Barred rock chickens are friendly, easy to raise, excellent egg layers, and incredibly healthy on average. They’re one of the best chicken breeds for beginners since they’re not prone to health issues, and they’ll lay dependably for years, all while eating out of the palm of your hand.
Plymouth rock chickens come in many colors, but the most common variation is the Barred Rock, with black and white feathers. These dependable backyard birds are one of the most common chicken breeds, and for good reason.
They’re hardy, friendly, excellent layers, and it’s always easy to find barred rock chicks.
Barred rocks were the very first chickens we raised on our homestead, and they’re an ideal egg-laying chicken for beginners.
Given their friendly nature, they’re also one of the best chickens for kids, and my littles absolutely loved snuggling our fluffy (and personable) barred rock hens.
What are Barred Rock Chickens?
No breed better represents the American ideal of chicken than the Barred Rock. The Barred Rock chicken is a breed of chicken created in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s, originally called the Plymouth Rock. The name “Barred” refers to the color pattern of the bird; initially, a Plymouth Rock was automatically assumed to be barred, but other varieties of the Plymouth Rock arose that didn’t have barred feathers. Barred and Plymouth Rocks are the same breed.
These dual-purpose birds have always been popular, as they are hardy, easy to raise, friendly, and productive. Read on to find out more about one of America’s most beloved chickens!
Pros and Cons of Barred Rock Chickens
Barred rock chickens are some of the most popular backyard breeds, and a particular favorite of mine. I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.
- Good egg layers
- Good meat production
- Easy to handle and friendly
- Heritage breed
- Tolerates confinement and enjoys free range
- Healthy breed
- Low maintenance
- Easy prey for predators
Barred Rock Chicken Characteristics
The first barred rock chickens appeared during a chicken exhibition in Boston in 1849 as a breeding project for a couple of breeders: Mr. Drake and Mr. Spaulding. Other breeds quickly overshadowed these Barred Rocks; they didn’t have many characteristics that made them unique. They disappeared for about twenty years.
In 1869, D. A. Upham, a poultry breeder in Worcester, Massachusetts, proudly showcased the first official Barred Rock chickens. Aiming to create a barred chicken with clean, featherless legs, he crossed Dominique roosters with Black Java hens.
While the Plymouth Rock Fanciers Club confirms that Upham created the Barred Rock, several other sources claim to have created this breed. This confusion stems from the fact that other people were developing other cross-breeds of barred chicken, and Upham borrowed the name. The other breeds that contributed to the other Barred Rock specimens included the Spanish, White Cochin, Buff Cochin, Black Java, and Brahma.
The American Poultry Association accepted Upham’s Barred Rock as an official breed in 1874. The defining characteristics were its single comb, yellow skin, and featherless legs.
The Barred Rock exploded in popularity after being accepted into the APA’s Standard of Perfection. In fact, it was the most popular breed until World War II due to its hardiness, production value, and ease of care.
The majority of meat and egg production in the 1920s was from Barred Rocks. During World War II, stronger, more productive breeds drove the original line to near-extinction. The Livestock Conservancy now lists the Barred Rock as “recovering”.
- Breed Name: Plymouth Rock (Barred Rock variety)
- Breed Type: Dual-purpose (meat and eggs)
- Temperament: Friendly, docile
- Size: Rooster: 9.5 lbs; hen: 7.5 lbs
- Eggs Per Year: 200-250
- Eggs per Week: 4-5
- Egg Size: Large
- Egg Color: Shades of brown
- Lifespan: 6-10 years or longer
- Time To Maturity: 8-12 weeks
Barred Rock Breed Standard
Since its introduction, the Barred Rock’s appearance has evolved. Plenty of different colors and patterns have developed from the original Barred Rock: white, buff, silver penciled, partridge, Columbian, and blue.
The body shape of the Barred Rock has become more pronounced over time. In the 1870s, a drawing of a pair of Barred Rocks showed the male with a short back, ill-defined comb, and short tail. The hen was practically the same as a Dominique. When they were first introduced, Barred Rocks had a few acceptable versions of the breed standard–their combs could either be single or rose. This caused a bit of frustration with other chicken breeders, who claimed that it was too easy for a Barred Rock to be accepted as a show bird.
In 1890, Barred Rocks took on the appearance of how they are today, with a well-defined silhouette, but still retaining a lot of the characteristics that made the original Barred Rocks so sought-after.
The Barred Rock is a medium-large bird. The large roosters weigh about 9 ½ lbs (4.3 kg), and the large hens weigh 7 ½ lbs (3.2 kg). The bantam roosters are 36 oz (1kg), and the bantam hens are 32 oz (907g).
A Barred Rock chicken has a broad, long back with a full, deep chest. They have yellow shanks, skin, and beaks. The head of a Barred Rock is moderately large, broad, and medium in length. Their beaks are yellow, short, and curved. They have wide, reddish-brown eyes.
The wattles in roosters are long, bright red, and nicely rounded. In hens, they are small and also round.
The comb of a Barred Rock is a defining feature of this breed, distinguishing it from similar-looking breeds like Dominiques. The comb is single and fairly small for the head, set firmly on top. The comb has five distinct points, with the first and last being shorter than the other three.
Another defining characteristic of the Barred Rock is its legs. The upper thighs are covered in soft feathers, but its yellow legs are clean.
Finally, the most iconic thing about a Barred Rock is its coloring–it is covered in stripes, called bars. The bars that cover the feathers alternate light and dark. The gene that causes barring creates light bars on dark feathers, because the gene prevents color on certain parts of the feather. This gene is sex-linked, which makes the roosters slightly lighter in color than hens.
It’s hard to find a chicken more easygoing than a Barred Rock. They’re sweet, calm, and great for first-time owners. Children will love spending time with these gentle chickens, caring for them, and collecting their eggs. Barred Rocks form strong attachments to people and will happily follow you around.
Barred Rock roosters and hens are kind birds and are easy to handle. Roosters are generally not aggressive but will still protect their flock. Barred Rocks are on the quieter end of chicken breeds, speaking in “coos” rather than harsh clucks. They make good urban chickens.
Barred Rocks are usually in the middle of the pecking order. They are not aggressive and do not fight other breeds, but they are strong and sure enough not to back down.
Some owners say that Barred Rocks aren’t flighty around people or animals they’re familiar with, but they are vigilant and a bit scared around strangers.
Another plus to the well-rounded Barred Rock is its hardiness. Barred Rocks are cold and heat tolerant, built to withstand the extremes of New England.
Their featherless legs make dampness or heat less of a problem than other breeds. They also feather early, and their fluff protects them from the cold. Take caution during extreme cold, though–roosters can develop frostbite with their large combs.
Just because they’re hardy doesn’t mean that they don’t need proper shelter. All chickens should have a dry, warm space with proper insulation and plenty of water at all times of the year.
There are two strains of Barred Rocks: production and heritage. The heritage chickens will naturally lay fewer eggs than the production strain per year, but will lay for more years. Production Barred Rock hens will lay more eggs per year, around 250, but their production will taper off at around two to three years. Heritage Barred Rocks lay well into the third or fourth year and then decline. Some Barred Rocks will continue laying for up to ten years!
Barred Rocks are also known to lay year-round, although their productivity does decline a bit in winter. Still, better than nothing!
Barred Rocks lay brown eggs. They’re generally light or pinkish in hue.
A foundation for the American broiler chicken industry, Barred Rocks are good meat birds. They reach broiler size at around 8-12 weeks. They mature fairly quickly and do not take as much feed to reach their maximum size as some other birds. Barred Rock meat is juicy and tender.
A Barred Rock hen isn’t particularly broody, although you can encourage some hens to sit on eggs by leaving a few in her nest. They make reliable mothers and care well for their chicks.
Barred Rocks are very happy chickens wherever they are–they tolerate confinement with adequate space. They’re also happy to free-range. Their curious nature makes them good foragers. Make sure to watch out predators–Barred Rocks can be easily caught by coyotes or bobcats and make easy prey.
The Barred Rock has many cross-breeds, many of which were to create the different colors of Plymouth Rock.
Buff Cochins were bred with Barred Rocks to produce the buff variety. Dark Brahmas and Silver Laced Wyandottes created the silver penciled type. Partridge was produced using Partridge Cochins, Dark Cornish chickens, single-comb Golden Wyandottes, brown Leghorns, and Golden Laced wyandottes. Columbian Barred Rocks are the result of crossing light Brahmas, white Plymouth Rocks and Columbian Wyandottes.
Interestingly, White Rocks came from Barred Rocks being bred together. When both Barred parents carry the recessive white gene, their offspring end up white.
Common Health Issues
Overall, Barred Rocks are very healthy birds and don’t have particular illnesses that they’re more likely to catch than others. Roosters might have a hard time in the winter due to the size of their combs, so make sure to look out for signs of frostbite.
As with any chicken, making sure that their space is clean will prevent parasites.
Barred Rock Chicken FAQs
Although Barred Rocks are called a dual-purpose breed, they’re great for everything–for eggs, pets, and meat birds. If you have any more questions about Barred Rocks, feel free to ask or check the FAQs below.
Are Barred Rock chickens friendly?
Yes, Barred Rock chickens are very friendly and will form strong attachments to their owners. You could convince them to be lap chickens.
Are Barred Rock chickens good egg layers?
Barred Rock chickens are good egg layers, laying about 3-4 eggs per week and 200-250 per year.
What color egg does a Barred Rock lay?
Barred Rock chickens lay light or pinkish-brown eggs.
Are Barred Rock hens broody?
Barred Rock hens aren’t very broody, but you can encourage broodiness by leaving some eggs in the nest. They make great mothers.
How big are Barred Rock chickens?
The Barred Rock is a medium-large bird. The roosters weigh about 9 ½ lbs (4.3 kg), and the hens weigh 7 ½ lbs (3.2 kg).
Are Barred Rock chickens good for meat?
The Barred Rock is a great meat bird. It reaches its full size fairly quickly and can be butchered at around 8-12 weeks. They don’t take as much feed as other birds and have juicy and tender meat.
Are Barred Rock chickens autosexing?
Barred Rock chickens are autosexing, meaning you can tell females from males at a young age. The males have darker feathers and legs, a well-defined spot on their head, and narrower white bars. As they mature, you’ll find that the males have much longer tail feathers.
Barred Rocks are autosexing, but Plymouth Rocks (which are the same breed but a different color) are not always.
Are Barred Rock chickens cold-hardy?
Barred Rock chickens are cold-hardy. The chicks feather in fairly quickly. Roosters have large combs so they might develop frostbite more easily.
How long do Barred Rock chickens live?
Barred Rocks generally live 6-8 years, although plenty of Barred Rocks live up to ten. We had a barred rock chicken for nearly a decade, and she laid well into her old age.
Are Barred Rock chickens easy to raise?
Barred Rocks are some of the easiest chickens to raise due to their robust health, hardiness, and friendliness. They’re a backyard chicken staple and one of the best choices for first-time owners.
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