Plymouth Rock, in the same way the Whites are very difficult to distinguish from Rhode Island Whites. Only an expert on breed types would be able to recognise the different breeds in the aforementioned examples.

A Blue version of the Double-Laced Barnevelder has been available on the Continent as well as the UK for a number of years. These are very attractive – particularly the females with their pastel blue and brown tones. A recent creation in Holland is the ‘Silver-Double-Laced’ Barnevelder bantam. These are beautiful and were also created in the UK as large fowl a few years ago by Chris Millward, who is now the club secretary. Sourcing Silver-Double-Laced stock in either large or bantam versions will be challenging at present as they are still in few hands.

To exhibit Barnevelders in the UK, close attention should be paid to the breed standard. Precise colour requirements vary between British and Dutch breed clubs.

The Barnevelder is a great all-rounder which I would recommend as a beginners’ breed – it lays well and is relatively trouble-free to look after.

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