Rhode Island Red: Facts, Questions, Answers and More
The Rhode Island Red (RIR) is at the top of the list as one of America’s most well-known breeds of chickens. The Rhode Island Red chicken breed is an iconic one, as it is distinctively attractive and has been immortalized in art and literature since the 1800s. They’re well-loved by everyone from the person raising backyard chickens in an urban neighborhood to homesteaders with acres of free ranging space. Rhode Island Reds are hardy, amazing egg layers, have great personalities, and make a colorful addition to any flock.
Rhode Island Red Chicken Facts (A Quick Look)
|Egg Production||200-280 eggs per year|
|Weight||Roosters 7.5 lbs; Hens 5.5 lbs|
|Life Span||8 years on average|
|Varieties||Single Comb, Rose Comb|
Background and History
In 1890, the prominent chicken promoter, Isaac Champlin Wilbour, described the Rhode Island Red as practical, profitable, and prolific. Over a hundred years later, they are still living up to that reputation.
How did these magnificent birds get their start? It began with a series of poultry breeding experiments in 1854 by chicken enthusiast, William Tripp. Tripp a captain who made regular voyages between England and New Bedford, Rhode Island. His ships carried chickens to provide meat and eggs for the journey.
It was during one of these voyages, that Tripp met another sailor from England who was carrying a red Malaysian rooster aboard his vessel. Tripp was immediately taken with the impressive bird. He purchased the rooster and set it free to breed with the hens in his flock at home.
Tripp was excited with the results of his first attempts at cross-breeding. The results were chickens that were better tasting and laid more eggs. Eager to continue his experiment, Tripp began breeding his birds with his friend’s birds. Through the process of selection, the men were able to refine the qualities they desired as well as prevent inbreeding.
As the breed continued to be refined and improved, the new Rhode Island Red breed of chicken caught the attention of other chicken farmers. The new breed of chicken was then called “The Macomber” or “Tripp’s Fowl”. It was at this time that the renowned American chicken farmer, Isaac Champlin Wilbour, purchased his first Rhode Island Red on one of Tripp’s voyages back to Rhode Island.
Wilbour was always searching for ways to improve his flock. He purchased Tripp’s Fowl and initiated his own crossbreeding program. The breeds crossed to create the modern Rhode Island Red chicken were the Shanghai, Java, and Brown Leghorn.
Wilbour was instrumental in creating the Rhode Island Red we know today. He created a chicken that is excellent for meat and a prolific layer of large, brown eggs. Another great advantage of this breed being cultivated in New England was that it produced hardy birds, tolerant of extreme weather.
Physical Description Of The Breed
The Rhode Island Red is one of the most popular and successful of all chicken breeds. This multi-purpose chicken has excellent qualities that make it a great choice for everyone from the backyard chicken raiser to serious chicken owners.
Their breed is classified by the American Poultry Association as a standard size.
The Rhode Island Red rooster stands tall with a proud stature. His bright mahogany red coat is adorned with shining black tail feathers that are highlighted by hints of green. The females are a lighter shade of red and have black lacings. Earlier generations of Reds were not bred for color, this was developed later for exhibition birds.
The rooster can have either a single or rose-comb. The single comb has rows of spikes. The rose comb is flat with no spikes. The combs are a vivid red as are their earlobes and wattles.
All Rhode Island Red have orange-red eyes and reddish, brown beaks. The feet and legs are yellow and sometimes present red on their toes and shanks. They have 4 toes.
Rhode Island Red hens will be smaller than the roosters. Their color will range from a darker red to brown, or even light rust. Some hens will have darker tailfeathers with tints of black and green.
Strains of Rhode Island Red
The two strains that have been developed within the Rhode Island Red breed are the industrial and the heritage. Heritage is best for egg production and not known for its meat. Industrial birds are smaller and less brightly colored.
The non-industrial strains of Rhode Island Red are on the “watch” list by The Livestock Conservancy whose purpose is to preserve heritage breeds. Their concern is that the “old type” or heritage, which is larger and darker and tends to be broody, is decreasing in number as the breed, in general, is changing to meet industry standards.
A breed listed on the watch list means that there are less than 2,500 birds registered in the US and fewer than 10,000 registered in the world.
The popularity of Rhode Island Red is due to their outstanding egg production. In a year, one hen can lay somewhere between 250 to 300 eggs, although, most backyard raisers put the number between 150 and 200.
The eggs tend to be medium to large in size. As the hens increase in age and size, so will their eggs.
The heritage stain will lay at the lower end of the spectrum. Their other major difference from the industrial strain is the lack of taste and texture in the meat.
Rhode Island Red will lay throughout the year and may lay longer when artificial light is provided in the months with less sunlight. They begin laying eggs between 18 and 20 weeks of age. Some hens have been reported to lay as early as 16 weeks.
The old type make great mothers. They will get extremely broody and sit on a nest until the babies are hatched.
Rhode Island Red Behavior
Rhode Island Reds are the chicken of choice for those that want great egg layers with docile but fun personalities. This happy-go-lucky bird will thrive in any environment. Whether you leave them in a coop or let them free-range, they’ll have an upbeat attitude and zest for life.
These birds make great backyard birds and projects for kids. From the eccentric chicken lady to a youngster in 4-H, these birds can be handled easily and are known for bonding with their owners.
These are noisy birds. They will let you know when they have just pushed out an egg, and the roosters will announce their presence from before sunrise to sunset.
Roosters can go either way. They can be docile or they can turn mean. You will not know which personality you get until the first breeding season. Once the hormones set in, a wonderfully friendly cockerel can turn into a ruthless dictator.
Rhode Island Red roosters may be overly aggressive during the breeding season with the hens and attack other animals and even people. This is not always the case of course, but one must be prepared for that scenario. Remember, it’s easy to go out and find another rooster.
Your Rhode Island Reds will reduce your bug population as they make great backyard pest control. They avidly pursue bugs and grubs and will spend the afternoon racing around in search of tasty morsels. If you do keep them confined to a coop, they will be happiest if you enrich their feed with table scraps. It will be the highlight of their day when you deliver these treats.
You can also enrich their cooped-up existence by providing them with chicken toys and swings. There are lots of DIY videos for creating items that will provide fun activities for your active girls.
Known Health Issues
The Rhode Island Red is famous for being hardy. The Malay and Java ancestors are responsible for providing the genes that make them healthy, hardy, and easy keepers.
As with all chickens, mites and parasites can be a problem. Free-range chickens will have fewer problems with insects as they will find places to take good dust bathes which is a self-serve method of staying parasite free. If your chickens are in a coop, you need to check for parasites and dust as needed.
These chickens can be raised in any environment, from hot to cold. They will take any climate in stride. You need to provide them with the coop requirements you would for any chickens with access to good quality food, calcium supplements, and clean, fresh, water.
If you are raising them in an environment that may have prolonged periods of temperature below freezing, you should take precautions. You can coat their combs in petroleum jelly to help prevent frostbite. If the coop has access to electricity, it wouldn’t hurt to install a heat lamp above the roost.
If you purchase your Rhode Island Red from a feed store or hatchery, you probably have one of the industrial strains. While these are still good birds, they have been bred for rapid development. This makes them more prone to cardiovascular disease and even bone defects. There are no preventative measures you can take.
You can locate a breeder of heritage Rhode Island Red. Check the internet for a breeder in your area and ask to see the documentation that you are purchasing a pure heritage strain.
Expected Lifespan of The Rhode Island Red
The lifespan of your Rhode Island Red will ultimately depend on the conditions in which your hens are kept. A hen that has access to a warm, dry, clean coop with good quality food and clean water, will live longer than a chicken in filthy conditions and with poor nutrition.
Another factor is genetics. Birds that are interbred will lead to the detriment of a species and reduce the lifespan. Breeding to maximize egg output can have harmful effects on life expectancy.
The heritage strain has retained its original genetic traits. The industrial breed may not live as long due to the alterations in their gene pool. With good nutrition, your Rhode Island Red can live 8 years or longer. There have been stories of Rhode Island Red living 10 to 16 years with excellent care and nutrition.
Pros and Cons of Owning a Rhode Island Red Chicken
- Hearty and good for any climate. These birds can adjust to any climate in the US. Rhode Island Red will thrive even in harsh climates.
- Aesthetically pleasing. With their red plumage that ranges from deep rust to maroon, both males and females are highly attractive. This iconic breed has been featured as art on everything from dish towels to pottery.
- Large birds with big eggs. These hardy, large ladies produce quantity as well as quality when it comes to their eggs. You will be rewarded with an abundance of large brown eggs.
- Friendly personalities. These chickens make great companions for kids and any chicken raiser that appreciate personable hens. They are docile and easily handled.
- Great foragers. These lovely ladies will reduce unwanted insect populations. They are great scavengers and will relentless hunt bugs and grubs in your yard.
- Roosters may be aggressive. There are breeds of roosters that have been deemed more docile than Rhode Island Red. You may get a good rooster or your rooster may end up being aggressive.
- Noisy birds. If you don’t like chicken chatter, these birds may not be for you. They are very vocal and will chat it up all day long.
- Not all strains are good for meat. The heritage breed is better for producing eggs than for eating. If you plan on eating your aging hens, they will need to be used for soups and stews.
5 Reasons to Add Rhode Island Reds to Your Flock
1. Rhode Island Reds are the number one breed of chickens because of their egg production. If you want a reliable source of eggs, this is a breed to consider.
2. These birds will thrive in any climate. If you provide a good source of shelter, food, and water, these chickens do well in heat and freezing temperatures.
3. No health issue with Rhode Island Reds. The hardy ancestors of Rhode Island Red generated a breed of chicken rates an A+ for health
4. Rhode Island Red chickens will enhance the look of your flock. Their rich red tones and large stature make a colorful addition to any flock.
5. If you are looking for chickens with great personalities, consider the Rhode Island Red. These personable chickens are friendly birds whose love-for-life and antics will keep you entertained.
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