Just look at them. Aren’t they lovely? I got lucky with this year’s Plymouth Barred Rock breeding trio. Much better quality than I’ve had before. 💕
When I was a child, we kept a flock of red hens for eggs. Boring birds. My dad, raised on the farm, knew the value of a rooster, and he got one for free from the guy who sold us the girls. Mr Rooster was a magnificent Barred Rock, with profuse, finely barred hackle and saddle feathers, bright yellow legs and gleaming, intelligent eyes. Truly a barnyard king.
So, of course, half a lifetime later, when I started keeping my own flock, I had to have some Barred Rocks. To my delight, I found some at my very first chicken swap. When I got there, I spotted a twelve or so year old girl, perched on a picnic table with a cardboard wine box in her lap, in among the crazy chicken ladies and their stacked cages full of squawking sale birds. A passel of leggy Barred chicks were curiously peering over the box edge at the busy scene and cheeping amongst themselves.
Ten bucks each, she wanted for them. Could I have three for twenty five I wondered? Sure! Eyeing them critically with what I hoped would pass for some degree of expertise, I picked out three with nice big head-dots and excitedly rushed them home to join my six black rock and cinnamon queen sexlink chicks. I was jubilant.
I found out much later, after two of three turned out to be boys, that the bigger the head dot, the more likely a boy. Barred Rocks are, to the expert’s eye, sexable at hatch via head dot size, and when they feather in, girls are usually darker than boys too. Girls inherit one barring gene, plus a female sex gene, from their barred moms, while boys inherit two barring genes. Barring genes are “sexlinked”.
I should have chosen darker barred, small head dot chicks. By choosing big head dot chicks, I had improved my chances of getting boys. Ah well, I’ve learned a lot of chicken facts the hard way. Experience is a good teacher, although not the gentlest.
I now understand why my long ago childhood flock had red hens and a “Barred Rock” rooster. If you cross Rhode Island Red roosters with Barred Rock hens, you get black chicks, sexable at hatch. The boys have…yup, you got it…white dots on their heads, and they feather in barred. The girls have no dots, and grow up to be incredible black sexlink layers.
Cross that same Rhode Island Red rooster with “white” (carrying the silver gene) hens and you get prolific red sexlink laying hens like we had, and white or lightly barred boys. The supplier my Dad got our birds from was producing red and black sexlink laying hens with his Rhode Island Red roosters and Barred Rock and white breed (Plymouth White Rock or Silver Laced Wyandotte etc.) hens. Our “Barred Rock” rooster was a sexlink too, receiving two copies of the barring gene and no female sex gene from his Barred Rock mom.
The less impressive of my boys went to freezer camp, the girl grew up to be a gorgeous pullet, only to be lost to a predator at point of lay (my first chicken tragedy) and we named the best boy Foghorn Leghorn. As flock patriarch, Foghorn fathered lots of chicks, then moved on to a new home with KO’s flock, after I decided I had hatched enough stripy chicks.
I had scratched my Barred Rock itch, and by then I had learned a thing or two about chickens too, including how to measure quality. My cardboard box chicks were not exactly finely bred, to put it politely. So I sold off Foghorn’s progeny, and moved on to other breeds.
Last summer, on a whim, I bid on a Barred Rock hatching egg auction and won a dozen eggs. I knew their breeder, having hatched some spectacular Silkies from her eggs the year before. I had a great hatch and as they grew I could see that these were an entirely different kettle of fish than my first Barred Rocks. Armed with my hard won knowledge involving much consultation of the SOP…the Standard of Perfection, I grew out and selected the best of my five roosters, and the best two of my five hens.
This year I shall hatch their babies, and keep only the best boy, breeding him back to this year’s hens in 2019.. That might seem incestuous, and it would be for people, but line breeding, as it is called, is perfectly acceptable in the chicken world. Line breeding reduces the chances of sullying your lines with unseen problem genes. Some say you can line breed for twenty generations before significant issues develop. I won’t line breed for that long though, in 2020, if I’m still working with the Rocks, I will try to source some new ones to add genetic diversity.
For now, I will just enjoy these spectacular birds as they roam around the barnyard.