Plymouth Rock Chickens: A Top Choice for Small Flocks

Plymouth Rock Chickens featured image

By Sue Senger

If you are searching for the best chickens to add to your small flock, then look no further than the Plymouth Rock chicken.  In the early 1900’s, the Plymouth Rock (also known as the Barred Rock or Barred Plymouth Rock) could be found in nearly every homestead and small flock holding across America.  And for good reason!

Few birds today combine the egg laying capabilities, meat quality, docile temperament, and solid foraging skills that the Plymouth Rock offers.  They were number one back then for a reason, and they are still the top choice for small flocks today.

Let’s take a closer look at the Plymouth Rock chicken and what has made it such an enduring part of the poultry scene in North America for over a century.

Plymouth Rock Chickens: Timeless Tradition

From its first appearance at a Boston, Massachusetts breed show in 1849, the Plymouth Rock Chicken drew a lot of attention.  Just 25 years later the breed was accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Excellence.

By the time World War II started in 1939, the Plymouth Rock was the most widely kept and extensively bred chicken in North America.  No other heritage breed has come close to this level of enduring popularity.

Even after the Cornish Cross became the standard for the poultry industry, the Plymouth Rock remained a staple of small-scale producers and homesteaders.

Two Plymouth Rock Chickens on the grass

Plymouth Rock Characteristics

The classic version of a Plymouth Rock has distinctive black and white plumage that creates a barred pattern extending over the entire bird.  This pattern is complemented by distinctly red single combs, wattles, and faces; yellow bills and legs; and dark orange eyes.

How much do Plymouth Rock chickens weigh?

Roosters are often much larger than hens, reaching 9 to 10 pounds in 20-24 weeks.  Hens are smaller, averaging 6-7 pounds in the same length of time.

Are Plymouth Rock chickens good egg layers?

Starting around 24-26 weeks of age, hens start to lay large, light brown eggs.  Plymouth Rocks are good heritage egg layers, producing more than 200 eggs each year.  Their egg laying consistency typically remains good for 3 to 4 years.

Are Plymouth Rock chickens good meat chickens?

Barred rocks were developed as dual-purpose birds, so their large body size and high quality meat was valued as much as their egg laying prowess.  Chicks feather quickly and grow fast, which are important traits for meat birds.

If you are interested in the meat qualities of modern Plymouth Rocks, be sure to buy from a source where both meat and egg qualities are being selected for.  Many modern fanciers have focused their breeding efforts on egg production only.  Since egg laying efficiency (lighter frames and more eggs) trades off against meat production (fast growth, larger frames, heavier weights, fewer eggs), maintaining dual purpose traits requires a keen eye and a balanced approach to breeding.  Use it or lose it definitely applies here!

Tip:  To get good dual purpose birds, always buy from a source where both meat and eggs are being actively selected for.  Many modern Barred Rock lines are being bred only for egg production.

What colors are Plymouth Rock chickens?

The breed standard recognizes a wide variety of colors in addition to the classic black and white barring, which include: Barred (classic), White, Buff, Silver Penciled, Partridge, Columbian, Blue, and Black.

Top Breed Characteristics

Type:  Dual Purpose

Standard Colors: Barred (classic), White, Buff, Silver Penciled, Partridge, Columbian, Blue, and Black.

Crown: Single comb (Red)

Wattles and Earlobes: Red

Skin color: Yellow

Leg color: Yellow

Eyes: Light Gold to Orange

Egg Size:  Large

Egg Production: 200 + per year

Egg Color: Light Brown

Meat Production:  Hens reach 6-7 lbs and Roosters 9-10 lbs in 20-24 weeks

Adaptability:  Both heat and cold tolerant

Plymouth Rock Chicks

The classic black and white Plymouth Rock Chicken has black or dark grey chicks with yellow or white chests and a yellow or white mark on the back of the head.  In many lines, the head marking is smaller on females than on males, allowing for some early sexing of chicks. 

As they grow, male Barred Rocks are typically much lighter in color than the females, and they grow faster, allowing for further early sorting of the chicks.  At maturity, most roosters are significantly lighter and larger than the hens.

What is the Temperament of a Plymouth Rock Chicken? 

Plymouth Rocks have a docile nature that makes them equally at ease as free-range birds, or in smaller confined settings such as backyards.  Hens are happy to get to work each day scratching and hunting for insects, worms and even small rodents.  They are willing to lend a hand turning soil in your garden or your flower beds, so keep that in mind when choosing where to let them roam.

Plymouth Rocks are curious and outgoing.  They can often be hand-fed, taught to come running for treats, and some even like to be picked up.  Roosters will defend their hens from approaching danger and strangers, but are not prone to attacking people the way some breeds are.

Some hens may go broody, while others won’t ever show broody tendencies.  Broody hens can successfully set up to a dozen eggs and are good mothers with their chicks.  Some hens will even accept adopted chicks if they are slipped into the nest during the night.

The calm nature of the Plymouth Rock means they will adapt to most housing and care routines.  Given their size, they require a minimum of  3-5 square feet per bird in the coop, unless they also have access to an outdoor run or free-range opportunities.  Allow 6-10 inches of perch space in the coop as well.

Their adaptability also extends to climate and temperatures.  Plymouth Rocks can tolerate both heat and cold well, making them flexible for many situations across the country where other chickens might have issues.

Temperament: Docile, curious, outgoing
Broodiness:  Some hens may go broody; Broody hens are good mothers

Production System:  Adaptable; Do well both as free range and in confinement

Climate/Temperatures:  Tolerate both heat and cold

Pros & Cons of Raising Plymouth Rock Chicken

Pros and Cons of Raising Plymouth Rock Chickens infographic

Pros

  • Dual purpose, meat and 200+ eggs per year
  • Good egg production for 3-4 years
  • Broody hens are able to raise their own chicks
  • Both heat and cold tolerant
  • Calm, outgoing personalities
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Suitable for small flocks and backyards

Cons

  • Does not lay as much as a modern egg-laying hybrid
  • Does not reach slaughter weight as quickly as a modern meat hybrid
  • Does not have a breast as large as the modern meat hybrid

Plymouth Rock Chicken FAQs

What is the Livestock Conservancy Status for Plymouth Rock Chickens?

Recovering.  Although the breed fell from its ubiquitous status after World War II, the breed never disappeared.  The resurgence of interest in homesteading, egg and meat production has enabled the Plymouth Rock to once again surface as an outstanding small flock addition.

When are Plymouth Rocks ready as meat birds?

Because Plymouth Rocks are a heritage breed, it takes much longer to produce meat than the modern Cornish Cross.  Barred rocks reach 7 to 10 pounds within 20 to 24 weeks of age, whereas the commercially bred Cornish Cross is harvested for meat within 8 to 10 weeks.

Will Plymouth Rocks produce as many eggs as a Leghorn or other egg laying breed?

No.  Plymouth Rock chickens are dual purpose chickens, making them suitable for both meat and egg production.  

The characteristics that make an egg-laying breed like the Leghorn so efficient include its smaller body size and lighter frame.  Less energy in the Leghorn goes into growing body size so more energy goes into creating eggs.   

The Plymouth Rock lays 200 or more eggs a year, but it is a larger chicken and therefore Rocks put more energy into growth than Leghorns.  

The value of a dual-purpose bird is the ability of a small flock owner or backyard enthusiast to have both eggs and meat production from a single type of chicken, rather than needing to maintain separate breeding flocks of each type of bird.

Can Plymouth Rocks raise their own chicks?

Yes!  Plymouth Rock hens that go broody can successfully raise chicks without intervention.

Can you keep more than one Plymouth Rock rooster in a flock?

Maybe.  Because of their docile nature, it is sometimes possible to keep more than one Plymouth Rock rooster in the same flock.  The highest success rates happen when the roosters are raised together from hatching, although it is sometimes possible to introduce a new rooster into a flock where multiple roosters have been kept. There needs to be:

  • places for the less dominant rooster to hide or get away from the dominant rooster;
  • enough space in the pen and on perches to allow the roosters to separate when they want to be apart; and
  • enough hens (more than 10, but 20+ is better) to reduce the pressure on the hens from having multiple roosters.

Plymouth Rock Chickens: Time Tested Quality 

Creating a successful small flock is easy when Plymouth Rocks are your primary bird.  This breed has withstood the test of time and flourishes in all kinds of conditions and climates.   Whether you want primarily eggs or meat or both, the Plymouth Rock Chicken is a tried and true choice.  Add some to your flock this year, and enjoy the traditional quality of this American poultry superstar. 

Are you thinking about getting chickens or do you already have a flock? Check out >> A Beginner’s Guide to Chickens

Hi! I’m Sue. As a Content Marketer and SEO Strategist, I create click-worthy posts designed to maximize your chances of ranking on page-1. With a Ph.D. in biology and an MSc in plant science, I like to focus on health, wellness, sustainability, and food. Catch up with me on Rose Hill Farm or my new website Food Abundance Revolution.

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