Keeping A Conservation Flock: 3 Threatened American Chicken Breeds

Consider these three threatened American chicken breeds—Buckeye, New Hampshire and Rhode Island White—when starting or growing your flock.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Matt Benzero/Adobe Stock

When it comes to poultry classification, the American class of chickens is perhaps the best known category in the United States. Consisting of yellow-skinned, dual-purpose birds, American-class chickens tend to be intermediate in temperate, size and foraging skill when compared to small breeds such as the Leghorn and large breeds such as the Brahma. American-class hens lay brown eggs, tend towards broodiness, and are good mothers.

The American class includes such breeds as the Plymouth Rock, the Rhode Island Red, the Wyandotte and the Lamona, among the most widely kept breeds in the U.S.

Despite the popularity of the American class, several of its chickens breeds are faring poorly and face extinction. Since the majority of American class birds are reared in the U.S., this threat is even more severe as there are few breeding flocks elsewhere in the world. We recently discussed the three American-class birds  rated as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy.

The trio of chicken breeds presented here all rate as Threatened. Each has fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the U.S. and an estimated global population of less than 5,000. Consider aiding in their conservation by raising these as your backyard flock.


The Buckeye holds a very special place in the history of American chickens: it is the first and only North American breed developed by a woman. In the late 19th century, Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio, bred her Barred Plymouth Rock hens to her Buff Cochin rooster, producing chicks that grew into what she considered to be large, lazy birds.

The following year, she bred her Plymouth Rock-Cochin pullets to a Black-Breasted Red Game rooster. This produced offspring with maroon feathers and a black tail. In 1902, Mrs. Metcalf exhibited a pair of her birds at the Cleveland, Ohio, poultry show, calling them “Buckeyes” after the state nickname.

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Buckeyes were recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) in 1905.

In the 1950s, when poultry production began to be commercialized, the Buckeye fell out of favor and went nearly extinct. Today the chicken breed has somewhat recovered but it is still threatened.

Buckeyes are very friendly, active birds who do best when they have room to roam. They are excellent mousers, rarely feather-pick each other, and are very cold hardy due to their pea combs. Buckeye hens lay up to 240 eggs per year and are excellent mothers.

Buckeye roosters are known for their wide range of vocalizations, including what sounds very much like a dinosaur-esque roar.

Read more: These three chicken breeds are critically endangered.

New Hampshire

Developed in the early 1900s, the New Hampshire is a relatively new breed of chicken. It is often mistaken for the Rhode Island Red, and rightly so. New Hampshire poultry breeders started selectively breeding Rhode Island Red hens that feathered and matured earlier than other Rhode Island Reds.

Due to the intensity of this selective breeding, a new strain of chicken developed and was named for the state in which the breeding program took place. The APA recognized the New Hampshire in 1935.

The New Hampshire proved to be a pivotal bird for poultry breeders. It was used to create the first commercial broilers, was one of the base breeds utilized for the creation of the Delaware breed of chicken, and is used to create sex-link hybrids. Despite this, the New Hampshire never enjoyed the popularity attained by its parent chicken breed, the Rhode Island Red, and became threatened.

The breed is slowly making a comeback. In 2018, it was proclaimed the official state bird of New Hampshire.

With proper housing, New Hampshires can thrive in both cold and warm weather. New Hampshires tend to compete with and boss around other chicken breeds, so handle your chicks frequently to train them to be gentle and friendly. Roosters can become aggressive during the breeding season and should be kept away from children during this time.

New Hampshire hens tend to have floppy combs. They lay approximately 200 to 220 eggs per year. There are two subtypes of the New Hampshire: the production line and the heritage line. Make certain you confirm which you are adding to your flock!

Rhode Island White

Developed by John Alonzo Jocoy of Peacedale, Rhode Island, in 1888, the Rhode Island White originated from White Wyandotte, Partridge Cochin, and Rose-Combed White Leghorn stock. Jocoy continued to develop this new breed of bird, developing two separate strains: one with a rose comb and one with a single comb.

In 1922, the rose-comb variety of the Rhode Island White was admitted to the APA. The single-comb variety has yet to be recognized.

The Rhode Island White has never approached the popularity of the Rhode Island Red. the chicken breed’s numbers began to dwindle in the 1960s, leading to its threatened status today. This status can be frankly puzzling, as the Rhode Island White has numerous traits that make it the ideal backyard bird.

They are winter hardy but do well in warm climates. They are friendly, inquisitive birds who enjoy foraging and investigating their surroundings. They also do well in confinement as long as they have plenty of coop space for roosting and nesting. Rhode Island White hens lay between 200 and 250—or more!—jumbo eggs, and their egg production continues throughout the winter months.

As hens don’t go broody, the Rhode Island White definitely pulls its weight as a perfect backyard layer.

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