Traditional Chicken Breeds

What is a chicken breed, anyway? A breed means the birds all resemble each other enough to be readily recognized by traits that can be described. Breeds breed true – their offspring resemble their parents in predictable ways. A chicken breed has unique appearance, productivity and behavior. Recognized breeds are described in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. Other countries have their own standards.

Landraces are local or national breeds that develop in a geographic area. Sumatras are considered a landrace. Landraces are influenced more by natural selection than intentional selective breeding by humans. They developed in response to environmental pressures and conditions. They existed before people identified, named and described them.

Other old breeds, considered foundation breeds, are the result of domestication and selective breeding going back centuries. They include Javas, Cochins,  Langshans, Dorkings,  Hamburgs, Polish, Leghorns and Old English Games, among others. They are the breeds from which composite breeds were developed. Some of those have long histories as well, and some are modern. Breeders continue to cross breeds to develop new production birds today.

Traditional breeds are part of an agrarian culture that is being fragmented and lost. Traditional breeds do not flourish in industrial settings. The traits that make them special include being a good forager, good brooder and good mother (and father), alert protector, longevity, disease and parasite resistance, ability to mate naturally and fertility.

Traditional breeds are an important part of an integrated and sustainable farm. Each breed’s characteristics suit it to a climate and certain production goals. The Chantecler, developed in Canada, flourishes in a cold climate. Mediterranean breeds such as the Leghorn and the Ancona are known for egg laying.

Sustainable, integrated systems include poultry as working contributors to farm ecology and production. They provide meat and eggs. They reproduce themselves and perpetuate the flock.

Choosing which birds to breed is never simple. Flocks need variability to be vigorous and avoid the pitfalls of inbreeding. On the other hand, flocks need uniformity and predictability to retain breed identity. Industrial strains seek uniformity. Traditional breeds seek genetic diversity within phenotypic (appearance) consistency.

Breed standards are mainly physical but also behavioral. Selective breeding is guided by breed standards. The APA specifically includes mention of Economic Value. The American Bantam Association Bantam Standard focuses on exhibition. Conformation, plumage, comb and color are all significant aspects of the description.

Traits such as fertility, parasite and disease resistance and longevity are less easily observed than physical traits.

Hobby breeding can save rare breeds from extinction, but finding a market for traditional breed poultry will generate economic conditions that give them a more secure future. Breeders who sell their birds and earn income will raise more of them. Having an economic purpose fulfills one of the original purposes of domestic poultry.

Be part of history as you raise poultry in the future! Choose traditional breeds.