The Buckeye chicken comes from the Buckeye State (Ohio).
Why is it called a Buckeye?
The color of the bird is said to be exactly the color of buckeye tree nuts (horse chestnuts).
This American treasure almost disappeared from the poultry world soon after its creation. The hugely successful Rhode Island Red outshone all competition and they fell into a decline.
A small group of dedicated followers and the Livestock Conservancy pooled resources and brought the breed from obscurity. Thanks to them we can admire this stunning bird today.
Keep reading to learn all about their history, expected egg production, how to care for them and much more…
Buckeye Chicken History and Background
This breed of chicken is special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is the only chicken breed attributed to a woman – Mrs. Nettie Metcalf.
In 1896, in Warren, Ohio Mrs. Warren and her husband inherited some scrawny looking chickens – mainly brown Leghorns which she found too destructive of her garden.
She took it upon herself to improve the look and thriftiness of the flock. She initially brought in some Light Brahmas.
These did not do well so the next bird was a Black Langshan. This did well enough but the black pin feathers were a problem to her.
She then bought some Plymouth Barred Rocks the first year then added in some Buff Cochins the following year. In her words she got ‘fat lazy hens’ and people were less than kind about her progress commenting on the various shades of feathers and legs; this did not deter her.
Soon she added in some black breasted red game birds and her flock was slowly transformed as she took the best of them and crossed them to each other. They became much more vigorous, sleeker and generally the appearance was much improved.
In working with her protégés she became well respected by poultry fanciers and she even sent some to Rhode Island to help improve the Rhode Island Red stock that was being developed at that time.
She was President of the Buckeye Club for many years, even into her ‘retirement’.
They were originally called Buckeye Reds and for a short time Mrs. Metcalf called them Pea combed Rhode Island Reds.
She was quick to see that the Buckeye would be integrated and likely forgotten as another Rhode Island Red variety, so she changed back to Buckeye Reds.
The second reason this bird is special is that it is the only American class hen that has a pea comb. These chickens were developed with the severe Ohio winters in mind – hence the pea comb. The pea comb was a genetic inheritance from the game roosters that she used.
The Buckeye is a robust looking chicken with beautiful mahogany red coloring and black tipped tails. They also have a ‘slate bar’ color in the under fluff which helps to define the darker coloring and makes it shine.
Their feathering is tight – another gift from the game bird genes.
The head has a pea comb low set to the head, beak is short but stout yellow/horn in color and the eyes are a reddish bay color. Face, wattles, earlobes and comb are all red.
They have broad shoulders and a medium length neck.
From the side view the body is a large triangular shape, with a broad and deep breast and powerful wings. Thighs are muscular, the legs are yellow and the bird has four toes to each foot, skin is also yellow.
The rooster weighs in around 9lbs and the hen at 6½lbs. Whilst there is a bantam variety, there is no defined weight for them. But, generally a bantam bird is around one third of the standard size.
The Buckeye was admitted to the American Poultry Association in 1904, where is it described as ‘American’.
The Poultry Club of Great Britain classifies it as rare, soft feathered and heavy.
The American Bantam Association classifies it as ‘all other’ combs and clean legged.
If you’re looking to show this breed instant disqualifiers for this standard include: twisted combs, white ear lobes and white feathers.
Egg Laying and Broodiness
The Buckeye hen is a reliable producer of 3 to 4 medium brown eggs per week. The yearly output is between 150-200 eggs. It is reported that they lay well throughout the winter months too.
Occasionally hens will go broody and raise some chicks for you, but this is not something you should rely on. To hatch chicks you will need a reliable broody or your incubator.
As a heritage type bird, the chicks are slow growers. Many breeders will give young birds 24-28% game bird starter as their feed until 16 weeks of age.
The hens will start to lay around the 6 month mark.
Buckeye Chicken Disposition
The Buckeye is a docile, calm and friendly bird that is easily handled. It is a peaceful chicken, that won’t bully others. Unlike many other breeds they are seemingly unafraid of humans and will greet you by clustering around your legs.
It is a very active bird, and a great forager when allowed to roam. They also have a reputation as great mousers. They are said to rival any barn cat – mice beware!
They are not necessarily very predator savvy and can sometimes wander into trouble so they need a large secure area to roam in.
They will do fairly well in confinement as long as they have a lot of room to explore.
Roosters are said to be a bit on the noisy side. They have a lot of vocal calls including a ‘dinosaur roar’!
At the beginning of breeding season, the roosters can become quite territorial and slightly aggressive towards other chickens and occasionally humans.
This is a hearty and vigorous chicken bred that can withstand long, cold winters. There really aren’t any health issues to speak of.
The pea comb is well suited to winter since they are very unlikely to get frostbitten.
Other than the usual parasites that afflict poultry, this bird has a clean bill of health.
Is the Buckeye Chicken For You?
This chicken is generally a peaceful, friendly bird and is good around children. They are respectable layers of 3-4 eggs per week.
As a rare breed they generally do very well in exhibitions and shows. They would make a great project bird for the 4H club.
If you have a good sized secure yard the Buckeye may be for you. The hens are much quieter than the roosters. They are very tolerant of harsh, cold climates and will continue to lay through the winter; they also seem unaffected by heat as long as they have somewhere cool and shady to retreat to.
As this chicken is currently listed on the Livestock Conservancy list, it is a bird in need of friends.
The Buckeye has made a remarkable comeback from a handful of birds on the brink of extinction to now well over 5,000 birds.
While this is a remarkable turnaround, they are not out of the woods by any means.
They, like many other heritage breeds, are threatened by the bland industrial hens that make such a large profit for poultry concerns. The fate of many of these breeds rest in the hands of dedicated followers and backyard enthusiasts.
If you want a bird that is going to give you tasty eggs and companionship then look no further than the Buckeye. This all American chicken deserves to be more widely recognized.
Let us know in the comments section below your experiences with this breed…