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Meat qualities of Delawares - a BYC "article" :)

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by seriousbill, Apr 15, 2009.

  1. seriousbill

    seriousbill Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 4, 2008
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    Lately, I have had several people ask me questions about using Delawares as free-range broilers, alternatives to Cornish X, etc. People ask me about butchering weights, rates of growth, etc. Since these questions have been coming up so much recently, I'd like to take some time to post a few thoughts here that can hopefully answer some of those questions (for people who are interested in their full money's worth on the subject from my two cents [​IMG] ).

    First of all, I think part of where this is coming from is clearly the history of the breed. As most people know, Delawares were originally a broiler cross (which took advantage of the hybrid vigor and associated size and fast growth that resulted from crossing two established breeds: New Hampshires and Barred Rocks), and that alone is probably enough to cause some people to think of them as meat birds, in spite of the fact that the Delaware has not been a hybrid or cross for a long time. I've noticed that when people include them on lists with classifications, they sometimes classify them as meat birds because of this history. But, there's some misunderstanding involved in this.

    First of all, as I'm sure some folks already know, what was considered a broiler cross in the 1940's would not be considered as such today. If you think about the qualities of the two dual-purpose parent breeds, New Hampshires and Barred Rocks, more people tend to keep these breeds primarily as backyard layers rather than as meat birds. So, any cross of the two breeds can be expected to improve only moderately upon their meat qualities. And, as I indicated above, some of the increase in size or growth rate from crossing the two breeds back in the 1940's was lost when the Delaware breed itself was developed (again, Delawares, contrary to what some believe, are no longer a cross or hybrid, but a pure, recognized APA breed). At this point, the Delaware was still a decent-sized, fast-growing bird, compared to its dual-purpose counterparts, but it was not a hybrid anymore.

    After its development and conformation to a standard, the Delaware became fairly rare, largely because of the competitive pressure brought on by the development of commercial meat birds, which means two things then happened in succession historically: inbreeding and outcrossing. Let me explain: The Delaware, or what was left of it in the 1970's and 1980's (long after it fell out of favor as a broiler), was an inbred bird. The scant numbers that were left could barely sustain the breed. One university was even studying a remnant strain for several genetic issues. In the years that followed, people began to become more interested in historical breeds and in breed preservation, breeders worked with the birds and did limited outcrossing to improve lines, and hatcheries soon jumped on the bandwagon to produce large numbers of "rare, heritage poultry," and they accordingly heavily outcrossed the Delawares they could find in order to produce saleable, profitable numbers and productive birds. This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you want, but it's something that some people are not aware of. And it causes them to think that the Delawares available today are the same as the Delawares of yesteryear, which isn't always the case.

    This leads me to the second thing I would point out, which is that a lot of people who are asking me about Delawares are talking about hatchery birds, and as I and others on the board have pointed out in the past, hatchery birds have often been fairly recently outcrossed to production reds and/or Columbian Rocks to regain vigor and production qualities e.g. egg-laying. Some people who would never consider a production red as a meat bird still expect to order hatchery Delawares that they can productively butcher. This, frankly, isn't altogether realistic. Many hatchery Delawares, while they are terrific layers, perhaps on a par with Rhode Island Reds, don't really have the size or body type to be worthwhile meat birds. I'm not saying they're all this way, but some are.

    And breeder Delawares (which tend to be from older, less outcrossed, lines) are simply not as fast-growing as their broiler-cross early historical counterparts. They're attractive, good layers, and they grow fairly quickly to adults, which (in the best cases) have a chunky body type. They can be butchered for meat, and they have a great flavor. But that doesn't really make them meat birds.

    So, all of this is to say simply that while it is possible to raise, range, and butcher Delawares, anyone who expects them to live up to their historical origins as a meat bird is probably in for some level of disappointment, which is bound to vary in intensity depending on the source of the Delawares in question and the individual goals of the grower.

    Just as an aside, I should mention at this point that I have seen some big, meaty-looking birds with the Delaware color pattern on range that have apparently been outcrossed with meat birds of some kind, and they look like they could be a more viable prospect for free-range broilers if breed authenticity isn't an issue for the grower. But I'm not sure if anyone is selling these types of birds on a large-scale basis. If anyone knows about this, please post some info. [​IMG]

    Generally speaking, Delawares (both breeder and hatchery) are excellent dual-purpose birds for the backyard flock or homestead; they're great layers, and they have a meaty enough carcass to make it worthwhile to fry or broil the extra males. Because of their light coloration, they make a nice-looking carcass, and a homesteader who cleans his/her own birds may find them desirable because of this. They are decent foragers on range as well. But they simply do not have the meat bird potential of today's Cornish X or other commercial type meat bird.

    I am not writing this to discourage people from raising or ranging Delawares. I'm a fan of the breed, and I'm trying my best to preserve it, but I do think it's best if people are informed about what to expect and if they appreciate the breed realistically for what it is.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2009
  2. herechickchick

    herechickchick Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 28, 2007
    Memphis TN
    Well said Janet! I enjoyed reading this very much.
     
  3. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Thank you for taking time to impart all this information. I have had some questions from others about the Dels as meat birds, too. I always tell them, that although they were originally intended to be a meat bird way back when, they are no Cornish X. However, I think if you can get some good quality stocky-bodied Delaware lines, it is an excellent dual purpose bird, probably one of the very best.
     
  4. tazcat70

    tazcat70 I must be crazy!

    Thank you for writing this, it is helpful information!
     
  5. TimG

    TimG Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 23, 2008
    Maine
    Quote:Thanks for the post. I started looking into Delawares about a year ago and this is the most complete explanation and description I have come across.

    I'm curious about a couple of things in your post:

    1) Are you saying that crosses tend to be larger than their parents? I have read about hybrid vigor, but thought that this generally referred to health rather than size. I also know that a lot of Rhode Island Red crosses are sold as egg layers. I thought this was originally done because of the ability to sex chicks. Are you saying that these crosses will generally produce more eggs than pure bred Rhode Island Reds (and whatever they are being crossed with)?

    2) What kind of breeding program would you imagine for Delawares that would produce a viable free-range broiler? You mention outcrossing, with what breeds? And, how much success do you think could be had with selective breeding of Delawares? These are sort of academic questions, though I have some interest in such a program, I'm not equipped (or experienced enough) to undertake it at this time. But, I am very curious about the process.

    Thanks,
    Tim
     
  6. seriousbill

    seriousbill Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 4, 2008
    Ohio
    Quote:Thanks for the post. I started looking into Delawares about a year ago and this is the most complete explanation and description I have come across.

    I'm curious about a couple of things in your post:

    1) Are you saying that crosses tend to be larger than their parents? I have read about hybrid vigor, but thought that this generally referred to health rather than size. I also know that a lot of Rhode Island Red crosses are sold as egg layers. I thought this was originally done because of the ability to sex chicks. Are you saying that these crosses will generally produce more eggs than pure bred Rhode Island Reds (and whatever they are being crossed with)?

    2) What kind of breeding program would you imagine for Delawares that would produce a viable free-range broiler? You mention outcrossing, with what breeds? And, how much success do you think could be had with selective breeding of Delawares? These are sort of academic questions, though I have some interest in such a program, I'm not equipped (or experienced enough) to undertake it at this time. But, I am very curious about the process.

    Thanks,
    Tim

    Hello Tim,

    To answer your first question, hybrid vigor may indeed involve a small increase in size or yield, and that seems to have been the case with the Delaware, which produced a carcass that was a bit meatier than its parent breeds.

    A Rhode Island Red crossed with another great egg layer will probably give you a hybrid that produces very well, usually better than a pure Rhode Island Red. This is the technique used in producing Red Stars or other red or brown sex-links, which are a cross of production reds or RIRs and silver birds like Dels or RIWs. Hatchery sex-links like this are tough to beat as egg-layers.

    As to the outcrossing of Delawares with meat birds to create a free-range broiler, I think it could be done, and it would be an interesting project. I have seen pictures of such birds, but frankly I don't know which breeds were used. Maybe someone else will chime in on that.
     
  7. TimG

    TimG Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 23, 2008
    Maine
    Am I right in understanding that the Delaware gets its white color from the silver gene (which is carried on the sex chromosome) rather than the white gene (which is not on the sex chromosome)?

    And, this is the reason that either a Rhode Island or New Hampshire Red male crossed with a Delaware female would produce a sexlinked offspring?
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2009
  8. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    I believe that's correct, isn't it, Janet?
     
  9. seriousbill

    seriousbill Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 4, 2008
    Ohio
    Yes. [​IMG]
     
  10. R@ndy

    R@ndy Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Taneytown
    Great Post. I have recently bought 6 Delawares from a private breeder and love them and they are very friendly and fun to watch while I enjoy my morning coffee [​IMG]

    I could never eat them tho, Im a wimp when it comes to butchering my own birds.
     

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