Rhode Island Red Chickens – Your Perfect Poultry?

Rhode Island Red Chickens

Rhode Island Red Chickens are a popular American domestic breed of chicken.

They can weigh up to 8.5 pounds.

Much of their worldwide success is due to their prolific egg-laying abilities. They actually lay eggs all year round.

One chicken can produce up to 300 eggs annually. That’s a lot of omelets!

The Rise of the Rhode Island Red

Over the last few years, backyard chickens have become trendy, even in urban areas, as people have become more interested in eating locally.

And what could be closer to home than having a fresh supply of healthy, organic eggs right in your own backyard?

But what kind of pets do Rhode Island Red Chickens make? Let’s find out.

The Truth About Chickens

Despite being the world’s most common bird, the chicken is incredibly misunderstood.
They’re often misperceived as lacking most of the emotional characteristics and intelligence we recognize in other animals.

However, as this study shows, the brains of birds have many functional similarities to those of mammals.

They’re even capable of similar cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving.

Chickens are also just as emotionally and socially complex as other mammals in many areas.

Those who’ve taken the time to get to know chickens, soon realize that they’re intelligent creatures with individual personalities.

Origins of Rhode Island Red Chickens

The history of the Rhode Island Red Chicken began in 1854 when a sea captain named William Tripp bought a red Malaysian rooster from another sailor.

When he bred this bird with his chickens he noticed that they laid more eggs.

With the help of his friend John Macomber, they began crossbreeding with other chicken breeds such as, Cochin, Brahma, Java, and Brown Leghorns.

These superior birds caught the attention of a successful farmer named Isaac Wilbour. He purchased some of these chickens and began his own crossbreeding program.

Wilbour is also credited with giving them the name Rhode Island Red.

To celebrate the breed’s 100th anniversary in 1954, the Rhode Island Red Chicken became the official state bird of Rhode Island.

Physical Characteristics of the Rhode Island Chicken Breed

These attractive, rectangular-shaped birds have fairly long bodies. Roosters typically weigh approximately 8.5 pounds and hens about 6.5 pounds.

The color of their beautiful plumage ranges from a deep red to maroon to almost black.

There are two varieties of Rhode Island Red Chickens: the single comb and the rose-comb. The rose comb type is rarer and also tends to weigh less.

Eyes are red-orange in color and beaks are reddish-brown.

Their skin is yellow, as are their feet and legs, but there can be some red on the toes and sides of the shanks.

Rhode Island Red chicks are light red to tan in color.

Genetics of the Color of Rhode Island Red Chickens

Rhode Island Red Chicken

This scientific study from 1925 demonstrates how genetically complex the color patterns of Rhode Island Red Chickens are.

This 1993 study also found that these birds can vary from a light shade to a deep mahogany color.

Overall males were found to be of a darker hue than females. There’s also a wide variation in the amount of pigment in the iris.

However, neither of these studies noted any evidence that color affected the chicken’s temperament or health.

Rhode Island Red Chicken Eggs

Rhode Island Red Chickens are known for laying eggs. These birds will usually start to lay when they’re 18 to 20 weeks old, but some can start as early as 16 weeks.

Eggs are medium to large and the size will increase over time. Hens will average from 200 to 300 eggs a year, or about 5 or 6 each week.

Rhode Island Red Chickens are also known for their adaptability and hardiness.
They can produce eggs year round, even in colder climates.

Their eggs are light brown in color.

Eggshell pigment loss was first noted in a small flock of Rhode Island Red Chickens in 1944.

What Causes This

Reasons for a decrease in the intensity of brown shell color include:

  • Stress
  • Fear
  • Age of the hen
  • Ingestion of certain drugs
  • Diseases, such as bronchitis

The temperament of Rhode Island Red Chickens

Although some Rhode Island Red Chickens have a reputation for being pushy and exuberant, most hens are described as being friendly, calm, curious, and cuddly.

They’re a naturally social bird that enjoys being around both people and other chickens.

In fact, these flock animals are happier when there’s more than one of them running around.

Although each bird will have its own personality, overall you can expect a Rhode Island Red Chicken to be easy-going with a docile disposition.

Friendly Natures

They’ll enjoy being close to you, so don’t be surprised if they follow you around, especially if they think you have something for them to eat.

They’re also known to be great with children.

Roosters, however, may have a tendency to be more aggressive, and kids should always be supervised around these larger birds.

Rhode Island Red Chickens are known for being very robust and can thrive in almost any environment. Neither cold nor hot temperatures seem to ruffle their feathers.

Do Rhode Island Red Chickens Make Good Pets?

Friendly, easy-going, and full of personality, Rhode Island Red Chickens make wonderful family pets.

People who’ve never been around chickens are often amazed at how loving and affectionate they are.

Many chickens learn to come when you call them and they may even walk alongside you, the same as a dog would.

Chickens can form a true bond with those who care for them and will want to hop onto your lap for petting and cuddling, like any other domesticated animal.

They Help Your Garden!

Even your garden will benefit from having them around as chickens are born gardeners; their scratching and digging will naturally till the soil

Pests like flies and mosquitoes are a protein snack for them and they even eat weeds.

They’re also quite low maintenance and require less space than you may think. They should have at least two square feet of space in a coop and four square feet outside.

What to Feed Rhode Island Red Chickens

A commercial layer mix should be their primary food source.

It’s formulated to give laying chickens the nutrition they need and provides them with protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals.

In the warmer seasons, set them loose in your garden so they can supplement their diet with grubs, seeds, and other insects.

In cold weather, their food intake should increase and fruits, vegetables, and grains will help provide them with a balanced diet.

Fresh water should always be available.

What To Eat

When it comes to meal time, chickens aren’t fussy and will eat just about anything they can get their beaks on. However, there are some foods that should be avoided.

This includes:

  • Chocolate
  • Avocadoes
  • Raw beans
  • Citrus fruits
  • Rhubarb

Onions and garlic also shouldn’t be given to laying hens as these foods can affect the taste of the eggs.

The Health of Rhode Island Red Chickens

Rhode Island Red Chickens are a hardy chicken breed. You can expect them to live for over 8 years, with some living up to 14 years.

Genetics, environment, and diet will all play a role in their overall health. There are also some diseases that can affect them.

This includes Marek’s disease, a Herpes virus infection of chickens that is quite widespread.

It’s highly contagious and is usually transmitted through the respiratory system. Signs of the disease include paralysis, weight loss, and lesions under the feathers.

Chicken Mites

Chicken mites are tiny external parasites that bite and extract blood from chickens.

This can lead to illness, anemia, and in severe cases even death.

If your hens stop using their nesting boxes, it’s a sign of a chicken mite infestation. Hot, humid areas will be more prone to this problem.

Keeping your chickens’ coop sanitary is the best way to avoid chicken mites.

Where Can I Buy Rhode Island Red Chickens?

Rhode Island Red Chickens are one of the most popular chicken breeds in the US and throughout the world.

You can get chickens from a local farm, breeder, hatchery, or farm supply store.

Older chicks will usually cost more than younger ones, simply because they’ve required more care and are closer to the point of laying.

When you buy from a breeder you’re likely to pay more than from a store or hatchery.

Importance of Responsible Breeders

However, responsible breeders will care about the welfare of their birds and offer good quality stock. They’ll be able to certify that the chicks have been vaccinated for Marek’s disease.

Good breeders are also an excellent resource for any questions you may have.

They should be happy to give you tips on general care and it’s a good idea to get a bag of the feed they’ve been eating. When choosing your stock, be sure to select the chicks that appear energetic and engaged.

Do you have pet chickens? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

References and resources

Buckley, J., The Independent – Pet of the week: The Rhode Island red hen

Barras, C., “Despite what you might think, chickens are not stupid,” BBC Earth, 2017

Fraser, S., “Backyard chickens: What to know before you buy,” CBC News, 2018

Marino, L., “Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the domestic chicken,” Animal Cognition, 2017

Jarvis, ED, et al., “Avian brains and a new understanding of vertebrate brain evolution,” Nat Rev Neurosci, 2005

Hays, F., “INHERITANCE, OF PLUMAGE COLOR IN THE RHODE ISLAND RED BREED OF DOMESTIC FOWL,” FRANK A. HAYS Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station, Amherst, Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1925

Warren, DC, et al., “PLUMAGE AND EYE COLOR INHERITANCE IN THE SINGLE COMB RHODE ISLAND RED FOWL”, Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1993

Xie, S., et al., “Performance differences of Rhode Island Red, Bashang Long-tail Chicken, and their reciprocal crossbreds under natural cold stress,” Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Science, 2017


Purchase, HG, et al., “Characterization of Five Isolates of Marek’s Disease,” Research in Veterinary Science, 1967

Lemke, LA, et al., “Host Digestion to Determine Populations of the Northern Fowl Mite, Ornithonyssus sylviarum (Acari: Macronyssidae), on Mature Chickens,” Journal of Medical Entomology, 1988


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