The Sussex chicken breed is a very old breed that originated in Sussex, England. It is very closely connected, in origin, to the Dorking chicken…
Sussex Breed History
In 43 A.D, the Romans invaded Britain and introduced a peculiar variety of chicken with 5 toes. Though information on where these 5 toed chickens came from is pretty scarce, they proved to be robust, hardy… and exceptionally favored. These chickens became very well distributed by 1840 and where Dorkings (after a place in England, where the breed was further developed). It is speculated that Sussexes originated out of some of the same stock as Dorkings.
England has been well-known for its fine poultry breeding (particularly where meat quality is concerned). Though we know that the Sussex breed originated in Sussex, England, little is known about the breed’s history. Sussexes were introduced to America in approximately 1912 and where admitted to American’s Standard of Perfection in 1914.
Sussex chickens have white skin and thick plumage. Though they likely have Dorking relations, unlike Dorking (which are 5-toed), Sussexes are 4-toed. Sussexes are also clean legged (no foot-feathers).
Sussexes are fairly large chickens. Sussex roosters weigh ~9 pounds and Sussex hens weigh ~7 pounds.
Currently, the American Poultry Association recognizes three color variations: Speckled and Red (admitted in 1914) and Light (admitted in 1929). The light Sussex color variation closely resembles the Columbian color variation (as seen in Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes and Brahmas). However, light Sussexes have lighter downy feathers and are generally more ‘white-based’ than Columbian color variations of other breeds.
Sussexes where originally bred for meat and where actually Britain’s standard meat chicken breed for some time. However, Sussexes are not just ‘superbly flavored’, they are a dual purpose breed. This means that Sussexes are also fair layers. However, due to their meat breed history, they gain weight easily and overweight/plump hens lay poorly. In general, a healthy, not overweight Sussex hen lays roughly 150-200 brown eggs annually (for the first few laying years). However, this number largely depends on the strain. Many Sussexes are currently bred for egg production and are thus lighter and smaller than the originals.
Sussexes are well known for their docile, gentle temperaments (much like the Orpington, another well-known English breed). They are generally easily handled, very friendly and easily tamed. For this reason, they are highly recommended for families, as pets and in backyard flocks. However, because Sussex chickens are a good Heritage Breed, they are often recommended for those wanting a Dual-purpose chicken. To read more about owners’ experiences with the breed, please visit Breed Reviews on BYC (backyarchickens) forum (link here: Sussex chicken Breed Reviews – BYC)
Sussex chickens are very cold hardy in cold and often lay through the cold seasons (like Chanteclers and Faverolles). However, they are not known to be exceptionally heat-hardy.
Notable Reference: The Livestock Conservancy