The Delaware has a fairly straightforward history. In or around 1940 George Ellis from Ocean View, Delaware mated Barred Plymouth Rocks males with New Hampshire females. By mating the friendly, docile Barred Plymouth Rocks (admitted to the standard in 1874) with the relatively new, faster growing New Hampshire Reds (admitted to the standard in 1935) George aimed to produce a hardy, fast maturing, fast-feathering broiler. Interestingly, if he had mated the New Hampshire male on the Barred Plymouth Rock, he would have produced a black sex link.
This mating produced a small group of “silver sport” offspring. He mated these sports to produce the Delaware pattern. He used one very fine specimen named “Superman” to produce a lightly marked Columbian patterned bird that would have mostly white feathers. With mostly white feathers they would be easier to dress out than dark feathered birds.
Initially bred for the meat industry, Delawares were the broiler of choice until the Cornish X Rocks took over. The Cornish X Rocks, despite their inferior taste, begin to flood the market just as the Delaware began to become popular. By the 2010 census, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy rated the breed as “threatened,” meaning that fewer than 1,000 breeding Delawares exist in the United States and less than 5,000 worldwide. (They haven’t counted mine yet.)
George originally called them “Indian Rivers” after the hatchery that he ran. Later he changed the name to “Delaware” after his home state.
The Delaware matures more quickly than most other heritage breeds. They are mostly white with black barring around the neck — the so-called Columbian pattern. Though they are sometimes referred to as having the Columbian pattern, this can be confusing. The Columbian pattern restricts where color will be placed on a bird. The body is normally one color and the hackles, wings and tail are a solid color. For example, the Columbian Wyandotte is a white bird with black hackles, wings and tail. But the coloring of the Delaware in the hackles, wings and tail is NOT solid — those feathers are barred.
Delawares make a very attractive carcass and can be harvested at 16 weeks. They free range well, and can be left to grow out without becoming tough if cooked correctly. We ate some that were 22 weeks old, and it was the best chicken I had eaten.
The Standard specifies a live weight of 8.5 pounds for cocks (over a year old) and 7.5 pounds for cockerels (up to a year old). Hens, according to the Standard, will be 6.5 pounds at maturity and pullets, 5.5 pounds.
Our Delawares have an exceptionally friendly disposition and are not flighty. They seemed very pleased to have human visitors, coming around to see what treat I might be bringing with me. They are eager to chase grasshoppers and other insects. They forage well, enjoying the fresh grass and fermented alfalfa that we supplement their feed with. Our breeding flocks are housed in stationary sheds with outside runs below live oak trees.
Our breeding flocks have been selectively breed for 5 years. We do not have complete egg records yet, but for the last month (September into October 2015, with our average outdoor temperatures running 15 degrees (F) above normal) we are getting 22-26 eggs a day from 30 pullets. We have been told that these Delawares may go broody in the second season, after the first molt. If this happens, we will mark those birds and develop a strain for those desiring a broody hen.
(Click to enlarge photos.)
DELAWARES AT A GLANCE
- prolific light-brown egg layers
- dual purpose, meat and eggs
- exceptionally friendly
- 7.5 pound cockerels, 5.5 pound hens
- selectively bred: 6 years
- Certified flock