Photographs generously provided with permission from Greenfire Farms. Visit their website for more information on acquiring this breed.
When I first heard the breed name “Deathlayer” I thought it sounded like something out of a Star Wars movie. I also had to do some research to see if this was, in fact, an actual breed. And as it turns out… it’s legit!
Why are they called Deathlayers?
So Deathlayer? Do they die when they lay an egg? Is there some sort of genetic malfunction? Are they killer chickens?
Turns out, the peculiar name comes from the hen’s ability to lay an incredible amount of eggs. Deathlayer hens will lay (approximately) an egg a day until she dies. This is phenomenal considering, in most chicken breeds, a good laying hen will lay eggs consistently for about 3 to 4 years. After that, she will lay fewer and fewer eggs each year until they stop laying completely.
The average lifespan of a chicken is about 10-12 years and Deathlayers will provide eggs consistently well into her ripe old age.
From where did the breed originate?
The origins of the name “Deathlayer” are somewhat debated. The breed is originally from Germany where the old translation comes from either the German for “day layer” meaning an egg per day, or “death layer” meaning they lay until they die. The “official” name today is Westfalische Totleger.
The breed is over 400 years old. It is a landrace breed from Westphalia. This means that the chicken’s breeding has been concentrated in Westphalia for long periods of time. Because of this, the breed will develop genetic traits that are a result of its environment.
The breed was developed from several European breeds including the Ostfriesische Mowe and Braekel.
Deathlayers tend to be very active and a somewhat nervous breed. They enjoy space to roam and prefer roosting in trees to an indoor coop. They do not do well in confined spaces. They are less domesticated and therefore need more interaction at a young age to become socialized with humans.
The breed is visually stunning! The erect stature of the bird gives it a regal appearance. It boasts a cape of white feathers, a penciled body, and a black/green iridescent tail. It is bred in both gold and silver colors. It has a tight comb making it a great choice for cold climates (the small comb is less prone to frostbite). It also has completely black eyes, giving it an attractive doe-eyed appearance.
Roosters weigh about 5 pounds
Hens weigh about 3.5 pounds
Plentiful and long producing. They lay a white medium size egg.
Where to find them
Deathlayers are an extremely rare breed which can make finding them difficult. They have only recently come over to the United States. Even in their native country of Germany, they are rare. According to Greenfire Farms, “[a] recent census in Germany put the total registered population at about 1,500 birds.”
Because of their utilitarian qualities and their rarity, Deathlayer chickens can be quite expensive to purchase. But with a good breeding pair, you will have generations of chickens that carry the ample laying gene for years to come.
If you’re interested in this breed, chicks can be found at Greenfire Farms.
Because the Deathlayer is so rare I encourage anyone who is interested to contact a reputable breeder and help to increase the population of this breed. Many of these old, rare breeds have much to offer the poultry community and with our help, we can stop them from going extinct.