The Sussex breed could be a metaphor for the chicken industry. It was known in early days as a tender and juicy table bird. In an effort to increase size, breeders began crossing them to other breeds, and the meat became much more coarse and lost quality.
The breed was very nearly lost, before several breeders in Sussex gathered to revive it from remaining stock. They managed to stabilize it, and recover the necessary utility traits for which it was preserved.
The Sussex in the US has also declined and then been revived, and it is now kind of a run of the mill home breed, since the recovery breeders have not bred for anything other than color and shape. Breeders who choose to continue to breed this chicken should be focused on recovering the meat quality and self-sufficiency traits that this bird was known for.
The English Sussex put on weight easily, which contributes to the quality of its meat. It also means that it may tend to obesity, which impacts egg laying capacity and breeding ability, if it is left in confinement and given commercial feed that is not balanced to its specific needs. On the other hand, if they are provided with forage range, and fed on a more natural diet (no pre-mixed crumbles or mash), where they can self-regulate according to nutritional need (commercial feed formulations do not allow them to do this because they have pre-determined amounts of various nutrients so they have to eat more food to get more of a single thing they may be low on). Foraging on pasture also helps them stay fit, and allows them a wide variety of nutritional choice. Live and fodder feeds (sprouts, grains, garden scraps, etc) also help them self-regulate.
They are reputed to be calm and curious, and good foragers on range - they are also more fertile on range than in confinement. They are moderate egg layers, though some breeding lines have increased egg laying capacity at the expense of meat production or meat quality.
- Type - meat
- Size - medium large standard
- Production Capacity - 100 to 150 eggs per year, depending on bloodlines and diet, and good producers of broilers. Some sources list them as a much higher egg producer, but those lines have compromised meat production.
- Special Features - A fairly popular backyard breed, which has good income potential for quality breeding stock or hatching eggs.
- Best for Farms - This is an ideal breed for farms needing a meat producer that also supplies eggs, who are interested in selective breeding to restore utility qualities. Could be excellent for meat quality for free range poultry operations.
- Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - large tan to brown eggs, juicy and tender meat
- Other Products - some limited market for feathers from speckled variety.
- Historic or Contemporary Significance - A twice rescued breed with excellent potential for superior pastured chicken.
- Housing and Space Requirement - typical, though they do need room to be active
- Regional Adaptations - adaptable to a wide range of conditions
- Feed Requirement - need fresh foods, and fertility may be improved from increased animal proteins (bugs, butchering scraps from other animals, mealworms, redworms, etc), and either wheat germ or flax seed.
- Other Considerations - Avoid show birds if purchasing for utility use. Often the only other choice is industrial hatchery chicks. If you find that this is how you need to obtain initial stock, purchase more than you need, and selectively cull to the best 10 or 20%, and then engage in selective breeding and strict culling to recover the traits for which this breed originally excelled.
A NOTE ABOUT CHICKENS:
Many breeds are not included here due to poor availability, or due to genetic or health issues which make them impractical for small farm or homestead use.
All chicken breeds can be used for dual purpose, but there is a trade-off between meat production and egg laying - a bird cannot be very high in both. There is also a trade-off between egg laying and broodiness - simply because broodiness interferes with high volume egg laying to a certain extent.
So... egg layers that produce a lot of eggs will generally be smaller in size than meat producers. Meat producers will lay fewer eggs than lightweight layers - generally the heavier the bird, the fewer the eggs. Highest egg production seems to be in birds weighing 4-5 lbs. Higher weights slow egg production, and very small breeds also lay less.
Solid dual purpose breeds will meet somewhere in the middle, with a moderately large carcass, and good egg production through most of the year, about 150 to 200 eggs per year on the high end. Weights for dual purpose birds tend to range around 6-9 lb.
Sizes listed will have Standard after the size if they refer only to the Standard size breed.
Most Chickens also have a Standard size bird, and a Bantam size that goes by the same name, BUT, they are NOT necessarily the same breed! The APA gets a little confused where Bantams are concerned, because as long as the general appearance is the same, they don't care how they got that way, and whether any other traits match or not, and often the appearance diverges as well. So Breed descriptions generally ONLY apply to Standard size birds, unless the breed described here is specified as a Bantam Breed.
Bantams may come about in one of four ways:
1. Some breeds are naturally small, and they are Bantam only. This includes Sebrights, d'Uccles, d'Anvers, and many others. These breeds have the most easily digestible eggs in the chicken world, and they are NOT available in Standard sizes.
2. Some breeds are bred down, selecting for smaller and smaller size to achieve a Bantam breed. This is the most time consuming way to get a Bantam chicken. Characteristics other than size may change in the selection process if the breeder is careless - you generally lose something in egg laying capacity, and health or hardiness simply because of the genetic restriction involved. This is the ONLY case in which the Bantam is actually truly the "same breed" as the full sized variety.
3. Some breeds are created with a combination of breeding down for size, and careful cross breeding with existing Bantam birds, to create a cross breed that is smaller but retains more of the characteristics of the goal breed. Done well, this can produce a Bantam with a fairly close match to the original, though egg laying capacity will still generally be compromised. This results in a separate breed, NOT a "variety", though the APA lists them erroneously as two varieties of the same breed.
4. Often, existing Bantam breeds are simply crossed to come up with a bird that has the appearance of the goal breed. In doing this, breeders tend to concentrate on appearance, and forget entirely about other traits. Utility traits are the most commonly ignored. Frequently, behavior, production traits, even some physical traits, are broadly divergent from the original full sized bird. This results in a separate breed, NOT a "variety", though the APA lists them erroneously as two varieties of the same breed.
Bantam breeds generally lay less than full sized breeds of the same name - typically about half the laying capacity, sometimes less, rarely more. Bantams are, in general, more broody than full sized hens, in part because they have not been bred for high production, and this trait makes them fairly prolific when allowed to brood eggs. It also makes them very useful in brooding standard size hen eggs, or eggs from quail, partridge, or other small birds. In spite of their small size, they can successfully hatch full sized chicken eggs, though they do not cover a large number of them.
Bantams can be used for meat, though they produce a carcass more like a dove than a chicken.
They WILL fly, whereas only lighter weight standard breeds will fly much. A Bantam can take flight and travel by air over buildings, around trees, and out of sight within a few seconds.
Many breeds of chicken which were originally good utility birds are not listed here simply because they have been bred for show for so long that utility traits are now gone.