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.

| July 2010

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.

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