It is no coincidence that the Gallic rooster has been the national symbol of France for centuries. This bird is seen as a symbol of faith and hope in France, and that applies to all of the dozens of different French breeds of chicken as well as the famous La Flèche chicken.
These beautiful birds can be mistaken for a black Spanish chicken at first but they have quite a few signature characteristics that set them apart from all other French and Spanish poultry birds. So, let’s delve a bit deeper into what makes La Flèche chickens special below.
What is a La Flèche chicken, exactly?
The La Flèche chicken also bears the nickname “the fowl of Le Mans” because the breed originates from the town of La Fleche, near the city of Le Mans in France. You may also hear of these birds referred to as “arrow chickens” which may seem to be because of the V-shaped comb the La Fleche chicken has.
In fact, the word “La Flèche” translates as “the arrow” in French which may further lead people to believe that these birds are called that way because their combs have the shape of an arrow.
That’s not really the case, however. Instead, La Flèche chickens are simply named that way after the La Flèche town they originated from. As for why the town is called that way – it was named by the Church of St. Thomas after the arrow that martyred their patron. So, the fact that the La Flèche chickens’ heads just happen to look like arrowheads is a coincidence.
History of the La Flèche chicken
As for the rest of this breed’s history, it is believed to have first been developed in the La Flèche town area all the way back in the 5th century AD. For over a thousand years these birds had remained confined to that area of France to the west of Paris.
That changed in the 1850s when French and American breeders brought some of these birds to America, just as it was done with most other Western European breeds at the time. That led to the American Poultry Association officially recognizing the breed in 1874.
Since then, many chicken keepers tried spreading this French bird through the New World, however, the breed never really caught on in the States. The main reason seems to have been that the American chicken keepers found these French birds to be a bit too “delicate” in constitution compared to other breeds.
And that can be seen to be the case, especially when we’re talking about raising chickens in colder climates. Still, it is a somewhat puzzling development given that a lot of the other chicken breeds that later did manage to become popular in the US were also not very cold-resistant.
Nevertheless, it’s still quite popular among backyard and homestead chicken keepers, especially in France. And there are many qualities that make this poultry bird special, as well as a few that need to be kept in mind if you want to have an easy time looking after these birds.
What does a La Flèche chicken look like?
The first key descriptor of this bird after its arrow-like head is its black plumage. This is the only color the La Flèche chicken can come in and is pretty much the only variant of this bird. If you see some white coloring on a La Flèche chicken then you’re either noticing its white skin and white earlobes or you’re not looking at a purebred La Flèche chicken.
The black tails of these chickens have a nice curve to them and the shanks on the black legs have a dark slate color. The eyes are bright red, the nostrils are wide, and the long wattles are red. The V-shaped comb doesn’t have a crest which is the main way to distinguish a La Flèche chicken from a Spanish chicken. Instead, the La Flèche chicken’s comb has a horn-like look that’s quite interesting.
La Flèche hens and roosters alike are deceptively large too – they look medium-sized but are quite compact under their tight-fitting feathers. So, you can expect a La Flèche rooster to weigh about 8 lbs with the hens usually weighing around 6.5 lbs. That strong physique, together with the gorgeous black feathers and the interesting facial features are what makes the La Fleche chicken one of the most beautiful chicken breeds in the world.
The meaty body of La Flèche chickens is also a big reason why La Flèche chickens are often valued more for their meat than for their eggs. In fact, this is probably the French breed that’s most commonly raised as a table bird rather than an egg layer.
The large breast of a La Flèche chicken is usually especially meaty and tender and this chicken also fattens very well with a nice fat distribution between the breasts, legs, and thighs.
This has also gotten La Flèche chickens in some trouble, however, with the practice of “gavage” or “stuffing” chickens – stuffing chickens with liquid food fed to them through a tube.
La Flèche egg laying, temperament &health
The fact that La Flèche chickens are commonly raised as table birds by their breeders doesn’t mean that they aren’t good at laying eggs either. La Flèche females will typically lay up to 140 to 220 large white eggs a year or 3 to 5 eggs per week.
This is well above average (even if there are a few breeds that can lay even more eggs), especially considering that the high number of eggs doesn’t mean a smaller size as is often the case with other chickens. So, looking after a flock of La Flèche chickens even just for their eggs is still a very good option.
These hens lay their eggs all year round too, at least as long as you make sure that they are properly taken care of. This can be an issue if the climate in your area gets colder in the winter, however, as these chickens aren’t all that cold-resistant.
In terms of health, the good news is that La Flèche chickens are quite healthy and don’t have any breed-specific illnesses and risks. So, as long as you know how to keep any other chicken breed healthy, you know how to keep a La Flèche chicken healthy.
La Flèche chickens don’t do too well with long-term confinement. They can tolerate being stuck in the chicken coop for a bit, of course, but they need to free-range or at least have a large chicken run to walk about every day.
On the bright side, the La Flèche chicken is a really good forager. Both males and females can supplement their chicken feed very well by just foraging in a large enough space while providing a pretty good pest control service to your homestead. La Flèche cocks are especially proficient foragers and would often even catch mice or small lizards to give their hens.
This feisty nature doesn’t typically extend to more than just foraging, however, as La Flèche chickens aren’t all that competitive and can live well with other chicken breeds. The only exception to that would be if you have more than one rooster in the flock but that’s normal.
Despite being relatively timid, these birds aren’t seen as particularly social, however. In fact, they are known to keep away from people when possible. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be good backyard poultry birds, it just means that they aren’t the most sociable pets out there.
What’s more, La Flèche chickens are quite flighty for a chicken and can often take their anti-social tendencies out of the chicken yard if the fencing isn’t tall and secure enough. This can catch a lot of chicken keepers off guard if they’re used to other chicken breeds that don’t fly as much as La Flèche chickens.
In conclusion – is the La Flèche chicken the right breed for you?
The La Flèche chicken is a fantastic dual-purpose bird that lays a lot of eggs and can give a lot of meat for your dinner table. It is a freedom-loving bird, however, so it’s only recommended for those chicken keepers that have the space to let their poultry birds free range. That need for lots of time outdoors also makes the La Flèche chicken ill-suited for colder climates too.