Repopulating the Endangered Heritage Java Chicken

The pressures of industrial agriculture have pushed the endangered heritage java chicken close to extinction. Learn how to save this endangered bird.


| February/March 2002



Java chickens are about as close to the original domesticated chicken as you can get. However, the pressures of industrial agriculture have pushed the breed close to extinction.

Java chickens are about as close to the original domesticated chicken as you can get. However, the pressures of industrial agriculture have pushed the breed close to extinction.


PHOTO: JANET OTT

Learn how to save the endangered heritage Java chicken.

I drive backward in time every day on my way to work. I leave Chicago and busy Route 38 behind, then head up a gravel road to a white-picketed yard full of plump chickens scratching about. My daily time machine chickens aren't what you expect, though. Forget the modern White leghorns and Rhode Island Reds: My little farm-yard cluckers are black, beautiful and rare. Our work is helping to make sure they don't disappear.

I work for the Garfield Farm Museum in LaFox, Illinois, a former prairie farmstead being restored as an 1840s working farm museum (see "Preserving History" at the end of this article). In the 1980s, Garfield Farm started keeping a small flock of Black Java chickens. Javas are one of the oldest, rarest and most useful chickens in North America. Java popularity in the United States peaked between 1850 and 1890. They were especially popular as a market bird in New York and New Jersey because their black pinfeathers quickly let consumers know whether a bird had been properly plucked. As chicken production became more centralized and industrialized, black feathers were seen as a disadvantage by producers. They preferred white specialty birds that hid bad plucking instead of pointing it out.

Even without industry support, Javas continue to be ideal small farm birds. They are dual-purpose birds that lay eggs well and produce good roasters reasonably fast. They are excellent foragers and do well for themselves in the barn yard. Hens lay large, rich, brown eggs, and most are good mothers to their chicks. Young cockerels make excellent table fare with juicy, flavorful meat. Roosters average about 9 1/2 pounds, while hens tend to be about 6 1/2 pounds. Their modest size and peaceful temperament make Javas easy to work with.

At Garfield Farm, we're trying to reintroduce the endangered heritage Java chicken to landowners. Even if they have no experience with livestock, or don't have enough land for a herd of sheep or cattle, they can still help preserve this rare breed. So many heritage livestock breeds are rapidly disappearing, and some are already lost. Even though Javas were once found throughout the eastern United States, their numbers have dipped so low some wondered whether it would be possible to save the breed from extinction.

When we at Garfield Farm heard about the low numbers of Black Javas left, we switched our small flock from pure display to a concentrated effort to restore a viable Java population. The first step was to prove our Javas were pure. University of Iowa researchers compared our birds' genes to those of modern breeds descended from Javas and birds from the last commercial supplier, Duane Urch. Urch/Turnland Poultry in Owatonna, Minnesota, also supplied Garfield Farm's original flock. We had great hope for our flock, since the Urch flock had been closed since the late 1950s and was possibly free from crossbreeding.

marian_6
8/18/2007 6:59:45 PM

I have just received four Speckled Suffix chicks and two Silver Laced Wyandott chicks for a laying flock. I wanted a Heritage Breed to help the breed come back. I was hoping to find a Java, but couldn't locate any. so I settled for the Suffix, an English chicken from the 1800's, and the Wyandott, which is an early American chicken.






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