Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breed Focus: Rhode Island Red

One of the most popular layers in the US and Rhode Island's state bird, this all-American breed is one of the first things to come to everyone's minds when they think of a chicken.

History of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

Developed in the late 1800s in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, this bird is considered the best American breed of poultry by many people. Originally, the Rhode Island Red had a deep mahogany color red feathers. This beautiful set of feathers were thanks to the Malay chicken, which was one of the breeds used to develop the Rhode Island Red. Other birds used included Asiatic Cochins and Brown Leghorns, for carcass size and egg laying capability. The purpose of this chicken was to have a significant amount of eggs, while dressing out as a nice carcass for the table. In 1902, the breed was admitted to the Standard of Perfection with the single combed variety, and the rose combed variety being admitted soon thereafter. 

Characteristics of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

Heritage Rhode Island Reds are most known for their dark mahogany feathers, though most hatchery-quality birds today have a lighter red colored feathering. They can have either a single comb or a rose comb, though the single combed variety is much more popular. Hens weigh around six pounds fully grown and lay brown eggs, while cocks weigh in at about 8 pounds. Heritage-type Rhode Island Red hens are likely to go broody, while production-type birds have had it almost completely bred out. 
Rhode Island Red cocks are known to be on the aggressive side, but fiercely protective of their hens. However, personality varies based on birds, so there are docile RIR cocks as well.
These birds are excellent for small farms. They lay extremely well for a dual-purpose bird and can handle inadequate conditions better than most breeds, though it is not recommended. Being developed in New England, they are also cold tolerant and often lay in the winter. 
Because hatchery-type Rhode Island Reds (also called production reds) are not bred to the Standard or Perfection and may have blood of other breeds in their heritage, their characteristics may vary. Production-type Rhode Island Reds are more common than the heritage-type birds.

Is this breed for you?

If you want to have a few birds that lay extremely well, even daily, but are more cold hardy than the White Leghorn, this may be the bird for you!  They can do well in a thrown-together DIY coop, as long as there is ventilation and protection from drafts in the winter. If you want a broody hen, you may want to opt for the heritage type or add a single hen of a broody breed, such as an Orpington or a Silkie hen. Though they can be friendly, Rhode Island Reds, for the most part, are  not as fond of affection as some other breeds, so they may not make the best pets. If you don't want loving pet chickens, but a respectable layer and a decent free-ranger, the Rhode Island Red is certainly a breed to consider!

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