Eat These Birds to Keep Them Alive!: Developing Sustainable Poultry Flocks

Reader Contribution by Jim Adkins
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So, what makes a flock of poultry sustainable? What is standard-bred poultry? If you purchase chicks from a hatchery, are they true to the breed? Why does every hatchery sell Rhode Island Reds and they all look different? Why do the Cornish Cross meat chickens have so many problems? Raising standard poultry is the only true way to improve the sustainability of quality local food while preserving the strength of Heritage poultry. Farmers are looking for sustainable sources of poultry to start a flock. What does it take? Let me suggest to you that there is a lot of misunderstanding about this.

Let me share with you a personal experience. For several years I work in the commercial turkey industry and 100 percent of all the turkeys we raised were unable to reproduce naturally! We raised breeder flocks that needed us human beings to assist in the process of reproduction. We trained hired men to collect semen from the toms and then spend the next day inseminating the hens to fertilize the eggs. These turkeys cannot reproduce without the assistance of man”. This is true of the entire commercial, factory-like turkey industry. Poultry that cannot reproduce naturally are not sustainable. This is also true in the commercial chicken industry; using sophisticated, proprietary crosses of specific industrial stocks which can only produce predictable results when managed on a commercial scale. All hybrids of meat chickens and egg layers that are crossed for production reasons, cannot reproduce and hatch the same species of birds. They are genetically controlled by the companies that own them.

This is also true of the ‘Freedom Ranger’ and the ‘Label Rouge’-you cannot reproduce these birds on your own local farm. So, think about this, if you are dependent upon a company to send you baby chicks every year (0r every 8 weeks) because you cannot reproduce your own flock, is your flock of poultry sustainable? Absolutely not! If these genetic companies of turkeys and chickens would ever just go away, you will no longer have a flock of birds.

This is a urgent matter that we are up against! We need to do something about it right away. All the “old historical, heritage” breeds of poultry are disappearing. Why, because we are no longer dependant on them to produce meat and eggs for us. True Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, New Hampshires, Dorkings, Orpingtons, Australorps, Chanteclers and even true leghorns are very hard to find! It is even harder to find a breeder who is interested in breeding them to standard.

The Sustainable Poultry Network  is working diligently to bring these birds back to the kitchen tables of American families. This means that we must breed the production qualities back into all the dual purpose breeds of these historical, heritage poultry. Not just eye candy backyard chickens   but actual egg and meat producing poultry that can naturally reproduce, enjoy the natural life of the pasture and have a normal, slow growth rate!

Poultry Standards of Perfection

Remember the APA Standard of Perfection (taken from the 1938 edition of the APA Standard of Perfection; page 32):

Standard bred poultry is practical poultry because most of the different breeds produce eggs, or meat, or both, to greater economic advantages than non standard stock. The purpose of the STANDARD OF PERFECTION is to establish those ideal types that are not alone the most beautiful and symmetrical but also most useful and productive.

It should be understood that every standard breed and variety produces eggs and meat. Some breeds excel in egg production and some in the production of meat. The most rapid and economical producers of meat are often economic producers of eggs, while on the other hand, the meat of the highest egg producers is ultimately consumed as food.

The breeder cannot afford to sacrifice the economic qualities of his breed. It is important that he should maintain the size, type, and color that are characteristic to the breed and variety, and it is vitally that he maintains the soundness of constitution which is necessary if vigor, size, type, color and production are to be developed to their highest perfection.

These words echo our passion and commitment to putting standard bred poultry back to work, doing what they were created to do!

So, where should you source these heritage, standard breeds of poultry? Let me warn you,  don’t respond to this urgent need by running out to your local  farm store and buy some baby chicks!  And definitely don’t call one of the large hatcheries!  I have been judging poultry for over thirty years and I have very seldom selected a birds for champion from a hatchery. We do not recommend hatcheries for (3) reasons:

1)      Quantity verses quality: Most hatcheries is North America hatch millions of chicks and poults. Large numbers equal large amounts of dollars. When you look at the history of Standard Bred poultry in America, the very best poultry are not coming from large hatcheries.

2)      No selective breeding: To maintain high quality breeding stock one must selectively breed every generation of progeny. This is critical! Each generation must be selected for vigor, APA Standard qualities and production qualities. Most of the time, large hatcheries are so consumed with numbers that the proper time is not invested into selective breeding.

3)      No culling for undesirable traits: Most backyard folks associate a “bad experience” with a fowl (like being attacked by a rooster or a goose) automatically assume it is the breed. For example, if you were attacked by a Rhode Island Red rooster when you were a young child, you automatically assume that all Rhode Island Red males are aggressive and mean! This is simply not true! Aggressive fathers will produce aggressive sons. Every generation of birds must be carefully selected even for undesirable traits including cannibalism and temperament.

So where should you source the very best birds?  Your very best option is to locate breeders who are committed to breeding, selecting and culling ruthlessly. That is the key. The Sustainable Poultry Network is committed to these core values.  Research your sources; do your home work and then invest into the very best!

Why Certify a Poultry Flock?

SPN is very intentional to recognize these breeding flocks. Our national flock certification is to give the creditability, assurance and authenticity that a flock of poultry is true to breed and is being bred to the highest excellence for vigor, APA standard qualities and production qualities. It should be noted that, many breeds of chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese are being marketed around the world that are not true to breed and are being compromised of their original intent when they were developed. Many are deceived to think otherwise.

Consumers and buyers can be assured that the birds they receive from our certified flocks will be true to breed and will be bred with the following core values:

1)      Protecting Genetic Diversity: With all of our certified flocks, our commitment is to protect the genetic diversity of the flock; making sure that they are standard bred according to the APA Standard of perfection. We believe this is best accomplished through careful inbreeding & line breeding; and not by carelessly adding “outside bloodlines” without careful evaluation of the current breeding program.

2)      Uniformity: Culling rigorously and selecting of ALL progeny is critical in our breeding programs. This will assure uniformity in the quality of the birds. This must be of utmost importance with the breeders of our certified flocks.

3)       Production Qualities: With all of our certified flocks, we expect all of our breeders to breed with the highest quality production as one of its primary goals. We must put standard bred poultry back to work for us!

4)       Preservation of Standard Bred Poultry: unless we intentionally work hard to breed, grow and eat these heritage breeds of poultry, we will lose them.

Our mission: “Equipping farmers, chefs and consumers to breed, grow and market sustainable flocks of Standard Bred Poultry.” We are committed to training farmers for understanding, coaching them for implementation, and mentoring them for the sake of multiplying sustainable flocks of standard bred poultry throughout the USA and all of North America. This is a very exciting movement. I invite you to get involved.

If you are interested in learning more, go to the Sustainable Poultry Network website, or contact us by calling 209.890.5326/email: