Rhode Island Red Large Fowl
By Robert Blosl
The Rhode Island
Red is one of the oldest breeds of chicken developed in America, with a history going back to the mid 1840s. The people of Rhode Island raised these chickens in their villages for the purpose of eggs and meat. Regions surrounding Little Compton,
Rhode Island, and Newport County, Massachusetts
(which are adjoining territories), should receive most of the credit for the early development of the Rhode Island Red. Poultry
farmers of these regions wanted to have a hen that could lay a good number of eggs per year, and one that would dress out
nicely as a meat bird for the table or when sent to market for a profit. Shape and color had little if any consideration,
except with the males - the local farmers preferred red males as they believed these introduced intense vigor to the flock.
Making of the Breed: The
exact ancestors of the Rhode Island Red have always been unclear, but early founders of the Rhode Island Red Club said they
where from Red Shanghai, Cochin China, Red Chittagong, Black Breasted Red Malay and Red Malay. Some old timers felt that Dark
Brown Leghorns may have been introduced in the early years to boost egg production. The Red Malay fowl was introduced to America in 1846 by Captain Richard Wheatland of Rhode Island and is believed by historians to be responsible for the red color, which the breed displays today. The early
Rhode Island Red had three types of combs: The pea comb from the Chittagongs (Brahmas), the single combs from the Cochins
and the Rose Comb which is believed to have come from the Rose Comb Shanghai rather than from the Wyandotte or Rose Comb Brown Leghorn.
Some of the
early breeders of Rhode Island Reds were John Macomber of Westport, Rhode Island, William Tripp who was from New Bedford,
Massachusetts, Issac C. Wilbur of Little Compton, Rhode Island, and a Mr. Jenny
(hometown unknown). Mr. Macomber and Mr. Tripp were poultry market men who worked together to improve the breed by selecting
the best birds that could produce high egg production along with an excellent meaty carcass. They were producing meat and
eggs for the Boston Markets. Isaac C. Wilbur gave the breed their name (Rhode Island Red) in the late 1880s. And Mr. Jenny
was the first at the Southern Massachusetts Poultry Association show to exhibit them in or around 1880.
Standardizing the Breed:
In November of 1898, during a blizzard, six men gathered at a local bar called, “Coffee Tavern” in Falls Rivers, Massachusetts, and formed the standard requirements for the Rhode Island Red
breed of chickens. In 1899, these same men, along with 20 other interested poultry fanciers, formed the Rhode Island Red Club
of America, which is still active today.
It was the passion of these early members to have a dual-purpose large fowl chicken. They decided they wanted
this breed to have a brick-shaped frame - giving it a large egg laying capacity but still sustaining lots of meat for eating.
In addition, the objective was to have a pullet that would weigh about six pounds and a cockerel that would weigh about eight
pounds at eight months of age. The final goal of the early founders of this breed was to have a beautiful bird, which would
be even in color, such as the current Rhode Island Reds, with lustrous crimson shaded feathers.
years these goals were accomplished; many successful Rhode Island Red breeders in the 1940s and 1950s had flocks where the
females would average about 180 eggs during their pullet year when they weighed about 6 ½ pounds in size.
Characteristics of the Breed Brick Shape, Rich Red Color,
Red Undercolor, Flavor, etc…
Spin-offs of the Breed:
There could not be a complete article written about the old style purebred Rhode Island Red without telling the story of two
spin-offs that originated from it. Probably because of the success the Rhode Island Red enjoyed during the early 1900s, people
began to associate any red chicken with the name of Rhode Island Red. There was such a demand that some poultrymen looked
for a way to profit by it.
In the 1930s,
a movement to produce another dual-purpose fowl, which could compete with the popularity of the Rhode Island Red of the time,
was started. The New Hampshire breed was originated in New
Hampshire by local commercial
farmers and made very popular by a master breeder of Rhode Island Reds, Kenneth Bowles of Canandaigua, New York. (Mr. Bowles not only made this breed popular, but also made a
living from providing thousands of chicks to people all over the country in the 1940’s and 1950’s.) The New Hampshire was founded upon Rhode Island Reds that were selected heavily for fast feathering and
early maturity. This was done at the expense of traits unique to the breed, such as the brick shape and deep red coloration.
The next spin-off
is a bird that today tries to carry the name of the Rhode Island Red - the popular hatchery Production Red. Production Reds were developed to compete with the Rhode Island Reds in egg laying contests. Crossing
Leghorn blood into the standard Rhode Island Red gave an edge on the resultant
offspring, which would be used in competition. The ROP egg laying contests held in the North East were supposed to have strict
standards; only allowing 10 purebred pullets, that were true to the breed in competition, to be entered by any poultry farm.
But it appears the officials of many of the contests did not enforce all the rules. Perhaps they allowed the Production Reds
into competition out curiosity? Perhaps they felt a more productive commercial line of brown egg-layer was needed?
the Standard Rhode Island Red breeders who competed honestly in these Northern ROP contests were beaten by these non-standard
high egg-laying birds, and by the 1950s the Production Reds and the commercial New Hampshire’s just about put the purebred
Rhode Island Red into extinction. Because of the new popularity of the Production Red and New Hampshire, by 1947 the Rhode Island Red Club membership dropped from a high of 5000 members in
the late 1920s, to about 275 members in the early 1950s. This was the beginning of the commercial boom in this country for
large chicken house cage operations, and the Production Red soon dominated the brown egg-laying market.
State Bird of Rhode Island: On May
5, 1954, Governor Roberts of Rhode Island signed into law the Rhode Island Red chicken as the state bird of Rhode Island. Still today, the purebred Rhode Island Red, as represented in the 1930s, is the state
bird of Rhode Island and is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
2004, the Little Rhody show in Rhode
Island will honor this 50th
anniversary of the Rhode Island Red as the state bird. Don Nelson of Wyoming, Rhode Island, a master breeder of large fowl Rhode Island reds and District 3 Director of the Rhode Island Red Club of America, is in charge
of the ceremonies at this show.
Conservation at Work: .The
Rhode Island Red Club and its membership have for over 100 years maintained a passion to protect and promote the breed in
America. Currently the Rhode Island Red Club has about 200 members. And
of these members there are about 20 maintaining line-breeding programs of both Single Comb and Rose Comb varieties. There
are about 300 Single Comb Rhode Island Red large fowl used as breeders during the winter months and about 2,000 baby chicks
hatched and raised by members of the Rhode Island Red Club annually. During the winter months there are about 50 Rose Comb
large fowl birds in America used for breeding. And during the summer months there are about
250 chicks raised by these Rhode Island Red Club members. This makes the Rose Comb Rhode Island Red variety a very rare variety
Never the less,
there seems to be an increase of interest in the Rose Comb variety especially in the northern states. Based on my investigations
communicating with fellow Red Club members, the Rose Comb large fowl males appear to be hardier than the Single Comb males
and are less likely to suffer a frozen comb.
fanciers and breeders are doing their best to keep the old style purebred Rhode Island Reds from extinction. As we celebrate
the 150th anniversary of the breed and the 50th anniversary of being the state bird of Rhode Island. We are also seeing the breed increase in popularity through the support and promotion
of the Rhode Island Red Club, its officers, and members.
If you are
looking for the greatest dual-purpose bird in America today and want to help preserve an old time rare breed of fowl, please consider the Rose Comb and Single Comb Rhode
For more information
on how to get started with purebred Rhode Island Red large fowl, please contact Rhode Island Red Club Secretary John Klimes
at 3156 East 3600 North Twin Falls, Montana 83301. The Red Club also has vast information and lists of our members at our web site at.
The Rhode Island Red http://rirca.poultrysites.com/ Club also sells video tapes and articles on breeding Rhode Island Reds.