Breed Spotlight: Barred Plymouth Rock

Of all the chicken breeds that exist in the United States, perhaps none are as iconic as the Barred Plymouth Rock. As a very young girl, I recall my first exposure to chickens involved a Barred Rock. My great-grandmother had a free-range flock of various breeds, but it was a Barred Rock hen that came up to “bother” me on the front porch. Turns out, I was sitting near her favorite egg-laying spot in my grandmother’s flowers and she wanted me to move. She was persistent but not mean, but was very clear in her instructions for me to move by her loud, stern clucks. From then on, I was intrigued by chickens in general, but particularly by the black and white striped birds that many of my Southern relatives owned.

The Plymouth Rock breed was first seen on American farms in the middle of the 19th century. The breed first appeared in Massachusetts in 1849, then disappeared for about 20 years, resurfacing in 1869. The barred color pattern was the first one developed, then the other color varieties of the Plymouth Rock came later.  Currently, there are seven color varieties recognized in the US: Barred, White, Blue, Buff, Columbian, Partridge, and Silver Penciled. The Plymouth Rock breed was accepted into the APA Standard of Perfection in 1874.

By the 1940s, the Barred Plymouth Rock was hands-down the single most popular breed with small American farms. The breed is hardy, docile, feathers out quickly and heavily lays an average of 200 brown eggs a year, and can provide meat for a family.

The Barred Rock was developed primarily out of Cochins, Brahma, Java, and Dominique breeds, so you might see where the Plymouth Rock gets its heavy feathering and barring from. The Barred Rock also is useful for small farms who hatch their own chicks because of its auto-sexing ability. The gene for feather barring is sex-linked. Male chicks receive a double copy of the barring gene and females only a single copy. At hatch, male chicks appear lighter in color than the females, which enables a flock owner to more easily determine genders and only invest resources into raising chicks for their intended purposes; eggs or meat.

Nowadays, you will often find two different types of Barred Plymouth Rocks.  More commonly found is the “production” type of bird, which is focused on higher egg production. It is typically lighter in weight and stature than the heritage Barred Rock. The production-bred Barred Rock hens average about 6 pounds and roosters 7 pounds. 

The Heritage Barred Rock more closely resembles the Barred Rock of yesteryear and is an excellent choice for exhibition or table birds. The heritage Barred Rock roosters weigh in at around 9-10 pounds and hens at 7-8 pounds. They tend to take 6 to 8 months to fully mature, so keep that in mind if your goal is for exhibition.

Consider adding some Barred Plymouth Rocks to your backyard flock and enjoy the beauty of this living piece of American farm history.

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