The Sussex breed has been with us as an endearing and beloved hen for at least a few centuries.
It has been bred as a dual-purpose hen, excelling at both.
It has an exciting history and has endured through the ups and downs of the poultry world fads.
The Sussex has enjoyed steady, if not spectacular, success for many years.
It is poised to increase its presence here in the U.S. because of its reputation as a steady layer, good meat bird, and gentle disposition.
This article will cover the breed history, known varieties, egg-laying capabilities, special care requirements, and if Sussex is the right bird for you.
Sussex Chicken Breed: Everything You Need To Know
History and Background
The first-ever poultry show was held in London in 1845.
One of the first exhibits was a chicken called Sussex or Kentish fowl.
This was the beginning of the ‘Sussex breed.’
Although Kent was mentioned, the birds’ beginnings were actually in Sussex.
The original birds are thought to have been in England at the time of the Roman invasion of 43 A.D. Of course, at that time, they looked nothing like the chicken of today.
It is thought that the original colors were speckled and possibly a brown/reddish color.
Over time they were bred with the fowl that the Romans brought.
However, the time of breed and color refinement really started in the Victorian era when hen fever took the nation by storm.
The importation of many ‘exotic’ chickens gave poultry enthusiasts much to play with in creating new breeds.
The counties of Sussex, Surrey, and Kent were the leading poultry suppliers for the London markets, and the development of the Sussex hen fit this market very well.
It had great success in this area until the rise of the broiler industry in the 1940s and 50s.
The Sussex was considered the finest of the eating fowl at that time.
Although the broilers surpassed the Sussex in demand, the Sussex never went away.
It was pushed aside for a faster-maturing bird. However, it was still sought after by those who were more traditionalists – and so the Sussex endured.
Sussex Standard and Appearance
As always, accepted colors vary from Continent to Continent. The Poultry Club of Great Britain recognizes the following:
- 1902 – Light, red and speckled.
- 1913 – Brown.
- 1920 – Buff.
- 1926 – White.
- 1948 – Silver.
- 1936 – Coronation (the original line died out, so it was re-created in the 1980s’).
The American Poultry Association accepts the following:
- 1914 – Red and Speckled.
- 1928 – Light.
The Sussex can be described as a heavy, soft-feathered breed with close-fitting feathers.
There are several different colorations of plumage for the Sussex:
- Speckled – as its name implies, a beautifully mahogany and white speckled plumage that gets better with successive molts.
- Light – white with black neck and tail feathers.
- Coronation – created for the Coronation of Edward VIII. A white bird with light blue (lavender) neck and tail feathers.
- Brown – deeper coloring than red. This hen has a partridge pattern to its feathers.
- Buff – buff with black neck and tail feathers.
- Red – deep red, similar to a Rhode Island Red coloring.
- Silver – black with silver penciling, especially in the breast area.
- White – self-explanatory!
All of these birds have single red comb, wattles, and earlobes.
They are white-skinned birds, and the legs are white with 4 toes on each foot.
Depending on the variety of birds you get, their eyes will be either reddish or orange.
Sadly, silver, brown, buff, and red are now scarce varieties.
The Sussex is a graceful bird with a long, broad back, wide shoulders, and a rectangular-shaped body.
The tail is held at a 45-degree angle to the body, making them look ‘perky.’
Temperament and Disposition
The Sussex is described as a docile but confident and friendly bird that is easy to handle.
They love to forage and are very good at it, gathering much of their needs from the garden, which makes them thrifty hens.
They are intensely curious, so they may follow you, ‘helping out’ in the garden or waiting for treats.
Sussex is all around hardy, especially in the cold.
Summer heat is tolerated as long as they have shady spots to rest in and access to cool water.
They are non-aggressive birds; even the roosters are reported to be mellow.
They should be kept from being put in with pushy or aggressive breeds as they will be at the bottom of the pecking order and may suffer from bullying.
Gentle and friendly birds make a fantastic bird for beginners.
They are low-maintenance hens and are pretty fast to mature, except for the speckled variety, which matures slowly.
Sussex Egg Laying Capability
Egg-laying ability varies with the particular variety of Sussex that you choose.
Still, the Sussex will generally supply you with 4-5 large brown eggs weekly.
The great thing is that they will continue to lay through the winter when most other hens have shut down production for the year.
It has been said they only take a break when they are molting!
They do have a tendency towards broodiness and make great mothers.
The extent of broodiness will depend upon the variety you choose – the Light Sussex is said to be rarely broody.
However, this may depend on the line you buy from.
Health Issues and Special Care Requirements
The Sussex is a robust bird and hardy to various temperatures and conditions.
They really don’t have any outstanding health issues except a propensity toward obesity.
If you want them fattened for the table, that’s fine, but if you want them to continue laying eggs, you need to keep their weight down.
The respective weights should be roosters 9lb and hens 7lb. Bantam Sussex should weigh between 2-4lb.
The Sussex is a low-maintenance, no-fuss bird and will not require special handling or treatments.
Is the Sussex Chicken Right for You?
The Sussex is an excellent breed for families to have. They are docile and very tolerant, enjoying the company of their humans.
They do not mind being held and stroked, so children also love them.
They will often join you in conversations as they are known for being talkative!
They will give you a good supply of eggs; if you are so inclined, they can be quickly fattened up for the table.
The fact that they are low maintenance is essential to many families since we are always busy these days.
They need basic care for food, water, and secure shelter but love interacting and socializing with people.
The Sussex is a great starter chicken for novices because of the ease of care for this particular breed.
It is also an excellent bird for 4H projects.
Sussex Chicken: Summary
The Sussex is a fine breed for the backyard poultry keeper.
As we have already noted, they are great foragers, so they keep your feed bill to a minimum.
If you are interested in breeding them, the Light Sussex is one breed commonly used to produce ‘sex link’ chicks.
A Rhode Island Red rooster over a Sussex hen will give you chicks easily identifiable from hatching.
These lovely birds are extremely popular in Canada, England, and Australia.
They are now becoming more common here in the U.S., with the Speckled, Light, and Coronation varieties leading the way.
We hope you will consider adding this delightful and personable bird to your flock.
If you already have some, please let us know all about them in the comments section below…