In 2007, Greenfire Farms was the first to introduce to America two varieties of Sussex: coronations and silvers. Once these varieties were established in America, we spent years finding and for the first time importing the rarest and, to many, the most beautiful variety of this breed: the brown Sussex. Perhaps fewer than a hundred brown Sussex remain in the world. We were able to obtain stock from a top British breeder who has won many awards with her birds.
Of course, the story of the Sussex begins many years before we first imported these birds. In fact, to study this breed is to understand that these birds are engaged in a slow march around the globe that began thousands of years ago.
Descendants of the ancient fowl brought to England by Roman invaders, the Sussex chicken emerged as a distinct breed in Sussex County, England almost two hundred years ago. The breed became standardized in 1903. They are a dual-purpose breed; prolific egg layers and a fine meat bird. Sussex hens lay upwards of 250 large, off-white colored eggs each year. With their pearlescent legs, these huge birds have a striking and regal appearance in the barnyard. Their behavior, too, is remarkable. More than any chicken breed we’ve seen, Sussex exude a quiet confidence and an open curiosity about humans. Even as chicks, while other breeds scramble to be distant from their human caretakers, Sussex actually approach humans with a frank inquisitiveness that is as endearing as it is unusual.
There are eight color varieties of Sussex: light, buff, coronation, silver, speckled, white, red, and brown. Prior to 2007, four color varieties were represented in America: light, red, speckled, and buff. When we imported the coronations and silvers in the summer of that year, we created a sensation in the poultry world because of the remarkable appearance of these birds. However, our masterstroke was the 2011 importation of the almost extinct brown Sussex. People who are lucky enough to have seen them frequently remark that brown Sussex, despite their uninspiring name, are the most beautiful Sussex of all. The hens have a beautiful and striking double laced pattern on their feathers, and the roosters have a golden mane that flows over a lustrous walnut-colored body. We anticipate that this variety will be released to the public in 2013 or 2014.
Silver Sussex look like a bird designed by Jackson Pollock during his black and silver period. With wild splashes of silver and white over their large black bodies, with their bright red combs they leave a lasting visual impression.
Coronation Sussex were first bred in England to honor the reign of King George—one of the King Georges, anyway—and have a simple, classic beauty that in their own way is every bit as impressive as the wildly abstract beauty of the silvers. There is some evidence that coronations from Australia were developed separately from the British birds by a hobbyist in Tasmania, and reportedly the British birds are smaller with a slightly different shade of bluish-gray in the hackles. The coronations at Greenfire Farms have a lilac mane and bright white bodies and look as if they were formed in a porcelain mould. It’s our goal to use these birds as the seed stock to help establish Sussex as an important element of small farm poultry operations in the United States. Already we have met with great success. Through the coronation Sussex stock we imported, we have already produced many times as many coronation Sussex as exist in England where fewer than fifty birds of this variety remain.