The state bird of Rhode Island and the quintessential American, old-fashioned chicken, the Rhode Island Red has a lot to offer. This large bird is an excellent layer known for its bright red single comb and its red coloring. It was once one of the most popular chicken breeds in the United States, although its popularity diminished with the disappearance of many small farms throughout the 1900s. Today, the resurgence in small farms and backyard chickens has helped the popularity of this plucky bird rise once again.
A Hardy, Multi-Purpose Breed
Developed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the 1800s, this deep red-colored bird has a very strong constitution and is cold-weather hardy. Rhode Island Reds produce an average of 200-260 large brown eggs per year and are also excellent birds for meat. Its friendly disposition makes this chicken an excellent backyard bird.
The breed was officially recognized by the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection in 1904. The perfect feather coloring has been debated over the years. Today’s standard calls for “lustrous, rich, dark red” in both the hens and the roosters and the actual shades within the breed vary from red-orange-hued to nearly black. Breeding for dark red coloring in some ways contributed to the downfall of the breed. The silky, dark feathers take a long time to develop, so the breed’s usefulness as a quick-to-raise, quick-to-table meat bird was greatly diminished. Today’s Rhode Island Red Chickens are once again rising to popularity as backyard birds. They take longer to raise for meat than some breeds, but they are fantastic chickens.
Acquiring Rhode Island Reds
If you want a good, basic chicken, purchase your Rhode Island Reds from your local farm supply store or order them from a hatchery. If you want a show bird, only purchase from established breeders with success records. A Rhode Island Red from a feed store and one from a breeder may look very little alike. A quick web
search will get you on your way to the right bird for you. There are impressive variations within this breed.
Caring For Your Flock
Rhode Island Red Chickens are very easy to care for. Commercial feed will take care of their nutritional needs and they also enjoy table scraps and foraging. While they will tolerate confinement, this breed thrives when allowed to live free range. Keep in mind that even free range birds need a safe place to escape from inclement weather and predators, so a protective chicken coop is necessary. If predators are a problem where you live, an enclosed chicken run or a chicken tractor may be the perfect compromise. This way your birds will get the free range lifestyle they crave while also being protected from lurking predators. Regardless of their living arrangements, your Rhode Island Reds will need a constant supply of water, a place to lay their eggs, and a clean coop. One nesting box is recommended for every 5 chickens. Clean out your coop every few weeks to minimize the chances for disease within your flock.
An Old Fashioned Bird with Modern-Day Importance
The Rhode Island Red Chicken is the classic brown egg layer and most modern brown egg laying chickens are crosses with the Rhode Island Red. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists this breed as “recovering” and by implementing a Rhode Island Red or two into your flock, you’re helping in the recovery process. These hardy birds are excellent layers and meat producers, good natured, resistant to disease, and tolerate both heat and cold. Whether you are just starting out with your first chickens or whether you’ve been raising chickens for years, the Rhode Island Red Chicken may be the perfect addition to your flock.