Independent Chickens: The Appenzeller Spithauben

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    The national chicken breed of Switzerland is an unusual looking specimen referred to as the Appenzeller Spithauben. Although not much history is available on the bird, it is said to have originated in the Swiss Alps, possibly out of a cross of breeds such as the Crvecoeur, Brabanter, and La Flche. They were initially bred in the 15th century with the purpose of being able to survive the harsh elements present in the mountainous terrain they knew to be thier home. It was in this area that communities existed in need of a hearty bird that was a decent egg layer and could be eaten as well, hence the Appenzeller Spithauben came to be.

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    These birds have an atypical crest that points forward instead of back such as is normal in other species of bird. It is because of this crest that they were given their name as it resembles a traditional hat worn in the Appenzell region. This was combined with the word Spitzhauben, which is German for \'pointed hoods\' to give them their full name. Their comb is shaped like the letter V that sometimes forks around the entire crest and at other times goes straight up into the feathers and is not always entirely visible. This reduced comb was useful to the birds in their homeland as having less comb area to freeze was an advantageous adaptation. Another useful adaptation to mountain life was an ability to climb, which was demonstrated by these birds as they traversed often rocky terrain. They are also able to fly and have been known to create nests in trees and roost there.

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    The Appenzeller Spithauben is a bird that takes on the challenge of foraging with ferocity. They forage quite actively, always on the trail of anything edible, be it insects or other edible delights. Free ranging habitats are essential for this breed and they do not handle confinement well. If you do confine them, a tall enclosure is necessary due to their ability to fly. Very little food is required to sustain them, probably due to their voracious appetite for free ranging. Another potential reason they are seemingly most content out in the open is due to their nervous, flighty nature. This tendency to be high-strung can be calmed with regular handling but is something that never goes away entirely, especially due to the fact that they seem to prefer being left to their own devices over human socialization.

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    The Appenzeller Spithauben has a rounded body that is similar in shape to a walnut. They have a full breast that is carried high and their long wings are held close to the body. Full, spread tails meet the back at a right angle and their wattles are moderate in length. They have a white earlobe and large, cavernous nostrils placed atop a strong beak set near alert, attentive eyes. Hens are capable of laying a plentiful amount of white eggs (three per week) that are medium in size.

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    Although they nearly went extinct in the 19th century, efforts at breeding have aiding the bird in making a comeback. Ultimately, however, the numbers of these birds would go on to fall once more before another effort to save them was made. They are still rare, but are more easily found now than in years past. Common color variations are: Golden Spangled, Silver Spangled, Black, Blue, Gold, White, Chamois Spangled, Barred, Black Spangled, and Blue Spangled. The colors you are able to find will depend upon your location in the world as not all colors are widespread.

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    The Appenzeller Spithauben is certainly an interesting bird that has a very unique appearance and history. Although they are a bird of many quirks, they do lay decently and make for low maintenance flock members. Should you have a taste for unusual birds, give this breed some consideration. They are not known for going broody and they are also not particularly docile, but if you long for an independent chicken, surely the Appenzeller Spithauben is it!

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