All large Chickens have been developed from the common domesticated chicken ancestor, Red Junglefowl. The Red Junglefowl might be considered a bantam weight chicken, in comparison to many breeds that have been developed, only weighing about 5lbs.
Bantam chickens are available in many colors and types. Most Bantams are miniatures of large breeds, and have been developed by breeding down in size, while maintaining the breed characteristics other than size.
Examples of some of these breeds would be:
Large chickens are a huge class including most chicken breeds. The hens of these breeds lay medium to extra large grade eggs, depending on the breed, size and blood lines of the hen.
For each breed there are standards which include acceptable size, weight, color and posture as well as comb types, egg size & color and feather types for exhibition. People not breeding for exhibition might focus on attributes they appreciate in a breed, ignoring set standards.
Over generations they may produce chickens larger or smaller than standard; roosters with taller or shorter combs, darker or unusual egg coloring, more intense or more diluted feather color, giving their blood lines a unique style.
Since gallus domesticus, the domestic chicken, is so cooperative, people in every country are always developing new large chickens, small chickens, breeds and colors.
When breeds are established, breed true and similar unique type regularly, they may be accepted into standards and recognized officially.
Existing breeds of chickens may have more than one acceptable color or patterning, but new coloring is always in the works and may be recognized into standards. Breed standards often vary from country to country. Breeding to show and compete can be very challenging since beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Judges are only human. They may have a unique take on standards and obsess over specific traits. Even when working with pedigreed show stock, it’s possible to produce chickens too large or too small to show, as well as other faults.
Just like someone who might try to grow the biggest pumpkin for the fair, some people want to grow the biggest chicken. In part, this is how selective breeding from large chickens has produced some Giant chicken breeds. The Jersey Giant is the biggest chicken breed, with roosters nearing 15 pounds when mature, possibly 30” tall. They were designed to replace turkeys as a U.S. meat source, but were too slow growing, making them too expensive to raise commercially. The industrial revolution’s focus on speed nearly lead to their extinction.
A breeder must constantly select breeding stock proven to maintain or improve size to prevent chicken breeds reverting to the smaller size of their ancestors.
The small size of the Red Junglefowl ancestor has probably made creating Bantam versions of popular breeds less difficult than the more rare Giant breeds.
Large chickens have been developed in various breeds, colors and shapes across the globe. The domestication of chickens has been on-going for more than 8000 years. Large is usually a dual purpose size, with hens often good at laying and rearing young, and young roosters raised for meat.
Often pure breeds are split in two classes; one primarily for Exhibition in Poultry shows that must meet Breed Standards, and the other bred and raised for use in producing eggs and meat, with less focus on established breed standards.
Some Production blood lines have been developed from Pure breed lines, like the Production Red from the Rhode Island Red.
Many breeds of large chickens fit into the “Heritage” class which has been defined in the US by the American Poultry Association.
In a focused effort to save some classic breeds from modern day extinction, strict guidelines have been established requiring terms like:
Breeds to meet breed standards within long established and documented blood lines. Investing in true Heritage breeds will be more expensive to start, but helps preserve these endangered Heirloom breeds while producing more valuable off-spring. True Heritage breeds must meet standards of hardiness and longevity as well as all physical traits. If you’re studying chicken breeds and trying to determine which one is right for you, looking at large chickens will give you many choices. Heritage breeds can guarantee you longer lived chickens, the hens producing 200-250 eggs per year for 5 – 7 years.
Production breeds offer hens able to produce 300 or more eggs per year, but only for 1 – 2 years. Both types can offer good meat production, though Heritage breeds tend to be slower growing, which adds to the cost of their care and ultimately the meat.