Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (2023)


Written byBri Wyzard

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (1)

Rhode Island Reds are one of the most popular chicken breeds in America and abroad, and they're popular for good reason.

Prolific and reliable egglayers, these birds are friendly in nature, impressive meatbirds and exceptionally hardy. They are versatile, thriving in both the backyard and barnyard, and make beautiful additions to any flock.

But before you get your own Rhode Island Reds, there are many things you need to be aware of about these birds. In this article, I cover everything you need to know to help you decide if these are the right birds for you.

You will learn:

  • What are Rhode Island Red chickens?

  • The 19 things you need to know before getting Rhode Island Red chickens

  • Breeds you might want instead of Rhode Island Reds

This post contains affiliate links to my favorite Amazon products. As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

What are Rhode Island Red chickens?

Facts about Rhod Island Red Chicken

Category:pet, eggs and meat
Origin:United States
Egg Laying Ability:Good-extraordinary
meat production:Gut
Cold Tolerance:Poor-Exceptional (depending on crest size)
According to the dictionary:Moderately good
Avoiding Predators:Gut
Foraging Ability:Gut
Toleration of captivity:Moderately good
Temperament:Variable but generally friendly
Aggression towards herd members:Moderate
noise level:moderate-high

Why are they called Rhode Island Reds and where are they from?

Rhode Island Reds are American icons.-

This is one of the few breeds of chickens whose name is self-explanatory. Rhode Island Reds were bred in Rhode Island (and have been Rhode Island's state bird since 1954) and are distinguished by their distinctive rich red color.

The bird, like most other American breeds, was developed as a livestock bird in the late 1800s, meaning it would be suited to both eggs and meat.

Although the exact heritage of the Rhode Island Reds is unknown, the breed was created by mixing numerous other breeds of chicken.

... it has been said that once upon a time every large breed of fowl ever known in America found its way into the flocks of Rhode Island farmers.-

The following breeds were likely used in the development of the Rhode Island Red:

  • Brown Leghorn

  • Cochins

  • Brahmas

  • Red Malays

  • mortar

  • Cornish

The beautiful red color was a Malay contribution. In addition, Malayan chickens are genetically distinct from most other breeds and therefore likely contributed some of the resilience that Rhode Island Reds are famous for.

Soon after its development, Rhode Island Reds became incredibly popular in America.

The breed possessed so many good qualities that it would have been difficult for them to remain in the dark.-

And Rhode Island Reds became popular in other countries as well. A bantam (i.e. miniature) version was created in Germany and England. Breeders created the bantam by breeding standard-size Rhode Island Reds with other bantam breeds.

The following video gives a short and excellent summary of the Rhode Island Red breed.

(Video) Red brooder light - Bad for chicks?

The 19 things you need to know before getting Rhode Island Red chickens

Here's everything you need to know.

Rhode Island Reds are:

  1. Found in 2 comb varieties - one is hardier than the other

  2. Found in both commercial and traditional strains - each with their own qualities

  3. Fertile Layers

  4. Reliable shifts

  5. Not brooding (mostly)

  6. Tasty and fast growing

  7. Variably hardy

  8. heat tolerant

  9. predator-savvy

  10. Ideal free runners

  11. Destructive in backyards

  12. captive tolerant

  13. Friendly in temper

  14. Occasionally human aggressive (some roosters)

  15. Best kept with other confident breeds

  16. Occasionally rooster-aggressive (some roosters)

  17. Sea

  18. Rare (Heritage Tribes)

  19. Crossed to create sex-linked birds, perfect for the urban or suburban backyard!

Now let's get down to the details!

#1 Rhode Island Reds come in 2 different varieties, but you'll have a really hard time finding one.

Rhode Island Reds come in both a rose comb and single comb variety.

The Single Comb Rhode Island Reds are incredibly popular. These birds have a medium to medium sized, erect single crest. You can see some beautiful examples of this strain in the video above.

Unfortunately, the Rose Comb Rhode Island Reds are incredibly rare, at least in the US. I say "unfortunately" because this variety is much more hardy than the Single Comb variety.

The rose combs are smaller than the single combs and lie a bit flat on the head. This makes them virtually resistant to frostbite (as long as they stay dry). Individual combs, on the other hand, are prone to frostbite. This is especially true for the roosters.

In the video below you can see how different the rose comb is from the single comb. This is a video showing a Rose Comb Rhode Island Red Bantam rooster and hen. Notice how much smaller the rose combs are.

To find out where to find the rare Rose Comb strain, check out the hatchery map at the bottom of this article.

#2 Commercial strains of Rhode Island Reds can look very different than traditional strains.

Rhode Island Reds come in a few different types: Commercial and Heritage (and pretty much everything in between). Let me explain what I mean by these "guys".

If you've ever bought brown eggs from the grocery store, chances are your eggs came from a commercial variety of Rhode Island Red (or maybe Rhode Island Red Crosses). These birds were perfected for egg-laying rather than looks, hardiness, or meat.

Because of this, these industrial strains no longer have the characteristics of the original bird - that is, the ancestral strains.

Traditional vs. commercial feather colors and patterns

Whenever you read about Rhode Island Reds in books or blog posts, you're usually reading about the heritage bird.

These Rhode Island Red varieties have the beautiful and distinctive deep red plumage. The tails are mostly black and the wings can be a little black. The downy underside of these varieties is red or salmon-colored rather than gray or white.

These birds are absolutely stunning in their coloring.

Even Rhode Island Red lovers find it difficult to express the subtle beauty of Rhode Island Red feathers.-

You can see an example of a heirloom strain in the video below. This is a show quality Rhode Island Red. The man in the video does a great job of explaining this guy's traits, although I don't like the way he treats the rooster - there are far more respectful ways to treat chickens.

Please note that in part of the video above the man is holding the cock upside down. This is a very dangerous and unfriendly position to bring a rooster in. Please don't ever do it. See my article for more information on this.Holding a Chicken Upside Down: Is It Safe?

The commercial varieties of Rhode Island Red, on the other hand, are still red, but very few display the glossy, deep red color. Instead, these chickens have a brighter red color that is also seen in many other breeds. Many hybrid birds in particular have this lighter, buff color.

And the undercoat of the commercial varieties could be red, gray, or white.

Other notable traits of Rhode Island Red chickens

Rhode Island Reds are "brick-shaped" meaning the body is broad and long - heritage strains fit this type more closely than commercial strains.

Rhode Island Reds have medium-sized wattles and medium-sized red earlobes. They have reddish horn beaks and reddish eyes.

Your thighs and toes should be yellow with a hint of reddish horn. And a show-quality bird has a red pigment stripe running down the thighs to the tips of the toes.

How Big Do Rhode Island Red Chickens Get?

Here are the ideal weights for Rhode Island Red chickens:

cocks:8.5 pounds
Chicken:6.5 pounds
Bantam Roosters:34 ounces
Dwarf chickens:30 ounces

However, commercial grades can be significantly lighter.

What do Rhode Island Red chicks look like?

(Video) Can roosters live together in the same flock with hens?

Whether you get a commercial or traditional strain, Rhode Island Red chicks are the cutest! They are small balls of fluff in various shades of orange, tan and red. You can see what they look like in the video below.

#3 Rhode Island Reds are exceptional egglayers.

egg color:Braun
egg size:Big
Laienalter:4-6 Fun

Rhode Island Reds lay 200-300 large brown eggs per year. Traditional strains are closer to 200-250 while commercial strains are closer to 300.

Commercial varieties of Rhode Island Reds typically start laying early at around 4-5 months of age, while traditional varieties can take closer to 6 months.

#4 Rhode Island Reds lay eggs when conditions are poor.

Cold winters, hot summers - you name it - your Rhode Island Reds will likely carry on when many of your other breeds have quit.

The Rhode Island Red is known for its hardiness and ability to handle marginal conditions while still producing eggs.-

Rhode Island Reds mean business when it comes to egg laying. I have found that my Rhode Island Reds spend a lot of time thinking about laying eggs compared to my other breeds. They are often in the coop for an hour or more before they actually lay, testing the different nest boxes.

I have 8 nest boxes in my barn and some of the Rhode Island Reds will test all of these boxes seriously before deciding on a spot. They come into a nest box, kick the bedding around and lie down, and then they get right out and test the next box. They go around in circles and talk all the time while they're at it.

And, boy, do they talk. Many will make incredibly excited noises until they finally get used to laying. And they will squeal and growl if another hen so much as looks at them in the nest box. They even make these noises if I happen to walk into the coop while they are laying.

The noises they make can be quite hilarious - these girls are intense and they mean business!

See the video below for an example of what this behavior looks and sounds like. Fast forward about 1 minute and 20 seconds in the video to hear an angry Rhode Island Red hen screeching at her keeper.

I've even found my Rhode Island Red Rooster, Rufio, to be obsessed with nesting. I often find him in the chicken coop finding nesting places for the chickens.

Rufio gets into corners or under the nest boxes and assumes the egg-laying position, all the while making cackling noises trying to get the hens to use his space. And sometimes when they do, he stays right next to them, still in an egg-laying position himself.

I think he might be suffering from a little envy laying eggs. But he sure is cute to look at. And that's a Rhode Island Red for you. It's all about the eggs.

#5 Most Rhode Island Reds don't want to be mamas, but some of the traditional strains do.

The majority of Rhode Island Red cultivars will either never breed or breed very rarely. I've let some of my girls play with brooding, but they never stay brooding for long.

Some of the traditional varieties not bred for improved egg production will breed. Rhode Island Red hens that hatch chicks tend to be excellent and protective mothers.

#6 Some varieties of Rhode Island Reds provide rich meat with great flavor.

The commercial varieties of Rhode Island Red are much smaller than the traditional varieties and therefore have much less meat on their bodies.

However, many of the traditional varieties make excellent meat birds. According to The Livestock Conservancy, their meat was "once considered [the] finest flavor."

These birds have a market weight of 5.5-7.5 lbs.

Rhode Island Reds also grow very quickly and mature early for a traditional breed.

You can see how fast they are growing by watching the video slideshow below. The videos show the birds at the age of 2 weeks, 7 weeks and 9 weeks.

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (2)

2 week old Rhode Island Reds

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (3)

7 week old Rhode Island Reds

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (4)

9 week old Rhode Island Reds

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (5)

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (6)

(Video) Roosters are NOT bad!

Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (7)

And here you can see a really nice short montage of grown-up Baby Rhode Island reds.

#7 Some Rhode Island Reds are exceptionally hardy. Others are prone to frostbite.

As mentioned above, the Rhode Island Reds Rose Comb variety is exceptionally hardy. Some of your single comb hens may also be very hardy.

However, many Rhode Island Red Roosters (and some hens with larger crests) have such large crests that they are susceptible to frostbite, which as you can imagine is incredibly painful.

In my first year as a chicken farmer, I had a Rhode Island Red rooster who got frostbite on the tips of his comb. A few combs of the hens also appeared to be in the early stages. I had previously read that Rhode Island Reds are hardy to sub-zero temperatures and I had naively assumed that meant they would not get frostbite.

I've since learned that when people say a chicken is "cold hardy," they mean that the chicken will likely survive the cold, not that it will necessarily thrive in the cold. The same applies to "heat-resistant".

I live in Southwest Idaho where it doesn't get that cold. Our winter temperatures typically stay in the 20's and only on very rare years do they dip into the single digits. But even at freezing point, frostbite is a serious risk.

However, there is a way to counteract this.

When my chickens got frostbite I felt so terrible that it happened under my supervision. I knew I would never let that happen again. I bought immediatelysweeter heatersand hung them over my chickens' roosting roosts and I haven't had any problems since.

You can findsmall sweeter heaters here at amazon,medium sweeter heaters here, and great sweeter heaters here.I use them in all my stables and cannot recommend them enough. They are lifesavers for simply combed breeds!

#8 Rhode Island Reds are fairly heat tolerant.

Rhode Island Reds have downy feathers that help keep them warm during the winter, but they aren't as fluffy as many other cold-hardy breeds, such as the Red IslanderPlymouth-FelsenorOrpingtons.

Rhode Island Red chickens tend to tolerate heat better than some of these other cold-hardy breeds. However, they always need cold water available at all times and plenty of deep shade on hot days.

#9 Rhode Island Reds are predatory.

The Rhode Island Red is a great bird when you have predators around. Their dark red coloring helps them blend in against most backgrounds. And while they're not great fliers, they can fly short distances to help them get out of harm's way.

In addition, these birds tend to be extremely cautious and alert. And many tribes are large enough that most raptors aren't interested in them.

#10 Rhode Island Reds are excellent range birds.

Rhode Island Reds are incredibly hardy birds and love to forage. If you are a homesteader or are looking for a very hardy range bird, this is one of the best breeds you can get.

Below is a flock of beautiful Rhode Island Reds happily roaming free.

#11 Rhode Island Reds can destroy your backyard and yard.

The downside to being a good collector is that Rhode Island Reds tend to be experts at ripping up your backyard and garden. They are excellent at digging for food, and if your yard is relatively small, these birds will likely turn it into a wasteland.

As one municipal Rhode Island Red goaltender put it:

“…her feeding instinct makes her more destructive than any of my other hens. If you're not keeping them busy, prepare to say goodbye to your lawn and yard.”

#12 Rhode Island Reds can be held in backyard runs.

Many birds that do well in free range don't do well in backyard runs, but the Rhode Island Red is an exception.

While you definitely don't want to keep your Rhode Island Reds tightly caged, you can keep them in a decent backyard enclosure. Of course, like most chickens, Rhode Island Reds prefer free range, and the more space you can give them, the happier they will be.

If you keep your Rhode Island Reds in a backyard, be sure to provide them with some entertainment. For example, give them lots of things to settle on.

#13 Rhode Island Reds are people friendly and some are docile.

I've never met an unfriendly Rhode Island Red.

These are curious birds who like to be in the thick of things. They'll probably be the first to greet you when you enter your coop and mine drive me absolutely nuts cleaning the coop. They need to be "involved".

However, none of my Rhode Island Reds want to be touched. Not only will they pretend to die if you try to pick her up, but if you even put a finger on her she will pretend to hit her.

My Rhode Island Reds seem to interpret any kind of touch as aggression. However, if I sit on the floor with my legs outstretched, a few of them might crawl onto my outstretched legs to hang around. But again, if I try to touch one, they'll scream (and I mean scream!), flap and run.

That's why I describe them as friendly but not docile.

However, I've come across many anecdotes about extremely docile Rhode Island Reds, so temperament really depends on the strain you get.

For example, one chicken farmer said: “My Rhode Island Red is very friendly and will run up to me almost begging to be picked up. She likes to jump on my lap for a pet.”

Another said this of her Rhode Island Red flock: "The chickens are soft and personable and love their cuddle time. They are... lovers of affection. They jump into my arms when I bend down and never try to get free.”

And another said: "They provide us with hours of entertainment. They jump onto our laps to pet and hug.”

Below is a video of a Rhode Island Red hen, June, being easily picked up and handled by her owner - fast forward 3 minutes and 30 seconds in the video to see this.

#14 You could end up with an aggressive Rhode Island Red Rooster.

If you've ever read a book about chicken breeds, you know that Rhode Island Reds can have a mean streak. Some single roosters are known to be extremely aggressive. I wonder if this was inherited from themCornish heritage.

However, many Rhode Island Red roosters are not aggressive at all. My Rhode Island Red Rooster, Rufio, is a dream. I absolutely adore him. He's such a good rooster. He is a charming and attentive ladies' man, and he has never been aggressive towards any person.

My Rufio likes to join me when I'm sitting in the yard. And I mean, he comes right up to me and literally chats. I love him so much.

However, if you want a people-friendly rooster in your flock, you are taking a risk by choosing this breed.

#15 Rhode Island Red chickens should be kept with similar confident breeds.

Rhode Island Red chickens tend to get along fairly well with other birds. My Rhode Island Red hens were moderately lively the first year of life but have since settled in very well. It's rare that I see one of my Rhode Island Reds make even a single pick at another bird.

The exception to this rule are nest boxes. Some of my Rhode Island Red chickens don't want my Ameraucana chickens to nest near them. Many times I have seen a Rhode Island Red hen get out of her nest box, crawl over two nest boxes and bully an Ameraucana out of her nest. Then the Rhode Island Red crawls the 2 boxes back to its own original nest box.

Sometimes the Rhode Island Red will aggressively peck the Ameraucana until she leaves. At other times, the Rhode Island Red will simply come in her face and give her a death glare, and that's enough to startle the other bird.

Also, I have found many other reports that these chickens can get a little bossy with other birds from time to time.

Because of this, you need to think twice before mating your Rhode Island Reds with a smaller or more vulnerable breed such as a houndSeidenhühnerorPolishing.

Keep your Rhod Island Reds with other gentle but confident breeds. Mine go particularly well with mineLocked Rocks. Other examples areDominiques, Wyandottes, orJersey Giants.

#16 Rhode Island Red roosters can be aggressive towards other roosters.

Once again, this may be a throwback to theirscornish heritage, or maybe hersMalaiisches Erbe, However, some Rhode Island Red roosters, regardless of breed, can be particularly aggressive toward other roosters.

This is not a strict rule. Many Rhode Island Reds roosters play well. For example, my Rufio gets along well in his flock with two other roosters (bothAmerican). He gets minor scratches with the subordinate rooster - the keyword here isirrelevant.And frankly, although I love him, this subordinate rooster is a real punk.

However, if you want to keep a larger flock of chickens with more than one rooster, you might want to consider a different breed. Again you would be taking a gamble.

#17 Rhode Island Reds are loud.

I mentioned this before when I talked about laying eggs, and I'll say it again. These birds are noisy before, during and after egg laying. They are very intense when preparing to lay an egg, making extremely loud, excited, screeching noises almost continuously.

I love the sounds they make - they are definitely expressive. But your neighbors might not be so appreciative.

#18 Heritage Rhode Island Reds are rare.

All right, you've probably figured this out by now, but commercial Rhode Island Reds are a very different creature than traditional Rhode Island Reds.

Commercial birds are significantly smaller and lighter than historical birds. They are much better egg-layers and much less likely to ever breed. Commercial breeds have less meat and are significantly more common.

The Livestock Conservancy has placed traditional Rhode Island Reds on their "watch list." These birds are in dire need of conservation as they are much less popular than the commercial varieties.

I personally love my commercial strain because I don't want breeding birds. But if you want to help preserve an exceptional breed, consider this bird.

#19 Many Red Crosses in Rhode Island are gender linked!

Attention city chicken farmers! Create many Rhode Island Red Crossessex linked birds.You will definitely want to consider one of these crossbreeds rather than a purebred Rhode Island Red.

What is a sex-linked bird you ask? This is a chicken that can be sexed at birth to an extremely accurate degree (close to 100%). The male chicks look different than the female chicks.

If you're new to chickens, you might think this isn't a big deal, but here's something hatcheries don't like to advertise:

When you order female chicks you will usually receive one or more roosters.

What? It's true. The sexes of most chicks are determined by the vent sexing method. This is when an expert looks into their vents to determine if the baby is male or female, but it's only about 90% accurate. And your chances are much worse at many hatcheries.

So it's very, very common that you end up with some male chicks. And if you live in an urban or suburban setting, you know this can be a real problem. Most places do not allow roosters in the neighborhood.

So what do you do when you end up with a rooster? Well, either you kill it yourself or have someone else kill it. This is the harsh reality. Try to "relocate" your roosters, there is no market for it (despite what other blogs may tell you). And rooster sanctuaries are so rare they might as well not exist.

If you don't have a problem killing your roosters then you don't have to worry. But if you're like me and attached to your birds, this can be devastating for you. Do yourself a huge favor and get Sex Links.

Rhode Island Reds are typically used in almost every type of sex link.(New Hampshiresare sometimes used in place of Rhode Island Reds.)

Sex links can have any of these generic names:

  • Rote Sex-Links

  • Goldene Sex-Links

  • Black Sex Links

Or Sex Links can go under more commercial names, such as:

  • Golden Comets

  • Bernsteinstern

  • Red Star

  • Dark Star

  • Zimtkönigin

  • ISA Brown

  • Novogen Brown

They are all wonderful birds and any backyard keeper would be lucky to have them.

Check out my article for more information on sex link chickens. Sex Link Chickens: The perfect layers for any garden.

breeds you may wantInstead ofRhode-Island-Rot

Aside from the sex links, if you're interested in Rhode Island Reds, you might be interested as wellRhode Island White, New Hampshire, orRosskastanien.

Rhode Island whiteshave a completely different heritage than Rhode Island Reds but are similar in form and function. These birds all have rose combs, making them very cold hardy, and are exceptional egglayers.

The Rhod Island Red has a lot in common with thathorse chestnut,which, if you ask me, is possibly the most underrated chicken of all time.

Horse chestnuts are amazing outdoor birds. They are incredibly hardy birds with small, frost-resistant pea crests and exceptional foraging abilities. And horse chestnuts are similar in color to Rhode Island Reds with their gorgeous chestnut plumage.

And when you talk about breeds that resemble Rhode Island Reds, you can't overlook themNew Hampshire. The New Hampshire breed was actually developed from the Rhode Island Red breed. Breeders chose Rhode Island Red birds for faster growth and feathering and for more meat production.

So if you want a dual-purpose bird that's good for eggs and great for meat, go for the New Hampshire. If you're looking for a dual-purpose bird that's great for both eggs and meat, stick with the Rhode Island Red.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention itInstall Rhodebar.Unfortunately, this is a very rare breed, but it is an autosex breed that was created in the late 1940's by crossing the rare Golden Brussbar with Rhode Island Reds. And it's a really beautiful bird.

Autosexing, like sex-linking, means that the sex of the chicks is identifiable (with varying degrees of certainty) at birth. But unlike Sex Links, autosexual breeds are actually breeds and not hybrids (which don't actually breed).

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Considering Rhode Island Red chickens? The 19 things you need to know first - The Featherbrain (8)

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Bri Wyzard


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