Jersey Giant Chicken

(American class)

Prepared by Michael Schlumbohm and Keith Bramwell, Department of Poultry Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Male Black Jersey Giant Chicken The Jersey Giant is a dual purpose breed that was developed then traditionally used for heavy meat production. They have a single comb with red earlobes and have yellow skin and lay a brown shelled egg. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes the Jersey Giant in three varieties, Black, White, and Blue.

Standard Weights
Cock: 13 lbs.
Hen: 10 lbs.
Cockerel: 11 lbs.
Pullet: 8 lbs.

As the name implies, Jersey Giants are very large birds. In fact, they possess the largest weights of any recognized breed of chicken. Everything about the Jersey giant is large and imposing. The frame size of the Jersey Giant is very large in order to support the massive weight of a mature bird. The body is moderately long, wide, and very deep, with the overall impression being a large square chicken. The body is held horizontally with the back being broad and flat with a short sweep up to the tail, which is relatively short and held at an angle of 30 degrees to 45 degrees. The head is large, and moderately wide, tending to be a little coarse when compared to smaller breeds.

The color of the shanks and feet are an important point for the Jersey Giant. The Black Jersey Giant should have black shanks, the Blue has shanks that are nearly black or may tend to a willow color and the White should have dark willow colored legs. In all three varieties the bottoms of the feet should be yellow, which is an indication of the base skin color of yellow which is hidden under the heavy pigmentation of the epidermal skin layers. This is one way to tell whether a black feathered, black shanked bird is a pure Jersey Giant or a mixture of other similar breeds. In fact, this point is so important that if the bottoms of the feet are not yellow the bird should be disqualified from competition. Eye color in all three breed varieties can range from dark brown to black depending on the variety, with the darker eyes preferred.

The Plumage of the black variety is simply solid black with a lustrous green sheen. As with all Black varieties care needs to be taken to avoid excess white in the plumage. Plumage of Blue Jersey Giants should have an even shade of slaty blue laced with darker blue, while the White Jersey Giants are pure white and should have no traces of black, gray, or red anywhere in the plumage.

The Jersey Giant has a history that somewhat resembles that of the Rhode Island Red. The stock, as standardized under the Jersey Giant name is Black, White, or Blue with yellow skin, clean legged and a little larger than the Brahmas, which, until the recognition of this breed, carried the heaviest standard weights. For developing and introducing this particular type of fowl credit is due to a Mr. U.L. Meloney. The foundation of the breed goes back to the farmers of New Jersey and adjoining parts of Pennsylvania, who for fifty years or more had produced large roasters for the Philadelphia, New York, and Boston markets from crosses of large Asiatic breeds. In New England, the growers of large roasting chickens used mostly fowls with light colored plumage and dressed them clean. In the more southern district the growers used mostly dark colored fowls and dressed them "capon style". Capon style refers to butchering chickens and leaving on the head, along with the hackle, wing and tail feathers. Normally capons (castrated male chickens) were dressed like this in order for customers to distinguish them from other types of chickens. It is unclear whether these Jersey Giants were actually caponized or whether they were dressed like this in order to mimic the high quality of capons and therefore bring a higher price for their product. Regardless of the reason, it was thought that this contrast between the yellow skin and dark feathers left on the birds gave the carcass a more attractive appearance when hung up for sale in the open market. Eventually the breed became fairly popular and the "Jersey Black Giant" was first recognized by the APA in 1922.

Male Black Jersey Giant Chicken The table and meat quality was the chief claim of fame for the Jersey Giant. Its uniformity in table quality was much better than the "mongrel" birds it replaced and it was more uniform than any other breed in the American class. Its excellence in this respect was attributed to its having been developed by men growing table poultry for top quality trade and in a section where a great deal of very large roasting birds were in demand and grown. While the hens are considered good layers, no attempt has ever been made to develop heavy egg laying strains of Jersey Giants. At the time the breed was most popular in the area of growing large roasting chickens, it was taken up by poultry-men scattered all over the country. However, being so big in a way limited its popularity. Because this breed was only suited for the markets demanding large roasting chickens it was not widely used by the average farmer. Its popularity in the early days was also limited by its color (black), which has never been popular in America, especially in meat birds.

Eventually the Jersey Giant fell out of commercial use, when the smaller faster maturing, earlier finishing breeds came on the market. The slower growing and later finishing Jersey Giant became inefficient and less economical to be raised for meat production on a large scale. It took up to six months or longer to get a Jersey Giant to finishing weights, while smaller breeds like Plymouth Rocks, and New Hampshires took only 10-12 weeks to attain their ideal market weight. This later finishing time is due to the Jersey Giants massive frame. A large framed animal will need to be fed to higher weights in order to get a good meat to bone ratio and better carcass quality. A smaller framed animal can be fed to a lower weight and have a good meat to bone ratio thanks to their shorter bones. These higher and lower weights translate to time and money spent on feed. The early maturing bird ate less feed and took less time to grow, thus making the smaller framed breeds more economical and profitable to grow on a commercial scale.

Despite their loss of commercial use, Jersey Giants in a small flock situation could still make a nice meat bird for home use. In addition, they are fairly common show birds with many good birds being exhibited across America.

Black - recognized in 1922

According to tradition, the name Jersey Giant had its origin from the description, "Blacks' Jersey Giants". Which was a name given to large birds produced by two brothers with the surname of Black, that lived near Jobstown, New Jersey. Their stock was of superior market and table quality as compared to the other stock in the region. The Black brother's stock was said to have not been bred to any particular color, but to have been prevailingly of 'dark' colors. However, no direct connection has been confirmed between the old "Blacks' Jersey Giants" of various colors and today's Jersey Giants. The Black Jersey Giant has a solid black appearance throughout the feather coat and shanks. Considering the black feather color is a dominant trait, depending upon the genetic strain, when breeding Black Giants, White 'sports may also be produced as well as the Blue variety. It is not uncommon to produce males with substantial red appearing in the adult male hackle feathers, these birds should not be used as breeders.

Blue - recognized in 2003

The original ancestor of the Blue Jersey Giant was produced by Mrs. R.E. (Golda) Miller of Bern Kansas. One year, she produced a white pullet that had some gray markings on her back, since she had no use for this bird in her breeding program she sent it to Leo Prokop of Nebraska, Who for years tried to develop a Blue Jersey Giant but was unsuccessful. He then took the pullet he revived from Mrs. Miller and mated her to a Black male. From this mating, the resulting offspring were a multitude of colors including some splash. He then took the daughter of this mating and bred them back to a black male. Out this start the Blue variety was eventually developed.

White - recognized in 1947

White Jersey Giants came from White "sports" which were sometimes found in Black flocks in the late 1920's and early 1930's. However, it is likely that white sports occurred much earlier but where not intensively bred by anyone until that time.

Bantam Jersey Giants
(Single Comb Clean Legged class)

The APA recognizes the bantam Jersey Giant in Black and White. The American Bantam Association (ABA) recognizes the bantam Jersey Giant as well. However, the ABA has put the breed on its "inactive list". This is simply a list of breeds the organization still recognizes but due to a lack of interest in the breed they do not publish a full description in their Bantam Standard. The bantam Jersey Giant was presumably developed in the U.S. with shape and color requirements being the same as for large fowl.

Standard Weights
Cock: 38 oz.
Hen: 34 oz.
Cockerel: 34 oz.
Pullet: 30 oz.

Works Cited
Robinson, John H. Popular Breeds of Domestic Poultry. Dayton: Reliable Poultry Journal, 1924.
Vaughn, Robert . "History of Jersey Giants.". N.p., Feb. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. .
The American Standard of Perfection Illustrated: A Complete Description of All Recognized Breeds and Varieties of Domestic Poultry. Burgettstown, PA: American Poultry Association, 2010.
Bantam Standard for the Breeder, Exhibitor, and Judge. 2011 ed. Kansas City: Covington Group, 2011.