The Sussex chicken came from - yes, you guessed it - the county of Sussex in England. It is one of Great Britain's native livestock breeds.
The Old Sussex was in the district over a century ago. It had a most illustrious beginning, having been developed to honour the coronation of King George. In 1845, it made its appearance at the first poultry show. Its main purpose then was as a table bird. Sussex County had an enviable reputation for producing plump, succulent poultry. Today it is regarded as a dual purpose bird.
The Sussex is a very handsome specimen available in striking patterns and colours. The bantam size is also very popular with exhibitors. The Sussex Breed Club was formed in 1903.
The Sussex has a rectangular shape with a broad, flat back and a neat head. The tail sits at a 45o angle to the body. The cocks weigh in the vicinity of 9 pounds and the hens 7 pound. Varieties include Buff, Brown, Red, Light, Speckled, Silver, White and Coronation. Whatever the variety, the legs and skin are white and the ear lobes red. They have a single comb. The darker types have red eyes and the lighter colours orange eyes.
The Sussex adapts to either free range conditions or to confinement. They are docile and curious and are quick to learn that humans might be bringing food. The babies mature quickly into heavy, meaty birds. Because of their weight, they are not given to flying. The speckled can be slow to mature but is the most likely to go broody. They are economical to feed, good foragers and will lay right through the winter.
There is some dispute about their broodiness but they are good mothers, suited to small backyards. The eggs are large, cream to light brown in colour. The average output of eggs per year is 240 to 260 per hen. The best layers are the White and Light varieties. Very occasionally a Light Sussex may lay olive green eggs.
The Sussex figures quite significantly in the ancestry of the modern broiler.
As an exhibition bird, the markings and colours on the feathers are of prime importance. Detailed information on the requirements is given in the Breed Standards. The White Sussex is pure white, the Light has a white body, white neck striped with black, and black tail and wing tips. If the white areas of a 'light' Sussex are ginger, then the bird is a Buff Sussex. Strong sunlight will fade the colour so show birds are kept out of harsh sunlight as much as possible. The Silver Sussex is basically black with silver lacing on much of the plumage. The Speckled is a mix of black and mahogany feathers with white tips. Brown Sussex cocks are dark brown with black tips; hens are slightly paler and the Red Sussex is a richer colour than the Brown. In Australia, a Golden Sussex has a light brown colour replacing the white areas of the Light Sussex. There are also varieties known as Coronation and Lavender. Not all varieties are recognised by all poultry clubs.
For all their attractiveness, some of the colours are at risk of dying out altogether.
In the United Kingdom, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has listed the Sussex chicken as 'at risk'.