Mechelse Hoen, Mechelse Koekoek
The Mechelse hoen (meaning fowl of Malines) is a big and heavy chicken breed, with a reputation for its delicious meat. It’s a slow-growing breed with a gentle character. The Mechelse hoen does not fly and needs a balanced diet. During the fattening period, their feed consists of a mash made from buckwheat and milk, which also contributes to the final flavor of the meat. Adult roosters weight more than 5 kg; adult hens weigh 4 to 4.5 kg. The breed is not known for its egg-laying capacity, however it does lay around 140-160 light brown eggs a year. Some experts therefore consider the Mechelse hoen as a dual-purpose breed.
The Mechelse hoen is popularly known as the "Mechelse koekoek," which makes many people thinks that this fowl is a cuckoo rather than a chicken. This nickname is due to the most typical and diffused color variety of this breed, which indeed can be defined as "cuckoo-colored." This cuckoo-color is a light blue-gray base alternated with darker, blue-grey to grey-black stripes. These differences in colors are due to a genetic "cuckoo-factor". Roosters have this factor twice, which makes that their lighter strips are bigger. Roosters are thus lighter colored than hens, which carry this factor singularly.
The Mechelen hen arose out of the breeding of native country fowl (the Vlaanderse koekoek or Flemish cuckoo) with imported Brahma, Langshan and Cochin breeds around 1850. These Asian breeds contributed with their impressive stature, while the fertility and meat quality was inherited from the indigenous breed. Due to its favorable characteristics, this breed was everywhere to be found on the Belgian market by the end of the 19th century. The fattening of the Mechelse hoen used to take place in "epinettes", a sort of wooden cages in which the chickens were fed a mash made of buckwheat and skimmed milk. Today they still receive this feed, but no longer enclosed in cages. Today, however, there are only a handful of breeders in Flanders who still raise this breed, while others profit from selling crossbreeds under this name.