Perhaps it was timing, but the reality is that the Delaware chicken is one of the most outstanding dual-purpose breeds ever to grace these shores. Bigger than the Barred Rock (both in meat and egg-size), better colored for the table the Rhode Island Red and far superior temperament to the New Hampshire… the Delaware is America’s “King of the table birds.”
The Delaware was developed with one goal: to overthrow every other table bird known to man. Once known as the “King of the table birds,” for a period of time it did just that. In fact, in its heyday, this magnificent breed conquered not only the meat markets of its day, but established such a reputation for producing “fine market quality” birds that its influence continues today. While the region has, like most places, moved on to industrial breeds, it is still the leading producer of poultry in its country. Now that’s a game-changer.
Like many birds of great reputation, the Delaware started life as two historic breeds. Both progenitors were outstanding in their own right, the New Hampshire is fast-growing bird added for meat production and quality, the Barred Rock is a dual-purpose breed that added a docility, egg-laying prowess and ultimately a reputation that made it the “most kept bird” ever up until WWII. This powerful combination, designed for total table domination, created a “sport” that launched the revolution. Combining the best qualities of its parentage, and rolling those into a feather coloring that was considered ideal for a finished carcass, the “King of the table birds” was born. Have you guessed yet? But wait, there’s more…
To say that the Delaware achieved its goals would be an understatement. It was described by a leading poultry publication as, “a dual-purpose fowl” with “well-developed egg and meat characteristics.” Additionally, “[e]xcellent as broilers with an abundance of vigor and fine market quality.” High praise for a book known more for its factual statements than its flowery language. Authors continued to heap praise on the breed, noting its “rapid growth and fast-feathering,” this bird is “independent…designed for foraging.” And while most of the world’s premier poultry isn’t ready until a minimum of 20-24 weeks, this amazing bird can be “eaten at any age.” Now that’s something to crow about!
But lest we think it’s all about the meat, have no fear. While this “premier table bird of its time” is certainly worthy of praise, that is only partly due to its table qualities. As a layer, few breeds can compare. Laying 150-200 “rich brown eggs” a year, where our mystery breed really shines is in size. These are not your “med-large” heritage eggs, but some strains lay XL or jumbos, sometimes reaching over 70grams. What more can you ask for? Plenty…
Adaptability and Temperament
While many breeds have an Achilles heal, often being adapted to a specific climate, that is not the case here. The Delaware is capable of performing well “in both hot and cold climates.”
And while they’re known for being “independent,” they are “calm and docile,” capable of adapting to range or confinement. And if that’s not enough, a Delaware hen is a great mother, maintaining its parenting skills lost by many modern breeds. A delight in the field or the yard, Delawares are as good with human children as it is with its own.
How could a breed this perfect fall from grace? It’s rise to fame coincided with a time in history when its country was enjoying an industrial revolution. And what’s good for business must be good for livestock too, right? Well, timing is everything. And like many of the other “Fowls” we’ve featured, the US was shifting to specialized, industrial breeds just as the Delaware was reaching its zenith. Like its cousins around the world, poultry production was moving from the farm to the corporation, and the Delawares slid into obscurity. In fact, while it is rarely kept in the US today, it is almost unknown in the rest of the world.
The Delaware Today
Today the Delaware continues to survive on small farms, especially those dedicated to pastured-poultry. And why wouldn’t it? As small factions of our world look to rediscover heritage breeds, to eat better, to recognize the artistry of small farms and creative farmers…could you ask for a better bird? In short, no. And unlike many heritage breeds that are once again being used for production, the Delaware hasn’t enjoyed the show ring like most of its native relatives. Why is that good? Because most “rediscovered” breeds have lost a significant amount of their production prowess. Favored for form over function, most historically dual-purpose breeds have lost a significant amount of their size, either in carcass or egg production. But Delawares continues to enjoy the benefits of being supported almost entirely by a small band of dedicated farmers, folks focused on function!
Why choose the Delaware
It’s hard to imagine that this section even needs to be written. If you’re looking for one breed that has “premier table” qualities, lays eggs so big they’re hard to fit in a standard carton and lays them in massive quantities, then the Delaware is your bird. Oh yes, and if you think a nice, docile bird for your family is important…look no further. Live in a hot climate? Great. Colder than a … no problem! Confined space? Sure. Field to forage? That’s perfect. Are we done here?
The Details- Large Fowl Delaware
- Rooster: 7.5-8.5lbs.
- Hen: 5.5-6.5lbs.
- Eggs: Rich Brown, Large-Jumbo
- Comb: Single
- Skin color: Yellow
- Origin: (guess)
- Laying: 150-200/yr
Hatching eggs and breeding stock available beginning spring of 2018.
(Fowl Features are short posts about the rare and interesting breeds of chicken. While we can’t raise all of these amazing chickens, we wanted to have an outlet to promote them nonetheless. We hope you enjoy these posts- SF)