Although this delightful breed is a relative newcomer to the UK fancy, chickens matching their description were first mentioned in a publication by Johann Matthaeus Bechstein in 1793. Prior to this date the exact origins are unclear but it is quite plausible that the breed finds it beginnings in Bohemia where chickens with beards were observed. Then, during the 30 year war in 1621, the families that were forced to move from Bohemia and Moravia relocated in the Ruhla and Steinbach areas of the Thuringian Forest bringing their cattle and poultry with them. The mixing of these birds with the local breeds formed the basis of the Thuringian bearded chicken known as the Thuringian “chubby cheeks”! Whatever its origins, the pure strain of the Thuringian could be found in Rhula at the beginning of the 19th century.
In the early 1880s the breed began to be exhibited and in 1898 a standard was drawn up with 11 signatures and 11 colour varieties were listed and they continued to increase in popularity. On the 8th March 1907 the Association of Breeders of the Thuringian Bearded Chicken was founded in Rhula, the chairman being the mayor of Rhula, Paul King. Their task was to ensure consistent improvement in the breeding and the standards were refined and colours listed as Black, white, buff, cuckoo, gold and silver spangled with a comment that other colours such as partridge were also available. In 1911 the first bantam, black, was seen at an exhibition but it was not until 1919 that the bantam form began to be evaluated when more examples were shown from several breeders. During the First World War the number of farms dropped and the number of breeders also fell. However, the few remaining stayed dedicated to the breed to ensure that the Thuringians did not disappear completely. It did have the effect, however, that around this time beauty began to take precedence over utility. In the following years, the breed popularity picked up again and the standard accepted for the large fowl was applied analogously to the bantam form.
The Second World War proved disastrous to the Thuringian as it did to many other breeds. Many farms were lost and many farmers did not return from the war. Those that did, found the continuation of clubs almost impossible due to prohibitions on meetings and strict curfews. Never the less, efforts continued and representation at shows gradually increased. There was little activity in Western Germany until the mid 1950s when contact was made with the breeders in Eastern Germany and visits to exhibitions started and active correspondence ensued.
In 1990 the reunification of Germany happened, the clubs from both countries merged and in January 1991 at a show in Thuringia 199 large fowl and 188 bantams in all the recognised colours were shown. Four “excellent” and eighteen “outstanding” awards were given showing the very good quality of the birds there and testament to the dedication of the breeders. The club celebrated its 100th jubilee in 2007.
The UK started to see these enchanting birds in the early 2000s and they are currently standard in the black, chamois, silver spangled, gold spangled, cuckoo, blue laced and partridge . In Germany they also have white, buff and red. The breed remains very rare both here and in Germany. From my experience the different colours carry different personality traits, the blacks being quietly cheeky with the chamois brash and confident and very talkative and can be extremely tame to the point of being a nuisance if they weren’t so engaging. Although they are classed as a light breed they are not particularly flighty and make excellent chickens for children as tame down very easily. There is a Thuringian to suit everyone from back garden enthusiast to dedicated breeders and compulsive exhibitors.