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The Plymouth Rock

By: Loren Hadley

The Breed

The Plymouth Rock is a dual purpose utility breed, designed for both efficient meat production and commercial quality laying ability. As a breed, rocks have a number of characteristics that make them popular with commercial poultry farmers, exhibition poultry breeders, and backyard hobbyists alike. In form, the Rock will have the deep breast and long keel of a meat producing breed, balanced by the deep, full body cavity and pelvic area of a layer breed. They should be well feathered with good feather quality as this denotes health, vigor, and good development. The large fowl cock will be 9.5 pounds while the hen should weigh in at 7.5 pounds. This is one of the smaller of the heavy breeds. Overly large birds become clumsy and tend to loose the breed character.

To the left is a Barred Plymouth Rock Bantam Hen by Loren & Betsy Hadley. To the right is a Barred Plymouth Rock Cock by the Hadleys.

The Bantam Rock is a scaled down version of the large fowl. In the United States, Bantam is used to refer to any of the breeds that are miniature versions of standard fowl, or varieties which only come in small sizes. The Bantam Rock cock should weigh in at 36 Oz. (3 lb.), while the hen will tip the scales at 32 Oz. While one third the size of the Large Fowl, the Bantam hen can produce 200-250 lovely brown tinted eggs per year which are half to three quarters the size of their large fowl counterparts.. Rock Bantams will go broody enough that a flock can be maintained without an incubator, but they are generally good layers and don’t brood too often. Both egg production and tendency to set eggs will vary by strain. As with all exhibition birds, some strains have been so heavily selected for type and color that reproductive abilities have been jeopardized.

History

Plymouth Rocks were reported to have originated in Massachusetts and were considered a distinct breed prior to 1849. The first birds of the breed were of the Barred variety and were produced using a Dominique male and a black Cochin or Java female. They became a standard breed in 1874 . White Rocks were recognized in 1888, Buff in 1894, Silver Penciled in 1907, partridge in 1909, Columbian in 1910 and Blue in 1920.

Bantam Barred Rocks were recognized in 1940, Blue, Buff, Columbian, Partridge, and Silver Penciled in 1960 and Black in 1990. Black is not recognized in the large fowl. I have heard that Barred Rock Bantams were developed from a large fowl sport carrying a dwarf gene. This gene was selected for and a bantam version was finally arrived at. I can’t say how the other color patterns were arrived at nor whether the process followed that of the creation of the various large fowl color patterns.

Large Rocks were a popular breed for small flock keepers as they were designed as a utility breed and were hardy foragers. The needs of these keepers led to the development of the even tempered easy to work with nature of the breed. The bantams were originally developed as an exhibition breed but past decades have seen them gain in popularity while the large fowl have become less common as the backyard and barnyard flock becomes increasingly rare.

Commercial Aspects

From a commercial standpoint, the dual purpose utility nature of the breed less attractive. There are a number of "super" breeds (Actually mostly hybrids) designed to excel in either meat or egg production. In today’s agri-business environment, most operations are specialized and focused on a single use bird that excels in one area. This doesn’t mean that Rocks are obsolete. There are a number of characteristics that make them popular for hybridization. They are vigorous and can lend balance to extreme breeds that become hard to manage due to their specialization. Possibly one of their strongest points is the Barred color pattern of the original barred rock. This is a sex linked color pattern that expresses in chicks. This “auto-sexing” color gene allows newly hatched chicks to be sorted by gender from the moment they hatch, leading to more efficient operations.

Even Bantam Rocks have a place in the commercial market. Crossed with the Cornish, they produce the delicate Cornish Rock Game hens found in the supermarket. Another commercial role of the Rock Bantam is to provide capes and saddles for the fly fishing industry. The Grizzly Hackle is from a Barred Rock Cock, while the Silver Penciled provides the Badger Hackle. A leader in the industry, Hoffmans’ is reported to rear thousands of cock birds each year to provide the high quality feathers demanded by the fly fishing community. These birds are from a carefully guarded line specially bred for producing quality hackle. The extremely long, lightly barbed feathers are not normally found in the commercial, exhibition or backyard strains.

Small Flock/Backyard Enthusiast

For the small flock owner or backyard poultry breeder, the Plymouth Rock is hard to beat. The laying ability, rugged self sufficiency and extremely good temperament recommend them highly. The Rock Cock bird is almost always a good natured dictator. Many of the standard backyard layer flocks I am familiar with have a Plymouth Rock as a cock bird despite a mish-mash of breeds in the laying hens. This can be attributed to the genial nature of these birds. With a little work, these birds can be handled, worked around and controlled with a minimum of fuss. They will not be bouncing off the roof like a Leghorn, trying to disembowel you like a game, or be unable to breed a hen as many Cochins are. When I have to deal with a standard sized rooster staring me in the inseam, I’d just as soon he had an even temperament. Rock cocks are no doubt the master of their flocks, but they are not bullies. They are good at keeping peace in the flock and are relatively gentle with hens. Our friends marvel that we can show birds that have been in the breeding pens all season. Under many cocks, hens end up with bald patches, broken feathers and damaged combs. In my experience, this is rarely a serious problem under a Plymouth Rock Cock.

To the left is a White Plymouth Rock Bantam Cock by Loren & Betsy Hadley. To the right is a White Plymouth Rock Hen by Kirk Keane.

More Information

If you are interested in more information on the Breed, you can join the Plymouth Rock Fanciers Club of the USA by sending dues to:
David Adkins, Secty,
1988 Cook Road,
Lucasville, OH 45648 USA

Dues are $3.00 for Juniors, $7.50 for individuals, $10.00 per family or $100.00 for a lifetime membership (in US funds). Membership will entitle you to a newsletter, periodic Plymouth Rock Year Books, and special awards and points in APA/ABA shows with Plymouth Rock Club Meets. It is a great way to sat on top of what is going on with the breed. Also, There are other Plymouth Rock clubs around the world. I am aware of the Australian club that is similar to the US club but also sets the standards of perfection for the breed in that country.



Last updated June 25, 1998.
This page, and all pages and content associated with The Coop are © Copyright Loren Hadley, 1995, 1996,1997, 1998

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