Choosing the right chicken breed can make or break your experience in raising poultry. This is true, especially if chickens are part of a long-term business plan or food source.
You need a breed that can fulfill your needs and is still capable of being family friendly. This is where Sussex chickens come in.
Below, we have laid out every detail you need and should be aware of when raising this breed.
The History of the Sussex Chicken
Sussex chickens are native to Sussex County in southeast England. They are among the oldest breeds, dating to the Roman invasion of England in 43 AD.
The Romans started to promote poultry breeding near Sussex, Surrey, and Kent. During the Victorian era, these three counties were famous for being producers of well-grown table chickens.
The Romans brought a few foreign breeds and started to mix them with local chickens, including the original Sussex. Locals began to follow suit and experimented with many other crossbreedings.
Poultry owners were obsessed with raising and creating different chicken breeds during this period. This phenomenon was known as Hen Fever.
The first original group of Sussex chickens came with speckled feathers. They were bred with other breeds, such as Dorkings, Cochins, and Brahmas, to produce newer batches with different colors.
Sussex chickens first appeared in 1845 at a poultry show at the London Zoo. They garnered much attention and started becoming more famous among poultry owners.
This breed was known as Old Sussex or Kentish fowls during this period. Further development of Sussex chickens made them more prominent and hardier.
On the downside, their meat wasn’t as juicy and soft as when the breed was smaller. As a result, a few years later, Sussex chickens’ population decreased. E.J. Wadman founded the Sussex Chicken Club in 1903 to revive this breed to curb this issue.
In 1912, Sussex chickens arrived in the United States. Although these chickens came in eight colors, the American Poultry Association only accepted speckled, white, and red varieties.
However, the British accepted those three and another brown variety in full and bantam versions.
Appearance and Characteristics of Sussex Chicken
Sussex chickens are large chickens with stocky bodies, medium-sized heads, broad shoulders and back, and red eyes and earlobes. They also have erect, five-pointed combs, red wattles, erect tails, and white feet.
The roosters weigh 9 pounds, while the hens weigh 7 pounds. Meanwhile, the cockerels weigh 7 to 8 pounds, and the pullets weigh 6 pounds.
There are eight Sussex varieties, including speckled, red, white, light, brown, buff, silver, and coronation. Here are some physical distinctions to look for in each variety:
Speckled Sussex roosters have dark, brownish-red plumage with subtle white speckles scattered all over their bodies. These speckles become more pronounced when they molt. Meanwhile, the hens have dulled chestnut feathers with similar white speckles.
Red Sussex chickens have dark, copper-red bodies. They also possess black feathers on their necks and tails.
White Sussex chickens possess white heads and bodies. But you can also find dark feathers scattered around their necks and tails.
Light Sussex chickens may look similar to the white variety. However, these chickens have prominent and more black-penciled feathers on their necks and tails.
Brown Sussex chickens have bright brown feathers all over their bodies. They also possess white feet and light brown feathers on their tails.
Buff Sussex chickens have brownish-yellow heads and bodies. They also possess black-penciled feathers on their necks, tails, and wing tips.
Silver Sussex chickens possess white heads, black tails, and silver-penciled feathers on their necks, chests, and back.
In 1936, this variety was created to honor the coronation of King Edward VII, which did not occur. The color was thought lost until efforts to recreate this variety happened in the 1980s. It is the rarest color of Sussex chicken.
Coronation Sussex chickens have white heads and bodies, bright red combs and wattles, and grayish-blue feathers on their necks and tails.
Behavior and Temperament
Sussex chickens are gentle, docile, and friendly birds. They can coexist with humans and other animals. These traits make them suitable for beginners or people with small farms.
Since they aren’t hostile and aggressive, you can make Sussex chickens family pets. They won’t mind if people or children hold and hug them.
These chickens are also naturally curious. They tend to follow their owners around the backyard or farm. On the downside, this gentle and warm behavior can harm them in a few different ways.
For instance, aggressive chickens can bully them, and Sussex chickens don’t reliably defend themselves. If you have dominating birds or other animals, you should separate Sussex chickens from them.
Sussex chickens can run. But they can’t fly or jump up to a high perch. So, they have limited options to fend off predators’ attacks.
To combat this issue, you should set up a protective perimeter with chicken wire or fences. In addition, you can lock Sussex chickens in a coop at night to avoid attacks from nocturnal predators like foxes or raccoons.
The hens are considered good mothers. They can nurture their chicks and assist them when foraging.
Best of all, the mothers aren’t the broody types. Hence, they are pretty easy to handle, even during their laying seasons.
Diet and Feeding Habit
Sussex chickens aren’t picky eaters. They can eat any food, like poultry feed, or forage on their own. They also love nutritious treats like fruits, seeds, and grains.
On average, Sussex chicken can eat 4 ounces of feed per day. And they need regular feed with 16% protein to stay healthy.
You can switch to 18 or 20% protein feed during their molting season. Then, revert to their usual 16% protein feed once the season ends.
The hens also need extra calcium during their laying season. Calcium is the main component that makes up 90% of eggshells.
Sufficient calcium intake can promote a stronger eggshell formation, assist bone development, and combat poor digestive issues.
You can buy crushed oyster shells at your local feed store and leave them out for the hens.
Health Issues and Lifespan
Sussex chickens are hardy birds. They rarely face any major health issues, except for obesity. So, you need to monitor their feed intake.
The optimum weight for Sussex chickens to achieve is between 7 to 9 pounds. You can also let them forage for their food to keep them active. Be sure they roam freely in a protected space to avoid these birds escaping.
Healthy Sussex chickens can live between 5 to 8 years.
What Can You Raise Sussex Chickens For?
You can raise Sussex chickens for meat and eggs. Their large body size can yield a large amount of carcass per bird. In addition, their meat is also juicy and flavorful.
Since these dual-purpose birds can quickly gain weight as you increase their feed portion, you can expect Sussex chickens to mature in 20 weeks.
However, please don’t go overboard and feed them too much to avoid weight-related diseases like obesity.
The hens are also excellent layers. They start producing eggs after 8 months. On average, these birds lay between 180 and 250 eggs per year.
You can also expect Sussex chickens to deliver between 4 and 5 eggs per week. The eggs are creamish brown and weigh 2.11 ounces.
Even in the winter, the hens can still produce eggs prolifically.
No matter your experience level, you can’t go wrong with Sussex chickens. If you want to raise them as family pets, having a few birds around your backyard is more than enough. And occasionally, you can collect their eggs for personal consumption.
On the other hand, if you need them for meat and eggs, you must have a larger flock and proper housing for these chickens. But still, they are easy to handle and considered a low-maintenance breed.