Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock: Which Chicken Breed Is Right For You?



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As a backyard chicken keeper for over 10 years, I’m often asked which breed is best.

That’s a loaded question with no one-size-fits-all answer.

But two popular dual-purpose breeds, Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock, are common contenders.

I’ve raised both extensively – let me break down their key differences in depth to help you decide which might be the better fit.

Rhode Island Reds are a bit flashier and come in sex-linked varieties, while Plymouth Rocks are calmer and make better mothers.

Reds lay more eggs but Rocks live longer and put on weight better.

Now let me tell you about the time I introduced a new Rhode Island Red rooster named Rusty to my flock.

This guy was gorgeous with gleaming mahogany plumage, but man was he feisty! Rusty immediately tried to assert dominance over my two other roosters.

He would charge at them, fanning his wings and viciously pecking their combs.

The existing roosters fought back, and feathers flew! Rusty also terrorized the hens, forcibly mating with them and pecking their backs bloody.

After a week of total chaos with injuries and egg production dropping, I made the tough call to rehome Rusty.

I found a new owner with just hens who had better luck with him. Moral of the story: go very slowly and carefully when integrating new birds, especially feisty rooster breeds like the Rhode Island Red!

Origins and History

Rhode Island Reds were developed in Little Compton, Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts in the late 19th century.

Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock

Local farmers bred them by mixing Brown Leghorns, Malay Games, and Old English red feathering breeds. The goal was to create a dual-purpose fowl with high egg output that dressed plump for market.

Plymouth Rocks originated nearby in Massachusetts too, but earlier – in the mid-1800s. The breed was refined in the Plymouth Rock and Boston areas.

Barred Rocks came first by crossing Dominiques, Cochins, and Javas. Later, other color varieties like buff and white emerged.

Both breeds were intended as dual-purpose birds but took different selection paths. Reds were further developed for egg production by mixing in White Leghorns and White Wyandottes.

Their feisty attitude also made roosters prized for cockfighting. Rocks were refined for meat qualities by crossing with Brahma – resulting in the broad, plump bodies they’re known for today.

By the early 20th century, the Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock breeds were standardized and growing in popularity across America.


In my experience raising both breeds for many years, Rhode Island Reds tend to be more assertive, excitable, and energetic in temperament than Plymouth Rocks.

Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock

Reds are always on the move, relentlessly foraging, scratching, and roaming about the coop and yard. They have a bold, intensely curious personality that makes them highly engaging chickens, but also more prone to getting into mischief like escaping or bullying timid flock mates.

Plymouth Rocks have a much calmer, docile demeanor. They tend to lumber about slowly and methodically rather than dart quickly like Reds.

Plymouth Rock hens will happily plop down in a nest box or dirt hollow for long naps. And they’re quite friendly and content around people – even tolerant of children petting them.

Of course, temperament varies bird to bird. But in general, the Rhode Island Red is a high-strung and busy chicken while the Plymouth Rock is laidback and mellow.

Egg Production

Both Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks lay large to extra large brown eggs. They are decent layers, averaging 4-5 eggs per week in peak production.

Rhode Island Red Egg Production

In their first couple years, Rhode Island Reds edge out Plymouth Rocks in total annual egg production. Reds lay up to 280 eggs a year, while Rocks produce around 200.

The reasons Reds lay more:
– Higher metabolism from their active foraging
– Selected specifically for egg laying ability
– Tend to reach sexual maturity and start laying a couple weeks earlier than Rocks

However, Plymouth Rocks tend to have a longer sustained productive laying life over 5-6 years. Rhode Island Reds taper off in production more dramatically after 3 years as their energy gets directed more towards foraging and evading predators vs. egg laying.

See also  Rhode Island Red vs Buff Orpington: Which Backyard Chicken is Right For You?

The better persistence of Rocks can be attributed to their calmer disposition and heavier body size. Their metabolism doesn’t run quite as hot, conserving more energy for continued egg production. And the larger body mass of Rocks creates higher estrogen levels, which stimulates increased egg laying.

Mothering Ability

When it comes to nurturing baby chicks, Plymouth Rock hens really shine compared to Rhode Island Reds.

Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock

Rock hens tend to have an exceptionally patient, calm, and protective mothering instinct.

They readily go broody – meaning they want to set on a clutch of eggs until they hatch. Once the chicks arrive, Rock mothers are very attentive, gently clucking and corralling the babies to the best areas for food and warmth.

Rhode Island Red hens rarely exhibit strong natural broody tendencies. They’ll lay their eggs in the nest boxes then largely lose interest in sitting on them for the 21 days needed for hatching. Reds do not have the same degree of patience and maternal devotion as Rocks.

I once set six Rhode Island Red and six Plymouth Rock eggs under a broody Light Brahma hen. Five of the Plymouth Rock chicks hatched versus only two Red chicks. The difference was striking!


Both Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks come in a range of color varieties. But the classic Rhode Island Red is a rich, lustrous mahogany red with metallic sheen.

The standard barred Plymouth Rock is sharply delineated black and white barring on every feather.

Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock

Reds have long, flowing tails they carry at a 45° angle away from the body. This gives them a very distinctive shape. Rocks have shorter, stubbier tails carried upright.

In profile, Rhode Island Reds have a long, wedge-shaped head and relatively flat back – giving them a racier silhouette compared to the stockier Plymouth Rock. Reds’ beaks range from yellow to horn colored.

Plymouth Rocks have a more rounded head with full, curved body shape thanks to their Cochin ancestry. Their beaks tend to be yellow-ish white.

When it comes to combs, Plymouth Rocks sport a single, medium-sized comb. Rhode Island Reds have large, floppy combs – especially the roosters. These big showy combs can become frostbitten in bitterly cold winters.

Sex Linking

Here’s a cool feature of Rhode Island Reds – certain strain come in what’s called sex link varieties. This means the down feather color of newly hatched chicks indicates the sex.

For example, with Rhode Island Red Sex Links, chicks with light yellow down are pullets while chicks with white or very light down are cockerels. This allows easy visual separation of males and females as soon as they hatch.

Plymouth Rocks do not have this innate sex linking trait. You need to either vent sex Rock chicks or wait until their secondary sex characteristics appear at 4-6 weeks.

Climate Tolerance

Thanks to their full feathering, both Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are cold hardy breeds that can tolerate frigid winter temperatures quite well. Neither requires supplemental heat in the coop beyond what their bodies and huddling together provides.

However, when it comes to heat tolerance, Plymouth Rocks handle hot, humid climates better overall compared to Rhode Island Reds.

Reds have a higher metabolism and become even more active in warm weather, panting to dissipate heat. This can lead to heat stress in temperatures exceeding 85-90°F, especially combined with high humidity.

The slower pace and heavier body of Plymouth Rocks makes them better adapted for heat. Still, all chickens need shade and cooling measures once the mercury rises too high.

Use as Meat Birds

For producing meat, Plymouth Rocks are a better choice over Rhode Island Reds. Several factors make Rocks the superior table bird:

– Plymouth Rocks grow faster thanks to their innate genetic propensity for muscle growth. They reach target processing weight several weeks sooner than Reds.

– Rocks have broader, plumper breast meat thanks again to intentional breeding for meat qualities. The meat also has finer texture with good marbling.

– Reds are lighter weight birds not specifically optimized for meat production. They’re wiry and very active, burning extra calories and putting less into weight gain.

– The ratio of white to dark meat is more balanced in Rocks. Reds have scrawnier legs and thighs compared to breast meat.

See also  Barred Rock or Maran – Which is Really the Best Egg layers?

So if you want chicken primarily for meat rather than eggs, go with Plymouth Rocks. The Barred Rock in particular is prized for its fast growth and tender, juicy meat.


Both Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are undemanding when it comes to their feed requirements.

A standard 16% protein layer feed is sufficient for hens of both breeds. They should also have access to insoluble grit to help grind and digest their food. Oyster shell supplements provide extra calcium for egg shell strength.

I also let my chickens forage and supplement their diet with treats like mealworms, sprouted grains, fruits and veggies. The active Reds will wander further afield gobbling up bugs and plants. The Rocks are a bit lazier but enjoy treats I bring straight to them.

It’s important not to overfeed either breed since they will put on unnecessary fat. Overly fat hens tend to lay fewer eggs. I stay vigilant against obesity by using a feeder rather than free-feeding and shooing the chickens away once they’ve had sufficient feed.

As chicks, start with a 20-24% protein starter feed for good growth. Transition to layer feed at 16-18 weeks for pullets. Separate cockerels at this point onto 15% grower feed.

Health Issues

Both Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are fairly hardy, healthy birds but a few issues to watch out for:

– Lice and mites. Treat with poultry dust if infestations arise. Keep coops clean.

– Respiratory illnesses. Provide dust-free bedding. Avoid drafts.

– Marek’s disease. Vaccinate day-old chicks. Cull affected birds.

– Bumblefoot. Treat sores. Use soft bedding and roosts.

– Egg bound hens. Increase calcium. Moisten layer feed.

– Frostbite of combs. Apply petroleum jelly in winter.

– Heat stress. Ensure shade, ventilation, cool water.

– Internal laying issues. Give oyster shell. Check for tumors.

– Broodiness. Limit light exposure to curb. Provide golf balls to sit on.

– Obesity. Control feed portions. Restrict high calorie treats.

– Predators. Secure housing, fencing. Lock up at night.

– Vent prolapses. Improve diet. Cull prone birds.

Both breeds are fairly long living, up to 5-8 years with proper care and management.

Housing Setup

Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks have similar housing needs as hardy dual-purpose breeds.

A coop should provide at least 3-4 square feet of space per bird. Proper ventilation and roosts are musts.

For the run, allocate 10 square feet per bird minimum. The energetic Reds especially appreciate ample space to roam. Rotate runs to give access to fresh grass and insects.

Use pine shavings or sand for absorbent litter over dirt flooring. Clean regularly to prevent disease outbreaks.

Nest boxes should be a foot square and relatively dark. Provide one box for every 4-5 hens. Line with straw.

Perches should be 2-3 inches wide with 9-12 inches per bird. Lower perches for heavy Rocks.

Both breeds tolerate cold fairly well thanks to their full feathering. Just ensure the coop is draft-free and waterers aren’t frozen.

In summer, shade, ventilation, cool water and frozen treats help keep both breeds comfortable in heat. Hose down the run to create a mud wallow.

Avoid overcrowding in housing situations. This is when bullying and problematic behaviors arise most often.

Ideal Homestead Role

On the small homestead, both Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are assets but tend to fill slightly different roles.

Reds are the consummate homestead forager. They cover expansive ranges nibbling weeds, seeds and insects. Let them loose in your garden after the growing season and they’ll make short work of pests and clean-up. Their high energy and bold nature makes them slightly less suitable pets.

Plymouth Rocks are more your classic loyal barnyard hen. They follow routines and wander less far afield. Not quite as productive at pest control, but they are gentle enough for children to handle. And Rocks are happy to plop in your lap for a cuddle!

Either breed can provide a steady supply of eggs and an occasional chicken dinner with proper management on the homestead. Reds give you larger quantities of eggs while Rocks yield more meat.

And both breeds are suitable for showing at county fairs or poultry exhibitions if you decide to expand beyond simple backyard flocks.

Breeding Tips

Some pointers if you wish to breed Rhode Island Reds or Plymouth Rocks:

– Select your best specimens from each breed based on conformation to the standard. Avoid weak or sickly birds.

See also  Top 9+ Differences Between a Rhode Island Red Rooster & Hen

– Cull non-productive hens or those exhibiting poor mothering skills.

– Maintain flocks of at least 12-15 hens and 1 rooster for genetic diversity.

– Allow 2-3 clutches per year. Rest hens in between.

– Collect eggs frequently for incubation. Mark each one.

– Turn incubating eggs at least 3 times daily. Maintain 99-102°F.

– Remove chicks from parents at 4-6 weeks old for safety.

– Provide starter feed with 20% protein to chicks.

– At 8 weeks, transition pullets to grower feed. Separate cockerels.

– Monitor for illness, parasites and proper growth. Cull unhealthy chicks.

– Follow biosecurity measures and quarantine new birds before integrating into flock.

Let me know if you have any other questions about breeding fabulous dual-purpose birds like Rhode Island Reds or Plymouth Rocks!

Origins of Name

Ever wonder why Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are named as they are? Let’s unravel the history behind their distinct monikers.

Rhode Island Reds get the first part of their name from their place of origin along the Narragansett Bay area of Rhode Island. The second portion refers to their rich, red feathering.

Early on they were called “Rhode Island fowls” but the official name became Rhode Island Reds as the breed was refined and popularized from the late 1800s onward.

Plymouth Rocks derive their name first from the area where they were bred – in and around Plymouth County, Massachusetts.

The “Rock” portion ties to the nickname for the region given by early Puritan settlers. They appreciated the rocky coastlines and stony fields that differentiated the geography from England’s terrain.

“Plymouth Rock” stuck as the fitting epithet for this breed that originated among those very stone lands dotting eastern Massachusetts.

So now you know – Rhode Island for the ruddy plumage and Plymouth for the rocky home – how two great dual-purpose breeds earned their iconic names!

Rhode Island Red vs Plymouth Rock Chart

Rhode Island Red Plymouth Rock
Origin Developed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in late 1800s Developed in Massachusetts in mid 1800s
Temperament Active, energetic, bold, prone to mischief Calm, docile, friendly
Egg Production 280 eggs/year in first years 200 eggs/year over 5-6 years
Egg Color Brown Brown
Broodiness Low tendency High tendency
Feather Color Mahogany red Barred black & white
Tail Shape Long flowing tail Shorter, carried upright
Comb Type Large, floppy single comb Medium sized single comb
Body Shape Slightly wedge-shaped Full, broad, and curved
Sex Linking Yes, in some strains No
Heat Tolerance Moderate Good
Cold Hardiness Excellent Excellent
Meat Production Fair Very good
Feeding Good forager, standard layer feed More sedentary, standard layer feed
Housing Space Needs 4 square feet per bird minimum 4 square feet per bird minimum
Run Space Needs 10 square feet per bird minimum 10 square feet per bird minimum
Temperament with Children May be nippy Very child-friendly
Ideal Homestead Role Foraging pest control Family-friendly pet
Health Issues Heat stress, prolapses Obesity, frostbite
Lifespan 3-5 years productive 5-8 years productive
Breeding Tips Select most productive layers Select calmest, best mothers
Name Origin Rhode Island for red color Plymouth for region’s rocky terrain

The Showdown between Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks can both make excellent dual-purpose backyard chickens. Choose Reds if you prefer prolific egg layers that actively forage and cover ground.

Go with Rocks if you want mellow, nurturing hens, broodiness, and better meat production.

Personally, I’ve had my fill of aggressive roosters so I stick with Plymouth Rocks these days.

My Rock flock provides a steady supply of eggs, breeds true with a gentle nature, and gives me a few plump chickens for the freezer each year. I appreciate that mellow temperament, especially when my grandkids visit!

Let me know in the comments which breed you have experience with and why you prefer it. I’m always interested to hear other chicken keepers’ perspectives!

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