Up Close: The Rhode Island Red Chicken
The Rhode Island Red breed began in Adamsville (a village of Little Compton), Rhode Island, in 1854, when William Tripp crossed his Cochin hens with a Red Malay or Chittagong rooster purchased from a sailor in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Isaac Wilbour, above, Tripp’s neighbor, bred his hens with the “Tripp fowl,” creating what he called “The Biggest Poultry Farm on Earth”: 100 houses on 200 acres. Wilbour stenciled PPP on each case of Rhode Island Red eggs. The letters stood for Practical, Prolific, Profitable.
In Adamsville, a bronze plaque affixed to a boulder commemorates “the birthplace of the Rhode Island Red.” Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the monument was installed in 1925 by the Rhode Island Red Club of America. Another bronze plaque on a stone wall at the old Tripp farm also honors the chicken’s origins.
The Rhode Island Red Club of America was founded in December 1898, in Fall River, Massachusetts. At the height of its popularity in the 1920s, the club included close to 5,000 members nationwide. Today club membership is around 200.
On May 3, 1954, the Rhode Island Red was named state bird of Rhode Island. “The Rhode Island Red has become a symbol of Rhode Islanders all over the world,” then-governor Dennis J. Roberts proclaimed.
Rhode Island Reds are valued as dual-purpose birds, providing both eggs and meat. The hens are prodigious layers, capable of producing 200 to 300 eggs per year.
South County Museum in Narragansett maintains a heritage flock of Rhode Island Reds. A highlight of the museum’s year is the Rhode Island Red Chick Hatch on July 4th weekend, when close to 100 baby birds emerge from their shells.
The Providence Chamber of Commerce once promoted a jingle that went: “Be a Rooster Booster / Now’s the time to crow! / Be a Rooster Booster / And help Rhode Island grow!”
Rhode Island Reds are actually various shades of ruddy brown. Production-quality Reds tend to be paler, with orange tones, compared with the rich mahogany color of show-quality birds; the sheen of an exhibition rooster’s feathers may even make the bird appear black.