Your Ultimate Guide To The Plymouth Rock Chicken Breed + More!
One of the biggest challenges of raising chickens is understanding what exactly each breed brings to the table.
If you’ve been considering snapping up a batch of Plymouth Rock chickens, you’re going to need our authoritative guide to walk you through just how these birds will impact you and your homestead.
Tracing the History of the Plymouth Rock Chicken
Despite being a well-established Heritage breed, the earliest days of the Plymouth Rock chicken are a bit muddled. For starters, several different sources asserted being responsible for the development of the breed, with no clear frontrunner established.
In addition to the breeder, the breeding itself is anything but certain, with their ancestry proving difficult to trace conclusively. Some of the various breeds that have been linked to their pedigree include:
- White Cochin
- Buff Cochin
- Black Java
- Black Minorca
- Malay Game
Whatever the specifics of their ancestry, it is clear that this North American chicken was developed in the U.S., and that they didn’t come over on the Mayflower (just in case you were wondering)!
According to some histories, the first of the breed appeared on the radar in the middle of the 19th century, with Plymouth Rocks being initially exhibited as a breed at the first American Poultry show in 1849 in Boston – a site not far from that famous landing of the Pilgrims.
In one of the great mysteries of the chicken world, though, the breed actually became “lost”, in a manner of speaking, for the next couple of decades. They didn’t resurface again until 1869, at which point many sources, such as American Poultry Advocate, Volume 28, put them on record as having their “first appearance”, and were put on the public record for the first time as a true bred fowl (pg. 470).
From there the breed was off to the races, being officially accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Excellence just five short years later.
After its initial acceptance, the Plymouth Rock continued to grow in popularity until it was one of the premier breeds in the U.S., carrying much of the weight of the chicken industry on their sturdy, meat-bearing shoulders.
They were an early player in the creation of broiler breeds, and continued their reign as one of the supreme options for raising chickens into the mid-20th century. They were so commonplace and useful that they earned the the nickname, “The Hereford of the poultry world.”
Profiling the Barred Rock Chicken
Let’s break down what makes a Plymouth Rock chicken unique, from its looks and features to its temperament, usefulness, lifespan, and so on.
What Do They Look Like?
The original version of the chicken was the Barred Rock variety, which is why the breed is also commonly called Barred Rock chickens.
All Plymouth Rocks, however, have a single comb of five distinct points, with the middle three standing taller than the front and back. That comb, along with their wattles, earlobes, and faces, are all a bright red, while their legs and skin are yellow.
These birds are built with large frames, including a long and sturdy back and a fairly deep breast.
We’ll cover more about the different varieties of Plymouth Rocks further down in the article.
How Do You Feel About That? A Plymouth Rock’s Temperament
In general, Plymouth Rocks are very docile and relaxed creatures. They are open to being trained and are naturally very gentle in their disposition.
However, they are also known for being smart, plucky animals, and while they are generally more nonchalant in their nature, the more aggressive ones (especially roosters), can be a problem due to their larger size.
Fortunately, this isn’t much of a problem when handled correctly, as these birds are quite easy to tame. Just make sure to do so as soon as you notice any signs of aggression.
The video below includes some quick tips on taming chickens!
What Are They Good For?
Apart from being excellent pets due to their amiable disposition, Plymouth Rocks can make a very efficient addition to your backyard flock. This is because they are dual purpose birds.
These big birds easily measure upwards of 6.5 lbs to 7.5 lbs for hens, and a whopping 9.5 lbs for roosters!
What does this mean for the average backyard chicken owner?
Well, if you’re after some chicken meat, they’ve got it in plenty. But if you just want a steady source of food and a nice companion, the eggs laid by this productive hen are quite impressive to behold, especially for a dual purpose breed.
Barred Rock Egg Production
The average hen should lay around 200 Barred Rock eggs per year, or around 4 eggs a week, although some will inflate that number up towards 280 eggs per year, pushing the bird into elite egg-laying status.. This may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that these are big eggs that generally measure at large to extra-large sizes.
However, in our humble opinion it is best to count on the 200 eggs and hope for closer to 300 eggs as a best-case scenario.
NOTE: Remember that your chickens won’t start laying immediately, nor will they consistently lay the same number of eggs year round. Usually, there is a molting period (during which laying may stop entirely), along with regular drops in production during cold seasons or if a chicken is sick.
Barred Rock Chicken Egg Color
While their size is admirable, the colors of Barred Rock eggs don’t tend to be anything too special. Generally, the shells are somewhere between peach, brown, and light brown.
Barred Rock Pullets, Early Layers, and Revolting Molting
Barred Rock pullets (that is, the hens in their first year of life), tend to develop rather quickly.
If you’re wondering, “when do Barred Rocks start laying?” they generally start giving you those precious eggs around 4-5 months of age.
The next major stage after a hen starts laying is molting.
Several months or more into their lifespan they begin the molting process, losing many of their feathers and developing a fairly dingy, unkempt look. Their faces, combs, and wattles also lose their customary vibrant red, taking on more of a dour pinkish hue. Don’t worry when this happens! It’s normal.
Some chickens molt quickly, known as a “hard molt”, while others do a slower “soft molt.” Soft or hard, though, it seems that on average Plymouth Rocks tend to come out of molting a little bit faster than the average bird.
This is usually accompanied by a temporary pause in egg production, as well.
Molting can take anywhere from 1-2 months or more, with the return of cackling and that iconic red to their faces being the sign that the process is nearly complete. Egg production should resume shortly afterward!
Here’s a quick overview of the different molting stages for the average chicken.
“Rock”ing Old Age
On average, most Plymouth Rock chickens will live between 8 and 10 years, with some living much, much longer.
Of course, their dual purpose nature means that any meat birds should be processed long before this time frame, but layers who are kept for egg-laying past the point where they make for good meat can last for upwards of a decade, even if the egg production trails off during that time.
Their prime laying years will be behind them after they hit around four years old, but their longevity makes them wonderful long-term pets, as well.
However, we should point out that there seems to be one exception in the pack.
White Rock chickens have had issues with their growth rate over the years, seeing a dramatic increase in the average bird’s overall size. But the bird’s internal systems and leg strength have failed to adapt to the change quickly enough, causing issues over the course of their lives and reducing their overall lifespan.
How to Care for Your Barred Rocks
If you’re looking for a good chicken breed to raise on a small plot of land or cramped backyard, these are your guys (and gals!) as they bear confinement well. And even though they are large birds, they generally need a medium amount of space, while the bantam varieties require even less room.
They’re not great fliers, so you don’t need a fool-proof fencing system, either. Something basic and solid at the base should do just fine… for the chickens, at least. Make sure to keep those vermin and other predators out, though!
One area where Plymouth chickens thrive is living in cold to moderate climates. While they can hold up fairly well in warmer climates too, they are hardy birds and feather early, which means they should be fine during tougher winters with little more than a well-built coop.
Plymouth Rock Chicken Varieties
Here are the most popular, well-known varieties of the Plymouth Rock chicken.
This is the original Plymouth Rock. Often confused with Dominique chickens — not surprisingly, as the two are related — Barred Plymouth Rock chickens, or “Barred Rocks” for short, have an alternating pattern of almost white and nearly black feathers.
They tend to have straighter, redder combs than their Dominique cousins and a more organized, orderly look to their feather patterns.
White Rock Chicken
Made an official, pure chicken breed in the American Standard of Perfection in 1888, the White Rock chicken is defined by one clear feature: their feathers are all white. Pullets can have varying shades of feather color, but their initial, fluffy feathers are quickly replaced by white ones.
Apart from their color, these are very similar in size, temperament, and overall ability to their Barred Rock brothers and sisters, though an abnormal change in the speed of their development is a concern to some. (More on White Rock chicken development under the section “Rock”ing old age.)
Buff Rock Chicken
The average Buff Rock boasts a beautiful, golden brown color from its head to its tail feathers. Even their chicks are born decked in fluffy golden down.
Buff Rocks look like the kings and queens of the family, bringing a royal flair to the already extravagant bonanza that is the Plymouth family tree.
Partridge Rock Chicken
Like the Buff variety, Partridge Rocks know how to dress for a party. Their feathers are a luxurious combination of rich browns and rust for the hens, with males boasting black saddle and hackle feathers, splashes of green plumage in the breast and body, and a bright red edging along many of their feathers.
Columbian Rock Chicken
Admitted into the American Standard of Perfection as a distinct breed in 1910, Columbian Rocks take many of the characteristics of the Plymouth Rock variations and combine them into one sleek, beautiful bird.
The distinctive white and black (and occasionally tan) lacing on their neck leads to a white-feathered body and black tail feathers.
Silver Penciled Rock
Playing silver to the Buff Rock’s gold, Silver Penciled Rock hens are similar in appearance to Barred Rocks, with the notable exception that they are silver and black. In addition, the males tend to have solid black breasts and tail feathers.
Though slower to mature and generally a bit harder to find, once grown, the birds tend to stand toe to toe with other Plymouth Rock varieties from egg production to the ability to endure the cold.
Blue Plymouth Rock
Finally, we come to the Blue Plymouth Rock, the relative that brings a genuine splash of color to the family. Blue Plymouth Rocks are absolutely exquisite birds, with anything from a dark, laced feather pattern to a lighter, almost lavender hue.
They are extremely rare due to breeding difficulties, but if you can manage to find a Blue Plymouth Rock chicken, it is sure to be the gem of your flock.
Barred Rock Chicken Facts and FAQs
While that covers all of the basics, there are always more questions to be asked about the birds that might join your family!
These frequently asked questions can help cover some of the topics we were unable to elaborate on in the article so far.
What is a dual purpose bird?
A dual purpose bird, like the Plymouth Rock chicken, is a good layer as well as a meat bird.
While Plymouth Rocks generally lay enough eggs to keep the hens alive and laying as long as possible, the roosters grow to very large sizes and can make for excellent meat birds as early as 6-8 weeks after hatching.
What is a Heritage breed?
A Heritage breed generally refers to a chicken breed that was designated a standard breed by the American Poultry Association before the mid-20th century.
Around the end of that time, many classic, heartier birds like the Plymouth Rock were sidelined for hybrids that were designed for mass production.
However, in recent years there has been a genuine push to bring these heritage breeds back from the brink of irrelevance and to make them household names once again.
Do Plymouth Rock chickens go broody?
Yes, they do. Frequently.
They are also excellent mothers and will quickly lay claim to their eggs. So, unless you want some more chicks on your hands, make sure to keep gathering those eggs on a regular basis!
Note: If you do want more chicks, check out our article on How to Start Hatching!
Are Plymouth Rocks good family birds?
Yes, they are very docile and are good with younger children. In fact, this is one of the most trumpeted facts about Plymouth Rocks.
Just remember, as with all birds, that this doesn’t mean they’ll eat out of your hand on day one. You’ll want to tame them and address any birds with a more aggressive nature as quickly as possible.
Are Plymouth Rocks good starter birds?
Yes. Not only are Barred Rocks good for kids, but they’re also a great option for new bird owners, as they are easy-going, low-maintenance, and lay a lot of eggs!
What makes that barred color pattern?
A sex-linked gene prevents color in what would otherwise be the outer, colored plumage of the bird, simply making them dark, while simultaneously preventing the darkening of the lighter feathers of the bird. This creates the famous nearly-black-and-white pattern of the Barred Plymouth Rock.
Not Sure About the Barred Plymouth Rock Chicken? Here Are Some Alternatives
Unsure if this Heritage breed, dual purpose bird is quite the one you’re looking for
Don’t despair! Here are a few more options for you to consider.
The Wyandotte Chicken
If you’re looking for chickens with a little bit less of a tiger-striped appearance, Wyandottes can add an eclectic splash to your brood while delivering many of the same benefits of the Barred Rocks.
Much like the Plymouth Rock, the Wyandotte is a tough-as-nails dual purpose bird. The epitome of a versatile chicken breed, Wyandottes are sturdily built creatures with plenty of meat on their bones from a young age. They lay around 200 large eggs per year and can continue laying right through the winter.
Learn more with our guide to the Wyandotte.
The Red Star Chicken
If you like the productivity of a Plymouth Rock chicken, but you couldn’t care less about the Heritage breed end of things, you may want to consider Red Star chickens.
These birds are the epitome of function over form.
Bred with the growing needs of the food industry in mind, Red Stars are egg-laying machines. We’re talking a dependable 280 to 300 eggs per year! They mature quickly and start laying weeks before most chickens, lay year round, and are tough enough for both hot and cold climates.
Red Stars can vary in temperament from a wonderful house-pet-level animal to an angry grump that just wants to be left alone.
You can find out more in our guide to Red Star chickens.
The Orpington Chicken
If you want a sleek, solid-colored bird that can bring uniformity in appearance to your flock (which can help you to not grow attached to any one chicken – a big pro if you’re raising meat birds!), you may want to check out the Orpington.
Hailing from the U.K. (although with roots now firmly established in North America as well), these beauties are large, dual purpose birds that can deliver similar amounts of eggs to a Plymouth. They’re also good with kids, friendly, and can take the cold like a boss!
Where to Get Plymouth Rock Chicks
- If you’re looking for the “kind of chickens that Grandma used to raise,” you can’t go wrong getting some Barred Plymouth Rock chickens shipped right to your door from Cackle Hatchery. The company has several other Plymouth Rock varieties available as well!
- From Buff Rocks to Barred Rocks and more, Murray McMurray hatchery has been a dependable source of Plymouth chickens since the early 20th century.
- With a mission to “make life easy – and fun! – for urban and backyard chicken owners,” My Pet Chicken offers several different varieties, including Partridge Rock, Barred Rock Bantams, White Plymouth Rocks, and even Silver Penciled Plymouth Rocks!
The Plymouth Rock Chicken: Bird, Layer, Friend
Plymouth Rock chickens are one of the best breeds available to small flock owners.
The breed is relaxed, good with constrained spaces and cold weather, easy on both kids and new owners, dual purpose, and can lay a heck of a lot of eggs each year.
They are an excellent option for new and experienced chicken owners alike!
If you’re thinking of getting some Barred Plymouth Rocks – or you already have some in your flock – please chime in! We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.