Barnevelder chickens, or Barnies as everybody loves to call them, are a relatively new but quite popular and cool chicken breed. There are a lot of interesting aspects to Barnies, from their history and looks, to their temperament, egg production, quirky personality, and just how beginner-friendly they are. So, the Barnevelder chicken – here’s everything you need to know.
What is the Barnevelder breed?
The Barnevelder breed is well known to experienced chicken keepers for its various desirable traits. Developed in the Barneveld region of Holland in the early 1900s, this breed may be relatively new but it was the result of crossbreeding quite a few long-standing and historic breeds from all over the world.
That, plus the Barnevelder’s wonderful characteristics has made it quite a well-loved breed today, especially in Europe where it was quite instrumental in the market of dark chocolate and dark brown eggs. So, let’s start from there and examine the inception and history of the Barnevelder chicken breed.
The history of Barnevelder chickens
Historically, the Barneveld area to the east of Utrecht in the Netherlands has always been a strong agricultural region, specifically focused on poultry. Barneveld hens have been supplying eggs to large chunks of Europe for centuries before the early 1900s, with the native breeds to the area being landrace chickens, i.e. local breeds that have been there forever.
Things started to slowly change at the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, however, as new “Oriental” breeds started getting imported more and more often. The Holland breeders didn’t hesitate much before they started cross-breeding their landrace chickens with the newcomers which resulted in quite a few interesting mixes.
The most prominent new breeds were Brahmas, Malays, Gold-Laced Wyandottes, Langshans, and others. This resulted in a lot of “miscellaneous” breeds that weren’t standardized and didn’t have many consistent characteristics. So, it wasn’t long before efforts started being made to streamline these various crossbreeds into a single new official Holland breed.
This led to the creation of the Barneveld Breeders Association and, after a few decades of focused efforts, an official standard for the Barnevelder chicken was created in 1923 – exactly 100 years ago at the time of writing this.
Despite the initial rarity of this breed, the unique dark chocolate egg coloring and large egg size of the Barnies’ eggs proved quite popular, especially in neighboring England which had a huge market for them. This ensured the rapidly rising popularity of the Barnie breed and its continuous success even with the upcoming turmoil in Europe during the next few decades.
Barnevelder looks and breed standard
So, what does the Barnevelder chicken look like, according to its initial standard, and have those looks been maintained through the last century? There are quite a few pictures and videos of this chicken you can find online that will give you a pretty good idea as to what it looks like. To break things down in a bit more detail, however, these are the must-have components of any Barnie’s appearance:
- Dark brown feathers with a double black lacing that creates an “arrowhead” feather pattern throughout the bird’s plumage. The original colors were partridge and double laced, but the partridge variety is now close to extinct.
- Black neck feathers with no double lacing as well as black feathers on the lower parts of the legs and further back on the end of the tail.
- A Barnevelder rooster doesn’t (and can’t) have this pattern, so it’s unique to females only. Instead, Barnevelder roosters have a reddish coloring with melanistic-black breasts and lighter necks.
- The body shape of a Barnie is of medium or up to large size – 5-6 lbs for hens and 6-7 for roosters, on average. Their short wings are high on the torse which makes them poor fliers. The back is U-shaped and the neck is arched. The tail perks up at a nice 50-degree angle. The Poultry Club of Great Britain, after recognizing the breed in 1923, classified it as “a heavy breed” and a “soft feathered breed”.
- The comb of a Barnie hen is a short single comb with 5 points. The ears and wattles are red, as are the eyes – typically a red bay color. the beak is more horn-colored. The legs and skin are yellow, and the legs have four long toes.
There can be some variations in the Barnevelder’s plumage patterns but not all international poultry associations recognize all of them. The above appearance characteristics are considered the standard base appearance of the Barnevelder breed.
The only Barnevelder variety recognized officially in Holland is the doubled laced Barnie. This can include a double-laced blue and a double-laced silver, however. The silver-black or blue lacing on those double-laced Barnevelder birds is quite stunning but doesn’t make them any less recognizable as Barnevelder chickens.
Other variations that are recognized by some associations include the silver blue, the Chamois, the white, and the black Barnevelder. Curiously, the American Poultry Association didn’t recognize the standard double laced Barnevelder until 1991.
There are also some bantam Barnevelders, but those are very rarely available from breeders as they are not a recognized variety. All in all, if you want to form a stable standard Barnie flock, we’d recommend going with the widely-recognized standard as those have the most consistent looks and the least breeding or health problems.
Barnevelder temperament, egg laying, health, and more important details
Speaking of health, breeding, and other issues, does the Barnie chicken have any such problems you need to worry about? Fortunately, the answer here is a “mostly no”.
Of course, no breed is 100% immune to issues, but purebred Barnevelder chickens are known as exceptionally hardy birds – so much so that they will even be a reliable egg layer throughout the winter months, provided that the winter isn’t extraordinarily harsh.
This hardy nature of the Barnevelder is why these chickens have spread so easily throughout the world as they can thrive in almost any climate with minimal healthcare efforts from their owners. Hot and humid climates can be a bit troublesome for these birds but providing enough shade, water, and ventilation is usually enough even in those cases.
As for any specific health problems – those are rare but, of course, they can happen sometimes. The main thing to watch out for is Marek’s Disease (which requires the vaccination of baby chicks in the coop). Aside from that, you’ll simply need to keep your hardy chickens safe from the usual suspects – mites, lice, and other parasites.
This lack of serious difficult to deal with health issues makes the Barnevelder chicken an even more eggcellent egg layer too. These birds will consistently lay 3-4 large brown eggs every year, all year round. The eggs will typically be brown and will sometimes be speckled too.
However, it ought to be mentioned that the Barnie’s eggs aren’t as dark as they used to be a century ago – this isn’t an issue specific to this breed, it’s a commonality for all domesticated chickens – eggs tend to get lighter and lighter as chickens are incentivized to lay more and more often.
This doesn’t affect the nutritional value of the eggs, fortunately, just the color of the shell. Besides, even the now-lighter Barnevelder eggs are still significantly darker than those of most other breeds.
What about the Barnevelder’s behavior and temperament? Fortunately, those are quite admirable too. Barnies are a very easy-going breed which makes them the perfect backyard buddies for small families as well as fantastic free-range neighbors to other animals on large farms. Barnies rank very high on the family-friendly compatibility scale which is why they are considered great for beginners.
Barnevelder chickens are also quite talkative and can be very fun to interact with, however, their voices aren’t as loud as those of other breeds such as the Rhode Island Red, for example. This is a great combination as it means that Barnies are fun birds without being troublesome for the neighbors.
Barnevelder are quite active birds too which is great if you’re willing and able to give plenty of free backyards space for your flock. If not, however, and you can’t spare too much space for your birds, we’d recommend a smaller and less active breed.
In conclusion – is the Barnevelder the right chicken breed for you?
As you can see, the Barnevelder breed has a lot of good things to offer and it’s not surprising that it’s such a fan-favorite, especially for families that want small but active, healthy, fun, and fruitful birds. Pretty much the only No-Nos of the Barnevelder chicken are extraordinarily small living spaces and extreme heat and humid climates – but those apply for most other breeds anyway.
So, if you’re looking for a new (or a first) chicken bet, the Barnevelder breed is one of the first we’d recommend.