The Delaware chicken breed is relatively modern. It was previously known as the Indian River Chicken. While bred primarily as a meat bird, it is also a reasonable layer.
Early in the 20th century, the Delmarva Peninsula area supplied the entire east coast of the United States with broilers. At the time, crossings of Barred Plymouth Rock roosters and New Hampshire hens were often used to produce broilers. Occasionally almost white sports were produced and from these a good dual purpose white chicken was produced which had good meat qualities but also produced an acceptable amount of eggs. George Ellis of Delaware was credited with the establishment of the new breed.
Although now considered critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, it is an excellent all purpose breed. The Delaware is also on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste list.
The breed was added to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1952 and remained popular in some regions until the 1960s after which it fell into a decline.
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The roosters are a good size averaging around 8 pounds with hens around six pounds. It has red wattles and a single comb which is rather large and bright red in colour. The body and breast are white and there is black barring on the ends of the hackles, wings and tail feathers. The shaft and quill of the feather is white. White birds are often preferred for the table as the skin is generally yellow or white in colour and therefore cleaner in appearance. The Delaware is no exception having yellow skin and dressing out as a nicely fleshed, plump bird.
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The baby chicks are quick to get their feathers and grow rapidly. They are calm, friendly birds which cope well with being confined. They are tough and hardy and, like all animals, enjoy free range conditions. Unlike many commercial meat breeds, Delawares will do well in a free range situation. They lay big, brown eggs right through the cold weather although production will drop if the combs become frostbitten. For a small flock it might be feasible to smear the comb with petroleum jelly as a protections against the frost. The hens will go broody.
If Delaware cocks are put over New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red hens, the offspring will have the Delaware colour pattern. Crosses the other way produce sex-linked offspring with female chicks being red and male chicks having the Delaware colouring. This enables sexing of the baby chicks when first hatched.