Rhode Island Red Chicken 101: Complete Care Guide (2022)

As one of the most popular egg layers in the woraccident-proof garbld, the Rhode Island Red is a hardy bird with a lot of personality and a lot of love to give!

Although the Red started as a dual purpose breed for agricultural purposes, today, it has become a much-loved backyard chicken.

If you are thinking of adding a Rhode Island Red chicken to your flock, let’s take a closer look at this unique breed’s personality, egg laying abilities, overall care, and coop requirements.

The History of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

You can trace the origin of the Rhode Island Red all the way back to 1854, where it was believed that William Tripp, a sea captain, had purchased a large Malay rooster from the locals and bred it with his own flock once he got home.

When he noticed the high egg production in the new generation of chickens, he partnered with John Macomber to produce a chicken that would become a prolific egg layer.

The first name of this breed was Tripp’s Fowl, but would soon change as the men refined their creation with different breeds.

Name

It was later that a specialized poultry breeder and former Rhode Island governor, Isaac Wilbour, would refine the breed and give it the name Rhode Island Red.

It became one of the most reliable dual purpose breeds in New England and soon, one could recognize its name in different parts of the world.

In 1954 in Little Compton and Adamsville, two statues were erected to honor the breed’s New England origins. Today, it is known as the official state bird of Rhode Island.

What are Rhode Island Reds?

So what does the Rhode Island Red look like? Rhode Islands have a rectangular body and their feathers are quite stiff and tight, creating a slender appearance.

In 1904, the Rhode Island Red was formally recognized by the American Poultry Association, where it was included as an American Class of large fowl. Since the early 1900s, RIRs have grown in demand which has also led to the establishment of the Rhode Island Red Club in America.

Build

You may find these chickens have a muscular build, and that is because they were originally bred as a table bird despite high egg production.

They can move quite fast but are not flighty and are therefore good with kids and in large flocks. Because of their ability to fly over high fences, a secure chicken coop is a must if you want one of these.

Distinct Features

Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red (1)

The feather color of the Rhode Island Red is a beautiful deep red to mahogany from their head and wings to their tail. RIRs are also rust or dark brown in color.

Some Rhode Island Red chickens are so dark, they almost appear black! A few of these chickens may have black feathers in the tail, but this is not preferred according to APA standards.

An Island Red Rhode has bright yellow legs, feet, and skin.

Legs

They are described as clean-legged because they do not have feathers on their legs.

Also, they have yellow or light brown beaks as well as bright red combs and wattles.

Both hens and roosters can have a single comb or rose comb, but the size and thickness of the comb and wattles on the rooster will be more prominent compared to those on hens. The rose comb variety also tends to be slightly smaller than the single comb type.

How to Tell a Rooster from a Hen

The rooster is much larger than the Rhode Island Red hen and weighs between 8 to 9 lbs, while the hens reach 6.5 lbs.

RIR roosters are also easily distinguished by their rich mahogany feathering and long tails with hints of green and black.

They stand tall and fearless, moving in long strides compared to the more stocky hen.

Hens are typically a lighter shade of red and may have dark brown to black lacing across the tail feathers. They will have stocky bodies and develop bright red wattles, combs, and earlobes once they start laying eggs.

Strains of Rhode Island Reds

Production Rhode Island Red
Production Rhode Island Red

Although the Rhode Island Red was bred for industrial purposes, today there are two types or strains.

The production strain is lighter in color compared to the deep reds of the show variety. Because the production strain chickens are dual purpose and purely bred for meat and egg output, these birds are not genetically selected for color, beauty, or breed conformation.

Heritage

The heritage type will lay fewer eggs than its production/industrial counterparts.

RIRs make great pets and the odd splash of black in the feathers is acceptable for pet standards; however, if you want to show your chickens, this breed should always be a solid color of red or brown with yellow skin.

How Tall are Rhode Island Reds?

The RIR rooster measures 15.5 inches from the shoulder to the feet. He is also 24 inches in length from the tip of the beak to the tail.

These chickens can grow quite tall, but will seldom exceed 16-18 inches in height.

This is yet another reason they make a great backyard chicken! They are similar in stature to the Leghorn.

How to Sex Rhode Island Red Chicks

You can sex Rhode Island Reds by the color of their wings upon hatching. If you look closely at the web on the wing of males, you will notice a small white spot on the down. A girl will not have this white spot.

Once young chickens start growing their feathers, this white spot will disappear, and it’ll become hard to tell the difference between hens and roosters.

The Island Red Rhode hatchling is a light red or tan color and lacks any patterns or specks on its body as it matures.

Along with their beauty and their personality, another favorable characteristic of these birds is their prolific egg production.

If You Need Eggs, You Need Rhode Island Reds

Why is the Rhode Island Red such a fantastic choice for laying eggs? Well, because they were specifically bred for meat and egg purposes!

This backyard chicken has been carefully refined over the last century for exceptional egg production.

The Rhode Island Red can lay up to 300 eggs per year! That’s a whopping 5 to 6 eggs per week.

They lay large eggs and do well on a balanced layer feed with supplemental calcium grit given as free choice.

When Do Rhode Island Reds Start Laying?

Reds start laying at 18 weeks of age, which is the typical age for laying. But, some backyard keepers and homesteaders have reported Rhode Islands to lay as early as 16 weeks.

How Long Does a Rhode Island Red Lay Eggs?

Eggs on a Tray
Eggs on a Tray

Rhode Island Reds have a short laying period, and typically stop producing eggs between 12 to 18 months.

But, this is not a hard and fast rule. The odd hen can lay eggs up to 3 years of age; it all depends on your chicken.

What Egg Color Does a Rhode Island Red Lay?

The RIR will lay eggs that are light to medium brown in color. Their brown eggs include a deep yellow yolk. Considering that they produce up to an egg a day, these chickens reach their retirement at an early age.

To help your RIR lay impressive eggs, let’s look at what you should feed your laying hens.

Environment, Care, and Coop Requirements

Because this breed is one of the most adaptable, they can be raised in many types of environments.

And no, living in your home in accident-proof garb is not one of those environments. At least not permanently.

Surprisingly, Rhodies do quite well in cold climates despite having clean legs and slim feathering.

When temperatures drop below freezing, they should have a warm and dry place to live. You can also apply petroleum jelly to their comb to prevent frostbite.

Low Maintenance

If you are looking for a low-maintenance hen that will lay a substantial number of eggs, this breed is incredibly easy to care for. They are also great for free range flocks because they know how to forage and can be quite independent.

This bird is also one to look out for if you are thinking about hatching eggs. A roaming hen will lay her eggs virtually anywhere, even if she has regular access to a coop. You’ll have to keep a close eye on a laying hen to find those eggs!

Size

Reds are considered standard size birds, so 15 square feet per hen should be adequate space in a free range environment. Inside chicken coops, you’ll need at least 5 square feet for each hen.

While they are friendly and generally calm, too little space can be detrimental to their health. They can become picky and bossy if confined without the choice to roam.

Feeding the Red Chicken Breed

Chicken Fed by Hand
Chicken Fed by Hand

These popular chickens are not fussy and as a common backyard and dual purpose breed, they enjoy regular poultry feed and organic chicken feed along with the odd treat!

Hens will need protein and calcium-enriched food for laying eggs.

But if they are free range, you’ll need to ensure that they receive the correct balance of nutrients.

To help you provide your hens and roosters the right diet, we look at the best feeds and just how much RIRs eat each day.

What Do Rhode Island Reds Eat?

These types of breeds are great at surviving in a variety of conditions and will forage for bits of food in their natural environment.

The food you give them should depend on their age or life stage.

A young bird can benefit from a mash easy for small beaks to collect, while larger birds eat pellets or mixed grain.

Hens that are laying eggs will need a layer feed. These types of feeds are available in a mash, crumble, and pellet form, which you should feed them starting at around 16 to 18 weeks of age.

Nutrients

Look for feeds that have at least 16% protein to help your hens lay the strongest and healthiest eggs possible!

Because chickens laying eggs require a balanced diet consisting of vitamins and minerals, it is important that you minimize the scraps and provide a nutritious feed.

These chickens are hardy and can lay eggs anywhere and everywhere, but nothing beats giving them good feed to avoid problems with the eggs they produce.

Amount

The average Red will eat up to a quarter-pound of feed daily. If you are raising your flock outdoors, much of their diet will consist of grasses, insects, and bits of grit.

For those confined to the chicken coop, be sure to provide grit to help them with crop health and digestion.

The Red Chicken with a Heart of Gold

The Rhode Island Red is described as a calm, lovable bird that adores its keepers! They seldom like to be at the bottom of the pecking order, though, and will assert themselves in the coop.

They also do well in confinement, making them ideal for residential coops. To help them adjust and remain happy in their space, they should be allowed free range.

Are Rhode Island Reds Friendly?

Your RIR can be everything from loving and friendly to bossy and picky! One thing you can guarantee about these chickens is that they make their presence known in the coop!

Here’s a rhode island red as a pet

My Rhode Island red pet rooster

Rhodies are talkative, but they are quickly tamed and are easily handled by their keepers. You will find them to be naturally curious about everything in their environment, which can be quite interesting to watch!

Are Rhode Island Reds Aggressive?

The RIR is considered a family-friendly bird and not described as an aggressive breed; however, a rooster is considered more temperamental than a hen. Are you thinking of getting a RIR rooster?

Coop Size

Red Chicken Coop
Red Chicken Coop

Roosters need more space than hens, so if you are thinking of keeping a rooster, you should carefully plan their coop size and the birds you will be keeping with them.

There are males that can be aggressive towards other chickens and people, and they should not be kept around young children or small pets.

Apart from the stubbornness of roosters, one thing is for sure about Rhode Island Red hens, and that is the love and the endless entertainment you’ll experience when you own them.

Noise Levels

Some people might say that the Rhode Islands are noisy birds, while others argue that their RIR hen is the sweetest and quietest of all birds in the flock.

There are occasions when a hen can be extremely noisy after laying an egg or alerting others of potential danger; however, most of them are generally quiet and well-behaved.

Hardy Breed

The Rhode Islands are highly adaptable birds and can survive in many different types of weather conditions and temperatures.

When raised with care and attention, the Red Rhode Island should be cool, calm, and collected, often running up to their keepers especially for their favorite treats. Every now and then, I give mine a helping of the best chicken scratch I could find.

The hens enjoy talking to their human companions and may follow you as you putter around the garden so they can catch the grubs and snails in your wake!

NOTE

While roosters can be temperamental and hens are sometimes a little vocal, not all birds have the same personalities and traits. You could find a calm rooster and a bossy hen, so choose wisely or speak to the breeder about the temperaments that you’d prefer for your urban backyard.

Common Health Issues

RIRs are healthy chickens and have no genetic diseases or conditions that affect them specifically; however, if you were to purchase a production line hen, you may experience a few problems owing to poor or over-breeding.

It’s always a good idea to visit the breeder before you choose a bird.

Consider heritage types among the best breeds.

Breeders maintain clean environments and prevent overcrowding, a common plight responsible for many poultry ailments and growth issues.

Quality

Red Chicken Coop
Red Chicken Coop

If you are shipping a bird from a hatchery, learn about the quality of the chickens you buy before you introduce one to your coop.

Some general poultry conditions to look out for include lice and mites if the coop is not kept clean. By providing your birds plenty of space and a nutritious diet, you shouldn’t experience any problems.

How Long Do Rhode Island Reds Live?

This breed can generally live between 5 to 8 years.

While they aren’t prone to many ailments and they can thrive in a variety of conditions, they tend to have the shortest natural lifespan of all poultry.

Summary

Of all chicken breeds, Rhode Islands get along well with their flock mates but roosters can be a little bit more aggressive than the hens.

Much-loved chickens, they are a must for the backyard keeper, so be sure to share this with anyone who loves chickens or is thinking of adding a new breed to their flock!

Background

The Rhode Island Red’s history dates all the way back to the late 1800s, making it one of the older varieties of poultry.

The RIR got its name from careful selective breeding, and has since become a popular international bird for the backyard and the farm. They are not purebred, but have been accepted into the APA for show and production purposes.

Nature

Reds are fun, curious, and beautiful for the chicken coop, but you must give them enough space and encourage them to forage.

Because they are natural foragers, letting them out of the coop to scratch and peck for grubs and grass can prevent aggression and pecking order issues.

As one of the top breeds, you simply cannot go wrong when you introduce a RIR to your coop.

This bird is low maintenance, friendly, and produces between 250 to 300 eggs per year! And because no one RIR chicken is the same, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their shades of red and their unique personalities.

References

1. HeatherLion. (2014, September 18). Rhode Island Red cock [Photo]. Wikimedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Rhode_Island_Red_cock%2C_cropped.jpg

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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. 🐓 👩‍🌾