Sulmtaler Chicken

Ark of taste
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Three local chicken breeds exist in Austria today, all descended from the historic Styrian chicken: the old Styrian, the Cillier, and the Sulmtaler. Sulmtaler chickens are similar to the old Styrian, but are larger and heavier with a stockier build. The difference can be seen in their broad, well-rounded breast and in their sturdy shoulder. The legs, particularly in the hens, are short, and the plumage is reddish brown. The male’s comb is moderately high with evenly spaced indentations. The wattle is moderately long. The caudal plumage can be short or of medium length. Sulmtaler hens raised today are almost exclusively of a golden color. The plumage on the neck of the hen is red-brown, almost golden. The wings are brown and different to the body which is a pale wheat color. The most distinctive feature of the Styrian chicken is the straight comb and small wattle. The legs are flesh colored. The eggs vary from ivory to cream. Chicks are born twenty days after reproduction. The feathers grow slowly. The number of eggs produced is about 150 per year and each egg weighs around 60 grams. The cock weighs between 3.5 and 4 kilograms, the hen between 2.5 and 3.5 kilograms. Capons can reach 5.25 kilograms. For several centuries, before modern hybrids were introduced from other countries, Sulmtaler chickens enjoyed a first-class, almost legendary reputation among Central European breeds. The capon was particularly well-regarded due to its magnificent appearance, considerable weight and the quality of its meat. The first written reference to the bird dates back to the 14th century. At the end of the 19th century the Sulmtaler chicken was considered a delicacy in the Austrian and French courts. The square dedicated to the capon in Graz is a testimony to the past economic importance of the breed. Around 1900 the association of Slovenian breeders, on the initiative of Armin Arbeiter and Emanuel Martiny, set up a body to breed Styrian chickens. Armin Arbeiter collected the few pure bred birds being raised in the hilly Styrian winegrowing country and gave them the name “Sulmtaler” (from the Sulm valley south-west of Graz) and proceeded to carry out genetic selection in perfect harmony with the local area and fertile nature of the region. These birds—which had excellent meat—adapted perfectly to the fertile agricultural areas to the south and south-west of Graz and were considered a blessing for Styria: from Graz to Pettau (Ptuj), Cilli (Celje) and Rann (Brezice), the population was able to benefit from both the meat and the eggs. The breed provided an important source of sustenance. From 1915 on, the Sulmtaler breed spread rapidly and gained many awards at poultry exhibitions in Graz, Vienna, Budapest and Berlin. Then in the hard years between the two World Wars, it was almost completely abandoned and an important part of Austrian gastronomic identity was lost. The Sulmtaler chicken managed to survive its most critical period only thanks to a few amateur breeders and poultry associations. A collaborative venture involving the Universities of Maribor and Ljubljana (Slovenia) is the last opportunity to revive selection from a genetically pure group and gradually reintroduce the birds onto the market (a maximum of 100,000 chickens and capons per years until 2010). In the initial phase of the project, two breeding groups each with 100 birds have been set up in parallel to provide safeguarding. Under the direction of Dr. Holcmann (University of Ljubljana) this stock is used to select genetically pure birds to develop the breeding program on a larger scale. This bird is ideally raised on pasture, particularly during fattening. The best solution is to work with around 100 birds in enclosed mobile runs which allow at least 10 sq m per bird. Shaded areas are necessary, so land surrounded by traditional fruit trees would be suitable. Healthy growth requires good hygienic conditions and a probiotic health program to improve intestinal microbial balance. The chickens’ diet is based on regionally-sourced organic and GM-free feed; final fattening involves feeding with cereals, legumes, ground pumpkin seeds and protein concentrate. Dairy products, potatoes, herbs and probiotics are permitted in feeding, while antibiotics, coccidiostatic additives, vermicides, feed of animal origin (excluding dairy products) are forbidden.This breed is typical of Sulmtal and Saggautal in Styria’s vinegrowing areas.

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Production area:Sulmtal and Saggautal regions

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Breeds and animal husbandry

Nominated by:Georg Zöhrer