From time to time you may hear of certain chicken breeds being referred to as a Heritage Breed. What exactly does that mean?
How does a breed come to be deemed a Heritage Breed?
For quite some time chickens have been on the menu in America, be it in the form of eggs or the meat of the bird itself. When explorers arrived in this country, they brought with them chickens. As time passed, those chickens were bred and new breeds arose from their lineage. The progression of breeding has led to a lot of breed tweaking for enhancements and desirable traits such as with hybrid creations that grow rapidly. Because of this, the original breeds have been bred less frequently to the point where some are threatened with extinction.
To be deemed a Heritage Breed, The Livestock Conservancy recognizes the following criteria, all of which must be met simultaneously:
1. Birds must be bred from stock recognized by the American Poultry Association. This stock must have been recognized before the middle of the 20th century and genetic lineage must be traceable through several generations. Essentially, eggs must be laid by verifiable Heritage Breeds to be deemed Heritage themselves. Also necessary is meeting the guidelines for the Standard of Perfection for that breed.
2. Mating of Heritage Breeds must occur naturally and genetic integrity must be maintained.
3. Heritage Breeds must be able to live life as intended naturally with a long life span and productive range of 5-7 years for hens and 3-5 years for roosters. They should be able to live outdoors and thrive on pasture.
4. Moderate to slow growth rates must exist with market weight being achieved in no less than a 16 week time frame. It takes this amount of time for healthy organs and skeletal systems to fully develop and for the building of proper muscle.
Used interchangeably to describe Heritage Breeds are words such as heirloom, old fashioned, and antique. These words have the same meaning as the actual term 'Heritage' and should be understood as such. Much of the reason behind defining Heritage Breeds is essentially to draw attention to them. By bringing such birds to the forefront of peoples' memories, it becomes likely that those people will take an interest in those birds. The hope is that through sparking interest that efforts will be made at breeding and conservation in the hopes of re-introducing Heritage Chickens.
Do you have Heritage Breed Chickens? What breed are they? Feel free to let us know in the comments what breeds you have and what efforts you are making to keep the Heritage alive!