In the 1880's, two brothers from New Jersey decided to put their heads together for the creation of a large breed of chicken that would sell well at meat markets. John and Thomas Black undertook this mission armed with breeds such as the Black Java, Black Langshan, and Dark Brahma. Also rumored to be thrown into the mix were Cornish and Black Orphingtons. The results was initially dubbed the Jersey Black Giant, although competitors who copied the breeding referred to birds as Macy Giants and Sears Jersey Giants as well.
Black Jersey Giants are a Heritage Breed that was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1922. The largest breed of bird developed in the United States, Jersey Giants are a sizable meat bird that has also proven to be a good egg layer of approximately 3 extra-large brown eggs per week, making them suitable dual-purpose birds. Considered a very heavy breed, Jersey Giants are known to tip the scales with hens weighing in at 10+ lbs and roosters reaching 13+ lbs. While their super-size is impressive, it also has the benefit of protecting them from predation as they are too large (or appear too large) for many predators to attempt to pursue.
A drawback to the Jersey Giant's size, however, is that it takes some time to get there. Maturity of this breed does not take place until around 6 months of age, which is much of the reason they are not frequently seen due to breeds that grow faster being a preference of many. While it was intended that these birds could work as commercial capons (roosters/cockerels castrated for better flesh quality as a meat bird), they simply could not compete with other breeds that were quicker to progress. The body of a Jersey Giant develops a frame first, followed by a fleshing out of muscle and meat to the tune of six months while birds such as Cornish Rocks were ready for market in closer to six weeks. Jersey Giants also had stricter feed requirements to grow their large bodies than other breeds did and were prone to bone problems if these needs were neglected.
Over time another problem presented itself for this breed, that being the color of their feathers. Since black pinfeathers remaining on the skin were a turn off to consumers, a change had to be made. As preference for birds with white plumage soared, other color varieties of Jersey Giant came to be. These include white (standardized in 1947) and blue or splash which are not officially recognized. Those that are white in color are currently considered rarer than black varieties; black birds are also larger than white ones.
Jersey Giants are well known for being able to survive in cold climates. This rugged, hearty bird also lays eggs all year round and does occasionally become broody. They are said to be easy-going, docile birds that bear confinement well. Their skin and beaks are yellow and feet are yellow on the bottom although it can be tough to tell at times. Wattles and single combs are both red and eyes are dark brown in color.
If you are willing to accept a slow growing breed with heritage ties, the Jersey Giant could be the chicken for you. With favorable personality traits such as being calm and placid on their side, they make for an obvious choice. Size is also on their side when it comes to helping avoid predation and roosters make not only good sources of flock protection but are also friendly towards their human handlers. The only drawback is their slow growth, but if you've got time on your side perhaps you could share it with a Jersey Giant.