If you're looking for a striking-looking chicken who is also an excellent companion, good egg layer and curious friend for children or grandchildren, the Speckled Sussex could be your perfect breed, as it is mine.
The Speckled Sussex at a glance.
* Curious, chatty, friendly, loves being 'one of the family'.
* Kind and gentle - a great starter chicken for children.
* Deals well with colder climates but also happy in the heat.
* Excellent foragers for free-ranging but also happy to be confined in a smaller space.
* Good egg layers, will continue to produce even in cold weather.
* Lovely feathering makes them a very attractive addition to any backyard.
* A very popular show breed.
The Speckled Sussex originated in Sussex, a county in south-eastern England. It's one of the oldest known breeds: there's evidence that the Romans found a similar breed when they invaded England over two thousand years ago. For that reason it's known as a 'heritage' breed.
It's thought that the Speckled variety of Sussex chickens was the original of the type, sold for its meat at markets in England around the early 19th Century.
It was formally accepted as a standard variety in the early 20th Century and is now the most popular variety of Sussex in the United States. The Light Sussex is more common in England.
From the moment they hatch there's no mistaking the colouring of Speckled Sussex chicks.
The dark striped markings around the eyes are a telltale sign of the breed, although some chicks will be lighter in colour.
The back of Speckled chicks has light and darker brown stripes. These vary in shade from one chick to another, as this photo of three of my Speckleds, in their first stage brooder at day four post-hatch, shows.
The wings of the Speckled Sussex chick are quick to come in, and begin to reveal the showy markings which will increase as they grow older.
This is the same chick at 5 and 15 days. What a difference ten days makes!
As the bird grows older the stunning adult markings start to show. The feathers are a beautiful mahogany colour, tipped in white with a black bar separating the two.
With age and each moult, the white tips multiply and the birds become more and more speckled, giving the breed its name.
Here's one of my Speckled hens at ten months old...
There's nothing I dislike about the Speckled's personality. If you want the chicken version of a lap-dog, this is the breed for you!
Cute, gentle, friendly, chatty, entertaining... you'll find her running to greet you in the mornings, sitting next to you as you work in your yard, chatting away as you sit in your garden together, singing a soothing warbling song when she's feeling particularly contented.
There's no greater antidote if you're feeling a bit down.
Always first to want to know what's going on, the Speckled's natural curiosity can sometimes get the better of her. If you prefer time to yourself this is probably not the breed for you – she'll want to know what you're up to all the time!
Their calm and docile personality means that they're adaptable to most kinds of living arrangements.
They love to forage, so make great free-rangers, but they're calm enough to be able to cope with a more confined space too. The Speckled Sussex is an ideal breed to add to your flock if you don't have a lot of room.
It's important to remember that a rooster's job is to guard his flock. For that reason, males can be what some people would define as "aggressive".
Despite this, my experience of the male Speckled Sussex is of a particularly kind, friendly bird who will do his best for his hens but will at the same time make a good human companion.
Please bear in mind that while breeds may have certain characteristics, personalities and temperament can and will vary from one chicken to another.
The Speckled Sussex is a good egg layer, producing four or five large, light brown coloured eggs per week.
She will keep laying even during cold weather, when many other breeds will stop or need additional lighting in the coop.
Their stunning feathering make this a very popular show breed. The show quality bird should have a broad, flat back, and long, deep breastbone. They should have red earlobes and orange or red eyes, with white skin and white, featherless legs.
Feathering should be a deep mahogany brown tipped with white, with a narrow black stripe separating the brown from white on each feather.
This is a photo I took of the "best hen" in the Speckled Sussex breed at the UK's National Poultry Show.
The Speckled is so good-natured that she is likely to be close to the bottom of the pecking order. Watch that she's not being bullied mercilessly by the less friendly members of your flock.
Dealing with bullies in the flock is an important part of keeping healthy chickens.
If you live in the US, I recommend the Cackle Hatchery as providers of a wide variety of high quality chicken breeds.
They will provide all stages from hatching eggs to chicks and adult chickens, and can send either sexed or non-sexed, depending on age and breed.
(This is an "affiliate link", which means that if you click and buy something, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you)
The Speckled itself doesn't have any specific associations or clubs - it's part of the generic "Sussex" group.
This link is for the American Sussex Association on Facebook - a lively community of Sussex-lovers with members from all over the world. It's a 'closed' group to make sure it's kept strictly to chicken-lovers, so you'll need to request to join.
For further, more detailed information about the breed, show standards and reputable breeders, try this link to the American Sussex Breeders Association.
The UK has no club website. The address for the UK's Sussex Club can be found on this page of the website of the Poultry Club of Great Britain.
This is a short video of three stages of Speckled Sussex chickens. Enjoy!