The exact origins of the naked neck are lost in the mists of time however it has been known that for centuries nearly naked game birds have been bred In south East Asia. These tall heavy fighting birds were extremely sparsly feathered being only fully in plumage on tails and wings - far less feather then a European naked neck fowl- but in common with the Euopeon bird having bright red skin where the feathers are absent.
Closer to home Naked neck fighting birds were known to have been bred in Madagascar in the 19th Century the French colonialists named them Denude de Malgache. Portugese traders frequented Madagascar prior to the French in the 16th Century and it is quite likely some of these birds were taken home where they crossbred with local domestic fowl as semi naked chickens have been noted all arround the mediterranean and up into the Balkans. The purebred imported Naked Neck Fighting birds would soon have vanished in their pure form as like all chickens are inclined to crossbreed given oppertunity and having so little feather would have needed considerable care to keep alive long term in all but the most warm climates. This of course can only be speculation as records of importation going back so far have not been found. The alternative is that there was a seperate natural mutation occurring seperately to the Eastern game birds. One thing is certain and that is that the naked necked chicken is a very ancient natural variation on the normal chicken and not as some horrified new fanciers to the hobby believe 'some weirde mad scientists creation'!
Birds carrying the naked neck gene tend to be very good 'doers' and this would not have gone unnoticed by the peasant farmers of these regions as they do extremely well in quite harsh conditions and are good at finding their own feed. Such useful charactoristics would have ensured their spread accross farming populations and eastern Europe into what is now modern day Romania but was prior to 1918 Transylvania. Their ability to thrive in not very hospitable conditions would have further defined the naked neck birds into more what we recognise as a Transylvanian naked neck today. It can be easily seen that they would have crossbred with farm yard fowl and doing better then them would have gradually taken their place in a more utility less fighting form more suited to the farmers needs. A hardy hen, resistant to disease,a good layer on small rations happy to rear her own young and a useful easy to prepare table bird.
One of the first mentions of Naked necks is said to be in an Austrian book in 1701 and as it happens the breed did become more popular with fanciers in Austria and Germany then anywhere else and it is those early breeders who started to shape the farmyard Naked neck into a more consistent form with utterly clean necks.
The first Naked neck seen at exhibition in mainland Europe was shown in Vienna in 1875 when Herr C. E Weber entered some large fowl and from then on their development was fast and later included a bantam version. The Austrians and Germans were then as now the main breeders of the naked neck and by 1907 an impressive 110 were entered at the Leipzig Show with a breed club being formed by 1911 called the Nackthalszuchter-Verein. Black, cuckoo and white naked necks were illustrated by the club in that year on a postcard they commissioned.
The first Bantam Naked necks shown were exhibited by Karl Hurth in the 1898 German National show in Frankfurt, others soon followed suit but by the 1950s the bantams were gone, like so many rare breeds the great wars took their toll - not helped by the breed being viewed as Anti-Nazi during the war years. The bantam version had to be remade again by a whole new generation of breeders.
Within the Uk the breed has always been far rarer, it is said to have entered the country arround the 1880s and it is known that Mr John C. Fraser exhibited in 1874 some of his that he had imported from Transylvania - but its also known they were alternatly called Bosnians by 1916 so its likely others were imported after Mr Fraser's from a different region and they could have ended up with that name instead. I have a suspician myself that the publication of the immensly popular book Draccula in 1897 may have added more mystic to transylvania as a place of origin when naming was finally officially decided !
They never were popular and always provoked strong reaction, the famous Lewis Wright mentions them in his illustrated book of poultry in 1890 and it sounds like he hated them!
'By this name is known a curious variety imported from Austria, and in which the feathers are entirely absent from the neck, the head being feathered as usual. The effect is perculiar, but most unpleaant. There is nothing fixed about the birds otherwise, the last pair we saw having the cock feather legged, and the hen bare-legged, and the plumage the commonist barnyard mongrel type'
Mr Wright had been given an explaination as to why the Naked necks were thus and recounts it:
'An amateur who had travelled in Transylvania (the home of these fowls) told us there was a tradition their origin had been from a bird injured by a severe scald on the neck which had caused utter loss of plumage, which was afterwards transmitted. We can only give the legend for what it is worth'
There never were many of them in the UK and after the war they were even less popular with anti germanic feelings running high too and them being viewed as a bird of that region. There were still some arround but of very poor quality and low numbers. it wasn't until the 1970s when eggs were imported from Germany that the breed really made an impression again in the UK aside from a curiosity in old poultry books-and this time for the first time the Bantam breed came here too. By 1980 a black cockerel was shown at the National Show where he created a great deal of interest and from then on the breed has become more available in the Uk although still very rare and even today there are few serious breeders of this delightful very useful bird.
Rare Poultry Breeds by David Scrivener
The bulk of the information in this brief history is sourced from David Scriveners book 'Rare Poultry Breeds (with the kind permission of the author) which contains far more detail then I have given here on the history of the Naked neck (and clear colour photos of top examples of the breed) This book is recommended reading for all interested in Naked Necks or other rare breeds as virtually every rare breed imaginable is covered and in better detail then I have found in other books or online.
lewis Wright . Illustrated Book Of Poultry
Fancy Fowl Magazine . October 1998