More and more people are becoming interested in raising chickens, either for eggs and meat or simply as outdoor pets. However, raising chickens is more complex than it seems and you have to be able to provide not only the right housing and food but even toys and treats for chickens. Also, knowing more about different breeds and what they require is essential.
The Delaware chicken is a special breed not only because of its recent history and current status, but also thanks to its benefits. Whether you are just starting out when it comes to raising chickens or you want to add new breeds to your existing flock, here are some interesting facts that will help you maximize the advantages of raising Delaware chickens.
What are Delaware chickens?
The Delaware is a heritage poultry breed that is much less common today compared to other better-known breeds. The estimated number of Delaware breeding hens is down to a couple of hundreds, according to statistics, and their number has been on a downfall since the end of the 1990s, according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
This poultry breed has an interesting history, with surprising twists and turns that were determined by social and historical circumstances. In the 1940s, a breeder from Delaware, named George Ellis, started to develop a new breed, with the purpose of increasing meat production without lowering the egg production. Thus, the Indian River was slowly developed.
Unlike the Barred Plymouth Rock cocks that were being crossed with New Hampshire hens for meat production, the new Indian River birds were almost white and had yellow legs, which looked more appealing after plucking, for consumers. This new breed quickly became popular in the broiler industry, also thanks to its rapid feathering and growth.
This breed even earned the name of Ohio Beauty, although it did not gain much popularity among exhibition breeders. It finally became known as the Delaware chicken and, under this name, it became officially recognized by the American Standard of Perfection in the 1950s. Although it was and still is a dual-purpose bird, the Delaware chicken has been specifically bred for the broiler industry.
Unfortunately, the popularity of the Delaware chicken did not manage to surpass that of other breeds, in the post-War world that was rapidly changing. After the Second World War, the agricultural industry became predominant and, with it, hybrid breeds that performed better. Since the Delaware breed had not been developed for small farms, it quickly declined.
In the 2000s it was listed as in critical status and it is still not easy to find around the US. However, more and more people are trying to rediscover this breed and value its true potential.
Characteristics of the Delaware chicken
Because it never got a chance to develop beyond its initial years, the Delaware breed has only one variety, namely white with a pattern of black bars on the hackles and tail. Its medium size and broad body conformation are considered very good. Their eyes, as well as their beak, are redish while their legs are yellow, without any feathers. They have relatively large, red combs.
Be careful when it comes to the appearance of Delaware chickens because it might be similar to the Columbian pattern, which is why it’s possible to get a Columbian Plymouth Rock falsely presented as a Delaware. Keep in mind that this is a separate breed, whose black feathers do not have that barred aspect that is specific to Delawares.
Delaware chickens typically weigh around 6lb, if they are females, and around 7 to 8lb if they are males. They are considered some of the best layers, with a typical weekly production of four large eggs, but not excellent broody hens. They are generally a healthy breed, with no particular health risks. Only their comb could require a bit of extra care during winter, because of its size.
Benefits of the Delaware chicken
Since this is a heritage breed that is unique to the United States, the ALBC has been involved in its conservation and people are encouraged to rediscover this poultry breed that has several important benefits. Although it was originally created for the meat industry, it is perfectly suitable and even recommended for small-scale production. Plus, being a double purpose bird, you get the benefit of both eggs and meat.
Delaware chickens develop fast feathering and also mature rapidly, which makes them excellent for meat production. They lay large or jumbo eggs that are brown. They are successfully used in organic farming. Also, although they don’t mature as fast as industrial ones, these chickens are considered more economical because they respond well to a free-range environment.
In terms of personality and behavior, Delaware chickens are a very good choice. Most owners describe them as intelligent, curious and very communicative with people. Some of their biggest advantages are their calm and gentle demeanor, as well as not so noisy style of communication. They get along well with children and with other chicken breeds. Plus, they are able to stay away from possible predators.
Therefore, if you are interested in chickens that lay very well and also provide good meat, without investing too much and facing certain challenges, the Delaware chickens are an excellent choice for a small homestead, as they are an economical breed with a good production rate.
What to feed Delaware chickens
One thing that makes Delaware chickens such a great option is that they are not picky when it comes to food. Both the hens and the roosters eat whatever food you provide and don’t have specific requirements. Of course, if you want to get the best results, in terms of fast growth and egg-laying, you should make sure to offer them only high-quality food.
Delaware chicks should be on a chick starter diet for about two months and move to a grower combo when they are eight weeks old. You can easily find these types of food mixes that will help your chicks develop fast. Then, after eight more weeks, you can start focusing on feed that is specifically designed for improving laying.
Delawares also enjoy free-ranging, and picking insects and other bugs is beneficial for them. This is actually one of the things that makes them an economical bird. You can get them to a market weight even without investing too much in specialized feed. But keep in mind that they do need calcium on a regular basis. Plus, special treats and toys are always a good idea.
Delaware chickens housing and care
When choosing a poultry breed, it’s important to know what specific needs it has and in what kind of environment it thrives. If you want your Delaware chickens to be happy, you need to have enough space for them. They are not demanding when it comes to food but they do love to forage and they require enough space to be able to do so.
Each bird requires ten square feet if you intend to keep your Delawares in a run, or four square feet if you intend to have a coop for them. Remember that they need space, especially if you have many of them. As long as they have proper housing and food, they will stay healthy, as they are generally robust birds.
Of course, they need to be checked regularly for internal or external parasites. Delaware chickens could also have a more sensitive comb because it is relatively large. In the wintertime, you should watch out for frostbite and protect their combs with vaseline.
If you are interested in hatching Delawares, you need to know that the hens are not known for wanting to brood. Therefore, you might need to use an incubator or broody. Also, breeding Delawares is considered rather difficult. At the same time, breeding Delawares is highly encouraged, in order to preserve this unique heritage breed that was once almost extinct.
But you also have the option of getting sex-linked chicks, so that you will know which are male and which are female, as soon as they hatch. This is possible by crossing a Delaware hen with a New Hampshire Red rooster.
Delaware chickens are low maintenance, they provide high-quality eggs as well as meat. Plus, they have a sweet personality and they will enjoy keeping you company around the garden. If you want to raise Delaware chickens, do not hesitate.