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  • Writer's pictureMarnie

Raising The Bar

The Barred Rock chicken... Boring or Brilliant?

You know, I never really liked the Barred Plymouth Rock breed until I added some to my flock. Now I can't imagine not having them. I always considered them to be the standard issue, most old fashioned, everybody has them, every store sells them, plain, common, boring, old, chicken breed. What I didn't consider was that maybe they are all of these things for a reason, and maybe a little bit more. Ok yes, the Barred Rock is common, old fashioned, and everywhere, but that's because they were created from the oldest heritage breed in America, the Dominique, and that makes them anything but boring.

The Dominique chicken, a small bird sporting both rose and straight combs, and laying a small to medium brown egg, was brought here by settlers in the 1800s from the south of England. Over time, only the rose combed birds were recognized as Dominiques by the APA, and the straight combed birds were bred over Java hens to create a larger bird coined the Plymouth Rock. Before long the smaller Dominique became kind of obsolete, and the Plymouth Rock became the new standard. The Rocks are a larger bird, lay larger eggs, are hardy to any climate, make good breeders, and are considered a dual purpose bird, although most laying hens aren't as useful for meat as broilers. Meanwhile, the Dominiques nearly went extinct from lack of interest in continuing to propagate smaller birds. A bit unfair don't you think?

While the Dominique is still recovering from being nearly eliminated as a laying breed, its larger protégé is thriving, with nearly every backyard flock sporting at least a few of these powerhouses of the chicken world. While I myself considered starting out with the most commonly recommended breeds such as the Buff Orpington, Plymouth Rock, and Rhode Island Red, only the Rhodies made it into my first flock, and the Rocks didn't join us until 2020, when my curiosity finally got the better of me. To this day I have never had a Buff Orpington, and I'm not terribly fond of the few Orps I've had, including my adorable little red puffballs Cedar and Saffron, who are always a mess. The Rocks however have added an interesting element of strength, efficiency, and quizzical character to my backyard bevy of beauties, and I actually find that they are not common or boring at all. So if you're a breed snob like me, and think that the plain old standbys aren't for you, think again. There's a reason everybody has them, and from now on so will I.

My Barred Rock hens Xinji and Xochi, two sisters who could not be more different if they tried. Just because they look alike, and come from the same brooder, doesn't mean all hens are exactly the same. Xinji is larger, more brazen, and can hold her own among the matriarchs of our flock, while Xochi is smaller, more fearful, and keeps to herself.

Xinji, the more dominant of the two BR sisters.

Curious Barred Rock babies bravely saving their Swedish Flower Hen sisters from a turtle.

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