If you are looking for a chicken breed that is pretty as well as practical, you might want to consider raising the Speckled Sussex chicken.
Not only is this bird nice to look at, but it also has the potential to be a productive member of your flock, averaging a respectable 250 eggs per year.
Not only that, but the Speckled Sussex is a good choice for people who want to raise dual-purpose chickens for both eggs and meat.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Speckled Sussex chicken breed.
History of the Speckled Sussex Chicken Breed
You might guess this from the name of the breed alone, but the Speckled Sussex first originated in Sussex County in the southeastern portion of the United Kingdom. It was first bred into existence sometime in the 19th century, with the Speckled Sussex the first of this line to make its way onto the scene.
Today, however, there are multiple variations of this bird available, including a brown, coronation, buff, red, light, white, speckled, and silver version of the breed.
The Speckled Sussex was first exhibited in 1845, at the time of the very first poultry show. At the London Zoo. Also known as Kentish fowl, these birds were part of the early chicken craze in Great Britain, where a large percentage of the population expressed an interest in raising chickens.
Interestingly, the Speckled Sussex was not included in the first poultry standard, a document known as the Standard of Excellence in Exhibition Poultry. In fact, it’s breed standard wasn’t developed until several decades later.
Although these chickens were originally bred for meat – and eventually became leaders in meat production in the United States for many years – larger, faster-growing broiler hens eventually dominated the scene and pushed the Speckled Sussex to the side.
However, in their heyday, chicken breeders couldn’t push out chicks fast enough – the roosters were fattened up and sold as roasters and even the capons were force-fed oats and milk to help them gain weight more quickly.
Later, during World War II, the birds were raised by the droves to help meet the demand for both meat and eggs during wartime shortages.
Today, the Speckled Sussex is still prized for its dual-purpose nature and its friendly demeanor. Although the breed fell out of popularity for a few years, it is rapidly gaining popularity among chicken keepers everywhere.
In the United States, the American poultry Association accepts the speckled, red, and light colors of the breed. In the United Kingdom, the recognized variations are:
With hens weighing in at up to eight pounds and roosters tipping the scales at eleven, the Speckled Sussex chicken breed is definitely not one of the smallest! This is part of what makes it such a great chicken for the dinner table.
The first breed standard for the Speckled Sussex was created in 1902. These chickens have feathers that are a dark mahogany, with each feather tipped in white and separated out by a black and iridescent green bar.
This pattern of coloration provides excellent camouflage, as does the comb, earlobes, and wattles of the bird – all of which are red. The chicken has a single comb and a horn-colored beak along with short, muscular legs.
Speckled Sussex chickens have broad, flat backs and chests along white feet, legs, and skin. Their tails sit at 45-degree angles and their legs remain bare instead of growing feathers.
An interesting feature of the Speckled Sussex chicken is that, as it molts, its speckles multiply. Each year, your flock of SPeckled Sussex hens will have more and more spots for you to behold. There are bantam Speckled Sussex chickens, too, but these are incredibly rare and difficult to find as many genetic lines of this variant have underlying issues.
When they are young, Speckled Sussex chicks have dark chestnut-colored markings around their eyes. They look much like chipmunks, in fact! Some chicks will be paler in color, but most have stripes of light and dark brown along their backs.
Once the chickens start to get older, their adult markings will begin to appear. As they engage in each successive teenage molt, they will get more and more white tips and more speckles, too.
Speckled Sussex chickens are known for being exceptionally inquisitive and curious. They aren’t timid in the slightest and will instead follow you around the chicken yard.
They do, however, occasionally get picked on by the rest of the flock. This is because they are so calm and docile and won’t go out of their way to make a fuss with the others. As a result, you may need to keep an eye on them when you first introduce them to the flock to make sure they aren’t being teased.
Hens occasionally go broody and make fantastic mothers, while roosters guard and protect the flock with dedicated interest. These characteristics are part of the reason why the Speckled Sussex is considered one of the best heritage breed chickens for you to raise.
Speckled Sussex chickens are known for being chatty, too! They aren’t the quietest birds you will find, but they aren’t aggressive in any way, either – think of them as friendly but noisy neighbors!
This section goes into detail about the egg and meat production that you can expect out of speckled sussex chickens.
When you choose to raise a dual-purpose chicken breed, you often have to make sacrifices in that egg production won’t be as good as it would be if you were strictly raising an egg-laying chicken. The same, of course, applies to meat.
However, that’s not the case with the SPeckled Sussex chicken. Although it is a dual-purpose chicken, it still has excellent egg production. The average hen will lay up to 250 eggs each year, or about four or five eggs each week.
Hens mature at around 20 weeks of age. This is not as early as the hens of some other chicken breeds, but it’s not late or delayed by any means. They are adaptable and predictable when it comes to their laying patterns.
The birds lay large, pale brown eggs throughout the entire year. Sometimes, rather than being light brown, the eggs may appear to be merely tinted. These chickens are known for their phenomenal production during the winter, which is a feature that helps set this breed apart from other breeds that are more sensitive to the change in seasons.
As one of the first industrial broiler breeds, the Speckled Sussex is also a good chicken breed for meat production. Although it is no longer the bird of choice for most commercial poultry farms, it still has decent meat production, especially if it is raised in the right way.
Though considered a medium-sized breed in the heavy breeds class, the Speckled Sussex is nonetheless a respectable bird for the dinner table. The average rooster will dress out at around eight to ten pounds and it only takes a few months to raise the bird to maturity.
A high-quality feed can lend to a rich, ample carcass. You should avoid overfeeding your Speckled Sussex chickens, but at the same time, providing plenty of food (especially healthy vegetable scraps) in the week before butchering can help lead to a fine-looking carcass.
As a white-skinned chicken breed, the Speckled Sussex produces tender meat that conforms nicely to the idea of “chicken meat” that you probably have in your head, too.
Not only that, but the Speckled Sussex reaches maturity rapidly. It’s ready for the dinner table in a little more than 20 weeks.
Common Issues & Concerns
Speckled Sussex chickens are healthy birds that are not prone to very many health issues. They do have a tendency to pack on the pounds, so you’ll want to watch them carefully for signs of obesity.
Many people breed their Speckled Sussex chickens. Because these birds are so healthy and hardy, this is an easy task to do. You can wait for a hen to go broody or you can hatch your own eggs in an incubator.
This chicken is relatively cold-hardy. Because it has a single comb, it can occasionally be more susceptible to frostbite during extremely frigid conditions. You can prevent this by making sure your coop is well-ventilated and by applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the combs of your birds.
It does well regardless of whether it is raised in confinement or allowed to free-range. It is not, however, the best chicken breed when it comes to withstanding the heat. This is because of the bird’s dense feathering and its large body size.
Therefore, you will want to make sure you provide your Speckled Sussex chickens with ample food and cool water during the summer months. Lots of shade is also ideal.
Other than that, the Speckled Sussex isn’t prone to any other unique illnesses or ailments. Just keep an eye out for mites and lice, which like to hang out in the luxurious features of the chicken, and you should do just fine.
Speckled Sussex Chicken Care
Speckled Sussex chickens love food, and they like to have plenty of it! These chickens are not fussy eaters, and they gain weight easily. They can easily become overweight, however, so it’s important that you keep track of their feed consumption to prevent this and any other related issues.
Overweight chickens will not only produce poorly, but they’ll be more likely to develop various health issues, too. You may want to avoid feeding free-choice and instead, ration out their food. These birds are fantastic foragers, so it may make sense to raise them in a free-range environment.
Not only will you be able to save money by giving your Speckled Sussex chickens room to roam, but they’ll also be healthier as they’ll get plenty of exercise, too. Even if you only allow your Speckled Sussex birds to roam around for a few hours a day, they’ll reap the benefits almost immediately.
As larger birds, they need a bit more space than other breeds. Ideally, at least five square feet per bird in the coop is ideal. If you choose to keep your chickens in a run, aim for 12 square feet per bird. They aren’t known to fly very high, so you only need a fence about four feet tall or so.
Don’t forget about your roost bars and nest boxes, either! Aim for one nest box for every four hens, and keep your roosts at about two to four feet tall. You don’t want them to be too high, as these heavy birds may have a hard time jumping to taller heights.
Ideally, you should raise your Speckled Sussex flock at a ratio of ten females to every one male. This will provide you with a good breeding population and also help keep issues related to the pecking order at a minimum.
Benefits and Drawbacks of the Breed
This section covers a few of the most common benefits and drawbacks of raising this particular breed.
In the United States, the SPeckled Sussex chicken is one of the most popular chicken breeds you can raise. Therefore, it’s very easy to find it at hatcheries or local farm stores. The chicks are in good supply and almost always available.
Plus, Speckled Sussex chickens can be raised as dual-purpose birds, which is a major draw for people who want to get a bit more for their time and money. Not only does the Speckled Sussex lay a ton of eggs, but the bird can also produce a fine-tasting meat for the dinner table.
You won’t have to do much extra when it comes to raising the Speckled Sussex chicken. This bird is a great, active forager who will help lower your feed bills as she continuously grazes your land. The bird is also great with children and serves as a fantastic lap chicken if you are in the market for a pet.
Plus, Speckled Sussex chickens have unique feathering that allows them to camouflage themselves if and when predators happen to appear. They blend in well with the background, helping to protect themselves from coyotes, foxes, and hawks.
With a beautiful appearance and a gentle demeanor, the Speckled Sussex is also a popular choice for 4H projects or other exhibitions, too.
There are a few challenges associated with raising Speckled Sussex chickens that you’ll want to keep in mind.
The biggest has to do with the fact that these birds tend to hang out at the bottom of the pecking order. That’s through no fault of their own – although these chickens are remarkably friendly, their docile nature often leads to them getting picked on.
Rather than continue a fight or disagreement with another chicken, these birds would rather just take a beating. Luckily, their large size can prevent injury in most cases, but sometimes, you may have to separate them out from other members of a flock for their own safety.
Just keep this in mind if you plan on raising a Speckled Sussex chicken within a flock of larger birds, like Cornish Crosses or Jersey Giants.
You will also want to be mindful of where you purchase your Speckled Sussex chickens. There are lots of reputable breeders out there, but there are just as many who will try to pass off a hybrid bird as a purebred Speckled Sussex chicken.
If a purebred lineage – and all the classic traits of a Speckled Sussex chicken – matter to you, then you’ll stn to make sure you choose a breeder that produces healthy, energetic birds from reliable breeding stock. If you’re new to buying chickens, you may want to consult the American Sussex Association or the American Sussex Breeders Association.
A final note to keep in mind is that you will want to be careful about what you are feeding your Speckled Sussex chickens. If you are raising only hens and only want to raise them for egg production, a layer feed is best. This will contain all the calcium your chickens need to lay healthy, beautiful eggs.
If, however, you have a few roosters mixed into the flock – or if you want to raise your Speckled Sussex chickens as meat birds, too – you will want to introduce a broiler feed. Do not feed roosters layer feed, as the excess calcium can kill them. Instead, offer calcium separately to your laying hens in the form of oyster shells.
Is a Speckled Sussex Chicken Right for Me?
Although the Speckled Sussex breed almost died out completely in the early 20th century, a recent revival has made this chicken breed one of the most popular in modern American backyards. Not only is it a hardy chicken that produces ample amounts of meat and eggs, but it’s one that your family is practically guaranteed to love having as a pet, too.
While you will want to watch this chicken’s feed consumption to prevent excessive weight gain, it is otherwise one of the easiest backyard chicken breeds you can raise.