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Is delaware chicken a rare breed?

The Delaware chicken is a dual-purpose breed known for its excellent meat and egg production. While it was once extremely popular, Delaware numbers have dwindled over the years. So is the Delaware chicken now considered a rare breed?

Origins of the Delaware Chicken

The Delaware chicken was developed in the 1940s by crosses between New Hampshire Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Barred Plymouth Rocks. The goal was to create a fast-growing broiler chicken that also laid a decent number of eggs. After years of selective breeding at the Delaware Agricultural Experiment Station, the Delaware breed was introduced to the public in 1952.

The Delaware quickly became a popular commercial breed due to its excellent productivity. By the 1960s, it was one of the most common chickens raised for meat and eggs. However, the introduction of hybrid broiler chickens eventually led to the Delaware’s decline.

Delaware Chicken Numbers over Time

In the 1960s and 70s, the Delaware was clearly not a rare breed. It was estimated that over 75% of all commercial table egg layers were Delawares at one point! Delawares were also common in the broiler industry.

However, as hybrid chickens took over commercial flocks, heritage chicken breeds like the Delaware declined sharply. By the year 2000, the Livestock Conservancy considered Delawares to be threatened with fewer than 1,000 breeding birds left. Their numbers put them on the organization’s watch list.

Year Delaware Chicken Population Status
1960s-1970s Common commercial breed
2000 Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds – threatened

Current Status of Delaware Chickens

Thankfully, due to conservation efforts and a resurgence in interest in heritage poultry breeds, Delaware chickens have made a bit of a comeback. They are no longer facing extinction levels of endangerment.

However, their numbers are still low compared to commercial egg laying breeds. As of 2022, the Livestock Conservancy considers them to be a recovering breed with fewer than 10,000 breeding birds globally. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy also still includes them on their Conservation Priority List.

Organization Delaware Chicken Conservation Status
Livestock Conservancy Recovering – fewer than 10,000 breeding birds globally
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Conservation Priority List

While Delaware chickens have certainly recovered from the brink of extinction, their limited numbers and conservation designations confirm that they are still one of the more rare chicken breeds.

Reasons for the Decline of the Delaware

So what caused the formerly ubiquitous Delaware chicken to decline to rare breed status? There are a few key reasons this breed fell out of favor commercially:

  • The rise of hybrid broiler chickens that surpassed the Delaware in meat production
  • Leghorn strains replacing the Delaware in commercial egg operations
  • Lack of interest from large poultry corporations in heritage breeds
  • The Delaware being bred more for productivity than genetic diversity

Hybrid chickens have dominated the poultry industry since about the 1950s. These hybrids are bred by crossing purebred chickens selected for traits like fast growth and meat yield. The resulting offspring grow extremely fast and produce a lot of breast meat – more than heritage breeds like the Delaware.

For eggs, White Leghorn laying hybrids now outperform the Delaware in commercial settings. Delaware hens lay a decent number of brown eggs (around 200 per year) but Leghorns can lay up to 300 large white eggs annually.

Since hybrid chickens surpass heritage breeds in productivity traits, large poultry companies focused on raising hybrids. Without corporate interest, breeds like the Delaware declined rapidly when smaller farms went out of business. There just wasn’t a lot of commercial incentive to keep breeding Delawares.

Additionally, since Delawares were selected primarily for fast growth and egg laying ability, they lost some of their genetic diversity over the years. This made their gene pool more limited compared to unrefined heritage breeds.

Unique Traits of the Delaware Chicken

While Delaware chickens may not be the commercial powerhouses they once were, they still make excellent birds for small farms and backyard flocks thanks to a few key characteristics:

  • Dual-purpose ability – Delawares produce a decent amount of eggs while also providing good meat.
  • Fast growth – Delawares reach broiler size faster than most heritage breeds.
  • Docile temperament – They are calm chickens that tend to be low on the pecking order.
  • Heat tolerance – Delawares handle heat very well compared to chickens like Orpingtons.
  • Cold hardy – They have enough feathering to withstand colder climates.

While they may never regain their previous commercial popularity, Delawares still have a place on diversified small farms due to their versatility as a dual-purpose breed. Their rapid growth is also a plus for homesteaders who want a good meat bird but don’t want to raise the most common hybrid broiler breeds.

Availability of the Delaware Chicken

Since Delaware chickens are still a rarer breed, they can be harder to locate than hybrid egg layers and broilers. However, here are some options for finding Delaware chicks or eggs:

  • Check with local feed stores or rural Amish stores to see if they can source Delawares for you.
  • Contact local 4-H groups. Delaware chickens are popular exhibition birds for 4-H members.
  • Search for Delaware breeders online and contact them directly.
  • Check the websites of national hatcheries as some may have Delaware chicks seasonally.
  • Consider buying started Delaware pullets around 4-5 months old when they start laying.

It often helps to order Delaware chicks several months in advance from breeders since they tend to sell out quickly for the season. Be prepared to pay more for Delaware chicks than hybrid chickens – around $5-8 per chick is typical.

Conserving the Delaware Chicken

If you become a Delaware chicken owner, you can help conserve this rare breed in a few important ways:

  • Breed your chickens responsibly – Select your best specimens for breeding to maintain genetic diversity.
  • Sell excess chicks – This puts more Delaware chickens back into circulation.
  • Exhibit Delawares – Showing and promoting them raises public awareness.
  • Join breed conservancy groups – Get involved in organized conservation efforts.
  • Educate others – Share your Delaware knowledge so more people appreciate this breed.

With active, responsible breeding and promotion by owners, the Delaware chicken has a good chance of continuing to recover from its endangered status.


The Delaware chicken was once among the most popular commercial breeds but is now quite rare. Due to the rise of industrial hybrid poultry, true heritage breeds like the Delaware declined greatly by the late 20th century. From a peak of millions of birds, the global population dwindled to just a few thousand.

Conservation efforts have helped Delaware numbers start to rebound. However, with an estimated global population under 10,000, the Delaware is still considered a recovering rare breed.

Delawares may no longer be the crux of the poultry industry, but they still have a place on diversified farms and homesteads. Their dual meat and egg abilities, fast growth, and hardiness are assets for small scale, sustainable agriculture. With active stewardship by owners, we can hopefully see this unique breed continue to gain ground once again.