Active, spunky and easily tamed, this British bantam breed is currently listed as “threatened” on the Conservation Priority List. The Sebright chicken, named after their developer Sir John Sebright is considered a true bantam breed, as there is no standard version. According to The Livestock Conservancy, Sebright wanted to develop a bantam chicken that was small with laced plumage. In addition to bantams native to that area, it is thought that he crossed the Nankin and Polish breeds to create the coloring and feathering he was looking for.
Jeannette Beranger, Research & Technical Programs Manager of The Livestock Conservancy, says that there are probably fewer than 1,000 breed birds in the United States. Being listed as threatened, she adds, means that the estimated global population is less than 5,000.
“It could be less,” Beranger says, “but we did not get a lot of response for the census from Sebright chicken breeders. What we do see in shows indicates there’s not a lot and the few out there are having some fertility problems.”
The Sebright chicken was added to the American Poultry Association in 1874, with the most popular and recognized colors being gold and silver. Sexes look very similar, with males weighing in at only 22 ounces. Their laced plumage is quite striking, making them look dreamlike. The wattles are bright red and rounded and are smaller in the female. The breed has a short back, prominent breast and a full tail that is carried at about 70 degrees above horizontal. The wings are large and downward sloping. The combs are rose and end in a straight, horizontal spike.
Jenny Kinberg, who has been breeding Sebright chickens for 22 years, reminds me to never include photos of males with single combs or sickle feathers. “I often see that in poultry magazine pictures and it discredits the article,” she explains. “They are supposed to have rose combs and hen feathering in the tail.”
Kinberg first fell in love with the breed at a fair.
“The colors are stunning,” she exclaims. “They are living works of art.”
Now, nearly two dozen years later, she is still in love with the Sebright chicken breed.
“They are small chickens but they don’t know it and the individuals have lots of personality. As a matter of fact, the birds with the most attitude and spark often make the best show birds,” she said. Kinberg adds that the color pattern is fascinating, which makes an excellent challenge for breeding.
“They are perfect for people that don’t have a lot of space and are easy to handle,” Beranger says. “They are calm and make a nice beginner’s bird.”
“I didn’t know a chicken could look like that,” Kinberg hears over and over again from friends who are not acquainted with the world of poultry. “They are one of those breeds of chickens that you can show your friends and they will always be amazed,” Kinberg says.
About the size of a pigeon, the Sebright chicken, can be kept just about anywhere, even in very urban yards. They eat very little chicken feed, making them an economical pet that can give you small tinted cream eggs intermittently. When extra care is provided in the winter, this breed can be long lived. They do best when kept out of drafts and in dry conditions. They can fly well, so pen top netting is recommended.
One of the difficulties this threatened breed is facing is due to their limited number of eggs they lay and fertility.
“There have been reports of increased fertility problems and there are breeders working on improving this,” Beranger said. “They may be a challenge to hatch when incubating chicken eggs and may do best to hatch under a broody hen.”
Since males need warmth to breed, late spring to early summer is ideal breeding for much of the country.
Kinberg recommends getting young stock that have been vaccinated for Marek’s or purchasing birds that are past the typical juvenile age of being susceptible. Some bloodlines are less susceptible than others, Kinberg has noticed. She also suggests joining the ABA (American Bantam Association) as they have an excellent yearbook that has breeder listings. The Sebright Club of America also has a list of breeders.
“The Sebright chicken is the premier show bird, and poultry shows are a fascinating hobby with many interesting people you will meet along the way,” Kinberg says. “They easily recognize their owners in a crowd and can be trained to do simple things. They can become very tame, with patience and gentle handling.”Do you raise
Do you raise Sebright chickens? We’d love to hear your experiences with them.