chicken with black feathers on the tail

Delaware Chickens: In-Depth Care Guide and Breed Profile

Delaware chickens are the perfect dual-purpose breed, providing large brown eggs and outstanding table fare. They are considered a relatively new breed of chicken and were first developed in the early 1940s.

The Delaware looks similar to the Sussex Light but is not quite as popular. In fact, this breed is considered endangered and is only around still because of a few dedicated small farms and breeders.

If you are curious about the Delaware chicken, let’s start by learning about their history, breed standard, and whether they make a good choice for the backyard flock.

The History of the Delaware Chicken Breed

As the egg production and broiler industry grew in the 1930s, breeders focused on producing a competitive broiler chicken and egg layer.

When bred together, the Barred Plymouth Rock and New Hampshire Red produced various colors, including a white bird with subtle black barring around the neck and tail.

George Ellis of Delaware paid close attention to these chickens and went on to refine the broilers with the Rhode Island Red breed. He produced a bird that could provide exceptional egg production while maintaining its meat qualities.

He produced a bird that could provide exceptional egg production…

The result was the Delaware that was originally called Indian Rivers and the Ohio Beauty.

rooster up close
A Delaware rooster up close (1)

The breed originated in the 1940s, and for 20 years, classic Delawares and the Delaware cross New Hampshire Red were successful in meeting the demands of the broiler industry. They were known for their rapid growth, fast feathering, and very few health issues.

The Downfall of the Delaware

When the Cornish Cross arrived in the 1950s and could mature much quicker compared to the Delawares, the white-feathered breed soon began to fade out.

NOTE

Delaware chickens were no longer popular as broilers, and neither were they desired among homesteaders, so it was only natural that the breed declined over time.

Because they lost popularity and their numbers became significantly smaller, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy placed the breed on critical status in 2009.

The Delaware chicken once rose to glory only to be outshone by faster egg layers and meat birds; however, these jumbo egg layers are receiving the recognition they deserve and have made a major comeback in the poultry industry in recent years.

What Does the Delaware Chicken Look Like?

The Delaware is a medium-sized breed with a proportionate, deep body. They have predominantly white feathers from their head to their saddle, as well as wings with barred feathers around the neck and tail.

a white hen up close
A close-up of a Delaware hen (2)

The darker feather pattern is often described as Columbian; however, Columbian normally consists of pitch-black feathers without barring.

Breed Standard

This dual purpose chicken has a single comb dotted with five points along with red ear lobes and wattles. They have four toes on each foot and bright yellow legs that are not feathered. They have reddish bay eyes and a red horn color beak.

TIP

Because their combs can get quite large, they are prone to frostbite in cold regions. To protect them in freezing temperatures, make sure you apply petroleum jelly to their comb and wattles.

The Appearance of the Rooster

The Delaware rooster is particularly attractive, with barring across the neck and tail. Males also have large muscular legs, adding to their long strides and dominant stance.

Acceptance into the American Poultry Association

In 1953, Delaware chickens were accepted into the American Poultry Association, but because these chickens lost their popularity in the United States, there are no other color varieties or breed standards.

You can learn more about this heritage breed from the video below

The Amazing Delaware Chickens – A Heritage Breed

Weight

This breed is quite muscular and can grow to quite a significant size because they were bred for meat production purposes. The Delaware rooster will grow to a size of 8 lbs, while the hen reaches 6 lbs.

Color

The Delaware breed is available in only one color, so you’ll be looking at a white bird with black specks or barring. The barring is lighter in the hens, while the roosters have incredibly dark barring across their cascading tail feathers.

Delaware Bantams

Delaware bantams are a small version of the standard breed and are considered cold hardy, friendly chickens.

The bantam varieties only consist of white coloring with black barring, and are much lighter than the full-sized version. The rooster weighs 2.125 lbs and the hens weigh 1.875 lbs.

Sex Linked Chicks

An interesting fact about the Delaware chicken is the technique breeders use to produce the unique feather pattern. By breeding a Delaware male to a New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red hen, you will get chicks of the barred and white colors.

How to Sex Delaware Chicks

Because Delaware chickens are sex linked, it is easy to tell the cockerel from the pullets. Chicks are born yellow in color but depending on the breeding pair, they will reflect the color of the sire or the hen.

close up of a small chick
What a Delaware chick looks like

If you were to breed the Delaware hen with a New Hampshire Red or Rhode Island Red rooster, you’d produce sex linked chicks.

The males will have the classic Delaware coloring while the hens would be red, much like the rooster.

When Does the Delaware Hen Start Laying Eggs?

A Delaware hen can lay eggs as early as 24 to 28 weeks (6 months old). Because they were bred to mature quickly, faster than other breeds, these chickens will lay pretty consistently once they become adult hens.

Is the Delaware Chicken a Good Egg Laying Breed?

Yes, the hens are excellent layers and produce four large to jumbo sized eggs every week. That equates to a total of 200 to 280 eggs per year.

They are expected to lay through the winter and up until the age of two years after which their egg production will slowly decline.

DID YOU KNOW?

Mature hens will reduce the number of eggs they lay by 10% per year until they stop laying completely.

If you were looking for prolific egg layers to boost egg production and your bottom line, these birds are not suited to the industrial market. Their general purpose is to live on small farms, and they’re chosen among homesteaders for their jumbo brown eggs.

What Egg Color Does the Delaware Chicken Lay?

This breed produces beautiful brown eggs but the egg color can vary slightly between birds. The shells should be hard, and you should notice an increase in the size of the eggs as the hen matures.

chicken eggs in a round nest
Delaware chicken eggs will look similar to this

Will Delaware Chickens Go Broody?

Unlike other hens, Delaware chickens aren’t typically broody, and you should consider using an incubator to hatch eggs rather than your hen! It also depends on the individual bird but they are generally not broody chickens. You can do egg candling to help you identify which eggs are fertile and can be incubated.

Are Delaware Chickens Good for Table Fare?

If you are looking for a chicken breed that produces excellent, quality table fare, then look no further than this type of chicken. While she is a stellar egg layer, this medium-sized bird also lives up to her original broiler quality in the meat production industry.

The Temperament of the Delaware Chicken

There are many chicken breeds that are considered good dual purpose birds, but not all of them will have such an easy-going personality.

Some are skittish while others are too independent to be pets, so when you’re looking for an all-around chicken to add to your backyard coop, Delaware hens have a friendly and calm personality.

Are They Good Lap Chickens?

They are also not considered assertive and will happily follow you around or check out what you’re doing while in the yard. While they have a gentle temperament, they are not the best choice if you want lap chickens.

Raising Young Chicks

If you are raising chickens from a young age, they’re more likely to cuddle and remain docile throughout their adult lives compared to other breeds such as the independent New Hampshire and Rhode Island Red.

a chick in a coop
Make sure you raise them well in a proper habitat

Are They Suitable for a Mixed Flock?

The Delaware chicken is a generally peaceful bird, so both hens and roosters tend to be low in the pecking order. They are very social birds too, and will do best in a mixed flock with other chickens that aren’t too assertive.

This isn’t to say that you won’t find a confident Delaware, it’s just that the breed is generally friendlier than most meat and egg layers.

Do Delawares Make a Lot of Noise?

Delawares enjoy a bit of chatter with their flock mates and their keepers. This also makes them quite entertaining and interesting in the backyard coop!

So, if you want a bit of a talkative chicken, then a Delaware is sure to bring you many hours of enjoyment.

Is the Delaware Chicken a Healthy Breed?

These chickens love to free range and will spend hours looking for worms and bugs in the yard. It is a great way to encourage them to naturally supplement their diet, yes, but it could also expose them to lice and mites from wild birds.

To combat this, provide your chickens a place to dust bath or try dusting them with a poultry-friendly product to prevent a parasite infestation.

chickens rolling around in the dust
A dust bath can be as big or as small as it needs to be

If you want your Delaware to become strong and healthy, it’s easy when you provide them a balanced diet and the opportunity to free range within the confines of the yard.

Do They Have Genetic Ailments?

The Delaware breed is not known to suffer from any biological abnormalities or weaknesses that would place them at risk of illness.

Can They Tolerate Hot and Cold Climates?

Surprisingly, this breed has dense feathering to protect them against the winter and they are known for being cold hardy.

NOTE

Always monitor for injury or damage to their large fleshy combs in freezing temperatures.

They can suffer from frostbite quite easily and will do best in a sheltered coop. Both hens and roosters are also heat tolerant and popular across the Southern States. When temperatures rise, make sure they always have access to clean water, shade, and well-ventilated coops!

How Quickly Do They Grow?

When breeders first developed these chickens, the focus was to create quick-maturing birds that could meet the turnaround times for meat production. They grow feathers much faster than other breeds, and hens can start laying as early as 24 weeks.

What is the Lifespan of Delawares?

Delawares can live up to five years of age. The hens can reach maturity between one and two years of age, after which they will naturally stop laying eggs.

How Much Coop Space Do Delawares Need?

Because of the broad body and overall size of this chicken breed, they’ll need at least 8 square feet of space per bird inside the coop.

Roosts should be around ten inches, and you’d ideally place them low to the ground – this would help them jump on and off without difficulty.

a view of chicks in a coop through a fence
Make sure you have chicks, they have the space they need (2)

Size of Nest Boxes

While most websites suggest a 10-inch box for a standard breed, Delwares would do best in nest boxes that are 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide.

NOTE

Be sure to provide enough nest boxes for each of your hens to peacefully lay their eggs!

Because Delawares are less likely to pick a fight or stand up for themselves, they might be bullied out of the nest by more dominant breeds. It is a good idea to provide your chickens ample space to nest, especially if you are thinking of raising chicks.

Protection From Predators

A secure coop against predators is a must for all chicken breeds, but the Delaware is surprisingly predator savvy. The roosters can be quite aggressive and will do their best to keep watch over their hens and protect them.

Conclusion

The Delaware breed became an impressive dual purpose bird when it first made its mark in the chicken world back in the 1940s.

Originally bred from New Hampshire and Rhode Island Reds, they were eventually replaced by the faster-growing Cornish Cross chickens as leaders in the broiler industry.

Heritage Breed

Today, the Livestock Conservancy has since placed them on watch status and recognizes them as a sustainable heritage chicken breed.

Only certain breeders will produce chicks, so it’s a little harder to find Delawares compared to more popular chicken breeds.

Friendly Egg Layers

Delaware chickens might be hard to find, but they are certainly a worthy addition to the backyard coop.

Their friendly nature and incredible egg production make them sheer winners compared to many other breeds.

They could be exactly what you need to create a cohesive mixed flock!

Feel free to share this post with other chicken hobbyists who may not know of the Delaware breed yet, or might be interested in introducing a few of these beautiful hens to their flock.

(1) Poultry by Cowgirl Jules – licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
(2) Delaware Hen by Suzie’s Farm – licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
(3) Chicken Coop by Nanimo – licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Jess Woods
Jess Woods
Founder of Chickens & You. I love raising chickens and creating a self sustainable homestead for my family. I like to spend my time writing and teaching skills for homesteading and self sufficient living. 🐓 👩‍🌾