Jersey Giant Chickens: Heritage Poultry Breeds

The Jersey Giant chicken is one of the largest of all chicken breeds. It does will in cold climates and lays brown eggs.
Janet Vorwald Dohner
July 2010
Add to My MSN


Content Tools

Related Content

Growing the Giants

Have some fun in your garden this year and grow something giant!

What Species is a Giant Runt?: Promoting Heritage Breed Poultry

Alexander Goldberg’s first blog post, introducing himself, his chickens and his concerns for rare an...

How to Try and Grow a Giant Pumpkin

Whatever you do in your garden or flower beds, the most important thing is to have fun taking care o...

What is Heritage Chicken?

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Heritage has officially defined “heritage chicken.” Find o...

A large-meat hertiage poultry breed, Jersey Giant chickens are also reliable egg producers. The Jersey Giant is an American-bred bird developed by two brothers, John and Thomas Black, in New Jersey in the 1880s for the meat markets in NewYork City. At least three breeds were used in its creation: the Black Langshan, the Black Java, and the Dark Brahma. It has also been suggested that the Black Orpington and the Cornish entered into the mix. First called the Jersey Black Giants, they were later marketed by other breeders as Marcy Giants and Sears Jersey Giants.

The Brahma is a large, quiet bird, Asiatic in origin, with heavily feathered legs. It is also a long, deep bird with a full, broad breast. The Brahmas were vastly popular in both Britain and North America. The Dark variety was not as popular as the White, which was the object of breeding for plumage points at exhibition, although the Dark variety could be as productive as the White.

When these large, dark breeds, the Dark Brahma, Black Java, and Black Langshan, were brought together, they produced a very heavy bird with excellent breast development. The Jersey Giant is the largest breed developed in the United States. The Black Jersey Giant was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1922.

The breed was aimed especially toward the commercial production of capons. Unfortunately, the Black Jersey Giant grew too slowly to compete with Cornish Rock broilers, which are ready for market in a few weeks. The Jersey Giant grows its large frame first, then covers it with flesh. At six months, a cock is a well fleshed 10 pounds. Because it is so large, the Jersey Giant does require sufficient good-quality feed to avoid bone problems.

Another problem for the Black Jersey Giant was its dark feathers, which left dark pinfeathers on the skin. The American market came to favor birds with white plumage and light-colored legs. The White variety was developed and standardized in 1947 from white sports of the Black. A slate Blue variety was created from a sport in the 1980s, but it does not breed true for blue color.

The Jersey is known as a rugged breed that does especially well in cold climates. The hen also lays well through the winter, producing brown eggs. The hens will brood but are somewhat too large to set eggs easily. The Jersey Giant has a long, deep body with a wide back. The Black variety is slightly larger than the White. Cocks can weigh 13 pounds and hens 10 pounds, but the average bird never reaches the size described in the breed standard. The Jersey Giant is a yellow-skinned bird with a single red comb and wattles and dark brown eyes. The White is a solid color with willow-colored shanks. The feet are yellow on the bottom, and the beak is yellow with gray streaks. Adult Whites occasionally show a little dark or gray ticking on some feathers. The yellow skin and white plumage make this variety more acceptable on the market. The Black Jersey Giant has a greenish sheen to its black feathers. The feet are also yellow on the bottom, but the shanks and toes are black with a little willow shading.

The general public never adopted the Jersey Giants to a significant degree, although farm flocks are found among those who appreciate the combination of a large meat bird and a reliable egg supply. Exhibition strains also exist for both the Black and the White. The Jersey Giant remains a popular and impressive bird for 4-H or country fair competition. At least two important heritage strains are available for preservation.

In Canada, the last production strain of the White Jersey Giant vanished in 1967. Fortunately, one flock based on this source has been preserved since 1968. This strain is more tightly feathered than usual, which gives the birds a smaller appearance.

In the United States, the foremost breeder of Jersey Giants is Golda Miller, who has maintained a closed flock for more than fifty years. Miller has stressed quality, size, and production so that her flock closely reflects the original breed type. She breeds Blacks, Whites, and the newer Blues. Several breeders have also maintained the Miller line in their flocks.

Both the White and Black Jersey Giants still make excellent home flock birds. The White is rarer than the Black.

Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post this profile from The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds (Copyright 2001 by Yale University), by Janet Vorwald Dohner. This 500-page book is a definitive reference about heritage livestock, describing the history and characteristics of almost 200 breeds of poultry, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses. The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds is available at Amazon. 


Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.