The Rhode Island Red is probably one of the most successful chicken breeds in the world!
It has spread from its homeland to all corners of the globe and is thriving even in the face of the modern industrial hens and intensive farming practices.
Why is it so successful?
They certainly are a bird that requires little in the way of care and are usually extremely healthy.
My personal opinion is because it is such a personable chicken – I have never met a Rhode Island hen that I didn’t like!
In today’s article we are going to discuss this breed in depth, including it’s history, temperament, egg laying rate, behavior and more…
The History of Rhode Island Reds
The story of the Rhode Island Red really started back in 1854. A sea captain by the name of William Tripp bought a Malay rooster from a fellow sailor. He took that bird home and mated it with his own chickens. The offspring of those were noted by Tripp to lay more eggs.
He enlisted the help of his friend John Macomber and the two of them began cross breeding in earnest. At this point the resulting birds were called either ‘Tripp’s Fowl’ or a ‘Macomber’ and were known to be superior to already existing fowl in the area.
Several breeds were used to improve and refine the desired hen – these breeds included the Malay, Java, Chinese Cochin, Light Brahma, Plymouth Rocks and Brown Leghorns.
These birds came to the attention of Isaac Wilbour, an already successful poultry man. He bought some of the birds and began his own selection program. Despite all the work put into the ‘breed’ by Tripp and Macomber, Wilbour is credited with naming the Rhode Island Red.
The Rhode Island Red was developed first and foremost as a dual purpose bird. It was developed by the poultry farmers of the New England area and not ‘bird fanciers’, so the defining qualities were utilitarian not ‘good looks’.
In honor of the breed, two statues have been erected near where the breed was formed. One statue is in Adamsville and the second is in Little Compton – both in Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Red is the State bird of Rhode Island – it was elected to this honored place in 1954.
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Breed Standard and Appearance
The Rhode Island Red was accepted to the American Poultry Association in 1904. The rose-combed variety was accepted in 1906. They are considered to be ‘American class – large fowl, clean legged’.
It was accepted to the British Poultry Standard in 1909.
The overall picture of the body should look like a longish ‘brick’ – rectangular and solid.
Feathers are expected to be ‘hard’ – this they inherited from their Malay and Java genes. The preferred color of ‘perfection’ has varied over the years from a rich mahogany to a dark rust color. Some black feathers in the tail and wings is perfectly normal but is considered ‘smuttiness’ by judges of the APA standard.
The wattles, comb and ear lobes should be red. Eyes are orange/red in color.
The Rhode Island is a yellow skinned bird – the yellow is also seen in the feet and legs. Each foot should have four toes and their beak is yellowish/horn colored.
The comb is usually single upright, but rose combed Rhode Islands do exist although they seem to be infrequent.
Bantam Rhode Islands also exist but these seem to be even less popular at the current time.
The weight of a large fowl rooster is approximately 8.5 lb with a hen reaching 6.5 lb. The rose comb variety usually weighs slightly less than the single comb. Bantam weights for a rooster is 2.1 lb and a hen at 1.9 lb.
The Rhode Island Red is very good at laying eggs – it is hard to surpass them in output and continuity.
The original flocks of Rhode Islands were bred to be dual purpose hens. However, in the 1940s’ following the War, the breed was again refined to produce more eggs.
This is the time when the breed was essentially split into Rhode Island ‘heritage’ and Rhode Island ‘industrial’.
Those that were bred for better egg laying are the hens that we generally see today. The Rhode Island hen will usually start to lay around 18-20 weeks, although some will start as early as 16 weeks.
A good hen can lay 200-300 eggs each year, although other people put the egg laying at a more modest 150-250 eggs. In general, a Rhode Island hen will lay around 5-6 eggs/week. These eggs are medium to large and light brown in color. Eggs will increase in size over the years, as with all hens.
The ‘heritage’ type hen is not too far behind this number in egg laying but the major difference is table quality, taste and texture of the meat.
Temperament and Disposition
Rhode Island Reds can be anything from docile to raucous and pushy! My personal experience over the last several years has been that they are exuberant, curious, friendly, a bit pushy but very lovable – but never quiet!
They are somewhere in the middle of the pecking order usually.
They are active foragers, scavenging for bugs and seeds and are not adverse to the occasional frog or mouse that happens to wander in their direction. They will tolerate confinement, but love nothing better than investigating the yard for any tasty morsels.
The hens are generally pretty laid back and docile enjoying the company of people and chickens alike. The roosters can be aggressive, so care should be taken to select the least aggressive of the bunch.
Needless to say, the roosters should not be allowed around children if there is an aggression issue.
The Rhode Island Red hen is said to not be broody. While the instinct has been actively suppressed by breeding and selection, they can and do occasionally go broody. When they do turn broody they are diligent about sitting on the nest and make very protective mothers.
The Rhode Island Red rooster has gotten a bad rep over the years as being one of the most aggressive roosters. With that being said, there is always room for variety amongst the breed and individual birds. In fact, one of my sweetest roosters is a Rhode Island Red. He is far from pushy and extremely calm and docile.
Potential Health Issues
Rhode Island Reds are renowned for their hardy nature. Their robust constitution comes from the Malay side of the family which gives them an A+ when it comes to health.
As with all birds, mites and other ectoparasites can be a problem. This can be kept at bay by dust bathes, careful checking and dusting as appropriate.
Otherwise, they are usually a very healthy and active breed.
Is The Rhode Island Red Right For You?
If you want a first class laying hen with tons of personality – look no further! These gorgeous red/ brown hens just brim with their own individual personalities and enthusiasm.
The Rhode Island Red is a no frills kind of chicken. They can exist quite well on sub-standard feed, although of course it is not recommended.
The same can be said of its accommodations. Where many other breeds will simply ‘survive’ in adversity, the Rhode Island seems to thrive on it!
They really are very tolerant and easy going. They enjoy company and will often follow you around looking for ‘freebies’.
They get a good rating as a family oriented hen and do well around children (watch out for roosters though). A small number of these hens in your backyard will certainly put out a good amount of eggs for the family.
It has been said that if you are undecided what type of chicken will suit you best – get a Rhode Island Red. You can’t go wrong and there is more than a grain of truth to this saying!
Regardless of where you live, from Canada to Australia, these robust birds will take almost any climate in their stride. They do not seem overly bothered by cold or heat, but of course you will need to provide suitable accommodations and care for them.
The yellow skin is considered to be an undesirable look for birds being bred for meat purposes, and that is why you won’t see yellow skin on the majority of the chicken you purchase in the grocery store. In other words, those grocery hens aren’t likely to be Rhode Island Reds.
The Rhode Island Red is a predator-savvy chicken, and they tend to be in tune with their surroundings while foraging the yard. Thus, they do very well in a free-range environment. The only problem you might have if you free-range them is to find all those eggs. Hens are sure to find the most ideal spot to lay their eggs, and it’s usually not your nesting box.
Rhode Island Reds have certainly left their imprint on the poultry world. What started as a ‘backyard project’ has become a world renowned pillar of the egg laying industry.
The ‘modern industrial’ Rhode Island Red is consistently a great laying bird with bags of personality.
Sadly, the Rhode Island Red ‘heritage’ side of the breed is languishing in the American Livestock Breed Conservancy list as ‘watch’. This means that there are less than 2,500 registered birds in the USA and less than 10,000 worldwide.
My Rhode Island Red ladies all have character. While they are assertive I have not found them to be aggressive or overly obnoxious to the other hens, even the docile ones.
Always inquisitive, they will come rushing to the gate to see if there is anything for them to eat! Regardless, they always seem pleased to see you and will have entire ‘conversations’ with you.
At the end of the growing season I allow them into the garden where they do a fine job of catching bugs, eating seeds and turning the earth over. What more could you ask of your hens?
Do you keep Rhode Island Reds? Let us know your experience with them in the comments section below…