Delaware Chicken

(American class)

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

Male Delaware ChickenThe Delaware is a dual purpose breed that was once used in the commercial broiler industry in the Delmarva area. This breed lays a brown shelled egg and has yellow skin and red ear lobes and a single comb. The Delaware was admitted to the American Poultry Association's (APA) Standard of Perfection in 1952 and is only recognized in one variety, which is commonly called the "Delaware pattern".

Standard Weights
Cock: 8.5 lbs.
Hen: 6.5 lbs.
Cockerel: 7.5 lbs.
Pullet: 5.5 lbs.

In body shape the Delaware is somewhat between a Plymouth Rock and a New Hampshire with a body that is moderately long, wide, and deep. The body is held horizontally causing the back to be flat at the shoulders in profile, and then it forms a concave sweep approaching the saddle and tail. The tail itself is somewhat short and well spread, being carried at an angle of 30 to 40 degrees. The breast is deep, broad, and well-rounded with legs that are medium in length and well-muscled. The comb is single, somewhat large and is permitted to lop at the rear end of the comb in females while the comb of the males should stand erect. In color the Delaware is comparable to the Columbian pattern, however instead of solid black striping the feathers of the hackle of the male and female should be striped with barring with the primaries and secondaries being barred as well. The tail of the male should be barred while the tail of the female should be solid black with each feather having a white lace with the remainder of the body feathers being predominantly white. The shanks should be bright yellow and the comb, wattles, and earlobes a solid red.

In order to understand the history of the Delaware, the history of the commercial broiler chickens in America should also be understood. To begin, the definition of a broiler, as defined by literature of the mid to late 1930's, 40's and early 50's was a young chicken, of any breed or sex, usually under 16 weeks of age with tender meat and a flexible breast bone. The birds usually weighed under four pounds live weight at the time of harvesting. Though the definition defines them as less than 16 weeks of age, the goal of most growers was to have them processed by 12-14 weeks of age and sometimes sooner at the age of 10 and even eight weeks of age. At this time in history most broilers were grown in the area of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia which is often referred to as the Delmarva area.

Broiler production soon became a science of its own with thousands of farms involved in growing broilers for commercial resale. By this time only a handful of breeds were used in intensive broiler production with these breeds including the Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Plymouth Rocks, and most commonly crossbreeds which did include some sex-linked crosses. These crossbreeds included crosses of New Hampshires with Cornish, Cornish with Plymouth Rocks, and Plymouth Rocks with New Hampshires. In the 1940's the New Hampshire and Barred Plymouth Rock cross was the most popular broiler raised for meat production. This cross was popular because the live markets in the city preferred barred birds and all of the offspring of this cross were barred and they outperformed the purebred Plymouth Rock in terms of growth rate, livability, and feed conversion. It is with this cross, for the purpose of meat production, that the Delaware has its origins.

Occasionally this cross would produce 'sports', which were not entirely barred but inherited the columbian restriction gene from the New Hampshire leading to a bird with barring only in the hackle, wings, and tail. In 1940 Mr. George Ellis of Ocean View Delaware produced offspring of this type at his Indian River hatchery. He was the first person to then take these sports and breed them to fit a standard color and type, thus giving rise to the Delaware breed.

Mr. Ellis's goal was to produce a male line that he could use to mate with New Hampshire females and produce a bird with lighter feathers that would dress out more cleanly. For a time, his new creation was very popular and commonly used in commercial broiler production. The reason for this was that many people at the time thought that the Columbian pattern was a good choice for a broiler, the black was restricted to a small area around the neck and tail leaving the majority of the body feathers white, while still having enough black on them that people wouldn't think they were the egg laying Leghorns. At that time, the male Leghorn was still grown as a broiler, and of course they were not very good in terms of quality and quantity of meat as compared to the heavy breeds. In addition to this, when crossed on the New Hampshire the chicks were all a Columbian pattern and still had the hybrid vigor of the Barred Plymouth Rock-New Hampshire cross without the dark pin feathers.

However, this popularity was short lived. Soon after the Delaware came onto the market the Cornish crosses began to be become popular, thanks to their superior quality carcasses which consumers began to prefer, as well as their growth rate characteristics. As far as an exhibition bird, the Delaware never really caught the full attention of bird fanciers as it was thought of more as a utility bird. This left the Delaware in a bad position because both the commercial world left it behind for more marketable and profitable birds and the exhibition world never really took to them in the first place. The population continued to decrease and the quality of the remaining birds had deteriorated.

Female Delaware Chicken But thanks to a few dedicated breeders the Delaware has held on and is still around today. Recently, more interest has been created with more people discovering this useful breed. Several breeders, in an effort to find excellent quality birds have undertaken the task to recreate the breed. This was done by crossing Barred Plymouth Rock males with New Hampshire females. The sports of these crosses are then mated to each other and the result was many of the existing Delawares found currently. These efforts are proving beneficial for the breed as the number of quality birds is increasing and this is getting more people interested in breeding and showing Delawares again. Hopefully this trend continues and more people will become serious breeders and will want to improve this breed.

With more consumers willing to buy "heritage" poultry products and with the free range and organic markets ever expanding the Delaware may once again find its niche as a 'broiler' or in meat production. They mature quickly and can be processed at a younger age than some of the other standard breeds of chickens. In addition to their excellent carcass traits and growth rate the Delaware is also a good layer of large brown shelled eggs. In temperament, they are gentle yet are fairly active so they can do well in a free range setting. However, Delaware owners don't have to worry about them roaming too far from their eating and drinking areas as they are not apt to fly over fences. Overall, this is an extremely useful breed and deserves to receive more attention from breeders and "heritage" meat bird growers alike. Another unique trait about Delawares is that when Red feathered males such as New Hampshires or Rhode Island Reds are crossed on Delaware's, the females the chicks will be sex-linked with the pullets being red (like the males) and the cockerels being Delaware patterned (similar to the females).

Bantam Delaware
(Single Comb Clean Legged class)

Both the APA and American Bantam Association (ABA) recognize the bantam Delaware. They were first developed by Cecil Moore of Texas, presumably in the same way that the large fowl were produced. Other breeders as well have created a Delaware bantam. The color and shape requirements are the same as for large fowl.

Standard Weights:
Cock: 34 oz.
Hen: 30 oz.
Cockerel: 30 oz.
Pullet: 26 oz.

Works Cited
"Origin of the Delaware Breed." feathersite.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
"The History of the Delaware Chicken." The Delaware Poultry Club. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Bantam Standard for the Breeder, Exhibitor, and Judge. 2011 ed. Kansas City: Covington Group, 2011.
The American Standard of Perfection Illustrated: A Complete Description of All Recognized Breeds and Varieties of Domestic Poultry. Burgettstown, PA: American Poultry Association, 2010.
Hoffman, Edmund, and James M. Gwin. Successful Broiler Growing. 2nd ed. Mount Morris: Watt, 1951.
Botsford, Harold E. The Economics of Poultry Management. New York City: John Wiley & Sons, 1952.