The Rhode Island Red has long been one of the most popular American breeds. It was developed by poultry farmers in Little Compton, Rhode Island beginning about 1830, wrote Janet Dohner in The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds.
Early breeders sought to develop it as a utility fowl. They were very successful and ended up making one of the most well-known and well-loved utility birds in the country. In 1904 the single-combed variety was recognized by the APAStandard, followed in 1905 by the rose-combed variety. A chicken’s comb plays a vital role in its ability to stay cool in hot weather, and single comb varieties are better suited for warm or hot climates, so that’s the variety we’ve chosen to work with.
The Rhode Island Red hen is the prototypical “little red hen”. In Standard-bred Rhode Island Reds, Rose and Single Comb (1911) M.S. Gardner declared:
As I write, the [Rhode Island] Red chickens are pursuing the grasshoppers over the oat stubble and through the corn fifty or sixty rods from the house. They are the picture of health, vigor and energy. Someone has said: “Doubtless God could have made a better berry than the strawberry, but doubtless He never did.” So we may well say of the Rhode Island Red, “Unquestionably the Creator could have made a better utility fowl, but unquestionably he never did”.
He depicts the hen as the perfect mother. She is “large enough to cover a good nestful of eggs but not so heavy as to smash every on she gets her feet on.” Mother Rhode Island Red hens with their chicks, he goes on to say, are “exceptionally good foragers and teach the chicks to roam over large areas in search of insects.” Interestingly, more has been written about traditional Rhode Island Reds than probably any other breed we carry.
Sadly, the breed has had a somewhat turbulent history, and true heritage strains that bear the original traits of the breed are now somewhat rare. Breeding that deviated from the original utility-oriented goals took two courses. As Dave Anderson described in a Countryside Daily article entitled “The History of Rhode Island Red Chickens,” some began to breed mainly for show, focusing strongly on feather color, and in the process gave up some of the utility and vigor that had made the breed what it was. Other breeders later steered things back on course. Then in the 1940s, some breeders began to select primarily for egg production. While this produced a very efficient laying hen that became a good fit in the industrial egg production market, birds from those production strains became smaller and less likely to go broody, making them less suited for small farm use, where broodiness was desired and good carcass size and laying longevity were important.
We are offering a heritage strain that we began working with in the summer of 2016. It comes from good foundation stock, which has been bred toward the Standard for a number of years. Our goal is to continue breeding our Reds for good utility value and temperament, while also maintaining conformance to theStandard.
If you purchase Rhode Island Reds in feed stores or through most mail order sources, be aware that you will likely be actually getting Production Reds, not heritage Rhode Island Reds. Various sources of heritage strains are available, but it takes some effort to find them. Rhode Island Reds are currently on the ALBC watch list.
Physical Traits and Behavior
Rhode Island Reds are excellent layers of brown eggs. According to theStandard, Cocks will be 8.5 pounds, cockerels 7.5 pounds, hens 6.5 pounds and pullets 5.5 pounds. They produce a good-sized carcass for table use.
One thing that is consistently noted about the Rhode Island Red is its robustness and its adaptability. It is said to be able to do well even and continue laying even with less than optimal feed and environment.
If you’re looking for good all-around utility birds for your homestead or small farm, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed with these Reds.
Rhode Island Red roosters are often said to be aggressive. While we recognize this concern, we also understand that aggressiveness is a somewhat inherited trait, and we cull aggressive roosters out of our flock rather than let them become breeders.
(Click to enlarge photos.)
RHODE ISLAND REDS AT A GLANCE
- Good layers of brown eggs
- Dual-purpose, meat and eggs
- 8 1/2 lb. cocks
- 7 1/2 lb. cockerels
- 6 1/2 lb. hens
- 5 1/2 lb. pullets
- Breeder: Claborn Farms, Waco, TX