Raising Rare-Breed Chickens

| 4/12/2012 8:48:59 AM

In 2004 the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) conducted a chicken census. The results were astounding: of 70 chicken breeds maintained in the United States, half were endangered and 20 were nearly extinct. Many breeds have rallied since then, but others still need conservators to help them survive. A few years ago the ALBC launched its Heritage Chicken promotion; if you’d like to get involved, here’s what you need to know.

According to the ALBC, Heritage chicken:

  • Must be produced by an APA Standard breed. Heritage chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed.
  • Must be from naturally mating stock. Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock; no artificial insemination is tolerated.
  • Must be from chickens having long, productive outdoor life spans. Heritage chickens must have the genetic ability to live long, healthy lives and to thrive on free range or in pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for five to seven years and roosters for three to five years.
  • Must be from moderately slow-maturing chickens. Chickens producing meat marketed as Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching market weight for their breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives chickens time to develop strong skeletal structures and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.

In a nutshell, quoting from the ALBC website: “A Heritage Egg can only be produced by an American Poultry Association Standard breed. A Heritage Chicken is hatched from a heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, is slow growing, naturally mated with a long productive outdoor life.” Terms like heirloom, antique, old-fashioned, and old-timey imply heritage and are understood to be synonymous with these definitions. In addition, chickens (and eggs) marketed under a Heritage label must include the variety and breed name on the label.

To get started visit the ALBC Conservation Priority List (CPL), where breeds are ranked according to the following criteria (click on each breed listed in the CPL to access pictures and information about it):

Critical: Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the United States, with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more) and estimated global population less than 1,000. Breeds in the Critical category of the 2010 CPL include the Campine, Chantecler, Crevecoeur, Holland, Modern Game, Nankin, Redcap, Russian Orloff, Spanish, Sultan, Sumatra, and Yokohama.

Modern Game by Adam Mastoon 

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