When we set out to add chickens to the farm we wanted to be able to make an impact in the variety that we were breeding. Superficial factors like 'egg color' or some 'exotic' breed from overseas that could sell for $120/chick didn't matter. We wanted to assist a Historical breed, not lining some chicken collector's pocket!
Like most folks, when we began our search, we thought we could find a good selection of chicks at the local feed store, and earnestly thought that since it was the 'normal' thing to do the hatcheries must be doing a good job of providing pure bred chickens. And like many people we didn't think anything of it, ..a chicken was a chicken. All the breeds we acquired looked like everyone else's, and for the most part resembled the pictures on the breed identification posters provided by the hatcheries. We never thought about seriously breeding chickens until 2011 when we found 'Bantam Buttercups.'
When I was growing up I had my first experience with this breed and I fell in love. So much that I wanted to get more and show them in 4-H! But I never got to live that dream, and upon seeing that they came in a bantam size I was thrilled beyond belief and ordered some. Upon arrival I inspected my happily chirping balls of fluff, settled them into the brooder, and then sat down at the computer to do more research. To my surprise there was virtually NO information! I found an article on the American Buttercup Club and American Livestock Conservancy websites, and discovered that Buttercups were a rare breed that nearly went extinct in the 1960s. The bantam variety is still relatively new, and is also at risk.
It was from these sites that I was first able to understand the term 'Heritage' poultry; though I had heard it used before, and had seen the term used on many varieties of poultry. My eyes were opened to the fact that even though hatcheries breed 'Heritage types' of poultry, they breed the culls from breeders, or poor quality birds all the way around. They even cross-breed birds to get them to lay more eggs that they can hatch and sell. Hatcheries were not as focused on breeding TRUE heritage breeds as I was once led to believe. In actuality 'show bird' breeders were the ones responsible for truly keeping the breeds alive!
A Rhode Island Red from a hatchery is a skinny, almost orange colored bird. While show bird breeders breed large, fat, deep almost black mahogany colored birds. Show birds bred by dedicated breeders, were FAR better suited to become a homesteading bird than the hatchery birds! We were appalled by all the 'so-called' breeders in our area advertising 'pure-bred', 'heritage' egg-layers on local sales boards; seeing that they obviously were NOT selling the quality dual-purpose breeding stock that they were demanding a premium price for. It was at that time obvious, that the dual-purpose qualities that had made America's Heritage poultry was systematically being BRED-OUT by the irresponsible breeding practices of hatcheries, and consumers who demand "variety over quality".
And sadly, many people have never really seen a historical-type heritage breed. All they have ever been exposed to are the hatchery fowl, and mixed breeds advertised in their area. The TRUE heritage breeds that helped found the Country, feed a Nation during War, revolutionize Meat sold in Modern Markets, and fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of the people have spiraled down steadily into largely useless fowl.
For us, the decision to breed our birds to APA standards was a cut and dry. The need to have more people working to keep American poultry from becoming consumed by modern 'push-button' society was clear. We decided to break free of the poor quality breeding practice exhibited by many back-yard poultry collectors, and take a more caring approach to our poultry. Breeding for the best possible traits, and doing our part to secure a future for all the historic breeds of poultry on our property.
We have taken a new stance on poultry ownership, and do not breed poultry as 'pets' or just to have a rainbow blend of chickens roaming the backyard so that we can "look" like a farm. Our birds were selected to not only provide eggs for our family , but also due to their rarity, and need to have dedicated breeders who are willing to work hard to preserve them. Many breeds of domestic poultry are becoming rare due to their need to have more breeders who are willing to focus on producing correct-to-type birds in order to increase the genetic diversity, and keep these breeds alive. The Sussex breed is especially in need of breeders. As well as the Plymouth Rocks, Red Caps, Buckeyes, Hollands, Delawares, Javas, Minorcas, and the list goes on!
I strongly believe that the hatcheries, as well as all the New homesteads popping up, are dropping the ball since these are the major sources of breeding flocks today. Sadly, neither are focusing on producing animals that meet the breed standards that would have otherwise preserved these breeds to historical size, and productive vigor. Instead, many breeds have been lost, hybridized/diluted, or have actually almost become a completely different breed than the original stock! Domestic poultry flocks in the US are in desperate need of restoration, and need to be placed back in the hands of caring people who are far removed from the mindset and values of commercialized industry.
In our efforts to restore historical vigor and type in our poultry, we maintain all of our flocks in separate breeding pens. Our birds are also paired for breeding. We do not allow all of our birds to roam and cross-breed with each other, and we strive to select pairs for breeding that have complementary traits. The other thing that sets our flock apart from most farms is that we DO NOT cull our hens at only two years of age! And we do not breed pullets.
Our birds must be at least 2 years old before we begin breeding in order to allow us the ability to see the full potential of the birds being used. The plumage and growth of many heritage breeds is not at the full potential until 2. At that point, you have a very solid idea of which birds to use/not use. And since we do not breed commercialized battery hen bloodlines, we therefore have no need to cull a bird in it's youth. Instead, we keep our hens until they are truly no longer productive, and breed the stock that is descended from healthy productive strains to promote viability-- thereby, extending the age(s) that our hens and roosters are capable of being productive on a natural breeding cycle.
The difference between well bred Heritage fowl, and 'production bred' hatchery stock is vast, and there is simply not enough room on this page for me to list. Unfortunately, in many flocks, there is far too much focus is placed on the bottom line (money), and not enough focus on sustainable flocks with long-lasting productivity!
-ALL- well bred heritage breeds of poultry should be healthy, disease resistant, and have a life span of 10 years for hens, and 8 years for roosters! Healthy Heritage hens should have no problems laying eggs for 5-7 years before slowing production, and Heritage roosters should be viable/breed able for 3-5 years! To say a hen needs to be replaced at only 2 years old when she is expected to have a 10 year lifespan is beyond OBSURD! This 'wives-tale' no-doubt spread by a industry looking to capitalize on ignorance is not only damaging to poultry breeds, but is also truly reflective of a LACK of understanding when it comes to breeding quality poultry on any homestead.
Here on Our farm, we are dedicated to not only preserving these beautiful poultry antiquities, but also breeding responsibly for SUSTAINABLE flocks in the future. By providing poultry that is adaptable, disease resistant, productive through out the life of the fowl, and restored as close as possible to the historical beauty and vigor of the respective breeds we raise. We hope that what we do will make an impact on the poultry in our state, and encourage families to seek out a heritage breed that will help build their lives.
To find a Heritage Breed that is need of a dedicated farm/breeder visit:
The American Livestock Conservancy
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