The Barred Rock chicken, also known as the Plymouth Rock and Barred Plymouth Rock, is a popular bird among backyard flock keepers, farmers and industrial breeders. With its distinct appearance -- the bird's feathers are white and black in a striped or barred pattern -- the dual-purpose breed has as much eye appeal as it does usefulness as a frequent layer and a provider of quality meat.
Heritage Breed With History
Barred Rock chickens have a long history, with the breed's first recorded appearance occurring in 1865 as a cross between a Dominique cock and either a Black Cochin or Black Java hen. The single-combed, medium- to large-size birds were the most popular farm bird by World War II, with farmers raising them for meat and eggs. Outside of the farm model, where barred rock layer hens are of more interest than roosters, sex distinctions are important, as many cities allowing laying hens prohibit their crowing counterparts.
Physical Differences in Adult Rocks
Barred Rock roosters and hens have easily observable physical differences. A rooster boasts a large, upright comb. A hen's comb is more moderate but not a pea comb or small comb). Roosters' tails are noticeably different, too, with a handful of extremely long, barred feathers sprouting from the hind end; these "sickle feathers" are composed of both long main feathers and shorter, curvy feathers called lesser sickles. Male and female Barred Rock body feathers are subtly different, with hens appearing lighter due to wider white bars -- roosters have bars of equal width.
Something to Crow About
Another giveaway difference between roosters and hens isn't seen as much as heard. Roosters do something hens don't: They crow, usually beginning upon sexual maturity but sometimes even in their first few weeks.
The rooster crow is an iconic aural emblem of daybreak, but in truth a male will crow throughout the day and sometimes well into the night. The rooster's crow is his way of communicating with the flock; it can carry several messages, from alerting that danger is present to announcing arrival of food. Barred Rock hens, meanwhile, are largely quiet birds known for cooing and other subvocal noises.
Sex Differences in Baby Chicks
Sexing chicks is more difficult than sexing adult Barred Rocks, but it's important to know gender if you're babies to raise for egg production. Barred Rocks are considered "sex linked," meaning it's possible to accurately sort male and females at birth without hiring a trained vent inspector. Barred Rocks are born with a spot on their heads, and this spot is key to sex linking -- a male has a large white spot, while a female has a smaller narrower spot. In general, female Barred Rocks are also lighter colored than males. These sexing methods are 80 percent accurate -- so have a plan for divesting yourself of possibly barred Barred Rock roosters.