WHAT ARE HERITAGE BREED CHICKENS?
If you’ve read my eBook, Dual Purpose Chickens: Raise ‘Em Like Your Grandma Did, you know all about our love for dual purpose breed chickens. But the chickens we raise actually go a little further than that. They are Heritage Breed Chickens.
Wait. What?? What are heritage breed chickens??
In the 1800’s standard breeds were adapted to regional climates. Many of which were dual purpose, meaning raised for both meat and eggs, rather than one bird for meat and one bird for eggs.
Chickens were raised this way, naturally, until the 1940’s. Around the time of World War II, hybrid breeds were being bred for industrialization and mass production of both meat and eggs.
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Industries would breed these original heritage breeds with each other to capitalize on specific traits.
For meat birds, industries were looking for faster maturation and larger birds.
For egg production, the industries again looked for faster maturation as well as larger eggs and more frequent laying.
With the industrialization of chickens many of these heritage breed chickens are becoming near extinction! And to quote the Livestock Conservancy, “Extinction of a breed would mean the irrevocable loss of the genetic resources and options it embodies.”
As of now there are over three dozen heritage breed chickens in danger of extinction!
Before we get into specific breeds, there are a few requirements for your chickens to be considered heritage breed chickens.
The basic considerations for heritage breed chickens are:
- They must reproduce naturally. Your chickens must mate. They must also go broody and raise their own clutch of chicks.
- Live long and vigorous lives.
- The typical production span anymore for a laying hen is about 3 years. Heritage breed chickens are supposed to be productive for 5 to 7 years!
- Roosters should breed for 3 to 5 years. (Here’s what you can expect when you keep a rooster!)
- Thrive in pasture-based, outdoor production systems.
- Heritage breed chickens are naturally good at foraging for their own food. We do provide grain for our chickens but they actually prefer foraging for their own!
- Reach the appropriate market weight in no less than 16 weeks.
- The factory birds that you typically find at feed stores are bred to mature at about 16 weeks. Our Orpingtons mature anywhere between 23-28 weeks. That extra wait can be frustrating but the fact that they produce longer makes up for it.
What are the Benefits of Raising Heritage Breed Chickens?
I mentioned at the beginning of this post my love of dual purpose chickens, so much so that I wrote a book about it! But why I love our birds really boils down to the fact that they are heritage breed chickens.
Heritage breeds are more sustainable than hybrid breeds.
I don’t only raise Orpingtons. I have some mixes and Easter Eggers. All of my Orpingtons have raised at least one of their own clutches. But not a single mixed breed has shown any interest, ever.
By raising heritage breed chickens, you are ultimately helping to move them off of the endangered list. Go YOU!
I mentioned before that heritage breed chickens need to thrive in a pasture based lifestyle. Pasture raised chickens are what most people think when they hear free range.
Free range actually means that your chickens are able to go outside, usually in a fenced area. Pasture raised means that they are free to go where they please without restriction.
When they are pasture raised, your chickens are happier and hardier. They are more likely to be able to find their own food, are generally stronger, including their immune systems, and better at being aware of their surroundings.
With three dozen breeds in danger, there are plenty that you can choose from and they’re all listed here. But these are some of the most popular:
Buff Orpington – I’m a bit partial to these!
Dominique – This has to be Nick’s favorite! 🙂
Polish – These are super fun! I had one but she’s gone. 🙁 Hope to add more soon!
Australorp – These are said to be the most friendly!
Brahma – I’m sure you’ve seen the video of the gigantic monster chickens. Well, this is them!
So… Do you already raise heritage breed chickens? Or have I convinced you to start? For tips to raise them dual purpose, don’t forget to grab my eBook! And don’t forget to let me know what you’ll be raising in the comments!