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Delaware Chickens: The Ideal Farmstead Breed?

Delaware chickens are an American heritage breed, initially created to be “the” broiler chicken of choice. This idea didn’t go quite according to plan, as the Cornish x Plymouth Rock cross eventually took the crown. When this happened, things looked very doubtful for the poor Delaware, and the breed declined to almost extinction level. Fortuitously, a few enthusiasts kept the breed going, and today, they are enjoying a revival in popularity. They are rated as one of the most ideal farmstead breeds.

Key Takeaway

  • Excellent dual-purpose for meat and large eggs
  • Ideal farmstead breed
  • Friendly and calm
  • Hardy and enjoy living free-range 
  • Cold and heat tolerant

Background and History of the Delaware Chicken Breed

Delawares first made their appearance in the 1940s, when they were specifically bred to be the top broiler chicken in the market. 

Unfortunately for them, the Cornish cross appeared and swept away their title almost overnight. Luckily the Livestock Conservancy Organization stepped in after a few breeders managed to maintain the breed in small numbers.

Although today they still remain on the watch list, they are becoming increasingly popular with people interested in raising their own meat and eggs. They have been well adopted by the homesteaders’ community. 

Delawares were developed in the 1940s, almost by accident. This was due to an improvement program focused on the Plymouth Rock and New Hampshire breeds. 

An unfortunate part of any breeding program is to produce chickens that aren’t exactly what the developers are aiming to create, either because they don’t have the right appearance, or are lacking particular qualities.

Delawares were one of these chickens, but George Ellis of Indian River in Delaware saw something in them that he thought interesting.

Ellis was trying to create a fast-growing, egg-laying chicken, but what he got was the Delaware, a heavy, fast-growing bird, suitable for the table. 

Initially, he named them the Indian River chicken as this is where he lived, but this was changed to the Delaware. 

For 20 years, the Delaware reigned supreme as the most popular commercial broiler chicken, but then the Cornish cross came along and immediately wiped the Delaware from its number one spot. 

As Delawares were industrially bred chickens, they were relatively unknown to backyard breeders and homesteaders. Because they were no longer needed, they rapidly went into a steep decline. 

Somehow a few chicken keepers found out about them and loved their excellent dual-purpose abilities, which were perfect for anyone wanting a dual-purpose bird.

The Delaware was admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1952 in both the large and bantam fowl categories.

Temperament and Behavior of the Delaware

Delaware hens are docile, gentle, friendly, and curious. They are very laid back and don’t get startled easily.

The breed is hardy and easy to care for, especially as they love living free-range. This is very useful for reducing feed costs and creating richer, tastier eggs and healthier chickens. 

Their curious nature means they can be found exploring every inch of their surroundings, seeking out any tasty tidbits. This is great, providing there is nothing dangerous that may harm them.

Rodent poison, slug pellets, and any other toxic substances can kill chickens, so it’s vital they are kept well out of reach.

Luckily, Delawares seem to be pretty predator aware and will make a run for cover when sensing danger, while simultaneously alerting the rest of the flock.

Being of medium size but large-bodied, these chickens can sometimes be known to throw their weight around and have a bit of a bossy streak. Therefore, care must be taken if you keep them with other, less assertive breeds. That said, they don’t usually pick on others.

This is why when they are placed into a mixed flock, you’ll notice they are close to the top of the pecking order.

Although not usually lap chickens, they will eagerly follow you around, hoping for a yummy morsel to be tossed their way. The level of friendliness depends a lot on their personality and how they are raised.

They make excellent birds for beginners and for older children who understand that a chicken has a job and isn’t purely a pet as a Delaware will rarely become a lap bird.

Roosters can sometimes be rather protective of their flock, although this is variable and depends on the individual personality of the bird. Caution should however be taken with roosters around children.

Delaware hens are not prone to broodiness, and having one sit on a batch of eggs is almost unheard of. 

If you want to raise your own Delawares, then you’ll need the help of a broody hen from another breed, such as a Cochin or Orpington. Alternatively, you could try using an incubator.

It’s possible to create sex link chicks using Delaware hens crossed with a Rhode Island or New Hampshire rooster.

With this cross, the female chicks will be hatched out red, while the males will be a true Delaware pattern.

One thing that can be a little problematic for anyone living with close neighbors is noise. Delaware’s just love to chatter, which could cause some problems. Roosters will also crow very loudly at various points during the day, starting in the early morning.

Personally, I love hearing my birds talk to each other, but I’m sure if I had close neighbors they might not find it so enchanting. For this reason, think carefully about how people living close to you will feel, before getting any Delawares.

Delaware Chicken Breed Specifics and Traits

Delaware chickens are sturdy-looking birds and have a broad, deep body shaped like an inverted triangle. They carry a good quantity of quality meat, and lay large to jumbo eggs, making them an ideal dual-purpose hen.

Roosters typically weigh between 7 and 8 lbs, while hens are closer to 6 ½ lbs. Young cockerels are approximately 7 ½ lbs and pullets 5 ½ lbs.

Bantam Delawares are cute miniature versions that weigh in at close to 32 ounces for roosters and 28 ounces for hens.

They have a smooth, single red comb with five distinct points. The wattles and ear lobes are also red, and they have strong horn-colored beaks.

Their legs are stout and muscular, and the lower leg is a deep yellow color, as are their feet which have four toes. Their skin color is white.

The main feather color of the Delaware is always white. They have black barring on their hackles, wings, and tails. 

Delaware chickens are both cold and heat tolerant, provided that in freezing weather their combs are protected. This can be done with an application of vaseline and the careful use of an over-perch heater.

Health and Disease in the Delaware Chicken

There are no particular diseases or other problems associated with the Delaware chicken. They are known to be a robust and hardy breed that is usually very healthy.

Lice, mites, and worms can affect all chickens, regardless of breed, and attention must be paid to ensure they are regularly treated against this. 

Dust bathing in soft, dry sand mixed with raw, uncalcined diatomaceous earth (DE) can be beneficial for keeping lice and mites at bay. Be aware that a lot of DE produced in the US contains a lot of heavy metals that can be detrimental to your birds if they eat it. For this reason, don’t feed DE unless it comes from a clean source, for example, Peru or Australia. 

Care should be taken when handling DE as the dust can irritate your lungs. 

Feeding Your Delawares

Chickens require the correct type of feed for their age and purpose. A chick will need a high protein crumble, designed explicitly for chicks. Food should be available at all times. 

Place fresh feed down daily, as old food can harbor mold after only a short while. If eaten this may make your chicks sick and can even kill them.

As they grow and develop, the protein content can be reduced, and you can switch them to a growers feed. 

When the hens reach maturity, they will require a special layers feed, that comes in the form of pellets or a crumble. It has additional calcium to help with egg development. 

Laying hens also need crushed oyster shells provided in a separate container which they can take at will. This supplies them with additional calcium and other nutrients.

Other than food, all chickens must eat insoluble grit. As they have no teeth to chew their food the grit helps them digest what they eat. It enters an organ called the gizzard, which is a strong muscle and works rather like a grinding stone at a wheat mill, grinding the food down to a finer form so nutrients can be released. 

Finally, fresh, clean water needs to be freely available at all times. 

Space Requirements for Delawares

A well-insulated coop where your chickens can retreat and roost at night, or lay eggs during the day is essential. The chicken coop should ideally provide at least eight square feet of space for each bird and be well ventilated to allow fumes produced from chicken feces to escape.

Nest boxes that measure 12 x 12 x 12 are large enough for Delawares, and roosting perches should provide around 9 inches of space per bird.

Allowing your chickens to free-range, even if it isn’t every day, is not only good for their physical health but also their mental wellbeing. 

When shut up in a coop and pen, it’s hard for them to actively engage in natural chicken behavior. Being free-range, let’s do what chickens love to do, scratch around and actively hunt for their own food.

If you can fence off an area of land with to a height of four feet, that should be sufficient to keep them contained, as they are not good flyers. Keep in mind however that this won’t keep out a determined predator.

Delaware Chicken Eggs

Delawares are good layers, producing around 200 eggs a year in full production. This equates to approximately 4 large to jumbo size eggs a week.

The eggs are light brown, and young hens usually begin laying from around six months of age. There is a degree of variation to this, and it can have a pretty broad range, varying from between 21 and 28 weeks.

Where to Buy Delaware Chickens 

As this chicken continues to grow in popularity, it may be possible to find them advertised at farm stores, feed merchants, and in your local press. However, a sure way of getting some is to buy them from a hatchery. There are hatcheries located all over the United States.

Note that chicks are seasonal, so they won’t be available throughout the year. Many hatcheries have minimum and maximum order quantity and vaccinations and transportation costs are extra and not included in the prices shown here, which are only meant as a guide.

We use Cackle Hatchery to purchase our chicks. 

  • Unsexed – $2.40 to $3.30 each
  • Female – $3.30 to $4.15 each
  • Male – $1.85 to $2.70 each

Chicks are delivered to your door in the mail.


The Delaware is a wonderfully useful chicken to add to your flock. Their dual-purpose, egg and meat uses, makes them ideal for the farmstead.

If you want a backward chicken, they are also great, especially if you have no close neighbors and enough yard space so they can roam around freely.

Delaware’s do best when kept in a free-range environment, although they can also be kept in a large coop and pen.

Although they are prone to being a little bossy, they don’t generally harass and bully other chicken breeds.

Roosters can sometimes become aggressive, as they are true protectors of their flock. This can vary from one rooster to the next but it’s a good idea not to let children get too close until you are sure about your rooster’s temperament.

By keeping Delaware chickens, you’ll be helping to save an American heritage breed that may otherwise become extinct. 

Questions and Answers

Q: Are Delaware chickens good layers?

A: Delaware hens are wonderful egg layers, giving around 200 eggs a year or four per week when in full production. 

Q: Are Delaware chickens docile?

A: The Delaware hen is usually very docile and easy to care for. Roosters can be protective of their flocks and may be aggressive, but this is down to the individual bird. Ensuring you handle your chickens well from a young age will help them become confident in your company.

Q: Are Delaware chickens a dual-purpose breed?

A: Although the Delaware chicken was originally bred to be a meat bird, they are actually a fantastic dual-purpose breed and are ideal for keeping on a farmstead to provide both eggs and meat.

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