Chickens have been a part of the American diet since the arrival of the Spanish explorers. Since that time, different breeds have been developed to provide meat, eggs, and pleasure.
The American Poultry Association began defining breeds in 1873 and publishing the definitions in the Standard of Perfection. These Standard breeds were well adapted to outdoor production in various climatic regions. They were hearty, long-lived, and reproductively vital birds that provided an important source of protein to the growing population of the country until the mid-20th century. With the industrialization of chickens many breeds were sidelined in preference for a few rapidly growing hybrids. The Livestock Conservancy now lists over three-dozen breeds of chickens in danger of extinction. Extinction of a breed would mean the irrevocable loss of the genetic resources and options it embodies. Here is their Breed Comparison Chart and you can search their online directory to find the breed(s) you are looking to raise. And, they have a series of free heritage breeds podcasts!
These rare breeds are part of our national heritage and represent a unique piece of the earth’s biodiversity, something we have been knowingly and unknowingly putting the kibosh on. The loss of these breeds would impoverish agriculture and diminish the human spirit. We have inherited a rich variety of livestock breeds. For the sake of future generations, we must work together to safeguard these treasures.
The best place that I know of to find heritage chicken breeds is at The Heritage Conservancy.
Aside from chicken, The Livestock Conservancy also seeks to preserve other livestock breeds in danger, such as: cattle, sheep, pigs, rabbits, ducks, geese, turkey, horses, goats, and donkeys!
Since its inception in 1977 (as the American Minor Breeds Conservancy, and later, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy), The Livestock Conservancy has been a “central hub” for anything having to do with rare breed conservation in the United States. The Livestock Conservancy does research, education, outreach, marketing and promotion, and genetic rescues to help ensure the future of rare breed agriculture.
To support their long-term conservation, support efforts to recover these breeds to historic levels of productivity, and to re-introduce these culinary and cultural treasures to the marketplace even if you live in suburbia you might want to consider a heritage breed of chicken and play a role in keeping the diversity going strong.
The concept of heritage livestock conservation are gaining in popularity, there is still much work to be done to educate the public about the importance of genetic conservation for nearly 200 breeds of livestock and poultry. See their chicken priority list.
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