In the mid-1900s, the Delaware chicken was destined to become the superstar of the broiler industry.
Unfortunately, the emergence of another chicken breed ate into its popularity, relegating the Delaware chicken breed almost to extinction.
Today, Delaware chickens exist because of the efforts of a few dedicated farmers who raised and kept the breed alive.
Of late, this hardy and productive breed has been gaining popularity because of its suitability for backyard farms.
If you’re considering adding Delaware chickens to your flock, keep reading to learn the characteristics of this dual-purpose breed.
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Originally known as the Indian River chicken, the Delaware chicken breed was developed midway through the 20th century for the growing broiler market in the U.S.
Delaware chickens are the result of a breed improvement program in the 1940s that involved crossing the New Hampshire Rock with the Plymouth Rock.
Mr. George Ellis of Indian River in Delaware crossbred these chicken breeds to create a quickly maturing bird that would maintain good egg production.
As is the case with most chicken breeding programs, some offspring take up a completely different appearance after crossing.
Mr. Ellis’ experiment also yielded similar results, producing a few off-colored chicks that were white in color with black barring on the feathers.
The coloration closely resembles that of the Colombian chicken breed, but with black barring instead of black feather sections.
Mr. Ellis saw potential in these birds and invested time and effort to refine them, eventually developing what is known today as the Delaware chicken breed.
For the following two decades, the Delaware chicken was the most popular chicken breed for broiling due to its ability to produce chicks with mostly white plumage.
White feathering is preferred in the broiler industry because the feathers don’t leave dark marks on the carcass.
White birds also don’t leave behind unsightly pin feathers after plucking, making them ideal for the broiler industry.
Besides a beautiful carcass, the white feathering with black barring on their tail, hackles, and wings gives the Delaware chicken breed a pretty appearance.
Back then, beauty was just as important as production, and the standard greatly elevated the status of the Delaware chicken.
However, the Delaware chicken’s glory days were short-lived as it was quickly replaced by the Cornish Cross as the top chicken breed in the broiler industry.
And since the Delaware chicken breed was originally bred for the broiler industry, very few farms and homesteads actually kept these birds. As such, their decline in popularity was fairly quick and the breed was almost relegated to extinction.
Fortunately, a few committed souls rallied to keep the breed going. The breeding of the Delaware chicken was well-documented, making it easy for poultry enthusiasts to bring back the breed.
Today, the breed is becoming popular with young farmers who appreciate the dual abilities of the Delaware chicken breed.
The Delaware chicken is a robust, medium-sized bird with a deep and broad body. The breed is known for its rapid growth rate and rapid feathering.
The chickens have an all-white plumage with black barring on the primary and secondary feathers, as well as the hackles and tail.
When viewed from the back, the Delaware chicken has a triangular shape that’s wider at the top and tapers towards the bottom.
The keel of the Delaware chicken is elongated, stretching from the chest to the back of the legs. They also feature a moderately sized comb with five points and a head and neck of medium size.
Additionally, their wattles, combs, and earlobes are red. Their eyes have a reddish-brown hue, and their beak is either yellow or reddish horn.
Delaware males are handsome with their heavy build and black barring on the neck and tail. They also have larger combs than the hens.
Delaware chickens are a fast-maturing and fleshy breed.
Delaware males weigh:
- Mature weight: 7–8 pounds
- Stocky build
While Delaware females weigh:
- Mature weight: 6 pounds
- Slightly smaller stature
These meat birds take 3–4 months to reach their harvestable weight. On the other hand, ornamental Delaware birds and those kept for eggs take longer to reach the right harvest weight for meat producers.
Delawares also have a bantam variety that weighs around 32 ounces for roosters and 28 ounces for hens.
Delawares are a curious breed that loves to free range.
However, their curiosity can sometimes lead to dangerous situations. As such, farmers are advised to remove any harmful material to keep their beloved Delaware chickens safe.
Delaware chickens are also very watchful and possess a sharp awareness of predators. This means that you will not lose many birds to predation should you decide to keep Delaware chickens.
Though not considered a cuddly bird, Delaware chickens enjoy being around people and can help with tasks around the garden.
While these birds are assertive, they are no match for the Rhode Island Reds. However, Delaware chickens are not bullies and relate well with other farm animals.
When combined with other poultry, the Delaware chicks will always rise to the top of the pecking order because of their friendly demeanor and intelligent nature.
The birds don’t mind being confined so long as they have something to do. Since they do not fly, you don’t need a large fence to keep them enclosed.
If anything, they prefer being out in the yard where they can rummage and forage bugs and other tasty treats.
The Delaware chicken is a dual-purpose breed that’s suited for homesteads and small backyards.
They lay many eggs and mature faster, meaning the bird can become a healthy family meal in a short time.
They also do well in shows and exhibitions because of their beautiful coloration and the fact that the bird remains a rare breed.
The intricate black barring on the hackles and tail is an ornamental focus at poultry exhibitions.
Delaware chickens kept for ornamental purposes have thicker plumage to give them a fluffier appearance than the Delaware chicken kept on homesteads as utility birds.
Delaware chickens are excellent egg layers.
Under the right conditions, a Delaware hen will lay four large eggs per week. This comes to a respectable 200 eggs in a year.
The eggs are light brown in color, but you may come across some dark brown eggs once in a while.
That said, Delaware chickens are not broody and you may have to get a broody hen like a Cochin hen or invest in an incubator if you want to hatch some eggs.
However, their egg production declines by 10% each year as they get older.
And since Delaware birds can live up to seven years, you are assured of a decent number of eggs from them throughout their lifespan.
To maintain healthy egg production, you need to ensure their feed contains the necessary nutrients for the birds to lay healthy eggs.
One key element that should be present in Delaware chicken feed is calcium.
Calcium promotes the development of strong eggshells. Without it, the shells will be weak, and a hen can easily break and eat the egg.
Their environment should also be set up nicely to promote optimal egg production.
For example, Delaware chickens need at least 15 hours of light every day to enhance egg quality and improve their well-being. Poultry owners can provide artificial lighting in coops to make up for low natural sunlight levels throughout the year.
Delaware chickens are also kept for their meat.
This allows them to put on pasture early on in their life and start developing high-quality meat.
The white feathers on their body and light feather density make it easy to clean the carcass without leaving unsightly dark pin spots that ruin the meat’s appearance.
They also have muscular thighs that are rich in flavor.
Delaware chickens are a hybrid variety that was developed by crossing the New Hampshire Red and Plymouth Rock breeds. Luckily, they can also be crossed with other breeds to produce sex-linked chicks.
- A Delaware cock crossed with a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red will produce Delaware chicks.
- A Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster crossed with a Delaware hen will produce red sex links.
Delaware chickens are generally a healthy breed with rarely any serious health complications.
That said, they should be checked for lice and mites regularly just as you would with other poultry birds.
The only other major issue with this breed is that they have large combs that are susceptible to frost damage during cold weather.
To protect the combs from frostbite during winter, apply some petroleum jelly on their combs to lubricate and keep them warm.
Delawares are great foragers and can find substantial amounts of food when given enough space.
However, to keep your flock healthy and promote faster development, you should supplement what they eat with high-quality feed.
Bear in mind that chicks and chickens have different dietary needs.
After which you can reduce the protein concentration and introduce other elements that are required for growth.
Here are four more things to pay attention to when feeding your Delaware chickens:
- Ensure your chickens have food and clean water throughout the day.
- Don’t overfeed your birds to prevent diarrhea.
- Add vitamins powder and electrolytes to the water to give your chicks a helpful boost.
- Supplement their feed with shell grit to promote the development of strong eggshells.
Delawares are large birds and need sufficient coop space to thrive. Ideally, each bird should have at least 8 square feet of space. This will help prevent unnecessary fights in the coop and allow the chickens to find their food.
When building a perch for your flock, allocate each bird at least 8 inches to keep them comfortable at all times.
You also need to ensure your hens are well accommodated when nesting.
A nesting box of that size will give them enough nesting space and prevent double bunking.
If you’re looking for a dual-purpose chicken to add to your flock, you can never go wrong with the Delaware chicken breed.
It is an impressively fast-maturing breed that is as good at meat production as it is in egg production.
Thankfully, this guide has shared everything you need to know about how to take care of the birds should you decide it is a worthy addition to your flock.