Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sussex, an English favorite

From British Poultry Standards, Poultry World, ca. 1955:

"Sussex: This is a very old breed, for although we do not find it included in the first Book of Standards in 1865, yet at the first poultry show of 1845 the classification included Old Sussex or Kent fowls, Surrey Fowls and Dorkings. The oldest variety of Sussex is the Speckled. Brahma, Cochin and Silver-grey Dorking were used in the make-up of the Light. The earlier Reds had black breasts, until the Red and Brown became separate varieties. Old English Game has figured in the make-up of some strains of Browns. Buffs appeared about 1920, clearly obtained by sex linkage within the breed. Whites came a few years later, as sports from Lights. Silvers are the latest variety. The Light is the most widely kept in this country today, among Standard as well as commercial breeders. The Sussex Breed Club was formed as far back as 1904 and is now one of the oldest breed clubs in Britain."

In my research, the names Sussex and Suffolk both seem to refer to a traditional barnyard fowl that acquired breed status late in the 19th century. Lewis Wright says in his 1890 Illustrated Book of Poultry that “.. it is impossible to do so (describe Surrey or Sussex fowl).” They have no standard color or type, “… except that a strong dash of Dorking blood can be traced in them all.” They may or may not have a fifth toe. “They appear to be simply a fine race of barn-door poultry, improved by long and careful breeding for the London markets.”

He may make reference to the Speckled color pattern we know today, in his remarks that “… perhaps a colour as general as any may be described to be a whitish ground, freely  but irregularly covered with black and brown, or other dark-coloured feathers; some white or nearly white colour being observable in a very large proportion of the birds.”

They require hardly any care, usually given only a small triangular coop that can be boarded up to protect them from rain. They hatch year-round, especially from January through September, providing a regular source of meat for the market. Mature roosters are sturdy at 9 lbs., hens at 7 lbs. They lay brown eggs.

Brahma and Cochin figured  into the late 19th century breed development. Light Sussex share the color pattern with Light Brahmas, known in other breeds as Columbian. The Sussex Club was formed in Great Britain in 1903, rapidly growing from 90 members in 1905 to over 170 members in 1906, eventually reaching over 500 members in 1928. Sussex remained one of the most popular English breeds until World War II

Sussex were recognized as a breed in 1914 by the APA, Speckled and Red. Light Sussex were admitted in 1929. Coronation Sussex, an unrecognized variety, replaces the black in the neck and tail feathers of Light Sussex with lavender, giving them a silvery sheen. These are from Blue Poultry. They were created for the coronation of King Edward VIII, which never took place because of his abdication to marry Wallis Simpson. Other colors have been raised in England, including Brown, White, Buff, Black, Partridge and Silver, a variation of Birchen.

I'm very fond of my Speckled Sussex, who is still setting on the Coronation and Welsummer eggs I got for her two weeks ago. Alas, some of the other hens troubled her and I found her on the wrong next one day last week, so her chances of a successful hatch are much reduced.

Sussex never acquired the same popularity in America that they enjoyed in England. David Scrivener, in his Popular Poultry Breeds, ascribes this to Light Sussex being similar to Columbian Rocks and Red Sussex to Rhode Island Reds. Both breeds were already firmly established in America by the time Sussex found recognition and advocates who brought them across the Atlantic. A new American Sussex Association breed club was formed in 2011.

Bantam Sussex are recognized in Light, Red and Speckled color varieties by the APA. The ABA also recognizes Birchen, Buff, and White. A Golden variety is also raised but not recognized. They are not common.

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