According to a paper by Elio Corti and his colleagues, the origin and historical distribution of five-toed chickens is not clear, although the birds are currently spread in Europe and Asia.  


It is also a well-known fact that the first domestic fowls came from Asia to Europe. The question that scientists are still grappling with is whether the five-toed chickens were brought from Asia to Europe or if they originated independently in these two parts of the world.  

Another thing is that only a few chicken breeds have a fifth toe as a distinctive feature. These breeds (Dorking, Silkie and Sultans) have polydactyly as a pure breed characteristic. In fact, if these breeds are born with four or six toes, this is considered a genetic fault.  

However, poultry breeders contend that sometimes this genetically controlled trait can also be unexpectedly found in some local populations and in breeds such as frizzles (F) and naked neck (Na) that I’ve written about in the past.  Apart from genetics, poultry breeders think that the expression of the five-toed trait in chickens could also be related to certain environmental factors. 

You see, scientists have proved that polydactylism can be suppressed or shifted to different phenotypes by exposing the developing embryos to low temperatures and injecting them with colchicine and insulin.   

What I found disappointing is that unlike traits such as naked-neck that confer advantages to other chickens (breeding a naked-neck with other chicken breeds improves the latter’s breast size, heat stress control, weight gain and feed conversion efficiency), the polydactyl trait doesn’t serve any useful purpose other than being a part of the breed’s standard definition criteria.  

I have a confession to make here. Unlike frizzles and naked-necked chickens, I’m hesitant to discuss the ornamental attributes of five-toed chicken after my farm manager retorted, “It looks odd and ugly!”   

But never mind, I told him that according to the great Greek philosopher, Confucius, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” 

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