Meet the Special Mae Hong Son Chicken

In the highlands of Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand, you’ll find a unique chicken breed known as the Mae Hong Son chicken. These chickens are easy to spot with a fancy crest on their heads, white tail feathers, and a black body with yellow stripes on their neck and tail.

Mae Hong Son chickens aren’t the champions of egg-laying, but they have their own charm. They lay around 40 to 123 eggs a year and weigh between 842 to 1130 grams by the time they’re 20 weeks old. People in rural areas, especially in the highlands, love these chickens. They keep them for eating, selling, and sometimes just as pets.

Where Mae Hong Son Chickens Live

Mae Hong Son Province is quite large, covering about 12,621.68 square kilometers, but not all of it is chicken-friendly. In fact, nearly 97% of the area isn’t suitable for chickens. But there are some good spots. A tiny 0.0003% is perfect, and about 3% is pretty good.

Figure 1. Mae Hong Son province including topographical features and Mae Hong
Son chicken farms.

The Perfect Chicken Home

To figure out where these chickens are happiest, we looked at things like how high up they like to be, how tall the trees are, how close they are to rivers, and how green the land is. It turns out, they like to live between 200 and 300 meters above sea level, under trees that are 2 to 6 meters tall, not too far from a river, and in places where the land isn’t very green.

What Matters Most

Living up high is the most important thing for these chickens. The next important thing is having trees around, followed by the height of those trees, how close they are to water, and how green the land is.

Life in Mae Hong Son Province

These chickens have a pretty good life in Mae Hong Son. They experience three seasons: a hot one from mid-February to mid-May, a rainy one from mid-May to mid-October, and a cool one from mid-October to mid-February. It can get really hot, up to 44.6°C (112.3°F), and quite cold, down to 3.9°C (39.0°F). On average, it’s about 35.6°C (96.1°F) in the hot season and 17.98°C (64.4°F) in the cool season. It’s humid too, with levels between 55% and 83%. They also get quite a bit of rain, around 1064.9 mm every year.

Figure 2. Study area of Mae Hong Son chickens. (A) Ban Thop Sok, Mueang Mae Hong Son District, Mae Hong Son; (B) Ban Mae Sanga, Mueang Mae Hong Son District; (C) Ban 

The Treasure of Mae Hong Son Chickens

These chickens have adapted to their environment and have some special genes because of it. Keeping them safe and breeding them carefully can help us improve other chicken breeds too. It’s like having a special treasure of genes that can make chickens stronger and healthier. This way, we can have better chickens for eating and make sure we don’t lose these special chickens from Mae Hong Son.

Figure 3. Population structure of Mae Hong Son chickens, red junglefowl, and domestic breeds. The proportion of membership (posterior probability) in each genetic cluster is represented by each vertical bar on the x-axis, while the y-axis shows this proportion. The plot additionally includes the Mae Hong Son chicken breed, red junglefowl, and domestic chicken breeds, which are depicted by black vertical lines to indicate their boundaries. A genetic introgression of some parts of the gene pool of red junglefowl and other indigenous breeds was identified in the Mae Hong Son chicken using a posterior probability of >0.05, as a criterion for assignment to a genetic introgression.