Rhode Island Reds
By Maurice Wallace
There is no better breed of fowl than the Rhode Island Red. In my experience with poultry, of all the breeds with which I have worked, the Rhode Island Reds have been the best. No matter what the purpose was, the Reds have always stood the test. In considering Rhode Island Red fowl that is something that must be kept in mind. This is a breed of great beauty and also of great usefulness. In this breed the two can go hand in hand. The beauty of the Red should be promoted but the usefulness should not be impaired.
In the world of Bantams the diminutive Red takes a position corresponding to that taken by the standard large Reds in the world of the big fowl. The Red Bantam is a fine little bird to work with. It is active and procreative usually with a vigor that lends itself to exhibition style Arthur Schilling emphasized the ornamental aspect of Bantam breeding. Judges have to follow the American Standard of Perfection, but no one could put up a Standard in following which the exercise of judgement would not be needed. It seems to me that good judgement would dictate that Red Bantams be not so held so severely to account, in matters of purely production character, as the standard large Reds.
Considering the Rhode Island Red from a purely commercial point of view I doubt if the Standard requirements have always been in the best interests of the breed. In maintaining breed distinctions, however, possible production opportunities sometimes have to be passed. The way things have turned out it is hard to tell about this. The bare fact is that form and feather seem to maintain as high an indication of permanency as anything connected with the poultry industry.
The Standard calls for the Red's comb to be moderately large, which is larger than the comb of the Plymouth Rock. I don't know why it should be but that is what demanded. It is supposed to follow the skull contour which does not mean that the blade of comb is to keep on clinging to the neck. It clears itself at the base of the skull. The most important thing about the comb is that it be neat; and there is a definite cut for too many points. Failure of the female standard large single comb to be free from a little bow. In it is a venial fault because that kind of a comb is more closely associated with high production. In the Bantam, anything but a straight female single comb would look decidedly out of place.
The rose comb is also moderately large, following the head shape, which gives the spike a position pointing downward. Oval comb shape gives it the appearance of tapering into the spike. Although the rose comb is moderately large, that is something very badly overdone. We see some very rough and ill-shaped rose combs.
Reds have bright, wide open eyes and nicely rounded wattles.
The neck of the male is to be of medium length with the feathers not lying too close in that section. They should be abundant, flowing well over shoulders. That would mean a fair amount of arch. The full, resplendent hackle, of course, is one of the principal beauty spots of the Red. Some Bantams are disproportionately big in head and neck, as they appear from the outside, and that is something to be perfected. A Red or Red Bantam, however, with a straight neck line is not a good Red; and it is better by far to have the neck too full than too slim. The female neck is less conspicuous but the same applies.
The back of the Rhode Island Red is long. I cannot think of any breed of fowl in which the back is relatively longer. That is one of the salient points of Rhode Island Red character. The Plymouth Rock type has often been confused with that of the Red in this way; and often even shorter types than those of the Plymouth Rock. That has been in large fowl, and is now occurring in a greater degree in Bantams. The game is not to obviate Standard specifications but to meet them. That is what gives the zest to the true sportsman.
The body also is long. This applies to Bantams just the same as the large fowl. Too many short bodied Bantams are being placed which if magnified would appear grotesque in standard classes. Many Bantams and some standard large Reds are being shown also that are too deep in the body, far too deep for their length. That is in diametrical opposition to the true Red type. The Red has a longer body than a Plymouth Rock, and the same relative width; yet the Red has a lower standard weight. How then could the Red have as a great a depth as the Rock? Careful examination of the Standard will reveal that it is not supposed to have. It may take greater skill to produce that type in a Bantam but there are Bantam fanciers who are equal to it.
The Red back is horizontal. I don't know why it was required to be that way unless for appearance. That is important because a Red fancier would not have a back on his bird that was other than horizontal. The production Reds weren't the least bit worried about a slope in the back. That ought to make the Bantam men apply themselves to the horizontal back with a greater zeal.
When we think of back we think of tail because the Red back streamlines into the tail to make one of the most beautiful structures known to the avian structures known to the avian world. The tail is well spread, downward and laterally. It is carried low. A properly carried tail is hard to acquire and most tails are too high. In spite of all the cant that has been written on that subject, the latest Standard has moved for a lower tail.
The Rhode Island Red tail is of medium length. How so many people at the same time got the idea that the Rhode Island Red tail was a cousin of the bobtail bird was one of those things I could not understand. That Standard tail is a decided adjunct to the bird, female as well male. I have seen females in which I had to dig down among the coverts to find the main tail at all. If it is an exhibition Red it carries an exhibition tail; and if it does not carry an exhibition tail it is not a good exhibition Red. The plumage of the tail is wide and well woven, the male tail well furnished and the female tail well banked with coverts.
The under line of a Red corresponds to the top line and is absolutely necessary in a complete bird. Loose feathers, for instance, can destroy it. Not in any breed in the under line more parallel to the top line than it is in the Red. The actual keel should be more than ordinarily long. The keel bone itself should not have too great a depth but the forward point should be well forward and the rear point well rearward to give the bird the substance and balance front and rear.
The wing carriage is level, the wing line is parallel with the line of back. The shoulder is not required to be carried up to the same extent that it is in some other breeds. Due to the length of the back there should be more than the usual showing of saddle bank over the rear end of the wings, falling in a smooth, regular drapery. The line of the back, by the way, should be absolutely without convexity. It should have good width throughout, in fact, the entire bird must have good width. This with the relatively shallow keel makes the Red an excellent meat bird.
Loose feathering has absolutely no place in the Red. The under line should be distinct, thigh contours cleanly cut from the body line, the body feathers neatly held and not massed between the hocks and the tail.
The legs are of medium length, the same as the Rock and the Wyandotte. The plumage of the Red thighs is neatly held which makes the legs appear a little longer. But the Red is not a long legged bird. A long bodied bird can carry a greater length of leg with less subversion of symmetry but a short bodied bird set up on stilts is simply not a Red.
There is no breed of fowl in which feather quality is of more importance than it is in the Red. That is because breeders followed color to the exclusion or partial exclusion of other considerations. Then it was discovered that shredded feathers accompanied an easy acquisition of the desired tone of color. As long as I can remember, Delano was maintaining the feather, as a breeder and a judge. What good Rhode Island Red feather quality suffered at the hands of breeders and judges is one of the dark chapters in the history of Standard-Bred fowl. Good feather quality is here to stay. The feather must have good substance and it must be well woven. It must be normal, with the correct apportionment of fluff and web. The standard does not recognize any bizarre strain characteristics. Fanciers will find that failure in fluff of feather will lead to failure in web. But too heavy a quill in the tail feathers of male is something to be avoided.
The exhibition Red is a bird of supreme style. Not only should it have that symmetry which comes of smooth coordination of its various parts; it should have the vigor, nervous energy and character to show itself at its best. A Re should be up on its toes. The Red Bantam character is admirably suited to Rhode Island Red type and style. In the Bantams we look for something superlatively stylish in both male and female. The stodgy type and character of bird is not worthy of the Rhode Island Red.
Bantams should be small. It is a greater accomplishment to produce them small than to produce them big. The big Red should be of good size but not oversize. It is to be remembered that the Red is of good weight for its appearance.
As long as I can remember breeders have been getting the Rhode Island Red darker and darker. All the while the critics have been saying the Reds were too dark and even some judges at times have favored what was said to be a softer hue. Still when an exhibitor came forward with a darker than they had shown before, that darker bird usually came in for more spectator attention and admiration than any bird in the class. Then on and off through the years it was said the exact shade did not matter so long as the color was even. In pens the male breast in earlier times was supposed to match the general plumage of the females.
The last Standard has left no further doubt. The tone of red is rich, dark and lustrous. There is no variation. That is it. The dark birds are still winning and in big Reds there is greater uniformity in the color tone of winners than there ever was before. In some Canadian shows some Red Bantams have been placed that were too light in color has been developed to such uniformity that one of these birds of the more dilute shade is under an obvious handicap.
The under color, of course, is red, rich and intense. Roughly speaking, the darker the under color is the better, up to the point that it assumes a dull tone. Red fanciers have described the best color tone as fiery. There are different tones of red in fire. It is the richest of this fiery tone in which the Red fancier is interested. The word "fiery" itself when used to describe Red under color denotes a good, live tone, as opposed to a dull tone. A good, substantial, springy fluff of feather gives better effect to the correct tone. Fluff of feather that lies flat is more likely to be flat in tone.
Slate in the under color has come in for more than its share of influence merely because it is easily spotted. Never less, the cut for a minimum of slate in a section is very light. In many shows a little scattering of slate through the plumage has been tantamount to disqualification. This has been exceeding unjust and without Standard authority. The Standard says plainly that overemphasis of under color should be avoided. Under color is easily outbalanced by good quality that shows on the outside; but where birds are otherwise closely matched, the one with the better under color is entitled to his advantage.
The Rhode Island Red color chart in the new Standard simply does not apply. I doubt if it will be possible to accomplish a purpose with those feather charts. It looks to me as though the inking of the press is not consistent enough to continue printing the same shade of color throughout the run. The shade may be darker in one printed copy than another. Anyway, in my Standard the Rhode Island Red color is coppery. A bird of that color could not in competition with the Red of today.
There are black markings demanded in the Red. For a bird that has been in the Standard for fifty years the Red has not accomplished much with the black. The Standard did not specify which was more important in the wing color, the black marking or the tone of red. Some Red men set back the clock by declaring for a dark tone of red in the wing at all costs. To fanciers used to working with the color markings, and to judges used to recognition of color principles, the Standard markings took precedence. The adverse influence of the inane wing has been such, however, that the Red Bantams have come through with primary and secondary wing markings that have put many winning big Reds to rout. We want those markings that the Standard asks for and with them established we want an improved tone of red. That does not mean that we want a buff wing with a stripe in it. A reasonable amount of judgement has to be exercised.
The tail is black; nothing is said about lacing. I have judged national meets of Rhode Island Reds and at the leading shows of America I have looked over big classes of Reds from the aisle. I have not seen a half a dozen solid black main tails on the females. Those I looked over from the aisles had red on the ends of their main tails on the females. That is nothing for Red men to boast about. We do get some good tails on the males but there an absolutely black tail is rare. Tails of such deficiency would not go far in other breeds and there is no reason why they should be tolerated in Reds. Bantam fancier influence should help in this respect.
The Standard dodges color specification for female coverts. The more mixed the coloring of the main tail the more likely the coverts are to be red. A tail with good quality of black is usually supported with coverts carrying a fair amount of black. Such coloring is more closely associated with broad feather, too. If we are going to have black tails called for, we are going to have black tails. Some day lacing will start showing up in those tail coverts and when it does I predict it will stay. Either that or we are going to have a much sharper contrast between the black of the tail and the adjacent red than we have today. That contrast can come only through a denser quality of black in tail.
The female has a slight black ticking on the ends of the lower hackle feathers. The male is solid red in that respect. This reverses the usual order of color occurrence. I do not know what the idea is. The tone of this red is so dark in any case that it is necessary to look closely to see if the black is there. But that is the requirement and it must be observed. Circumspection is the keynote of this game. Certainly we want all those black points lined up in harmony. There must be quality to the black and it must be consistent from section to section where required. In the same way an excess of black must be guarded against. Excess of black in sections and parts of sections where black is required, is more venial than isolated black outcrop on the wingbar, the breast and so on. Red color has been developed to a degree of perfection that a bird with black outcrop has a small chance in hot competition. If isolated black outcrop is accompanied by a strong quality of black in those sections where it is required, a degree of tolerance may be exercised, depending upon the closeness of the competition. If black outcrop occurs on a bird of red or on a bird that is weak in the required black markings it is a very poor competitor.
In all cases the red is brilliant and lustrous, with the black carrying a good, rich greenish sheen. The broad female feather with a fine lacing, carrying extra brilliant lustre, always met with favor of Schilling. He contended that such plumage was conducive to better feather quality and more brilliant lustre in the male progeny. My own years of experience in breeding Reds has been such that his contention has become a fixed principle.
The reddish horn on the shanks gives good finish to the Red color scheme.
What about type?
It is encouraging to see a renewed interest in the best of all breeds, the Rhode Island Red. There seems to be more people in and around red alley, not just as exhibitors but also as admirers. Not only is there a renewed interest, but also there are many more Rhode Island Reds making their way onto champion row. As more of our reds are placed at this level, the interest in them will continue to grow. We as breeders of reds must keep our focus on the standard and continue our efforts in breeding in order to perpetuate a red that measures up to the "Standard." Recently, there have been some excellent articles helping us reach this goal. These articles have dealt with the understanding of red color and how to breed it. Mr. Robert Blosl is one of the authors of these very informative articles. He along with others have been instrumental in furthering our club in this area. People like these individuals, who have been willing to share their experience and expertise, are the foundation of our clubs growth and success. With this in mind, this article will address another area that we as red breeders must not ignore; that is Rhode Island Red "type."
"What is the correct type of the Rhode Island Red as a breed?" First we need to define type. According to Webster's Dictionary type is the general form, character, or style of a particular kind or class. Simply stated it is a group of special characteristics that separate the object or objects from others. Now, using that definition, what special characteristics separate a Rhode Island Red from other breeds of chickens? In order to answer this question, we must seek out the guidelines for the exact type for our breed. This is located in the Standard of Perfection. As a side note if you do not have a "Standard," it is of utmost importance for you to obtain one. Now, back to the "Standard." We see a bird with a deep full breast, a flat back, legs that are placed in the middle two-thirds of the bird and a fully furnished tail of medium length. Now, take a piece of paper and cover up the head and tail. You should only have the body in view. The body shape reminds me of the concrete blocks that are used to build with. This rectangular block shape is one-half as deep as it is long. This is an important point to remember. The red type is based on a block shape. Its body shape should be half as deep as it is long to be a bird of great balance. Now, let's start putting the parts of the block into a balanced relationship. For a mental picture, the red will be divided into thirds. The breast and hackle make-up the first third. The middle two-thirds of the bird contains the back, bowl and wings. The legs are placed in the center of the back in this middle third of the bird. The final third of our red is the fully furnished tail of medium length. Now, putting these three thirds together, we have a red that is balanced and proportioned correctly. The "Standard" calls for this type of bird.
Now, let us examine an area that we as red breeders might not place as much emphasis on as we need to in our pursuit of red "type," that is the deep full breast. Again using the "Standard," I mark a reference point on my red. It is at the shoulder.
There is a great relationship between brick shape and egg production. The makers of the standard understood this relationship. Their livelihood depended upon a bird that would grow quickly, produce a goodly number of eggs and supply enough meat for themselves and a surplus for marketing. This is why the Rhode Island Red were known as a dual-purpose breed. The brick shape enables the Rhode Island Red to carry a well fleshed breast and a body style that is conducive to producing eggs. This body style gave the bird the ability to house the organs that are needed to produce eggs. These are the characteristics that need to be emphasized in our breeding programs. These requirements were the foundations for the Rhode Island Red "type."
In accordance with this ideal type set in your mind's eye, seek out birds in your flock that carry the red "type" characteristics mentioned above. Look for birds that carry the deep full breast, have their legs in the center two-thirds of the body, and have a fully furnished tail of medium length. As you are examining your reds, watch out for the illusion that can occur when examining the top line (the back and tail). In examining the top line,you might see excellent back length and correct tail angle, yet if we look at the underline we see a cut-away breast, legs placed forward and a tail that makes up more than the appropriate one third of the bird. Again, looking down on the bird from above you see a bird that carries good width from the shoulders through the tail. Now, a side profile reveals the rectangular shape desired. At a casual glance this is true, yet the critical eye reveals that this is not a true picture but an illusion. The tail has caused this misperception. If the tail were removed, you would see that the body would be more the shape of a box or a "V" shape instead of rectangle. A cause of this is in our pursuit of a fully furnished tail. The body length has shortened and the tail length has increased. Meanwhile, we seem to have lost the deep-well rounded breast. Many of our standard reds produced today look as if the birds ran into a wall and their feet kept going. Meaning the legs are not centered in the middle of the bird's back. The leg placement is almost under the hackle. This causes the bird to be unbalanced. I know we can recapture the correct Rhode Island Red "type." One of the most ideal of modern day reds has been produced by Mr. Dennis Myers of Wooster, Ohio. His picture of his bird in the "Poultry Press" is of a bird that in my opinion represents an example of ideal Rhode Island Red "type." This bird has a deep well-rounded breast, its legs in the middle of its back, and fully furnished tail of medium length. This is the type we need to be focused upon for our large fowl and bantams.
In closing, we must maintain our concentration upon the characteristics the "Standard" writers used to define Rhode Island Red "type."These characteristics are the deep full breast, a wide long back with legs centered in the middle of the back, and a fully furnished tail of medium length. Along with these physical characteristics be ever mindful of the Rhode Island Red as a dual-purpose breed and how that is defined. This article has been written with the intent of benefiting the best of all breeds. We must examine the "Standard" carefully and build a vivid picture in our mind's eye of what a Rhode Island Red should look and be like; then we must put forth our effort in breeding to produce birds that resemble that type. Also, much of the information in this article I owe to Mr. Gary Underwood of Stockton, Illinois. Through his patience and persistence in teaching me what red type is and how to breed for it. I am greatly indebted to him for this valuable instruction. He is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced breeders of Rhode Island Reds living today. I encourage all who desire to produce reds that conform to the "Standard" to talk with Mr. Underwood. May our Reds continue in popularity and our club in growth.
The Standard for the Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are general purpose fowls bred for the production of meat and eggs. Color of skin, yellow; color of egg shells, brown to dark brown.
Cock …………8 ½ lbs Hens ………………6 ½
Cockerel ……7 ½ lbs Pullets …………….5 ½
Comb: Single, moderately large, set firmly on head, straight and upright, with five even and well defined points, those in front and rear smaller than those in the Center: blade smooth inclining slightly downward following contour of the skull.
Comb: Rose , moderately large, firm on head ; oval, free from hollow center, surface covered with small rounded points, terminating in a spike at the rear, the spike drooping slightly but not conforming too closely to the shape of head.
Beak: Medium length, slightly curved.
Face: Clean cut, skin fine and soft in texture, free from wrinkles.
Eyes: large, full and prominent.
Wattles: Medium size, uniform, free from folds or wrinkles.
Ear Lobes: Oblong, well defined, smooth.
Head: Medium in length, fairly deep, inclined to be flat on the top rather than round.
Neck: Medium length.
Hackle: Abundant, flowing over shoulders, not too closely feathered.
Back: Long, moderately broad its entire length, carried horizontally.
Saddle: moderately broad, feathers of medium length, moderately abundant, blending into tail.
Tail: Medium length, well spread carried at an angle of twenty degrees (20*) above horizontal.
Main Tail: broad and overlapping.
Main Sickles: medium length, broad, extending slightly beyond mail tail feathers.
Lesser Sickles and Tail-Coverts: medium length, broad and overlapping
Wings: Good size, well folded, carried horizontally.
Primaries and Secondary’s broad and overlapping in natural order when wing is folded.
Breast: Moderately deep, full, well rounded.
Body and Fluff: Body long, broad, moderately deep, straight, extending well forward, giving the body an OBLONG appearance feathers, carried close to body.
Fluff: moderately full.
Legs and toes: Legs set well apart, straight when viewed from front.
Lower Thighs: medium length, well feathered, smooth.
Shanks: medium length, smooth.
Toes: four on each foot, medium length, and straight, well spread.
Comb: Single; medium in size, set firmly on head, straight and upright with five even and well defined points, those in front and rear smaller than those in center.
Comb: Rose low free from hollow center, set firmly on head, much smaller than that of the male and in proportion to its length, narrower covered with small points and terminating in a small, short spike at the rear.
Beak: Medium length slightly curved.
Face: Clean cut, skin,, fine and soft in texture, free from wrinkles.
Eyes: large, full, and prominent.
Wattles: Medium size, regularly curved.
Ear Lobes: Oblong, well defined, smooth.
Head: Medium in length, fairly deep, inclined to be flat on top rather round.
Neck: Medium length, moderately full feathered.
Back: Long, moderately broad its entire length, carried horizontally, blending into tail.
Tail: Medium length well spread, carried at an angle of ten degrees (10*) above horizontal.
Wings: Rather large, well folded.
Fronts: well covered by breast feathers
Flights: carried nearly horizontally.
Primaries and Secondary’s: broad and overlapping in natural order when wing is folded.
Breast: Moderately, deep, full, well rounded.
Body and Fluff: Body long, moderately broad, moderately deep, straight, extending well forward, giving the body an OBLONG appearance feathers, carried close to body.
Fluff: moderately full.
Legs and toes: Legs set well apart, straight when viewed and front.
Lower Thighs: medium length, well feathered, smooth. Shanks; medium length, smooth.
Toes: four on each foot, medium length, and straight, well spread.
Comb, face, wattles and ear lobes: Bright red.
Beak: Redish horn.
Eyes: Reddish bay.
Head: Plumage, lustrous rich dark red.
Neck: Hackle lustrous, rich dark red.
Front of neck: rich dark red.
Back and Saddle: lustrous, rich, dark red.
Tail: Main Tail: black
Sickles: lustrous, greenish black. Beattler Green.
Coverts: maily lustrous, greenish black, rich red as they approach the saddle.
Wings: Fronts, Bows and Coverts lustrous, rich dark red.
Primaries: upper webs, lustrous , rich dark redl lower webs, black with narrow edging of red.
Secondary’s: lower webs, lustrous, rich, dark red, the red extending around end of feathers sufficient to secure a red wing bay and lacing the upper portion of the upper web, this color growing wider in shorter secondary’s remainder of each secondary black feathers next to the body being red on surface so that the wing when folded in natural position shall show one harmononious lustrous, rich, dark red color.
Breast: Lustrous, rich, dark red.
Body and Fluff: Body lustrous , rich dark red.
Fluff: Rich dark red.
Legs and toes: Lower thighs rich, dark red.
Shanks and toes: Rich yellow tinged with reddish horn. A line of red pigment down the sides of shanks, extending to tips of toes, is desirable.
Undercolor of all sections: Rich intense Red.
Plumage: General surface color, lustrous, rich dark red, except where black is specified and free from and shafting or mealiness. No contrast in color between any of the sections, the harmonious blending in all sections desired. The specimen should carry a high sheen in all outer sections so as to give a glossed appearance.
Color of Female-
Comb, Face, Wattles and ear lobes: bright Red.
Beak: Reddish horn.
Eyes: Reddish bay.
Head: Plumage lustrous rich dark red.
Neck; Lustrous, rich dark red with slight ticking of black, confined to tips of lower neck feathers.
Front of neck: Rich dark red.
Back: Lustrous, rich dark red.
Tail: Main tail Black.
Wings: Fronts, Bows and Coverts lustrous, rich, dark red.
Primaries: upper webs, lustrous, rich dark red lower webs, black with narrow edging of red.
Secondaries: lower webs, lustrous, rich, dark red, the red extending around end of feathers sufficient to secure a red wing bay and facing the upper portion of the upper web, this color growing wider in shorter secondaries remainder of each secondary black feathers next to body being red on surface so the wing when folded in natural position shall show on harmonious lustrous, rich dark red color.
Breast: lustrous, rich dark red.
Body and Fluff: body lustrous, rich, dark red. Fluff rich dark red.
Legs and toes: Lower thighs rich dark red. Shanks and toes rich yellow tinged with reddish horn.
Under color of all sections: Rich intense red.
Plumage General surface color, lustrous, rich dark red, except where black is specified, even in all sections and free from shafting or mealiness.
One or more entirely white feathers showing in the outer plumage.