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Rhode Island Red-Know Before You Buy (Guide and Breed Profile)

rhode island red rooster

Rhode Island Red

The Rhode Island Red is at the top of the list as one of America’s most well known and favorite breeds of chickens to own.

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.

Rhode Island Reds are well loved by everyone from the person raising backyard chickens in an urban neighborhood backyard to homesteaders with acres of free ranging space.

This breed is hardy, amazing egg layers, have great personalities, and make a colorful addition to any flock.

Table of Contents

Background and History

rhode island red hen

In 1890, the prominent chicken promoter, Isaac Champlin Wilbour described the Rhode Island Red as practical, profitable and prolific. Over a hundred years later, these birds still live up their reputation.

Where did the Rhode Island Red chicken originate? 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. Tripp’s ships carried chickens to provide meat and eggs for the journey.

The Result of Cross Breeding

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 both 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 all while being careful to prevent inbreeding.

Improved and Refined

As the breed continued to be refined and improved, the new Rhode Island Red chicken breed 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.

More Cross Breeding

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:

  • Shanghai
  • Java
  • 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

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.

Below are the physical descriptions of both the Rhode Island Red rooster and hen.

Breed Standard:

  • Class: American
  • Purpose: Meat, Eggs
  • Type: Large Fowl
  • Size: Roosters 8.5 pounds, Hens 6.5 pounds
  • Rarity: Common
  • Varieties: Single Comb, Rose Comb

Roosters

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 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 Reds have orange-red eyes and reddish, brown beaks. The feet and legs are yellow and sometimes present red on their toes and shanks. They all have 4 toes.

Hens

rhode island red chicken breed

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.

The hens 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.

Strains

There are two strains that have been developed within the Rhode Island Red breed:

  • Industrial – Smaller and less brightly colored.
  • Heritage – Best for egg production and not known for its meat.

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 strain of Rhode Island Reds, which is larger and darker and tends to be broody, is decreasing in number as the breed, in general, is changing to meet more popular industry standards.

What Does Being on The Watch List Mean?

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.

Egg Production

rhode island red chicken can be broody

How Many Eggs Do Rhode Island Reds Lay?

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 250.

What Size Eggs Do Rhode Island Reds Lay?

The eggs that Rhode Island Reds lay tend to be medium to large in size, and even bigger at times. As the hens increase in age and size, so will their eggs.

The heritage stain will lays fewer eggs, who’s total egg count would be at the lower end of the spectrum. Another major difference from the industrial strain is the lack of taste and texture in the meat.

When Do Rhode Island Reds Start Laying Eggs?

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.

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The old type make great mothers. Even though the broodiness has been selectively bred out of Rhode Island Reds, some birds can still get extremely broody and sit on a nest until the babies are hatched or her broodiness has been broken.

Behavior

rhode island red temperment

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.

Great With Kids

Rhode Island Reds 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.

Can Be Noisy

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.

Control Bug Population

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.

Great Foragers

Rhode Island Reds are active foragers, scavenging for bugs and seeds, and aren’t afraid of the odd frog or mouse that happens to cross their path.

They will tolerate confinement but enjoy nothing more than exploring the yard for 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.

rhode island red chicken breed

Rooster Behavior

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.

Known Health Issues

The Rhode Island Red is famous for being a hardy breed. The Malaysian and Java ancestors are responsible for providing the genes that make them healthy, hardy, and easy keepers.

In general, Rhode Island Reds are a healthy and active breed. But they’re not perfect. Here are a couple of things that you should consider if you decide to add Rhode Island Reds to your flock.

Mites and Parasites

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, however, you need to check for parasites and dust as needed.

Cardiovascular Disease and Bone Defects

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. This is just how these birds are born and there are no preventative measures you can take.

If this is a concern, you can try to locate a breeder of heritage Rhode Island Red. Simply check the internet for a breeder in your area and ask to see the documentation that you are purchasing a pure heritage strain.

Weather Tolerance

Rhode Island Red chickens can be raised in virtually any environment, from hot to cold. They are excellent at adapting and taking any climate in stride.

All 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.

Cold Weather

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.

Expected Lifespan

With good nutrition, your Rhode Island Red can live 8 years or longer.

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 Chickens

Pros

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Rhode Island Red Facts

OriginDeveloped by crossing the Java and Brown Leghorn chicken breeds.
TemperamentDocile and Active
Egg ColorBrown
Egg SizeLarge
Egg Production200-300 eggs per year
WeightHen: 6 1/2 lbs
Rooster: 8 1/2 lbs
Pullet: 5 1/2 lbs
Cockerel: 7 1/2 lbs
BroodyVariable
Primary PurposeEgg production and pet
Secondary PurposeMeat production
Lifespan8 years on average
VarietiesSingle Comb, Rose Comb
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