Transylvanian Naked Necks have history more enthralling than the legend

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Mad Maxxey is on full alert but Silver Pants Cochin mom is sound asleep while their pullet is calm but listening to pops.  Or is it a cockerel?  Pops was really irked by the whole photography business.

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With a name as bizarre as its appearance, the Transylvanian Naked Neck chicken is unlike any of the other breeds I will profile here.

It’s a chicken breed but also not a breed. Any chicken can be a naked neck. But only some belong to the breed. The featherless neck is a mutation but also a protein like substance. Turkens look like a turkey but are all chicken and more.

Featherless from chest shield to very cool flattop, the turken looks like it might have been the friend of vampires in its homeland or a devil’s cross between a chicken and turkey. Americans actually believed the latter legend, which helped keep the Transylvanian Naked Neck out of America in the 19th Century, books and Poultry journals of that time report. The look and myth earned the names Turken and Churkey, both of which are still used today.  The State of Virginia’s Department of Immigration and Agriculture investigated the persistent rumors in 1922 and tried to reassure superstitious Americans (and eager farmers) that the Turken was not some dark arts cross between turkeys and chickens, but merely an ordinary European chicken called the Transylvanian Naked Neck.

The real history of the Turken is even more thrilling than the myths.

Any chicken that mates with a Naked Neck produces more naked necks. The strange mutation is dominant.  But there is also a breed with well defined other characteristics.

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DSCF4556  These two are litter mates and never apart.  I was going to put both of Mad Maxxey’s daughters in the picture above but he was too irked with me, wrestled around during most of the photo shoot and he is very strong

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Very recently,  Scottish researchers have discovered the featherless neck is more than a simple mutation, its an acid imbalance. Take some of the overproduced substance and inject it into  any chicken embryo (even if they have never been on the same continent as a Turken) and presto! when born the babies will all be Turkens, not whatever the parents were.

Does that sound like a vampire bite or what?

The Transylvanian Naked Neck’s ancestors probably rode with the Huns into Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. Several Asian fowls such as the Madagascar Jungle Fowl have naked necks too. Historians believe one of the armies from Asia that conquered Europe brought the birds with them. But the mutation could also have reoccurred in Transylvania, delighting some farmer in the 1600s. Another legend is that the Turken was created by chefs who loved the flavor and bred for easier plucking.  Unless they had a time machine to the 21st century and a degree in genetics, that is unlikely.

In the early 20th century, several Eastern European nations were very excited about making the Turken into something that would feed their nations.   Not only that, the birds became quite beloved among those who worked with them- just as now. At this time, industrial chicken farming had yet to be invented.  Meat chickens were something only found on the farms.

World War I and II were nearly fatal to these efforts and the breed itself, which had been a beloved sensation before the human beings got busy killing each other (and lots of chickens caught in the bombing zones) Then industrial chicken farming arose, nearly wiping out all the great breeds humans had bred for centuries.  All the resistance to disease, beauty and regional survival advantages were almost lost to the insane market stampede to make chickens into meat and egg machines without ANY regard to the chickens or the humans that would eat the eggs or meat.  Just profit.  Fortunately, backyard farming has come back.

Now, these friendly chickens are being considered as a way to help save humanity from its own global warming. Their cool lack of feathers is only part of the reason turkens might be the perfect chicken for hotter times. Turkens have long demonstrated an unusual resistance to disease, recorded by chicken farmers and authors for more than a century.

The naked neck results from a random genetic mutation that causes the overproduction of a feather-blocking molecule called BMP12, a new DNA study shows. I read the study and also used the National Geographic article on it.

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These sweet sisters like to tie their naked necks together like this. I bet it feels good, flesh on flesh.

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Surprisingly, when scientists treated standard-breed chicken embryos with BMP12 in the lab, the young chickens developed no feathers on their necks—suggesting the neck is more sensitive to the molecule, according to study leader Denis Headon, a developmental biologist at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute.

To find out why, Headon and his team did a further analysis, which revealed an acid derived from Vitamin A is produced on the chicken’s neck skin. The acid essentially enhances the BMP molecule’s effects, making the birds’ necks bare, they found. Evolution has apparently whacked the feathers of storks and ostriches.   The turken is a living, personable and delicious link to mysteries of biology that might otherwise be lost in time.

So any chicken that gets a certain molecule LOOKS like a turken. But turkens are a standard breed and must have certain characteristics, starting with that cool feather flattop.

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Mad Maxxey’s mom and dad

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They also have bewitching personalities. When I asked to join Mandi Cramp’s Facebook Group “Transylvanian Naked Necks and Showgirls- UK Only,”  she accepted me even though I was from the US. But when I started talking about how delicious- as well as personable- they are she politely suggested I might want to find a different group. People love their Turkens. We get it and we do too, but we have so many now that we will have to eat some. Truly sorry to my fellow Naked Neck lovers but they do taste incredible.  Not at all like the proverbial tasteless “chicken.”  Maybe there is something to those origin myths?

All my chickens lead happy lives where they can roam as much as they like. Our first Turken, from Ideal Hatchery through HWY 20 Feed in 2013 was a lovely, gigantic beauty. She was cold and shivering the first day of her life and we nursed her along. Then she became stronger than the others. Unimaginatively we named her “turkey neck”   She was a favorite of our head rooster Tarquin, an Americana. She weighed an amazing 9 pounds and was too big to roost much. She gave us many offspring but got her head bitten off by a weasel that snuck into the house and took advantage of her sleeping on the floor. We also found his feathers all over the place on that sad day. Roosters do wake up and do try to defend hens. Tarquin left that house, where he was reared, and has never gone back into it. He stayed in a tree for a while then moved to a new home.

Their “son” Mad Maxxey got his name very early on. He looked wild and fierce with an impressive shield protruding from his neck and a very cool space age flattop. But Maxxey was as friendly as a puppy. He was the only rooster who didn’t try to brutalize, TexRex, our huge CornishX meat chicken. TexRex grew to be a dominant rooster and they remained friends, although Maxxey had to submit to the once bottom Tex. Tex was 18 pounds when he died at 18 months. Mad Maxxey took over his lifelong rooster friend’s flock. TexRex’s favorite hen, Silver Pants, the blue cochin shown here,

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refused to mate with Maxxey for a very long time, but as you see, she has accepted him now and they have a beautiful offspring, which we think is a hen. TexRex’s son Dokie, grew to a similar size to dad. The meanest rooster on the farm, a Red Ranger escaped from his pen and chased Dokie until the big guy’s heart failed.  He then attacked Maxxey, who treated the big rooster Dokie like an uncle. It didn’t go well for him. We had the Ranger for dinner two nights later.  I gave him chance after chance.  The ranger was mean and cowardly. He would hit and run  He was very rough with the hens and didn’t protect the ones I gave him, just pound them over and over.

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DSCF4364 Mean and worthless.  Have had 4 Red Ranger Roosters. They are rapists, killers and cowards, all 4.  Worst roosters ever. They start fights but can’t finish them.  They are not like fighting cocks, which protect the hens better than any others.  These don’t, they just fight and do so badly.    The pot now beckons for every red ranger rooster that emerges.  This one killed big old Dokie, then got thrashed by Maxxey. Then Ala King! 

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I feel like I know Maxxey like a friend, having seen him grow from a timid but loyal cockerel into effective guardian of his flock of about 12 hens. He lost his blonde turken hen to a hawk last week. She was protecting her almost full grown 4 month old brood. He was outraged, making as much noise as a peacock for hours. As I held him for this picture he was wilder and stronger than ever before. Only 8 pounds, he is all muscle and screamed and objected about the picture taking, especially when super calm Silver Pants started answering his noise. He pecked me a few times over this.

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Maxxey’s oldest boy, which he made with the Brahma hen.  Check out that punky blonde flattop!  IN answer to a question I just got- Maxxey lost his fantastic shield in the fight with the red ranger.  Other than that, he was unscathed.

Afternoon Update: Just got home from chasing the hawk away.  This was a  coopers hawk and it had silver pants and four hens trapped under a tree.  They were in a pile, burrowed down between the fence and tree.  Maxxey was out in the field calling the hawk  making a gawdawful din.  The hawk knows if he swoops Maxxey will charge it.  Cooper’s isn’t very big but he could slit that big red neck in a second.  But he also knows if he misses he’s likely to get taloned and beaten with some very strong wings. A Hawk likes a lot of time to plan the attack and that’s where we humans come in.  When I arrived the hens got up and Maxxey ran over to them, giving them a push and cover back to the house.  The hens ran head down back into the hen house. He stayed outside, looking up and squawking in a clearly angry and annoying tone.  Come on you bastard hawk, I’m waiting for you!  The lack of fear the rooster shows makes the hawk pick a different prey.   Some roosters are scared to death of hawks, some, like Maxxey, not.  The Bresse Rooster is in a covered pen and he just screams–louder than even Maxxey. He starts the minute the hawk arrives and doesn’t stop until it leaves. I’d leave too rather than listen to that.

Check out this blog- More info and pictures on Naked Necks

http://breedsavers.blogspot.com/2011/05/naked-necks-chickens-that-looks-like.html

One thought on “Transylvanian Naked Necks have history more enthralling than the legend

  1. Awesome article. Awesome site. I have a naked neck who rules the roost and takes care of his hens wonderfully. He doesn’t really show aggression towards humans but every time I try to pick him up he has this awesome ninja move, where he jumps forward to the chain link fence and pushes off with his feet, spinning around mid-air to attack. He scratched up my face pretty good, but I still like having him around. Thanks for the informative article!

    Like

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