The Speckled Sussex is an old time favorite in its homeland of England. It has endured over the centuries to become a firm favorite with a dedicated following.
Although it, and other varieties of Sussex fowl, was in danger of dying out in the early 1900s, a few die hard poultry keepers kept the lines going, greatly improving on the stock in hand to give us the robust, healthy stock that we have today.
If you’re looking for general information about the Sussex Chicken breed, read our complete care guide here.
In this article we are going to give you all the information you need to decide if this ancient heritage bird is right for you. Including, its: history, appearance, general temperament, egg laying, common illnesses and much more…
Background and Breed History
No one can be entirely sure when the speckled Sussex chicken first appeared. There are writings from the Roman invasion of Britain (A.D.43) that indicate that a similar chicken was to be found in England.
Whether this was the ancestor of the speckled Sussex is not known for certain, but it seems entirely plausible that it was; this is indeed an ancient fowl with history. The Romans were surprised that the native Britons did not view this bird as a source of regular food and so taught the people how to farm chickens.
We now fast forward to Victorian times when ‘hen fever’ had the UK and US in its grip. A group of birds called ‘Sussex or Kentish fowl’ were exhibited in the first ever poultry show in 1845.
The show was held at Regents Park Zoo and attracted a huge turnout. This was the first public outing of the bird that was to become known as the speckled Sussex.
The speckled Sussex was originally raised in the south eastern counties of Sussex and Kent for meat – supplying London with plump, juicy chickens that were said to be fine and delicate eating. The roosters were caponized, fattened up and sold as large roasters, they were much in demand as the capons were force fed milk and ground oats and grew to be very large for a chicken.
During World War 2 the speckled Sussex, other Sussex varieties and the Rhode Island Reds were the principal breeds that kept Britain in chicken meat and eggs through the wartime shortages.
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Breed Standard and Appearance
The speckled Sussex breed appearance as we know it today was finally ‘set’ in the late 1800s and the standard was sent to the PCGB and accepted in the early 1900s’.
The standard for the speckled Sussex was drawn up in 1902 in England, along with the red and light varieties of Sussex hen. The speckled is thought to be the oldest variety of Sussex hen.
Over the Victorian period, much modification was done to the appearance of the breed until it was decided that the hen was ‘perfect’.
The Poultry Club of Great Britain denotes them as a heavy, soft feather breed. The American Poultry Association recognized the breed in 1914 and denotes them as English class.
There are bantam speckled Sussex but they are incredibly hard to find. There are very few breeders so some lines have had genetic issues.
The feather pattern of the speckled Sussex is quite stunning. The base color is a rich and dark mahogany. Each feather is white tipped and separated from the mahogany by a black bar with iridescent overtones of green. The pattern gets more vibrant and outstanding every year too.
This coloration pattern gives the bird a great camouflage when out free ranging.
Their wattles, comb and ear lobes are all red – indicating in this case brown eggs. The comb is of the single variety. The beak is horn colored.
They have white legs, feet and skin. There are 4 toes to each foot. The legs are short with stout, muscular thighs. They should have a broad and flat back with a broad and deep chest.
Speckled Sussex Temperament and Disposition
They have a very even temperament – they are calm, friendly and docile. They will follow you around the garden talking to you if they think you have some treats for them!
Curious by nature, they can sometimes get themselves into mischief but they are very resourceful birds and cold hardy as well. They will tolerate confinement well, but if they are allowed to free range they will excel at it, reducing your feed bill substantially and removing pests from the garden.
Perhaps because of their easy going temperament, they are usually fairly low on the pecking order and can be subjected to bullying with larger more assertive birds.
Egg Laying and Broodiness
The speckled Sussex is an excellent layer, averaging 4-5 large, brown eggs per week. They are reputed to lay well through the winter months perhaps taking only a pause for the molt.
Speckled Sussex have a tendency towards broodiness, they set well and make fine mothers.
When raised as a meat bird, the Sussex dresses out at a very decent 7lb for hens and 9lb for roosters.
The taste of the meat is exceptional although the American market generally prefers a slightly darker color of meat. The speckled Sussex has tender pinkish/white meat.
In terms of reaching maturity, for a heritage fowl the Sussex variety is relatively quick to mature – around 20 weeks or so. The speckled Sussex takes a little longer to mature.
Common Health Issues
The speckled Sussex is quite a robust bird tolerating a wide variety of circumstances from free range to confinement. It tolerates the cold very well but does not like the heat too much as their feathers are quite dense.
Shade and cool water should always be available for these chickens at all times.
Is the Speckled Sussex Right For You?
In its’ homeland, it is not as popular as the light Sussex, but here in the US it is very popular.
The birds’ popularity can be explained by their thriftiness. She lays a lot of eggs, the meat is delicate, and she is a great forager and is tolerant of a wide range of climates.
As a good forager she will keep your food bill down to a minimum if she is allowed to roam the pasture. It is a friendly and docile hen that is well suited for small children and families and will enjoy being one of the family.
Speckled Sussex enjoy chatting with you, they can become firm family favorites and even enjoy lap time with you.
The speckled Sussex is a mellow bird and as such is very suitable for a farming or 4H project for young farmers.
The Speckled Sussex is a beautiful hen to look at with her camouflage feathering. This variety of Sussex hen was endangered until fairly recently.
The surge in backyard chickens has saved this breed of hen from obscurity and now the American Livestock Breed Conservancy list it as ‘recovering’.
People have discovered that this heritage bird has a lot going for it!
This old time breed is being discovered by a whole new group of chicken keepers and enjoying a resurgence of popularity. This is great news for such an unassuming chicken whose ancestors hung around with the Romans!
If you have a Speckled Sussex we would love to hear from you. Leave your comments in the section below…