Use: Buckeye chickens are dual-purpose, heritage chickens known for their luscious meat and their wintertime production of medium-sized, brown eggs. They are active foragers and a calm-natured chicken breed, making them ideal for backyard flocks and pasture-poultry applications. Buckeye chickens come in large-fowl and bantam sizes.
History: Buckeye chickens have the distinction of being the only known American chicken breed developed solely by a woman, Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. When Metcalf began breeding chickens, her goal was to create a breed that produced well during northeastern Ohio’s bitterly cold winters. At this, she was eminently successful. When she showed a pair at the 1902 Cleveland poultry show, she called them Buckeyes in honor of her native state and for the buckeye-nut color of their deep-red plumage. They were admitted to the American Poultry Association Standard as Buckeyes in 1904. Today, the Buckeye is an endangered chicken breed included in the Threatened category of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. Fortunately, the Buckeye is staging a slow but steady comeback, supported by an increasing body of dedicated breeders who treasure this jewel from the past.
Conformation: Buckeye chickens are large, sturdy chickens with broad bodies and breasts, strong wings, and very meaty thighs. Cocks weigh about 9 pounds and hens weigh about 6½ pounds. In the bantam variety, cocks weigh about 34 ounces and hens weigh about 28 ounces. Buckeye chickens have yellow skin and small, freeze-resistant pea combs. They come in a single color, mahogany red with black tails, and have close, tight plumage.
Do not confuse this breed with the Rhode Island Red chicken breed. Buckeye chickens have a bar of slate color on their back feathers close to their bodies, whereas Rhode Island Reds do not. Buckeye chickens are also more compact than Rhode Island Red chickens, with shorter, broader backs.
Special Considerations/Notes: Buckeyes are active chickens and peerless foragers, making them ideal for free-range situations. They also adapt well to confinement as long as they have ample room to move around. They’re calm and unflappable fowl, friendly, and easily handled. Buckeye chickens are supremely winter hardy, and hens lay through the winter months, producing 150 to 200 tasty, brown eggs per year. They excel as meat chickens, but because they mature more quickly than most heritage breeds, Buckeyes require higher protein diets to support more rapid growth.
Buckeyes have several additional traits that make them unique. Roosters are noted for their range of vocalizations and their gentle dispositions. Buckeyes of both sexes are excellent mouse hunters (some owners compare them to cats), and they’re less inclined to feather-pick one another than most other breeds.