Since I’ve began selling chickens on a bit larger scale in the past few years, I’ve noticed there’s some confusion about heritage breed chicken and the hybrids. I used to breed and sell hybrids, as well as rare and heritage, but since I’ve gotten a bit tenderhearted toward those baby chicks, our farm is leaning more toward the conservation and reviving of rare breeds, and breeding of mostly Heritage breeds.
We started with some hybrid breeds like the Black Stars, ISA Browns, Rhode Island Red Industrial breeds among others, but found that mostly folks who wanted to harvest them for meat were becoming our regulars. Knowing the fate of those sweet little faces, we at our farm decided to slowly roll our sells over to the rare and heritage breed of chickens. So now most of the customers we get feel the same way as we do about our poultry. This makes letting go of those soft sweet chirps much easier for us, not to condemn anyone who harvest chickens for meat, that is not my intention.
The livestock Conservancy has a more extensive definition of what a Heritage breed is and the breed should meet all those standards to be called Heritage.
The Livestock Conservancy defines the Heritage breeds as the following:
“Definition: Heritage Chicken must adhere to all the following:
APA Standard Breed
Heritage Chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage Chicken must be produced and sired by an APA Standard breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed.
Heritage Chicken must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
Long, productive outdoor lifespan
Heritage Chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years.
Slow growth rate
Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.”
One of these reasons is why I prefer heritage breed chickens. They stay productive longer than the hybrids. I prefer not to have to replace my layers hens every 3 years after they have burned out. Hybrid poultry are bred to mature early and lay early and lay eggs twice as fast, but then they burn out quick, and then usually are quickly harvested for meat. Since I love all my girls I don’t harvest mine for meat; my girls live until they die of natural causes under my care. Most of my girls are still laying until they are 5 years old, and I’ve had some that still laid at least one egg a week when she was 8 years old up until she died.
Since the demand for chicken meat and eggs increased, the industrialization of chickens increased. This meant the need for faster producing egg layers, so that more chicks could be hatched at a faster rate, so maturity is reached younger, so meat could be harvester more quickly. This demand for faster maturity to produce eggs and meat brought about the hybrid breeds of chickens. But with all this also brings about plenty of health issues for the hybrids that a google search can reveal.
The hybrid chickens are not listed in the American Standard of Perfection (APA) so they’re not suitable for exhibition purposes. Also, if you plan to hatch your own future replacements it cannot be done with hybrids, since hybrids do not breed true. But as egg layers and for meat they are exceptional. Here is a list of three hybrids, but there are many more than these:
The ISA Brown/Cinnamon Queen is a cross between a Rhode Island Red rooster and a Rhode Island White hen.
Black Star/Black Sex Link is a cross between a Rhode Island Red rooster and a barred Plymouth Rock hen.
Red Sex Link cross between a Rhode Island Red rooster and a Delaware hen, excellent for free ranging.
Since the industrialization of chickens there has been many heritage breeds that have been left behind and the results have been their near extinction. Here at our farm, we chose to focus on some of these breeds, as much as our ability will allow.
The Heritage chicken breeds were left behind in preference for quick maturity and quick production of eggs and meat. If these things are what you are looking for you cannot go wrong with the hybrids, but if you’re looking for not only long-term egg layer, and a pet then you really should consider the Heritage breeds such as Orpingtons, Dominiques, Ameraucana, Brahma, Cochin, Sebright bantam, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red "non-industrial", Barnevelder, and Welsummers are only a few. I've included a link of a comprehensive list of Heritage breeds from the Livestock Conservancy. Chicken breed comparison list
The amazing thing about the Heritage breed is their ability to produce longer. Since they mature naturally and are reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating they can grow and behave naturally as they were meant to do from the beginning resulting in a healthier and stronger bird. Research has shown they can produce up to 5-7 years in comparison to the hybrids which generally begin to slow at 3 years of age.
The Heritage breeds are the only breeds that will reproduce themselves, are APA so they can add competition to exhibition, they are productive for an extended period of time, and they make excellent pets since they tend to live longer and reproduce. And best of all the reward for conserving breeds that may otherwise go extinct. For myself, I have to go Heritage breeds; Heritage breeds are win/ win with me.
The Heritage breed is the old-time chicken; it is not the hybrid type. The traditional farmers call these breeds ‘Heirloom’. Selling our chicks, juveniles, hens, and roosters to the public is easier for us to let go since we have turned our business toward the Heritage breeds because for the most part, we know they will be getting a good home and they in turn will be a blessing to their new home with years of eggs and the love of a pet.