The Plymouth Rock was a popular old fashioned utility bird. It's a gorgeous looking bird - proud and beautifully feathered. It should lay a large brown egg and and plenty of them - at least 200 a year and in the past century there were strains capable of 285. There are probably no birds in the UK that can still do this. Many folk have told us of very disappointing numbers from birds they have bought elsewhere. A lot of work needs to be done by all the small breeders who reproduce future generations of birds to reclaim this quality.
Its a good idea to make sure your breeder selects for egg numbers, size and quality if you want productive birds. Selection for showing - the perfect barring and type - is an excellence in itself but tends to lead to diappointing egg size and numbers. It would be nice to see more emphasis by most breeders on the old qualities of the bird.
Many breeders can be rather naughty of breeders and say that Plymouth Rocks are good layers but have no recording or selection regime, so really have no idea whether their birds are or not. A surplus of eggs in the springand summer does not a good layer make.
The cockerels should be a good solid meaty size for the table [at least 5-6 lbs. - with some US strains being up to 9 lbs.] with yellow skin and make a good roasting fowl. The strains available nowadays, are sadly not of this quality. They may be the weight but its all skeleton and feather, not meat. Returning to the old quality takes good breeding techniques where the young birds are carefully assessed as they grow, and the chunkiest hens used in the next generation.
In the last century, quality Plymouth Rock breeders might specialise in either meat or eggs, and some in creating a more moderate medium. This diversity meant that there were strains to revert back to, to improve a particular quality. Sadly these strains are long gone. Present and future breeders, even those working in small domestic flocks have a responsibility to breed better birds.
There are still excellent productive lines in the USA [but importing them legally is just about impossible, and extremely expensive] but very few remain here in the United Kingdom. Maybe by using modern communications and working together we can improve the strains we have left in the UK. If you have some birds and don't know how many they lay I would strongly urge you to take some simple records to find out. Even if you don't have a cockerel - just finding out what is left in current strains would be very useful for the future of the breed. It only needs to be a note in an old diary every day of how many you get. If you decide to breed, make sure you buy a cockerel from a breeder who is recording so you can see that you are aiming for better egg numbers or a better table bird.
The breed was developed in New England in the early 1800's from crosses of Dominique's, Black Java's and Cochiins probably, and maintains its popularity throughout the USA to this day. They describe them as being prolific layers of brown eggs and also good in the winter - a valuable asset which would be great to breed back into the UK stocks. They should be docile and be capable of being broody - we don't encourage broodiness if we want to develop good laying strains - and when a hen is broody she is not laying, but we have had our birds produce their own young. For more about the history of the Rock in America - click here
Their meatiness in the US strains is shown by the fact that it is the basis of much of the broiler breeding industry over there. The white Rock still being extremely popular for the female side.
In the US there are several utility strains - some strains are good layers while others are bred principally for meat.
Appearance : They should have a long broad back, reasonably deep body with a full breast and an medium sized single comb. They should be fairly loose feathered but not so as to get tangled
It has been popular with old poultry breeders in the past for sex linkage crosses as it carries the silver gene so enabling the sex of the young from matings with the gold gene to be identified at day old. Specially bred stocks of the Barred Rock are one of the parents of the Black Rock commercial free range layer
Unfortunately its glamorous barring has been its undoing as a productive breed becoming so popular with the exhibition breeder. [I have even heard recently that the Marans breeders are bringing in Barred Rock to improve the barring on the Marans feathering which is a great shame as it will do no good at all to the dark egg colour and the size of the Marans-].
There are a wide variety of colours in the exhibition stocks now - they do make great pets, and probably better egg numbers than most fancies.
This is an picture from an old print around 1900's or maybe earlier - its interesting to compare the standard. Its clear that these birds are "walking dinner" !!
The pair below is from a cigarette card collection