Sultan: Ornamental Chicken Breed of the East

The Sultan is a rare, ornamental breed of chicken that originated in Turkey. The unique breed gets its name from the Turkish Sultans…

Sultan History:

The English name for the breed, ‘the Sultan’, stems from the original Turkish name. In Turkey, Sultans are known as ‘Serai-Tavuk’ or ‘Serai Taook’. ‘Serai’ meaning ‘the Sultan’s palace’ and ‘Tavuk’ or ‘Taook’, meaning ‘fowls’. The title for these unique chickens likely came from the breed’s historical popularity among powerful Turkish leadership (during the Ottoman Empire)… And why, you might ask, was this breed so popular? In truth, the main purpose of the breed was ornamental. Because of their beautiful, yet unique look, this fancy breed became a popular ornament for the gardens of the Ottoman Sultanate.

Ms. Elizabeth Watts, a poultry enthusiast, had apparently taken interest in the breed and had Sultan chickens imported to Britain in 1854. She had the first flock imported to Britain from Constantinople (with the help of a friend). However, when the birds reached her, she wrote that they where in extremely poor condition… The once extravagant Sultans had arrived from their long journey dirty, matted and nearly unrecognizable. Elizabeth was not even able to discern their original color until the chickens molted.

Sultans made their way to various parts of North America by 1867. The breed became an officially recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874. Today, Sultans are primarily featured in poultry shows. However, it is somewhat rare to encounter one.

Breed Function:

Sultans are neither heavy nor exceptional layers. This is largely due to the fact that Sultans were never bred to be functional livestock. Sultan hens lay about 60 small/medium white eggs per year (which is as little as 1/4 the production as some other egg-laying breeds). However, sultans are exceptional show chickens and make wonderful pets.

Sultan Physical Characteristics:

Head:

The Sultan’s head is adorned with a beard, muffs, a full crest and cavernous nostrils. The Sultan resembles the Crevecoeur and Polish chickens. The Sultan also has a duplex ‘V’ comb (sometimes known as ‘horns’).

Legs & Feet:

Sultan chickens’ feet and shanks are light-blue/slate colored and heavily feathered. Sultans also have a genetic predisposition for for extra toes. Other chicken breeds with this trait include Dorkings and the Silkies. Show quality Sultans are often raised in dry, cozy, clean cages/pens. Largely due to the Sultans foot/shank feathering. This helps keep their feathers in pristine condition.

Sultans also have what are called ‘vulture hocks’. These are stiff feathers (like flight/wing feathers) located on lower part of the bird’s thighs. They extend towards the back-end of the bird (parallel to the wings) and point slightly to the ground. Vulture hocks are rare and considered an undesirable characteristic in most breeds (such as all Asiatic breeds). However, in some breeds (including Belgian D’Uccle Bantams and Sultans), vulture hocks are a required breeding trait.  

Color:

Sultans only come in three colors (black, blue and white). However, the Sultans’ original color (white) remains the most common variation. The other color variations possibly resulted from Polish/Sultan crossing.

Weight:

Sultan chickens are small in size. Standard Sultan roosters only weighs ~6 pounds (2.75 kilograms). Standard Sultan hens weigh ~4 pounds (1.8 kilograms). However, there is a bantam (miniature) variation of the breed. Bantam Sultan roosters weigh ~26 ounces (740 grams). Bantam hens weigh ~22 ounces (625 grams).

Sultan History:

Sultan Chicken Breed Temperament:

Sultans generally mellow-tempered and gentle. Most Sultans do little damage to the ground. This trait would mean that Sultans kept their owners’ gardens in finer condition than most other breeds would have.

Sultans also bear confinement well. This benefits them, as well as their poultry enthusiastic owners, in the show world. However, they do poorly in flocks with large, more active breeds because of their tranquil temperaments. Sultan chickens tend to be low in the pecking order when in mixed flocks.

Photos above of a white Sultan rooster (named Sully), owned and photographed  by Amelia E.

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