When you hear the name, “Jersey Giant,” you might think of a behemoth chicken wreaking chaos in a village as it stomps around with its Godzilla-esque feet.
The Jersey Giant might be a large chicken breed, but luckily, it’s not that large!
Nevertheless, this chicken is the largest purebred chicken breed in the United States. The only other breeds that come close are those that have been hybridized (as well as several smaller- albeit still hefty – breeds like Brahams).
An easy to raise chicken breed, the Jersey GIant offers multiple benefits to backyard chicken keepers. Let’s dive in!
History of the Jersey Giant
Originally developed by Thomas and John Black, the Jersey Giant was created, of course, in the state of New Jersey. It was created with the goal of addressing the demand of the time – during the late 1800s – for heavy-breasted roasting birds.
Ideally, this chicken would surpass the weight and meat quality of the turkey.
Unfortunately, although large, the Jersey Giant never quite stacked up to this standard.
That’s not to say that the Black brothers didn’t try, though! Thye used a unique mix of black Langshan, black Java, and dark-colored Brahmas to create a large-bodied bird. They may have used some other breeds, but history is a bit murky on this topic.
Originally, the chicken breed was given the moniker of “Giant,” later renamed Blacks Giants in honor of their color as well as to pay tribute to the Black brothers. Jersey Giants were renamed to their current nomenclature in 1917, with the name paying homage to the founding state.
Interestingly, the Black brothers didn’t pay a lot of attention to the coloring of the birds when they first began to develop them. Their mission was focused solely on weight and meat production. As a result, there were many different-colored Jersey Giants in the beginning.
Later, another breeder named Meloney as well as a team of other professionals worked to standardize the breed. This was done mostly with regard to color, but also in body weight and other features, too. He was one of the first to publicly exhibit these birds.
In 1922, the black Jersey Giant was accepted into the American Poultry Association. Later, the White Jersey Giant came to be, produced from different-colored offspring of the black Jersey Giant. The white Jersey Giant was formally recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1947.
While the Jersey Giant’s popularity soared in the early 1900s, it began to drop off toward the middle and turn of the century. In fact, the breed was listed as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy in 2001.
Luckily, the emphasis on raising heritage breed chickens has caused the bird to be moved to the “watch” list as of 2017. Though still not common in backyard coops, the Jersey Giant is slowly beginning to regain its popularity.
Jersey Giant Chicken Appearance
There are three formally recognized variants of the Jersey Giant chicken – the black, white, and blue. The blue is the most recent recognized color, only recognized by the American Poultry Association in 2003.
Regardless of the colors, the Jersey Giant is a large chicken, with males tipping the scales at 13 to 15 lbs. Females, of course, are smaller, but still weighs about eleven pounds when mature. For whatever reason, black Jersey Giants tend to be larger than the whites.
These chickens are tall, too, with roosters standing more than two feet tall and hens rising just below them. They have long bodies that are deep and wide, making them look rather rectangular in appearance. Their backs are broad and flat, and they have short tails.
A robust and attractive bird, the Jersey Giant has black legs with yellow soles. There are four toes per foot with no feathering on the legs. Wattles and comb are red, while the skin is yellow. The eyes of this chicken are dark brown, while the beak is black with a pale yellow tinge at the very end.
Despite the obvious difference in feather color, there are some differences between Black, White, and Blue Jersey Giants, too. For starters, Black Jersey Giants will have a unique iridescent sheen to their feathers that looks almost green in the sunlight.
White Jersey Giants are unique in that they have willow colored shanks, yellow beaks, and yellow soles. Blue Jersey Giants have black shanks with feathers that are slate blue with darker blue lacing.
All Jersey Giants have feathers that sit tight to the body. This is a huge advantage for chicken keepers since it means you won’t have to do as much in order to groom and care for these birds. The feathers are also beneficial in cool weather, making the Jersey Giant one of the best cold-weather birds.
Often, Australorp chickens are confused with Jersey Giants. The two do look similar, buy Jersey Giants will be quite a bit larger. They are brick-shaped and produce chicks that are mostly black with creamy white patches (unless, of course, you are raising a white or blue Jersey Giant).
There are also bantam versions of the Jersey Giant, although these are incredibly uncommon. Bantams are a kilogram or less in weight!
Jersey Giant Chicken Behavior
The Jersey Giant is known for being docile and calm. Even the roosters are positively mellow. That’s good news – with a bird this big, an antagonistic individual could wreak havoc and inspire terror in the coop!
Most chicken breeds will steer clear of your Jersey Giants, but that’s not because these loveable birds are ornery. Instead, their size alone will cause the seas to part – they tend to be mediators in the flock and having one can actually dispel some of the regular pecking order fighting you might see in the coop.
Jersey Giants are good with children, although their size can be intimidating.they are friendly and can even be kept as pets or exhibition birds.
Jersey Giants are not known for being flighty. They are cold-hardy and get by well without high boundaries – they’ll stay confined on their own.
Although Jersey Giants aren’t known for becoming broody, they are good mothers when given the opportunity to raise their own chicks. The Jersey Giant is calm and tolerant of other birds, possessing a gentle demeanor that earned it the nickname of the “Gentle Giant.”
Despite the mellow nature of this breed, you won’t be getting away from crowing and noise-making any time soon! In fact, roosters of the Jersey Giant breed are said to have deeper, more prominent crows than any other chicken breed!
Jersey Giant Productivity
People generally keep chicken for two things: eggs and meat. In this section, we discuss they type of egg and meat production you can expect out of Jersey Giant chickens.
Is the Jersey Giant Good for Eggs?
Jersey Giants put out a prolific amount of large eggs. They will lay up to 200 eggs each year, averaging four or so eggs each week. These are large and pale brown in color.
Unfortunately, Jersey Giants are not known for going broody. It may happen occasionally, but the birds aren’t the best setters. It’s not due to a lack of trying – the hens are simply so large that they are prone to breaking the eggs.
Pullets start laying at around six months old. This is later than many other egg-laying chicken breeds, but it’s well worth the wait.
Jersey Giants are known to lay throughout the year. They are some of the best chickens when it comes to lying throughout the winter months, too. So while it takes longer for Jersey Giant pullets to start laying their first eggs, you won’t have to worry about long term shut-offs in egg production during the winter months, for the most part.
Is the Jersey Giant Good for Meat?
Yes! With its large size, the Jersey Giant is one of the best chicken breeds you can raise for meat. It is robust and just one bird provides an excellent meal for a family of four.
While the chickens are delicious to eat, they do take some time to mature. You’ll need to be patient in order to raise a Jersey Giant to full size! A rooster will take a minimum of six months to be table-ready.
Many people who raise Jersey Giants wait until the second year to butcher their chickens. This has several notable benefits and disadvantages. The benefit is that it gives the bird time to flesh out – but the downside is that you will need to feed the bird in the meantime!
If you want a quick-maturing bird, the Jersey Giant is not for you. However, if you’re willing to spend a bit extra on feed, you’ll find that the resulting meat is well worth the effort. Jersey Giants should be given minerals and vitamins on a regular basis for bone strength, as these chickens are prone to muscle and bone weaknesses due to their size.
However, if you are able to provide these chickens with opportunities to free-range, you won’t have to worry. They should be able to pick up all the nutrients that they need in this way.
Jersey Giants are good meat birds if you want the large, heavy carcasses you are accustomed to at the grocery store, but also want to be able to breed your own chickens on your farm. Most commercial chicken breeds, like Cornish Cross broilers, can’t be hatched from your own breeding stock.
It’s often said that, since Jersey Giants take so long to mature, they are better for baking and frying. They have broad breasts that lend themselves well to being cooked at a slow and steady temperature.
Common Issues with Jersey Giants
The Jersey Giant, as a large breed of chicken, does have some health issues to be aware of.
For one, this chicken can be prone to leg problems. Although it does not suffer from abnormal leg conditions, it is such a large chicken that it can occasionally injure itself getting up into the coop and roosts.
Jersey Giants are prone to obesity. This is especially the case if you raise your bids in captivity. Try not to overfeed your Jersey Giants, even if you’re having a hard time getting them to slaughtering weight.
You need to make sure you have plenty of room for your Jersey Giant to free-range, too. Although this bird can survive in confinement, it’s best to give it plenty of room to roam. Not only will this improve your meat quality, but it will allow for a healthier, leaner bird, too.
Jersey Giants are known for being cold-hardy, bearing the extreme winter weather with ease. You should take special precautions in the summer months, however, because they are prone to overheating. The large size and dark plumage colors make it difficult for them to cool down.
As a heritage breed chicken, the Jersey Giant is one of the healthiest breeds you can raise. It produces and maintains its genetic qualities through natural mating and has a long, productive outdoor lifespan. Plus, the slow growth rate ensures that the organs, muscles, and skeletal structures of these birds develop in a healthy fashion.
How to Raise a Jersey Giant
You can try to raise your own Jersey Giant chicks by hatching them under a broody hen, but as we mentioned before, this can be difficult. You are more likely to find that the eggs become crushed and broken by mistake.
It may be easier for you to hatch your own Jersey Giant eggs in an incubator. Just keep in mind that they may take a few extra days to hatch since they are so large.
Jersey Giants are great at free-ranging and finding their own food. Since they are so massive, they won’t go very far away (after all, they can’t fly to get there). They’ll enjoy spending much of their time wanderer around looking for tasty bugs and grass, and since they’re so big and not a good target for hawks, you don’t need to keep them in a covered run.
Just keep in mind that the chicken coop needs to be larger than average in order to accommodate a flock of Jersey Giants. While the average recommended size is four square feet per bird, you will definitely want to allot more space with your Jersey Giants. Some experts recommend setting aside twice that space!
When designing your coop, keep in mind that Jersey Giants have a hard time getting their hefty bodies off the ground. Therefore, you will want to make sure all perches are lower to the ground to prevent leg injuries. The perches, too, need to be sturdy in order to support this massive’s bird’s weight.
Pros and Cons of Keeping Jersey Giants
Here are a few pros and cons of raising Jersey Giants vs. other chicken species:
Benefits of Raising the Jersey Giant
Jersey Giants get along quite well with other chicken breeds. They are not aggressive yet it’s also difficult for them to be picked on because of their large size.
Their size also makes it difficult for them to take flight. These birds rarely fly more than a few feet off the ground, making them easier to handle and keep confined. While they can still fall victim to typical chicken predators like coyotes and weasels, they are less likely to be preyed upon by hawks. They’re too big!
Jersey Giants are excellent foragers and love having the ability to exercise and roam around. If you raise Jersey Giants, providing them plenty of room to roam is a good idea. It will prevent them from becoming obese and will also aid in their muscle development.
Challenges of Raising the Jersey Giant
The Jersey Giant is not the best choice for small-space living. While you can get by with one or two Jersey Giants here or there in a small coop, it’s not advised that you try to raise several of these birds in a tiny coop. Remember, they need at least twice the amount of space you might provide to other chickens!
In addition, Jersey Giants aren’t the best for city living. Their size makes it next to impossible to build a coop that will accommodate them comfortably if you have a small backyard.
Jersey Giants are prized for their large carcass sizes, but keep in mind that they are commonly neglected by commercial poultry farmers for their poor feed conversion rate. It takes quite a lot of time for these chickens to grow to their full size, and you’ll spend a lot of money on feel to get them there.
It can also be quite difficult to find Jersey Giants to purchase in your local area. Because they are considered rare and under watch, it’s tough to find reputable breeders who sell Jersey Giant chicks. Be sure to do your research and make sure you can trace the bloodlines back in the chickens that you purchase.
Although Jersey Giant roosters are not aggressive, they can occasionally let their size get the best of them. Often, you will find hens with bare backs, the feathers picked clean until the roosters settle down during breeding.
Conclusion – Is This Species Right for You?
If you have room for them to roam and don’t mind their gargantuan sizes, then the Jersey Giant might be an excellent choice as the next breed of bird in your backyard flock.
This chicken isn’t just pleasant to look at – but it’s productive, too. Usually, when you invest your time and money in dynamic meat producers, you’ll find that they are lacking when it comes to egg production. That’s not the case with the Jersey Giant – this chicken produces excellent, flavorful meat that doesn’t come at the expense of egg production.
Jersey Giants are superb birds that are well worth your consideration. So what are you waiting for? Add Some reinforcements to the roost bars in your coop, and pick up a few Jersey Giant chicks today!