Janice Houghton-Wallace looks at this attractive rare breed.

The Vorwerk is a breed of poultry that was developed in Germany by Oskar Vorwerk around the turn of the last century. Although this is the only breed to share its name with a household vacuum cleaner, Oskar Vorwerk is not related to the German product company that makes it.

Oskar’s intention was to create a breed along the lines of the already in existence Lakenvelder but a slightly larger, broader in the breast utility bird. The markings would be similar but the main difference in appearance between the two breeds would be the striking golden buff colour in the main plumage as opposed to the corresponding white in the Lakenvelder.

Like other created poultry breeds the Vorwerk was developed using several various breeds that provided the conformation, type and colouring that was wanted. These included the already mentioned Lakenvelder, Andalusian, Buff Sussex and Buff Orpington. Oscar’s selective breeding took him twelve years to perfect before he confidently exhibited the Vorwerk breed in 1912 and it was standardised a year later.

The breed has caused some confusion because in North America sometimes the Vorwerks are mistakenly called Golden Lakenvelders. The golden coloured bird is a plumage variety of the Lakenvelder and not Vorwerk which is a distinctive breed in its own right.

The Vorwerk never became as popular as Oskar had imagined and the breed almost disappeared during and after the Second World War and to this day is extremely rare outside of Europe. In the 1960s an American, also with the name Vorwerk – Wilmar Vorwerk of New Ulm, Minnestoa, became interested in the breed and because it had not been introduced to North America set about creating a bantam version of his own making. For this he used Lakenvelders, Buff and Blue Wyandottes, Black-tailed Buff and Buff Columbian Rosecombs. Although the large fowl Vorwerk was never accepted in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection, the American Bantam Association has recognised the Vorwerk bantam version of the breed.

In Europe poultry breeders were also developing a bantam version of the Vorwerk and these are available in the UK. It is important to note that the standard for the bantam version of the breed in Europe is different to that in America. This is to be expected as different breeds were used to create the bantam versions in the two continents. The result being that in Europe the standard bantam is slightly heavier by several grams that those in the US. Anyone importing the breed for fresh bloodlines should be aware of this and would be advised to bring new stock in from continental Europe if they are intending to exhibit bantam Vorwerks in the UK in the future.

The Vorwerk is a strong and compact bird with a broad, deep body rather like a rounded rectangle. The head is of medium size but quite broad and the face is covered in small feathers. The breed is single-combed with four to six serrations and this, along with the face and wattles are a bright red. The lobes are a pure white. Legs and feet are slate coloured and it has four toes. The colour of the legs gives an indication of the skin colour, which is also a slate grey.

The plumage colour of the male is a velvety black on the head, hackle and tail. The body is a deep buff as are the secondary wing feathers and the primary wing feathers are a mixture of greyish black and buff. The saddle at the base of the back is buff with lighter striping.

The plumage colour of the female is similar to that of the male but the black neck hackle can have slight buff lacing at the back of the head. Also, the buff is slightly lighter in shade to that of the male and is an even colour throughout.

There is only the one standard colour of Vorwerk in the UK but Frances A. Bassom has developed Blue Vorwerk bantams. The markings on the blue variety are exactly the same as for the standard Vorwerk but instead of the black plumage it is a distinctive blue colour. These are extremely rare.

The large fowl Vorwerk has only a few enthusiastic keepers striving to conserve the breed. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) does not recognise the breed as it is German in origin but the Rare Poultry Society (RPS) is custodian of the breed in the UK and it is also recognised by the Poultry Club of Great Britain (PCGB).

The British standard weights of the Vorwerk are:

Large fowl male 2.50 – 3.20kg (5½ - 7lb)

Large fowl female 2.00 – 2.50kg (4½ - 5½lb)

Bantam male 910g (32oz)

Bantam female 680g (24oz)

The Vorwerk is an active, hardy and alert breed and can be quite flighty but if handled often when young it can result in more docile adults. The males are tolerant of each other and several can be kept in a flock.

Kim Brook who keeps Vorwerks on her farm in Devon is a real ambassador for the breed and believes it is an ideal utility bird for smallholders, saying: “Vorwerks are adaptable birds which will do well under almost any conditions so long as they receive proper care and attention. However, they can fly over a 6ft fence so necessary precautions are needed to keep them contained. If facilities allow, they do like to forage in hedgerows and do well in a free range environment. Basically, the larger the area the better they thrive, as do all livestock. Hens will lay around 170 cream to tinted eggs in a season which can extend into winter. They are excellent mothers and hatch their own. I have kept and bred these birds for 13 years and they are a pleasure to keep”.

Contacts: Kim Brook Tel: 01566 783232/ 07747 392803 vorwerkchickens.co.uk, Rare Poultry Society: Miss P. M. Fieldhouse Tel: 01934 824213 rarepoultrysociety.co.uk

With grateful thanks to Kim Brook for the photos.


This article was written exclusively for Smallholder magazine. For more expertise in poultry from Janice Houghton-Wallace, subscribe to the monthly magazine by calling 01778 392011 or emailing subscriptions@warnersgroup.co.uk. It is also available from newsagents.