Why You Should Care About Poultry Breeds and the ALBC
The last few years have seen a surge in items like heirloom tomatoes being offered at produce stands and grocery stores. You can now purchase certain types of old-fashioned tomatoes, peaches, corn and squash at national retailers. In the meat department, you find organic and pastured meats, but you rarely see anything advertised as “heritage chicken.” Yet there are breeds that were once commonplace that are quickly disappearing.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy tracks the populations of breeds of several types of livestock considered in danger of disappearing, including poultry. The ALBC created a priority list, with specific breeds that are critical, threatened, being watched, recovering or being studied. The list is updated yearly, and the 2011 list was recently issued.
A couple of the changes in the poultry category were that the Buckeye Chicken moved from the critical category to the threatened category, and the White Holland Turkey was recognized as an American breed. The ALBC follows explicit rules regarding changes to the list.
With interest in raising backyard poultry growing, so is interest in heritage breeds. Breeds that are raised in industrial settings were chosen because they grow fast, have bigger breasts or some other quality that is important when you are producing thousands of pounds of meat at a time. Those types of qualities are not always important to people who are raising small flocks for personal use.
Heritage breeds, on the other hand, were developed over time by people who were raising small flocks. In some ways, heritage breeds are more appropriate for people who want to raise chickens at home than some modern breeds. Becoming familiar with the ALBC list, and taking advantage of the resources they offer, can be a good way to make decisions about which breeds you want in your flock.