What’s not to love about the huge and cuddly Jersey Giant chicken? A true American breed from New Jersey which puts the max on everything, from their body size to their eggs. Let’s find out more about this wonderful heritage breed.
Table of Contents
- Largest American Chicken Breed
- Dual Purpose Meat and Eggs
- Friendly and Docile
- Extra Large Eggs
Background & History of the breed
The Jersey Giant chicken is an American Heritage breed. It was developed in the United States by two brothers, John and Thomas Black, between 1870 and 1890. The Black brothers lived near Jobstown in Burlington County, New Jersey and this played a part in how the chickens eventually became known as Jersey Giants.
The Black brothers specialized in breeding poultry for the meat market. When developing the breed, their efforts were mainly focused on creating a chicken with a heavy carcass. To achieve this, they used a series of crosses, including Black Javas, Black Langshans, and Dark Brahmas.
From these, they selected all of the largest specimens for continued breeding, providing their type was generally conforming to their ideal. The brothers paid no particular attention to color, just size, and shape.
The birds did not receive the name “Giants” until 1895 when a caponizer visited the Black brother’s farm and, on seeing the large birds, suggested the name of “Black’s Giants” in recognition of their creators. The name later changed to “Black Giants” and then finally to “Jersey Giants,” which was given by Dexter P. Upham from Belmar, New Jersey.
Mr.Upham was involved with the Black Giants improvement, and he changed the name around 1917 in honor of the State in which the birds had originated.
Jersey Black Giants
Another person known for refining the breed between 1917 to 1919 was U.L. Maloney of Marcy Farms in Matawan, New Jersey. He began to exhibit the chickens, introducing them to the larger public. They became very popular as table birds due to the then dwindling turkey industry, although this was short-lived.
The American Association of Jersey Black Giant Breeders Club (a bit of a mouthful) was created in 1921, and they adopted the name of “Jersey Black Giant.” By now, the birds were being bred a uniform black color, as well as to a particular type and size. They matured relatively rapidly, were hardy, and had a good constitution.
Despite their giant frame, Jersey Black Giants were also good foragers making them suitable to keep free-range. At six months of age, cockerels would weigh around 9 lbs, while at seven months, capons were closer to an incredible 12 lbs.
White Jersey Giants
It wasn’t long before the white “Sports” birds that sometimes cropped up from the blacks became a variety of their own. No breeder ever claimed to be the creator of the whites, as they were really just genetic throwbacks. Still, it wasn’t until the late 1920s and early 1930s that they were recognized as their own individual type.
At the time, there was a bit of prejudice about white chickens, as they were thought to be quite inferior. But this soon passed, and popularity began to grow.
The sports were crossed with White Orpingtons, White Plymouth Rocks, and other breeds of white chicken, but this did not prove successful. Only the actual sports of the Black Giants were acceptable, and these were eventually recognized as their own variety.
Blue Jersey Giants
It wasn’t until 1981 that Blue Jersey Giants were developed. Mrs. R. E. Miller from Kansas had bred Jersey Giants for over 40 years. She was thought of as one of the top breeders in the country.
A friend of Mrs. Miller, Leo Prokop from Nebraska, had been trying to develop Blue Jersey Giants but without any real success. Mrs. Miller told him she had a white pullet with gray on some of her back feathers, and so he took the pullet and bred her to a Black Jersey Giant.
From this pairing, there were various colors produced in the first generation, including some splash, but from these, the hens were mated to another Black Jersey Giant. This time with success, as there were Blue chickens, and they became the foundation of the Blue Jersey Giant variety.
Although not rare, the Jersey Giant is currently on the “Watch” list with the Livestock Conservancy Organisation.
Jersey Giant Temperament and Behavior
Jersey Giants are extra-large chickens with very docile temperaments. Good with children, don’t seem to mind being picked up and handled providing they are made used to it while young.
They can also be suitable for new chicken keepers so long as they are made aware that Jersey Giants aren’t so suitable for hatching out eggs. This is because they tend to crush them due to their weight. Once eggs do hatch, however, they make excellent, attentive mothers.
You also need more space for Jersey Giants than with other chicken varieties. Again this is due to their size. It’s recommended that they be given four to eight square feet each, but the more space they have, the better.
Jersey’s are generally good with other chicken breeds and, due to their size, tend not to get picked on.
If you’re looking for a quiet chicken breed, then Jersey Giants probably aren’t it. They are pretty conversational, and many owners find their funny, often very un-chicken-like noises to be rather amusing. They may not be the best chickens to keep if you have close neighbors though.
Breed Specifics and Traits of the Jersey Giant
Although Jersey Giants were initially bred to be meat birds, they also lay a good number of eggs, more than many other large chicken breeds. This has made them popular as dual-purpose hens as the eggs are relatively prolific and very large.
Jersey Giant Size
They weren’t named “Giant” for nothing! Roosters can be 22 to 26 inches in height, while hens are between 16 and 20 inches. When it comes to their weight, they are pretty huge:
- Roosters = 13 lbs.
- Cockerels = 11 lbs.
- Hens = 10 lbs.
- Pullets = 8 lbs.
There are also two bantam varieties recognized by the American Poultry Association, the Black and the White Bantam Jersey Giant, or not so Giant as they are bantams. However, there is much debate regarding the existence of true Jersey Giant bantams, as you can read in this article published by the American National Jersey Giant Club.
Like other unusually large breeds of animals, it is normal for a Jersey Giant to have a slightly shorter lifespan than some other chicken breeds. This averages around six years. It is interesting to see though, that some people have reported their hens living to 10 and even 13 years of age, but this would definitely be unusual.
Varieties of Jersey Giant
The American Poultry Association recognizes three varieties of full-size Jersey Giants, Black, White, and Blue.
- Black – Admitted to standard in 1922
- White – Admitted to standard in 1947
- Blue – Admitted to standard in 2003
- Blue Splash – as yet unrecognized
Jersey Giant chicks look just like your average chicken chicks. The black variety has black bodies and heads with a white throat, underside, and wingtips. The whites are smokey gray with a pale yellow/gray throat, underside, and wings, and the blues are a darker gray with a dirty yellow throat and underside.
As the largest chicken breed in America, Jersey Giants should have a robust and rugged appearance with an angular shape. Their comb is large, red, single, and with six points. In Black Jersey Giants, the shanks are black with a willowish tinge, and in the white variety, the shanks are a dark willow. The soles of the feet should always be yellow.
The black birds should have black feathers with a beetle green iridescence that reflects in the sun. There may be some white feathers present in young birds, but this must be eradicated in the final molt into adult plumage. The white birds must be pure white.
Jersey Giant Characteristics
Due to their close, dense feather structure, Jersey’s are pretty cold tolerant and do well in colder climates. Heat is another matter, and they do need plenty of protection in the form of deep shade and water to thrive in hot places.
Their size makes getting off of the ground more difficult than for other kinds of chicken. Their perches should be placed relatively close to the ground, and nest boxes need to be proportionately larger.
Being docile and large, they are susceptible to attack by predators such as foxes, dogs, coyotes, and bears. Still, they will be less prone to problems with smaller predators like birds of prey.
Health and Disease
When breeding the Jersey Giant chicken, the emphasis wasn’t just on producing a bird of great size. It was also aimed at creating one that was robust. They are overall very healthy birds with no real susceptibility to any particular illness.
They tend to suffer from leg injuries a bit due to their size and because of their weight. This is one reason why perches and nest boxes mustn’t be too high, because when jumping down, the birds can damage themselves.
Getting enough vitamins is another essential requirement for these birds. This can help maintain strong bones and lower the risk of leg and foot problems.
Like other breeds of chickens with large combs, Jersey Giants will need to have them protected from frostbite in freezing conditions. This is achievable by using a heater above their roosting area and the application of petroleum jelly.
Young hens begin laying at around six months of age. There are other influencing factors besides the age of the bird, though. These include the amount of light they are exposed to and their diet.
A chick that hatched in January could start to lay by July. Still, if the chick doesn’t hatch until the summer, then it’s more likely she won’t begin laying until the following spring when the daylight hours become longer.
Hens will continue to lay regular eggs for around five years, but the number will decrease as they become older. They are seasonal layers, so they will stop laying in the colder, darker months.
The egg color Jersey Giants produce ranges from pale to mid-brown. The eggs of a mature hen are extra large in size, and she will produce around 150 to 200 each year.
Ready for Your Own Jersey Giants?
If you want some Jersey Giants to add to your flock, then you may be lucky enough to spot an advert for them locally or in feed or farming stores. You can also look online at eBay, Amazon, and CraigsList.
The most reliable way of getting some of these lovely birds may be from a hatchery, which can be found all over the United States.
We use Cackle Hatchery, and they can supply you with Black or White Jersey Giant chicks or Black Jersey Giant hatching eggs.
Availability is seasonal from February to July, with orders being taken from November. The cost is per chick and depends on the quantity you order.
- Unsexed chicks = $2.20 to $3.05
- Female chicks = $3.01 to $3.96
- Male chicks = $1.60 to $2.60
- Unsexed chicks = $2.20 to $3.05
- Female chicks = $3.01 to $3.96
- Male chicks = $1.60 to $2.60
Hatching eggs are available from January to June. The cost per egg depends on the quantity you order. Shipping is usually free.
- 12 hatching eggs = $54.36
- 24 hatching eggs = $90.24
Please note that prices are for guidance purposes only and may change.
If you want the biggest of the American chicken breeds, then you’ll need to look no further than the Jersey Giant. Excellent meat birds with the added advantage of also being good layers for such a large chicken. Their eggs are giant too, so you won’t need too many to make a great omelet.
With friendly and calm personalities, there’s a lot to like about these lovely birds. Perhaps their only downside is that they tend to come in so few color varieties, although more are being developed.
Will you be adding some of these lovely chickens to your flock?
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