Sussex chickens are a recovering breed, according to the Livestock Conservancy, although this breed nearly died out around the turn of the 20th century. Crosses with large Asian birds resulted in disappointment, and many flocks were lost. Fortunately, breeders began making an effort to restore the breed to what it once was. Today’s Sussex chicken closely resembles its ancestral form. It is a hardy, dual-purpose bird that grows quickly and is good for both meat and egg production. Sussex chickens live approximately eight years, maybe longer if they are well-tended. Read on to learn more about this fascinating breed.
History of the Breed
The Sussex chicken, one of Britain’s oldest breeds, has a history stretching back more than 2,000 years. It nearly fell victim to a phenomenon known as hen fever in the mid-1800s. Sussex chickens at that time were already a hardy breed known for producing lots of eggs and high-quality meat. But breeders at the time tended to follow the trends set by Queen Victoria, who loved big, fluffy birds. They crossed the Sussex chicken with larger Asian fowl, producing larger and more impressive birds.
Unfortunately, these new and improved Sussex chickens were not really better at all. Their meat was inferior to the ancestral birds, and these newer versions had larger bones and were prone to obesity. Luckily, breeders realized their mistakes before it was too late. They began working to restore the breed, aiming for birds that closely resembled the ancestral form of the Sussex chicken. After once being nearly extinct, the breed is now recovering and is once again good for both meat and egg production.
How Big Do Sussex Chickens Get?
Sussex chickens grow to be rather large. Roosters weigh approximately 9 pounds while hens average about 7 pounds. Sussex chickens also come in bantam sizes. The bantam-sized hen weighs around 2.4 pounds. Bantam-sized roosters weigh about 3.2 pounds. Bantam-sized Sussex chickens rarely exceed 4 pounds.
What Do Sussex Chickens Look Like?
Sussex chickens have stout, rectangular bodies with long, flat backs. They have bright red, single combs with red wattles and red earlobes. Their white legs and feet are devoid of feathers, and their feet have four toes. Sussex chickens come in a variety of colors and patterns. The American Poultry Association recognizes just three varieties, but the Poultry Club of Great Britain recognizes eight.
The speckled Sussex chicken is the most popular, with a rich, reddish-brown base color and a spotted appearance. The feathers of the speckled Sussex chicken feature white spots near the tips and black bars with an iridescent green sheen. Sussex chickens get more spots with each molt as they grow older.
How Well Do Sussex Hens Lay?
Sussex hens lay exceptionally well. They produce between 200 and 250 large, light-brown eggs per year. Hens usually lay year-round, unless they are brooding or molting. Sussex hens average approximately four or five eggs per week during their prime laying years. Hens begin laying by about 8 months of age, and egg production declines around the time a hen reaches five years of age. That is a relatively long productive period, compared to how long Sussex chickens live.
Do Sussex Chickens Produce Good Meat?
Sussex chickens are well known for producing good quality meat. Farmers have always raised roosters for their meat, as they tend to grow to a large size. Roosters reportedly produce large quantities of excellent quality, succulent meat. Breeders also routinely harvest hens, as they prove easy to fatten up for the dinner table once they stop laying.
Are Sussex Chickens Hardy Birds?
Sussex chickens are hardy birds that are relatively easy to care for, even for novice breeders. These chickens have a calm and friendly demeanor. They handle the cold quite well, although they seem less tolerant of high heat. The Sussex chicken does not seem overly susceptible to diseases, and the breed does not produce plumage that requires special care. They exhibit a good degree of curiosity, but they cannot fly well. Sussex chickens enjoy free roaming, but they also tolerate being confined to an adequately sized run just fine.
Sussex hens tend to go broody occasionally and they make good mothers. Because of how long Sussex chickens live, along with the fact that they lay a lot of eggs and continue laying for a significant time, owners may successfully build a decent sized flock from just a few birds. The roosters can be protective, but they are not overly aggressive. Overall, this breed may be a great choice to add to your flock, especially if you are looking for a great dual-purpose bird.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Zeeshan Naveed/iStock via Getty Images
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