New Hampshire Chickens: Heritage Poultry Breeds

The New Hampshire Chicken is a heritage poultry breed that lays beautiful, large eggs and grows to a pleasant size for mid-scale meat production. This successful dual-purpose bird was developed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as a strain of the Rhode Island Red. Beginning about 1910, poultry raisers in New Hampshire deliberately selected for early feathering, fast growth, and maturity as well as large egg size and good meat conformation. Certain strains were also noted for their vigor and hardiness. Whereas the show breeders of the Rhode Island Red placed great emphasis on red coloring, this was not much of a consideration to many of the practical New Hampshire poultry raisers. The New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station was working on developing a broiler meat strain as well. With time, the New Hampshire type was recognized for its specialized traits, and it was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1935. The New Hampshire was a significant contributor to the egg production industry. The breed’s rapid growth and early maturity were also recognized by the large broiler industry both in New Hampshire and in the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia) by the 1930s. The Delaware-New Hampshire cross became a popular choice for broiler production.

The New Hampshire differed from the Rhode Island Red in several respects. The color of the plumage was noticeable, being a lighter shade of red. This lighter shade was similar to some strains of the Rhode Island Reds in which poultry raisers had concentrated on egg-laying ability without regard to color. The body of the New Hampshire has been described as more triangular than that of the Rhode Island Red. The New Hampshire chick also feathers out rapidly, grows quickly, and matures early.

The New Hampshire is a medium-sized bird with a broad, deep body. Cocks weigh 7.5 to 8 pounds and hens 5.5 to 6.5 pounds. The single comb, wattles, and earlobes are red. The comb of the hen may lop over. The beak is a reddish horn color, and the shanks and toes are rich yellow. A red line of pigment runs down the sides of the shanks to the tips of the toes. The yellow skinned New Hampshire is colored rich chestnut red with buff highlights, although the red color can fade out somewhat in sunlight. The tail feathers are black, and the hen’s lower neck feathers are tipped with black.

There have been two noteworthy strains of the New Hampshire. Andrew Christie developed the Christie strain in the 1920s. Christie used his own word, spizzerinktum, to describe his bird’s vigor and style. The Christie birds are large and lighter in color than other New Hampshires. Clarence Newcomer bred his strain starting in the 1940s as a richly colored egg-laying flock. Both of these strains are now hard to locate. The ALBC has fostered satellite flocks to maintain the Newcomer strain. Purchasers should be aware that some New Hampshires are advertised as New Hampshire Reds, and they may be a cross of the Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire chickens.

As a dual-purpose breed, the New Hampshire chicken produces an especially nice plump carcass and large eggs. The pinfeathers are colored a reddish buff, so they do not detract excessively from the slaughtered bird. The hens lay a large, lightly tinted to brown egg. The eggs of some strains are darker than others. In intensive management, hens averaged 240 eggs annually, but there were some complaints that the breed lacked persistency of production. The New Hampshire is known as a vital, vigorous bird, and the hens are good mothers. The New Hampshire is also competitive and aggressive in obtaining food.

Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post this profile from The Encyclopaedia 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. TheEncyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds is available on Amazon.

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