Part 1 – An Introduction to Jersey Giants
On March 16th, after much anticipation and near-obsession, 9 black Jersey Giant chicks will hatch and be shipped to me. This will be my first flock. For a year I’ve been researching, plotting, planning, and acclimating my husband to the idea… and it’s all about to happen. Chicken stewards (chicken tenders?) carefully curate their flocks for different reasons… novelty, beauty, egg color… I was looking for an easy-going temperament and hardiness. Jersey Giants ticked all of the boxes for me.
Cold Wisconsin winters meant that I needed a breed that could handle the weather. Their size, robust body structure, black coloring, and feathers that lie tight to the body all help JG’s to weather the cold. These attributes are not a great match for far-southern regions… and keeping them cool in the summer, even in Wisconsin, is something I have taken into planning by providing them a covered run for shade. I’ve also built them a small teepee that they gather under when the sun is sweltering or there’s scary snowflakes in the air.
Living within the Kickapoo Reserve, I needed chickens whose size would deter raptors. Although slightly smaller than the original Jersey Giants of the early 20th century, today’s roosters average 13 – 15 pounds, with the females weighing about 11 pounds. Considered too large to be carried away, hawks tend to leave the giants alone. Weasels, racoons, snakes, coyotes, fox and an occasional wolf and bobcat are another story. The coop is fortified – which is a topic for another post.
The caveat to their size is making sure they have proper nutrition for growth. Jersey Giants are slow to mature… they take 9+ months to reach their height, and about another 9+ months to fill out. Golda Miller, considered to be a pioneer/godmother of the breed had this to say,
“Please DON’T push those Giants too fast…give them time to grow that strong body and those strong legs…they will put on the weight later and fast but let them grow that strong frame first. I think that most folks push these GIANTS too fast with high powered feeds. They mature before they get that big frame built…you have to build the frame first, and then put weight on.”
She suggests a protein content of 18%, and many others suggest supplementation of minerals and vitamins for bone health. I am taking a holistic approach in regard to feeding which is another topic for a future post and way more complicated (and stressful) than one would expect.
When designing the coop, special considerations need to be made to accommodate their size. Roosts and nest boxes should be placed closer to ground level as jumping from any height could cause leg injuries. You should plan a coop that provides a minimum of 4 square feet per bird… with some sources recommending 6 or 8 square feet per JG. Nest boxes should be a comfortable 18” x 18”. Luckily for me, I am content with my soul-chicken breed, so we were able to design the coop around them proactively. My current coop/bird ratio is 7.11111111 sq ft/Giant…plus a run of 72 square feet and supervised free range.
Size aside, the Jersey Giants’ temperament is what sent me over the moon. They are truly chill and gentle giants. My approach to animal keeping is a partnership… much easier to do if the animal is open to that arrangement. They display calm temperaments and are not considered to be flighty. They are fairly good layers… laying 150-200 eggs per year. The hens seldom go broody, but when they do, their size makes them prone to breaking the eggs. I will need an incubation plan if I want to continue my flock.
Originally developed in the late 1800’s as a large roasting bird, the Jersey Giant’s slow maturation made it a not very cost-effective option for meat production. The bird fell out of favor and in 2001, The Livestock Conservancy listed the breed as critically endangered. Thanks to renewed interest in backyard poultry, Jersey Giants were moved to the conservation watch list in 2017. Those passionate about the breed can join the National Jersey Giant Club.
If you have the space, and you have the time and patience, Jersey Giants are a lovely breed. While raising them may not be cost-effective for some, they are a very much ‘joy-effective.’