Buckeyes, from the “Buckeye State” of Ohio, are one of the most-endangered American breeds ofchicken. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio, developed the breed while seeking a cold-tolerant and active fowl that could withstand the cold Ohio winters.
She crossed a buff cochin rooster with a few barred Plymouth rock hens to create what she thought of as “a large, lazy fowl.” She introduced liveliness by adding some black-breasted red game roosters, and many of the chicks produced red feathers when they matured. This was significant because red fowl had not previously been seen in Ohio. By 1896, Metcalf was reliably producing chickens with the deep, lustrous red plumage that is the hallmark trait of the breed today.
The buckeye remains stocky like its game chicken ancestors, which makes it a good meat-producing bird. The game chicken background might account for the buckeye’s assertive nature – they are extremely confident around people. The buckeyes have solid, muscular thighs, and a broad, well-rounded breast.
“They are big enough to produce generous portions of meat, but are also pretty good layers,” says Craig Russell, president of the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities in Owatonna, Minn. “It is a good dual-purpose breed, more than simply the meat bird that Metcalf tried to create.” Buckeye hens traditionally lay medium-sized, brown eggs.
Buckeyes can willingly adapt to a range of living conditions. Because they are so active, they do best when allowed to free-range and live where they have more room to roam. These chickens prefer to explore and to scratch the ground, so pen them away from your prized flower beds. Buckeyes are an excellent choice for climates with cold winters because their very small combs and wattles are not likely to be damaged by freezing temperatures.
To learn more about this interesting breed, read "Enjoy Heritage Chickens" at Mother Earth News.