The Barred Plymouth Rock
In 1931 famed American artist Grant Wood created one of his best-known paintings featuring one of the most productive of all chicken breeds. Called Appraisal, the painting shows two women, one holding a Barred Rock chicken. Apparently, they are negotiating the price of the bird even as they “appraise” each other.
Of the dozens of chicken breeds, it’s not surprising that Grant Wood chose the Barred Plymouth Rock to paint. He loved the alternating black and white barring that gives the bird its name, and it was also the most popular American chicken breed for most of the first half of the 20th Century. The artist likely saw Barred Rocks foraging in nearly every farmyard of his native Iowa.
Although, the Barred variety is best known, the birds technically should be called the Barred Plymouth Rock. It is the most desired of at least eight other Plymouth Rocks, including the White, Partridge, Columbian, and Silver Penciled. White Plymouth Rocks are also popular and share the good traits of the Barred Rocks.
Barred Rocks were developed in Massachusetts in the mid 1800’s and were accepted as a breed by the American Poultry Association in 1874. Supposedly, the breed was named after the rock where the Pilgrims set foot in North America in 1620. Although the Barred variety was first developed, various other colors were added as the years went by.
It is not surprising that Barred Rocks were once common on American farms and today are one of the preferred breeds in backyard flocks. They are attractive, easy to care for, and are wonderfully productive. Although most people today keep them for the 200 to 280 light to medium brown eggs each hen lays in a year, they get husky enough to provide a tasty chicken dinner. Roosters grow upwards of 9 ½ pounds with hens tipping the scale at about 7 ½. Unlike specialty egg laying breeds, like hybrid brown egg layers or White Leghorns, or meat hybrids, Barred Rocks are true dual purpose birds. They may not lay quite as many eggs as hybrids but they come close.
Barred Rocks love to forage. Because they aren’t good flyers, they are easy to confine in an outdoor run. They also seem content if they must spend their lives indoors. Occasionally a hen will grow broody and raise a clutch of chicks, but mostly they just keep laying. Barred Rocks are even tempered and not excitable like Leghorns or many other white egg breeds. Hens are also relatively quiet. Although they seem to enjoy cold weather, they also thrive in summer’s heat. When all their traits are combined, they make one of the very best backyard chickens.