Compared to many chicken breeds, the Jersey Giant is a relatively recent arrival on the scene. It was developed almost exclusively for size by brothers John and Thomas Black to supply heavy roasting birds to New York City during the late 1800s. Three sizeable breeds were used to create the Jersey Giant:
- Black Java.
- Dark Brahma.
- Black Langshan.
It is possible that Indian Game fowl and Black Orpingtons were also involved.
While the Jersey Giant certainly excelled when it came to size, tipping the scales at up to 13 pounds, the breed never really caught on. For one thing, filling out its large frame took about two years on average, and the tendency toward dark coloring ensured dark pinfeathers, which were unsightly to the consumer. For another thing, about this time the broad-breasted turkey was developed, which provided a more efficient option for roasting.
In the early 1900s, however, a chicken breeder had an idea that the Jersey Giant displayed potential as a show bird. He set to work to standardize the breed, focusing on a uniform black color.
Two color variants have been developed from the original Black Jersey Giant. A white variety was started around 1947 from mutants. A slate blue type also came about in the 1980s, likewise bred from mutants.
While at the beginning of the 21st century the Jersey Giant was critically endangered, its novelty has attracted the attention of numerous backyard poultry keepers around the country. It is still considered a rare breed, but its numbers have increased considerably.
The Jersey Giant is largely used either as a striking exhibition bird or as a pet. It is also a fine dual-purpose chicken for the home flock, producing very large eggs and a sizeable meat bird suitable as a substitute for turkey. Keep in mind, however, that the Jersey Giant develops slowly and will take about two years to reach their full potential for meat.
Some hens of this breed display sufficient broodiness to tempt poultry keepers to use it to set eggs. Unfortunately, it is a little too large for this purpose and tends to break the eggs.
The Jersey Giant is a docile breed suitable for children. That said, it is also curious and eager to explore and forage. It can be comically awkward in its movements.
This breed can make an excellent flockmate to other chickens, as it is quite easygoing. However, its large size protects it from bullying.
Although there are individual exceptions, most roosters display the sterling disposition characteristic of the breed as a whole.
The oversized Jersey Giant can suffer from injuries and bone problems related to its mass. Top-quality feed with good vitamin and mineral content is a must to keep these issues to a minimum. Access to pasture will help Jersey Giants receive the nutrition they need to thrive; however, it does increase the risk of the birds injuring themselves. Also, place perches somewhat closer to the ground than usual so that the chickens do not have to jump far and risk injuring themselves.
These concerns aside, the breed has an excellent constitution and is quite hardy.
Be aware that Jersey Giant eggs may take a few days longer to hatch than average. This is perfectly normal for the breed.
- Suitability to most climates, but particularly cold ones.
- Excellent disposition, suitable for children.
- Reduced vulnerability to hawk attacks.
- Excellent foraging instinct.
- Reliable egg production, even in winter.
- Tendency to break perches and nesting boxes.
- Increased space requirements.
- Need for high-quality feed.
- Hearty appetite.
- Susceptibility to leg injuries.
- Tendency to break eggs.
- Slow growth.