Heritage chicken breeds are valued for their ancestry as well as their distinctive physical traits, which make their meat and eggs stand out from conventional poultry products. These in-depth profiles detail the history and characteristics of various heritage chicken breeds.
Barred Plymouth Rock Chickens
The Barred Plymouth Rock chicken is a year-round egg layer as well as a good meat bird. Both cocks and hens have an upright carriage and are graceful, stylish birds.
Black Australorp Chickens
The Black Australorp is an active bird that can adapt easily to confined spaces and is a good layer in winter. The coloration of the dark-eyed Australorp has been called intense. Its blue-black feathers shimmer with beetle-green iridescence.
Cornish Game Chickens
Cornish Games, also known as Indian Games, are an Anglo-Indian crossbreed usually raised as a meat or show bird. The Cornish has a thick, compact body with a wide back and a broad, deep breast. The muscle development and arrangement makes the Cornish the ultimate meat producer with a large proportion of white meat of an excellent texture.
The very rare Delaware chicken matures quickly and can be used for organic and free-range farming. Delawares mature rapidly for meat production, with excellent size and conformation. The hens also lay large brown or tinted eggs.
Dominique chickens were very popular in nineteenth century America for their self-sufficiency. They are good foragers that do well on free range. Docile and calm, they also do well in confinement.
Dorkings are a poultry breed that was quite popular with the ancient Romans because of their five-toed feet. The Dorking has a stout, rectangular, broad breasted body with short, sturdy legs. It is a seasonal egg layer but an ideal meat bird.
Jersey Giant Chickens
The Jersey Giant chicken is one of the largest of all chicken breeds. The Jersey is known as a rugged breed that does especially well in cold climates. The hen also lays well through the winter, producing brown eggs.
New Hampshire Chickens
The New Hampshire chicken is a medium-sized bird bred from the Rhode Island Red breed. As a dual-purpose breed, the New Hampshire chicken produces an especially nice plump carcass and large eggs.
Rhode Island Red Chickens
The Rhode Island Red chicken was originally a dual-purpose fowl, but the most common strains today are selected for egg production. Because of its good production and other useful traits, the Rhode Island Red was one of the most successful and widespread farm flock birds for many years. It is long-lived, very hardy, and adaptable to all sorts of conditions or feed.
The Sussex has a deep, rectangular body but is still an active, alert bird that is capable of foraging. Sussex chickens can lay up to 250 brown or tinted eggs every year, and they also make excellent meat birds.
White Wyandotte Chickens
The White Wyandotte chicken is a calm, maternal bird suited for cold climates. Hens are good mothers, and their pleasant disposition makes them adaptable to confinement. The hens also lay a good quantity of brown-shelled eggs.
Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post these profiles from The Encyclopaedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds (Copyright 2001 by Yale University), by Janet Vorwald Dohner. This 500-page book is a definitive reference about heritage livestock, describing the history and characteristics of almost 200 breeds of poultry, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses. The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds is available on Amazon.
Photo by Troy Griepentrog