The Delaware – A Hen Dressed for a Wedding

Of the hundreds of chicken breeds only one is dressed to attend a wedding. She wears lace every day just in case a ceremony will soon start.


Most backyard flocks feature Rhode Island Reds, Americaunas, Barred Rocks, Australorps, or Isa Browns. Far too few include the wedding breed, the dainty yet meaty Delaware.


The Delaware is a relative poultry newcomer, had a brief burst of popularity, lost favor as a meat breed and is only recently showing up in some backyard flocks. The hens are easily managed good layers that, for anyone so inclined, are big enough to be transformed into delicious chicken stew after her laying career ends.

In the 1940s George Ellis of Delaware began crossing Barred Rock roosters to New Hampshire Reds to create a dual-purpose breed that would lay plenty of eggs and be the fixins’ of a chicken dinner. Some of the chicks turned out to have mostly white feathers with gentle black barring in their neck hackles and on their secondary feathers and tail. They looked somewhat like the Columbian feather pattern of Light Brahmas or Columbian Rocks but the black is more subtle and diffuse and looks like………lace.


The mostly white birds had their day in the sun for nearly 20 years as the most productive broiler than available to the many commercial chicken operations on the Delmarva Peninsula that spans Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.  They were quickly replaced by the new and much faster growing Cornish Rock cross in the late 1950s.


When their commercial value couldn’t keep pace with new upstarts, Delawares became almost forgotten, even though they are a perfect backyard flock bird. Fortunately, Hoovers Hatchery recognized their value and beauty and makes it easy to buy Delaware chicks.


What should a flockower expect from Delawares in the backyard coop?  Although they’re beautiful and always ready for a wedding, they are great layers of light brown eggs and readily socialize with hens of other breeds. Some sources claim they are on the noisy side but probably not any more so than more common backyard breeds. A mature Delaware hen weighs about 6 ½ pounds, or about the same size as most brown egg dual purpose breeds.


Because they mix well with other breeds, adding a few Delaware hens to a flock of Rocks, Reds, Americaunas and Australorps adds diversity and beauty without sacrificing egg abundance. Those Delawares stand out. With their lacey neck feathers they always look ready for the wedding to begin.