Enjoy Heritage Chickens

Enjoy Heritage Chickens

| February/March 2005

Chickens are a perfect choice for homestead livestock; they don’t require much space or special equipment, and keeping a small, backyard flock is an easy and fun way to expand home food production. You can serve your family the freshest (and most nutritious) eggs they have ever eaten, and you can re-create the rich flavors of your grandmother’s homegrown/homemade fried chicken. When you raise your own birds, you also can be sure they are treated humanely and fed good-quality feed.

There’s yet another good reason to keep chickens these days: More than half of the 70 breeds of chickens found in the United States are in danger of disappearing, according to a recent census conducted by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) of Pittsboro, N.C. Of particular concern are five breeds that were developed in North America: Javas, Buckeyes, Chanteclers, Delawares and Hollands.

Today, most Americans eat eggs and chickens from a few highly specialized breeds used by the commercial poultry industry. As family farms disappeared, so did thousands of flocks of chickens. The newer commercial breeds are more productive than the older farm breeds when the birds are confined in facilities with controlled environments. But these commercial breeds have not been selected to maintain important traits such as ability to forage, longevity, tolerance to extreme cold or heat, predator avoidance and broodiness (tendency to set and hatch new chicks). If you plan to raise chickens, you are much more likely to find these valuable qualities in a heritage chicken breed.

So which breed should you choose? First, consider whether you want the birds for eggs, meat or both; some breeds were developed for optimum egg laying, not for meat production. Eggs from heritage birds also can vary widely. For example, the Hollands lay white eggs, while the Delawares lay large, dark-brown eggs. Another factor to consider is the breed’s personality: Javas, Delawares and Chanteclers are known for their sunny dispositions. But most importantly, different breeds are specialized for different environments, so be sure to look for a chicken breed that meets your needs — such as high winter egg production or tolerance for cold climates.

Below are profiles outlining the history and exceptional qualities of these five most-endangered American breeds.


The Java is one of the oldest breeds of chickens developed in America. Its ancestors are reputed to have come from the Far East, possibly the isle of Java. Sources differ on the origin of the breed, but Javas were known to have been in existence in America by 1835. The breed was famous for its meat-producing qualities and was considered the best for this purpose when it was introduced.

12/21/2007 2:03:43 PM

Very good article. Don't you have articles describing raising Chickens and caged rabbits in a greenhouse. I would like to have those articles to read over again. I am interested in doing this.

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