Ah, spring is in the air, and with it is the peeping of chicks. This year, instead of the standard chicks you pick up at the feed store, consider getting heritage breeds of chickens.
What are Heritage Breeds?
Heritage breeds are recognized by the American Poultry Association that are naturally hardy and capable of reproducing on their own. These birds are longer lived than many other breeds and able to endure free range and outdoor environments. Heritage breeds are slow maturing, not reaching their full size until 16 weeks or more. These birds also have a tracked lineage that span many generations.
Why Heritage Breeds are Important
Heritage breeds are important because they are considered established breeds capable of producing viable offspring without human intervention. They’re important to maintain certain traits of their breed. These birds aren’t a “here today; gone tomorrow” bird, but they are rare, and without breeders and heritage breed owners, they will be gone.
Here are five heritage breeds to consider:
1. Buckeye – The Buckeye is an older American breed developed in the late 19th century by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf, the Buckeye is a dual-purpose breed that can be used for both meat and eggs. They’re fair to good layers and are very cold hardy with pea combs and thick brown feathers.
2. Chantecler – The Chantecler is a very rare breed developed in Canada by a monk to withstand the harsh Canadian winters. They are dual-purpose and are good layers of brown eggs. They come in partridge, buff or white.
3. Cochin – The Cochin originally came from China in the 19th century. Known for its feathering on its legs, it comes in fifteen different colors and is consider an ornamental. Only fair egg layers, their eggs are white, tinted or yellowish.
4. Delaware – The Delaware was developed in the 1940s as a dual-purpose bird that is above average in brown egg production and an excellent meat producer. Delawares are white in color with silver or black markings, called Columbian, they are good in both heat and cold.
5. Dominique – The Dominique is an old breed that was developed sometime around the mid 18th century. It looks similar to the Barred Plymouth Rock and was not distinguished from them until the APA standards were developed. Cold hardy and a good brown egg layer.
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
American Poultry Association
Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart
Pocketful of Poultry, Carol Ekarius, Storey Publishing, 2007.