Diversify Your Flock, A Guest Post by Eric Keith

We are happy to share a guest post written by Eric Keith, one of our readers. Eric raises heritage breed chickens with his children in Indiana. Enjoy!


My name is Eric Keith, but some folks know me as “The Chicken Man.” I’ve been interested in chickens since childhood, and, like so many others, was introduced to poultry through 4H. I even won the Best Dozen Eggs prize at the New Jersey State Fair! My three children are learning about poultry too, through 4H and Scouts. They have been helping with our backyard flock more than ever since I’ve been recovering from a series of health issues.

We keep 18 different breeds of chickens. Our flock includes bantam chickens and large fowl. I must admit, saying that we have 18 breeds is a bit of counting our chickens before they hatch: breed number 18 – Black La Fleche – is in the incubator yet!

Currently, I am a member of the American Poultry Association, the American Bantam Association and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Our membership to the ALBC has been pivotal for us. Before joining the ALBC, our family flock consisted of fairly common chickens, but after we learned about the Critical, Threatened, Watch and Study lists, we began making some changes. Now all of our birds are heritage breeds.

Learning about the changes that have taken place in the poultry world since World War II spurred our interest in helping to preserve a diverse spectrum of breeds. Some of the breeds that barely survived include the Blue Hens of Delaware, the Iowa Blue, the Legbar and the Russian Orloff. The list of breeds that were driven to extinction included some old, well-known breeds and some newer, but still interesting, breeds.

By the 1970s, about 20 breeds had already been lost, in favor of “mass producers.” Of course having chickens that lay lots of eggs is a good thing; we have Light Brown Rose Comb Leghorns in our flock and they lay large, white eggs 350 days a year. Most people have never even seen one!

The myth is that you have to raise Cornish Cross if you want meat chickens, but we have Naked Necks and they have larger breasts and thighs than anything you can buy in the grocery store. Plus, Naked Necks are good egg layers and Indiana winters don’t bother them a bit.

Making sure that a wide and diverse range of breeds survive and thrive contributes to overall poultry health. It’s sad to think that some beautiful and important breeds could disappear. We encourage anyone who keeps chickens to add some Campines,  Lakenvelders, Dark Brahmas or Partridge Plymouth Rocks to your flock.