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Rhode Island's Other Chicken | Spring 2015 Out Here Magazine

Rare breed stacks up to counterpart in every way but popularity

a Rhode Island White hen
Out Here

Story and Photography by Jeannette Beranger


The Rhode Island White is an old, rare poultry breed that contains many of the same qualities that made the Rhode Island Red one of the most popular American breeds of all time. Yet the White remained largely overshadowed by the Red, never reaching that level of fame despite being a splendid layer and meat bird.

Today, the Rhode Island White is listed as "Watch" on The Livestock Conservancy's Conservation Priority List. The conservancy uses this list to bring attention to livestock, such as the Rhode Island White, to connect them with people interested in saving a rare breed.

The conservancy's poultry census indicated a purebred population of less than 3,000 Rhode Island Whites, but recent data from the field indicates that may be much lower than projected. Work is under way by the conservancy to get a more accurate census of this breed within the next year.

The story of the Rhode Island White began in 1888 through the efforts of J. Alonzo Jocoy of Peacedale, R.I. He created the breed by crossing White Wyandottes, Partridge Cochins, and Rose Comb White Leghorns to create a docile and plump bird that was also an active forager.

Jocoy worked on perfecting the breed until 1903 when he finally introduced the Rhode Island White to the public and offered some for sale. Jocoy and other breeders continued to develop and improve the birds so that they more closely resembled the Rhode Island Red's famous brick-like body type, which kept it from being confused with other white breeds.

The breed was also developed with a rose comb, which affords them better frostbite resistance for the sometimes-bitter New England winters. By 1922, the Rose Comb Rhode Island White was admitted to the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection.

Their size is impressive; roosters can get as big as 8½ pounds, and hens can get up to 6½ pounds. They're also known as good layers, averaging around 250 eggs annually.

Early on, the Rhode Island White had some devoted fans in its home state. A 1928 Poultry Tribunearticle describes how the most posh hotel in Providence, R.I., The Biltmore, maintained a flock of 400 Rhode Island Whites on the roof to provide the freshest and highest-quality eggs and chicken for guests.

Publicity from their "aerial chicken ranch," combined with word-of-mouth rave reviews from customers, resulted in great financial success for the hotel's chicken venture.

The Rhode Island White had limited popularity in the United States up until the 1960s when numbers began declining. The most common modern use of the breed since then has been for creating auto-sexing hybrid chicks which enable producers to determine the sex of day-old hatchlings by the color of their down. One such hybrid is the popular Red Sex-Link, which is often created by crossing a Rhode Island White with a Rhode Island Red.

The Rhode Island White is a delightful bird and although it does not have a monument to its name as the Rhode Island Red does, it is certainly worthy of one. The breed is an excellent choice for the backyard flock and has the ability to be a useful egg layer for market.

Jeannette Beranger is The Livestock Conservancy’s Research & Technical Programs Manager.


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