Delawares came to the party late in 1940. George Ellis crossed a New Hampshire Red and a Barred Plymouth Rock with the goal of maintaining the egg laying capabilities of both but creating a breed with increased meat potential. Mr. Ellis used Barred Plymouth Rock males to mate with New Hampshire females that produced a small population of “silver sport” offspring.
During the 1940’s, the breed supplied chicken to the entire East coast of the United States. The Delaware rapidly became the premiere broiler fowl in use in the region, thus affecting the industry at large. These were the Sunday night chicken dinners of days gone old. If you remember that fried chicken as being the best there ever was, there is a good chance that it was a 12-14 week old Delaware.
In the 1940’s the face of agriculture underwent a huge change. The world was facing a global war that started in 1939 and lasted until 1945. The local farmer of that day and age would have benefited greatly from a breed of chicken that would be hardy to most climates, be calm and docile so as not to produce problems for the farmer, as well as be ready for market or the dinner table at a younger age. As the agricultural industry grew, so did other industries such as grocery chains and fast food restaurants. In 1952, a man from Kentucky, named Harland Sanders, began to franchise his now famous recipe for a fast way to get tasty chicken. The birth of this franchise created increased demand for rapid growing meat birds to supply the growing fast food chain. This turn of events helped the Cornish Cross to take over the meat market. This was a breed of chicken that would be ready for market in less than 8 weeks. The Delaware was just starting to become popular with the small farmer in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when the Cornish cross began to flood the market. In 1952, at about the same time as the American Poultry Association declared them an official breed, they found themselves replaced by the new commercial hybrids. Breeders of show birds and chicken fanciers did not take interest in the Delaware because it was a utility bird that was losing its utility to the Cornish cross.
The Delaware is a quick maturing breed when compared to other heritage breeds. The fast level of maturity makes the Delaware very desirable for processing at a younger age when compared to slower growing Heritage breeds and produces a clean, white-meat table fowl. Hens are good layers of large to jumbo brown eggs. Unlike the most common commercial meat birds in use today, the Delaware does well in free range operations. Chicks develop feathers quicker than most breeds. Robust, they handle both cold and heat well. Many breeders keep them today with the goal of preserving the Delaware as one of America’s heritage breeds.
Cocks grow to 8.5 lbs and hens to 6.5 lbs, cockerels 7.5 lbs and pullets 5.5 lbs. They have moderately large single combs and medium sized head and neck. Their body is moderately long, broad, and deep. The keel is also long, extending well to front at the breast and rear of the legs. The legs are well set apart and are large and muscular. All feathers have a white quill and shaft, which, combined with yellow skin, makes for a cleaner appearing carcass. They can be eaten at any age and are excellent as broilers with an abundance of vigor and fine market quality.