The Sebright, among the smallest of the bantams, is a spunky, dynamic bird with distinctive plumage that has made it a desirable addition to personal flocks for nearly two centuries. Despite their diminutive stature, these chickens boast an affectionate and appealing personality that has made them a staple of both the yard and the poultry show circuit.
Background and History of Sebrights
Designated as a true bantam breed, the small Sebright has no standard breed counterpart and was developed specifically as a bantam by Sir John Sebright, from whom the breed received its name. First bred in 1800, the Sebright is an attractive, ornamental breed of chicken, and is often regarded as one of the oldest varieties of British bantam. It was Sebright’s intention to create a small chicken with distinct lace plumage, a feat that required substantial ingenuity and commitment on the part of the breeder to attain.
Although the exact cross-breedings used to produce the Sebright are unknown, poultry experts speculate that Nankin, Hamburg, Polish, and even Rosecomb breeds may have all been utilized in the development of the Sebright. Accepted into the American Poultry Association in 1874, the Sebright has been a steady fixture in the world of poultry showmanship since that time.
However, because these birds are neither abundant egg layers nor large enough to be effective meat birds, the popularity of the Sebright has not extended much beyond that of professional poultry associations or of ornamental uses. Overall Sebright numbers are low enough to warrant the bird’s designation at “threatened” by the American Livestock Conservancy.
Currently, Sebrights are enjoying newfound popularity as the number of urban and backyard poultry enthusiasts increases. Undoubtedly, the active, spunky demeanor, small size and beautiful plumage of this bird are what recommend it to new or first time poultry owners.
However, because these birds tend to be difficult for beginning breeders to produce, the fate of the breed still rests squarely in the hands of professional breeders and poultry experts. It is hoped that this renewed interest in a centuries-old breed, and the addition of chickens like the Sebright to small urban flocks, will bring about greater awareness for all manner of heritage poultry breeds.
Sebrights Breed Standard and Appearance
Weighing in at around 22 ounces for cocks and 20 ounces for hens, Sebrights are among the smaller of the bantam breeds. Two color variations, Silver Laced and Gold Laced are accepted by the American Poultry Association, although Sebrights also occur in a Buff Laced variation; regardless of color, all Sebrights have laced plumage that is edged in a contrasting black.
Because the males have no identifying or distinctive feathers in the hackle, saddle or tail, Sebrights are considered to be the only hen-feathered chicken, making males and females nearly indistinguishable by coloration.
Sporting a prominent breast and short back, Sebrights have large, downward sloping wings and a full tail that spreads out in a wide fan and is angled upwards carried approximately 70 degrees above horizontal. These chickens have combs that are a warm rose in color and which end in a straight, horizontal spike.
Sebrights also have bright red, rounded wattles, turquoise or purplish-red earlobes, and faces that are purplish-red in color in male birds and a gypsy color in female birds. Both the comb and wattle are slightly smaller in hens. These chickens also boast slate blue legs that are unfeathered and are generally considered a strikingly attractive breed.
Personality and Temperament
Because of their intended purpose as an ornamental breed, Sebrights are generally friendly, active, and easygoing. Relatively simple to tame, Sebright roosters are not particularly aggressive, although both males and females of this breed tend to be somewhat skittish, a common trait among bantams.
However, once their initial shyness is overcome, Sebrights are found to be personable and responsive, with many owners asserting that these chickens can easily become pets with the right amount of training and owner interaction. The Sebright’s engaging, feisty personality makes it an excellent chicken for competitions and shows, like these birds, when trained, respond well to the strains of showmanship and can typically handle the noise and bustle of the competition floor.
Although Sebrights may be affectionate birds, their active nature can lead them into trouble. Because of their large wings, Sebrights are reasonably strong fliers and may take flight when stressed or spooked, putting them out of the reach of their owners and into harm’s way.
Additionally, Sebrights may vocalize loudly when left alone or put into situations that they dislike, including especially raucous competition floors in the case of untrained birds. It should be noted, however, that Sebrights require proper interaction to become especially docile; if let to their own devices, they will become good-tempered but wild birds.
Sebright Chicken Egg Laying
As Sebrights were developed to be ornamental or show bird, these chickens are not prolific egg layers, and their eggs should not be counted on to supply a household. Laying small white eggs, these birds depend upon nearly ideal conditions in order to produce.
Generally speaking, cocks need warmer weather in order to breed, so most successful breeding attempts are undertaken between April and June. Hens are not very broody, resulting in a rather low hatching rate and a high mortality rate for those chicks that do hatch.
On average, Sebright hens can produce around 60-80 eggs a year. However, temperature, diet, age of the hens and other living conditions can be significant factors in egg production. Those choosing to raise Sebright chickens should not expect more than the average number of eggs per year but could produce far less. Simply put, Sebrights are not the right chickens for mass egg production.
Health Issues and Care
Hardy and active, the Sebright does not require much specialized care and can generally be kept with other chickens as long as enough space is provided. Great foragers, these chickens benefit greatly from opportunities to scratch around the yard and may find so much nourishment on their own that they may eat little of the feed provided. However, the Sebright’s small body and large wing size also make them adept flyers, so all foraging sessions should be undertaken under supervision.
Additionally, the Sebright’s flight capabilities often require confinement; Sebrights should be kept in a cage or coop to ensure that they do not fly out of range when spooked or roost in tree branches out of reach. As social birds, Sebrights to well in confinement as long as they have companions.
Unfortunately, Sebrights are highly susceptible to Marek’s disease, a contagious viral neoplastic disease that infects the nerves and organs by way of the lymphatic system. Depending on the syndrome, Marek’s disease may cause eye color change and blindness, depression, paralysis, difficulties breathing, crop dilation, lesions, and death.
This disease is transmitted rapidly and can infect and decimate entire flocks. The only known preventative for Marek’s disease is vaccination, so it is essential to vaccinate the entire flock at the first sign of infection.
4 Tips for Raising Sebright Chickens
Interaction is Key
Sebrights may be spunky, active and reasonably non-aggressive birds, but to truly experience their affection personalities, training and socialization are key. Normally shy and skittish when in new surroundings or exposed to new people, these birds can quickly become enjoyable companions, with some owners touting their inclination towards being pets or “house chickens.”
If a friendly, sociable Sebright is the goal, be sure to interact with them early and often, starting as soon as the bird is acquired. Positive attention, affection, and treats all go a long way in taming this feisty little bird.
Cages are Best
While some chickens may be easy to find and collect at the end of a free-range day, Sebrights may not be, as their small size and relatively large wings allow them to fly longer distances and roost in high branches than larger, heavier breeds. As smaller birds, they can spook easily, causing them to take flight in a moment of stress and putting them far out of their owner’s reach.
To keep Sebrights safe from harm, a cage or coop is the best option. However, they love to forage, so indulge their naturally curious nature by allowing them to scratch around the yard under direct supervision.
Don’t Expect Eggs
Because these birds are bantams bred specifically for their looks, Sebrights are rarely good egg producers. They tend to lay eggs only in the most ideal of conditions, and the eggs that they do produce are small and typically limited in quantity. If a supply of eggs for the family is the end goal, Sebrights aren’t the right chicken for the job. However, if having a charming chicken companion or handsome lawn ornament is the aim, then Sebrights fit the bill.
Enjoy the Show
Sebrights were born and bred to be ornamental, so their only true purpose in life is to be attractive and entertaining. Their distinctive plumage, diminutive size, and large personalities are all a part of their charm — so enjoy it! These chickens aren’t particularly good producers and they don’t make for good eating, but they can liven up any farm or garden with their good looks and winning personalities.
Overall, Sebrights are striking, charming birds that are manageable in size and attractive to look at. Although they do not provide a significant source of meat or eggs, these chickens are friendly and easily tamed, making them great pets and a fantastic addition to both rural and urban flocks.