The Rhode Island Red (RIR) is probably one of the most popular chicken breeds in the U.S. However, Rhode Island Reds are not just popular in the U.S, they are popular throughout the world. They are one of the most easily recognized breeds, even for those unfamiliar with poultry…
The place they where first bred in… (I probably don’t need to mention this… but I will just for the record) Rhode Island, U.S. However, some of the breed’s development took place in Massachusetts as well (according to The Livestock Conservancy).
Some of the breeds selected to create Rhode Island Reds where Malays, Javas, Shanghais and Leghorns (particularly the brown variety).
The Rhode Island Red was first bred in the 1880s-1890s. However, it was not recognized as an official breed by the APA (American Poultry Association) until 1904. The Rose combed variety was not recognized by the APA until a year later. Presently, two sizes are recognized by the APA, Bantam (miniature) and Standard (full size).
There are to varieties of Rhode Island Red that are recognized by the American Poultry Association. Those two varieties are Rose-combed and Single-combed. However, both varieties are clean legged (no feathers around the feet) and have yellow skin and legs/feet.
There is only one true color variation of the Rhode Island ‘Red’. There are Rhode Island ‘Whites’ that are recognized by the APA. However, the Rhode Island White is somewhat different than the Rhode Island Red… Though they are very similar, they do differ in some aspects. Also, unlike Rhode Island Reds, Bantam variations of Rhode Island Whites are not yet recognized by the APA.
The shade of the Rhode Island Red closer to a reddish-brown or rust color. However, the exact shade may vary from bird-to-bird.
Rhode Island Reds are usually not solid ‘red’ but have black/shimmery-green accents on the tail, hackles and/or wings. The cocks are also usually darker than the hens (being more of an auburn with shimmery green coloring that is concentrated in the hackles and tail).
Rhode Island reds are superb layers of extra-large brown eggs. In fact, a healthy Rhode Island Red hen (6 months or older) will lay ~200-300 eggs per year (for the first few laying years). However, part of what made the RIR famous was not just its egg-laying capabilities. The Rhode Island Red breed is part of a group of breeds called ‘Heritage Breeds‘.
Rhode Island Reds have strong, sturdy, meaty builds. (Standard Rhode Island Red Roosters weigh 8-9 pounds and standard Rhode Island Red hens weigh 6-7 pounds.) This factor puts them among the best of all the dual purpose breeds.
Since the RIR’s ancestry includes both non-aggressive breeds (Shanghai and Java), aggressive breeds (Malay) and varying breeds (Leghorn), their turnout (temperament-wise) is about as predictable as a coin toss. Some Rhode Island Reds are mellow and gentle while others are highly aggressive.
The Rhode Island Red breed is, in general, a fairly independent and resourceful one. They love to scratch and keep themselves occupied. However, they are also hardy (particularly in the cold). They are also not easily stressed and readily adapt most environments. These factors make them low maintenance and optimum as free range chickens.
Modern Rhode Island Red Development
Originally, the Rhode Island Red was bred to be a hefty dual purpose breed. However, modern strains are geared more towards egg production rather than meat. This means that the modern breed variations lay more, are lighter and somewhat less inclined to go broody. The original darker, meatier and broodier strains of RIRs still exist. However, they are not nearly so common.
Since the popularity of the Rhode Island Red had spread so immensely, breeders began experimenting with sex-linked RIR Hybrids. These hybrids became very popular among back yard poultry enthusiasts. However, they became a big hit for commercial egg farmers as well. In fact, most of the brown eggs from your local grocery store likely come from sex-linked RIR Hybrids.