Look out at our front lawn at any time, and you’re likely to see a whole lot of chickens.
When family and friends ask us how many chickens we have, my husband and I always look at each other, blink, shrug, and then mumble something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t know, a few…seventy? Eighty? A hundred?”
The truth is, we’re not great chicken keepers because we never actually know.
Usually, we have anywhere between fifteen and a hundred chickens going in various chicken tractors at all times. While we recently purchased a flock of Golden Comets to supplement our egg production needs once we began selling eggs to a local restaurant, we’ve always relied heavily on our favorite breed of chicken:
The New Hampshire Red.
These birds are absolutely fantastic dual-purpose options, producing both eggs and meat for our family. They are also super cold-tolerant and very independent, requiring little from us, as chicken keepers, in order to stay healthy.
Here is everything you need to know about this illustrious breed, along with our best tips for raising a flock of New Hampshire Reds.
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Where Do They Come From?
Admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1935, the New Hampshire Red chicken breed is a relatively new species of chicken. A specialized breed of the Rhode Island Red chicken, these birds were selectively bred for their ability to grow quickly, feather out quickly, and otherwise mature in all regards…really quickly.
These birds first came on the scene in 1910, when chicken breeders sought a species that would grow out even more quickly than the fast-growing Rhode Island Red. Professor “Red” Richardson, a researcher at an Agricultural Experimentation Station, selected individuals for good laying ability as well as exceptional meat production. He was able to create a breed that was an exceptional producer as well as a disease-resistant alternative to the more common chicken breeds.
At the time, the New Hampshire was viewed as a futuristic breed of chicken, helping to serve the mid-1900s demand for an affordable source of protein in the midst of the two world wars.
Because chicken was a popular dinnertime staple during the war years, the New Hampshire breed rapidly grew to popularity as a broiler industry’s method of ramping up production.
Originating in the New England states, paramilitary Massachusetts and – you guessed it – New Hampshire, this chicken breed is one of the most popular varieties raised by backyard chicken keepers in the northeast portion of the United States.
This bird produces large brown eggs and meat, making them a good option for those who don’t want to sacrifice egg production for meat production, and vice versa.
In addition to being raised as a “pure” breed (I put “pure” in italics because it was a hybrid of the Rhode Island chicken but is nevertheless today recognized as its own breed), the New Hampshire chicken is often used in the sex link industry. Frequently, New Hampshire roosters are bred with Barred Rock hens or with Plymouth Rock or Rhode Island White hens to produce either black or red sex-link chicks.
What Do New Hampshire Red Chickens Look Like?
New Hampshires look a lot like their close relatives, Rhode Island, making it very easy to confuse the two breeds. However, New Hampshire chickens have bodies that are more angular. They are plump and broad, having stocky bodies that make them good choices for producing both meat and eggs.
They are colored a bit differently than the Rhode Island chicken breed, too. Rhode Island Reds are usually a deep red, almost a red-brown in color, while New Hampshires are lighter – more like a chestnut with pale highlights.
The neck feathers of the hens are tipped in black, as are the tail feathers. The area underneath the feathers is a slightly lighter red color, and their combs are red and floppy.
While most people select standard-sized New Hampshire chickens, which will weigh anywhere between 6.5 and 8 lbs, depending on gender, there are some bantam varieties of this breed which weigh less than three pounds in most cases.
In order to be recognized by the American Poultry Association, which recognized the New Hampshire as a distinct breed in 1935, a chicken must be American and possess the characteristics listed above.
This is the standard appearance of most New Hampshire chickens. However, in places besides the United States, there are other varieties of New Hampshires that are sometimes – albeit rarely – raised, such as a blue-tailed New Hampshire and a New Hampshire white.Both of these are quite difficult to find.
What Do New Hampshire Red Chickens Act Like?
These chickens are reported to go broody fairly often, preferring to sit on their own eggs to hatch baby chicks. However, in all of our years of raising this breed, we have never had a hen goes broody and as a result have to incubate and hatch our own eggs.
That being said, I’ve heard great things about the potential of New Hampshires as mothers, so I hope to one day witness this. Some people even claim that New Hampshire hens will “foster” other chicks and eggs, too.
These chickens are family friendly and good with other chickens. We’ve always kept them in a single-breed flock, so I can’t speak to the latter factor, but we’ve never had a problem with our hens being overly aggressive. The roosters are another story…but still not too bad, compared to what I’ve heard about other breeds.
New Hampshire chickens can be somewhat more aggressive around food. They will often push other birds out of the way, which isn’t a problem if you are raising a flock solely of other New Hampshires- they’ll just need to establish a pecking order. However, if you have a mixed flock, this can be an issue if you have shy breeds. You may need to invest in multiple feeders in order to make sure all of your birds have access to food and water.
As with all chickens, the personalities among individuals in this breed vary drastically. You could have one bird that is exceptionally sweet and docile, while her sister is mean and ornery.
Do New Hampshire Red Chickens Lay Eggs?
They sure do. New Hampshire Red chickens lay substantial amounts of eggs – usually around 200 light brown eggs each year, which makes them one of the best egg-laying chicken breeds.
This will vary, of course, depending on factors like:
- The nutrition of your hens
- The time of year
- The age of your hens -New Hampshires usually begin laying at around five to seven months of age
Other factors that affect egg production, like stress, egg breakage, molting, and broodiness.
This winter, we had a flock of twelve layers, and tended to get about eight eggs every day – not too shabby. While we do put a light in our coop, which is a somewhat controversial practice, when you’re raising chickens for production unfortunately you do need to enact certain measures.
Are New Hampshire Red Chickens Good for Meat?
Yes! New Hampshire Red chickens are excellent meat producers. Although they don’t grow as large as some broiler breeds, like Cornish Crosses or Jersey Giants, they still produce a respectable amount of meat for your family. Fully-grown roosters weigh up to eight pounds, giving you plenty of meat to work with.
In addition, because they are a quick-growing breed, their feed conversion rates are also quite impressive. You won’t spend a ton of money on buying feed because this chicken will grow to full size in about sixteen weeks or less.
Benefits of Raising the New Hampshire Red Chicken
New Hampshire Red chickens are pretty easy to raise, and they’re predisposed to many health conditions. When you raise rarer ornamental breeds, like Silkie chickens, for example, you have to worry about small things that lead to larger problems, like them getting their feet too wet.
However, the New Hampshire is a rugged breed that’s a great choice for someone who wants a low-maintenance flock. You really don’t need to do much to keep them happy and provide them with plenty of food, water, and adequate shelter.
These birds are also super cold-hardy. They tolerate our regular sub-zero temperatures, dealing with the cold weather and ice with grace and resilience. Occasionally, during particularly cold snaps, we have had roosters who have developed frostbite on their combs. This is very easily dealt with by applying some Bag Balm and does not harm the birds in the long term.
Make sure you provide these chickens with plenty of fresh bedding and ample nest box space, and that’s all they need. They are larger chickens, so they will require a bit more space than bantam breeds, but otherwise, they have all they need in order to make it through the winter.
With a full, fluffy appearance, this chicken breed is covered with a dense coat of warm feathers that helps it sustain the cold winter temps.
You will want to make sure you are feeding your New Hampshires a proper diet filled with a supplemented feed as well as occasional treats. Make sure you don’t overfeed them or give them any items on this list, and you should be all set.
Here are some other reasons why you should raise the New Hampshire Red chicken:
- They are relatively quiet
- They are self-sufficient when allowed to free range
- They are easy to raise as baby chicks
- They tolerate confinement well – but also like to forage
- They are intelligent and people-friendly
- They tolerate both hot and cold weather
- They’re easy to breed
- They grow quickly and don’t require a lot of feed
Challenges of Raising the New Hampshire Red Chicken
The biggest challenge I’ve found in raising New Hampshires is that, especially in comparison to other chickens, they are incredibly smart. We recently had an issue with a hen who was eating eggs, and she timed her indulgences until she knew we weren’t coming out to the coop to check for eggs. I’ve never heard of a bird doing that – of having that level of self-awareness.
These chickens learn patterns and routines very quickly, and they also establish a pecking order rapidly, too. Like all other breeds of chickens, they are prone to bullying and other issues related to dominance. If you introduce new chickens to your flock, particularly those that are small or shy, you need to do your best to make sure they are introduced slowly and gradually to prevent any issues with feather-pulling or pecking.
New Hampshire Red chickens also have exceptional flight abilities. You need to make sure you keep them in fences that have tall walls. Otherwise, you may have issues with them flying out and getting into your garden or otherwise getting into situations they don’t need to be in. We had predator issues for a while because our birds kept flying out of the pen in which they were ranging and exposing themselves to hawks, foxes, and other hungry predators.
However, this was quickly resolved with some simple wing-clipping. This process doesn’t hurt the birds at all, and keeps them safe – and out of my garden.
Here are some other challenges associated with raising New Hampshire Reds:
- They need some shade during exceptionally hot weather
- They can be aggressive with food
- They can be too large for some styles of coops and nest boxes
As with all dual purpose breeds, there is a sacrifice to be made here, too, if you are looking for a chicken that produces A LOT of eggs or A LOT of meat but perhaps not both.
If you want a chicken that will lay more eggs than any other breed – or produce better meat than any other kind of breed – don’t purchase a New Hampshire Red. As a dual-purpose chicken, it’s designed to have the ability to do both – but it won’t be the best at either.
Why You Should Raise the New Hampshire Red
If you’re looking for a truly exceptional dual-purpose chicken breed, the New Hampshire Red is the right choice for you. These chickens provide you with both meat and eggs, making them a good choice for people who want the best of both worlds.
What’s your favorite chicken breed – or your favorite reasons for raising the New Hampshire Red? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
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