The ISA Brown, is a fairly recent introduction to the poultry world, and is a very popular girl. She can lay lots of beautiful eggs for you and has a great personality.
They are a medium sized, affectionate, docile hen which is suited to family living.
The usefulness of the breed cannot be denied – such a high egg output is hard to argue with when you compare to heritage chickens that are more modest in their output.
In today’s article we are going to discuss this breed in detail giving you some information on their history, appearance, temperament, egg laying ability and finally if the they are the right breed for your backyard flock.
History and Background
The ISA Brown is a fairly recently developed hybrid chicken designed by man to lay eggs.
Originally developed in France around 1978, the ISA stands for Institut de Sélection Animale. In 1997 the Institut was merged with Merck and Co and the breed then became the Hubbard ISA.
The company has since merged again multiple times and is now part of the Group Grimaud La Corbière SA.
Their exact genetic make-up is a closely guarded trade secret, but speculation has been pointed at the Rhode Island Red and white breeds with input from White Leghorns. What other breeds may be involved is a mystery.
Breed Standard and Appearance
As this is a hybrid there is no ‘standard of perfection’ in place from the American Poultry Association or any other Club or Association.
The hen is however, ‘copyrighted’. You cannot call your look-alike chickens ISA browns or sell them as such.
If you desire to show your ISA brown at the local poultry show, there is nothing to stop you from doing so, but it will not be accepted in the larger more prestigious shows.
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At a quick glance, you could be forgiven for mistaking them for Rhode Island Reds. When you look more closely you will notice their red/brown is lighter in shade – more of a light chestnut brown.
The ISA brown is a medium sized bird with a rectangular body and a slight dip to the back. The tail is held upright, they occasionally have some white tail feathers.
The comb and wattles are red in color with the comb being single and upright. Eyes range from a yellow to a bay red color. They are classified as a small to medium hen weighing around 5lb.
As a hybrid bird, they will not breed true. Whatever you may get in the way of chicks is not likely to live up to its’ parents abilities.
It has also been noted that offspring are highly prone to suffer from kidney ailments, so they aren’t the healthiest of chicks. It is probably better to not try to breed them yourselves. ISAs’ come from a white rooster over a red hen therefore they are a ‘sex-link’ chicken; meaning chicks at birth can be immediately sexed – white chicks are boys and tan chicks are girls.
ISA Brown Temperament and Disposition
The ISA brown is of a friendly, sweet and docile nature. They are a fairly quiet hen and so suit backyard living well.
They are known to be affectionate with their owners and enjoy being held and cuddled; often jumping into your lap unannounced to enjoy some affection and treats.
ISAs stand confinement very well but enjoy foraging for bugs and other tasty morsels!
Egg Laying Ability
Since they work so hard using all the protein and calcium available in their small bodies, it is wise to feed them a slightly higher protein base (+18%) and make sure they have oyster shell available at all times (especially after the first molt).
They rarely go broody, they have been bred not to, but occasionally you will get a broody girl. They will sit well and they make great Moms.
Common Health Issues
ISA’s have been ‘engineered’ to lay eggs, and with that has come a profusion of ailments when they live to be over 2 years old.
A bird that can lay 300+ eggs each year without rest is not going to live into a healthy old age.
It is usual in the commercial world to cull chickens after their second year, as their egg production does drop noticeably here. It is at this point they are considered ‘spent’ and sent for slaughter. Thanks to the work of the British Hen Welfare Trust and other such organizations worldwide, many of these hens are rescued and go to live with ordinary people like us for the rest of their lives.
Although their ‘best’ laying years may be behind them, they will still lay eggs for you, just not as prolifically and they will bless you with their affection and presence.
When hens are bred to lay eggs in such huge quantities they will often suffer with reproductive tract issues such as prolapse, tumors and cancers. They can also suffer from kidney problems too.
Is It Right For You?
The ISA brown is a great ‘starter chicken’ as they are very low maintenance, so they are ideal for those just starting their chicken addiction!
They are suited to family life as they are affectionate and non-aggressive hens. They certainly love to be held, which makes them an ideal chicken for kids.
Their egg production is unmatched. They will lay you lots of eggs – perhaps too many if you are a small family, but then you can always give them away or perhaps sell your excess! They are winter hardy and tolerate heat fairly well, although shade and water should of course be provided. They can tolerate a wide variety of climates – ISAs’ are very popular in Australia and the US.
The ISA was bred to last for about two years, however in a good, caring environment they can live from 5-8 years.
They are most certainly a prolific layer of large brown eggs; she is a ‘working girl’ par excellence!
As always, the high egg yield is detrimental to the long-term health of the hen. The ISA is one of several breeds developed for high egg yield at the expense of longevity and natural reproduction.
If you need a hen that will lay loads of eggs for your family I think the ISA brown would be eminently suitable for the job.
Do you keep ISAs? Let us know your experience with them in the comments section below…