Most people will never know it, but even some of our most popular breeds of Chickens, Ducks and Turkeys are on a Conservation Watch List. Learning about this myself is why I started feeling weary of irresponsible breeding. I suppose most saw it coming with the latest craze of “backyard” chicken keeping. Not that I’m not tickled about that. I think it’s great more and more people are keeping chickens. I absolutely LOVE mine. Its only the ‘breeding’ part that concerns me.
Again, maybe its my love and deep admiration for our heritage and what our ancestors put into “creating” the species we have today, but all that is fading into a dismal extinction list. Is it because more and more people are letting their Roosters and Hens run wild?
Here’s the thing– birds were bred with purpose. Maybe a dual purpose, for both meat and egg production. Maybe they were bred to withstand cold or heat. Bred to brood or not to brood.
A lady who I call the Goat Whisperer told me, (when I was thinking about getting a goat), “Watch what you buy if someone has crossed two breeds.”
I asked why.
She said, “Because if you’re looking for a Dairy goat, that’s the first trait to go if someone breeds irresponsibly.” Meaning, if someone throws together a meat and dairy goat– the dairy gene is the first to disappear.
I’m guessing the same can be said about Birds. For example, did you know, industrialization has already taken it’s effects on Broad Breasted turkeys such as Whites. These poor birds can no longer breed naturally. Now I know, you’re probably thinking, “I’m not producing large amounts of chickens. I’m just muckin’ around in my backyard.”
The question is, can backyard muckin’ around tarnish the traits a bird was created for? For example, if you allow your Cochins to breed with your Leghorns and then those to breed with Rhode Island Reds, will that eventually ruin certain things people raise those birds for? Like production, temperature tolerance, resistance to certain illnesses and diseases, even?
Maybe you’re thinkin’, what does it matter? Well, a Rhode Island Red is considered an excellent Layer…a Cochin not as excellent. If you need those eggs every single day, did you just ruin the trait for that? Did you know the Leghorn has been on a watch list?
Some people will simply say they are not mixing breeds for the masses however, some are. Some mix breeds, then those people put them out there to sell. Some sell them without telling anyone and they are charging top dollar.
I called a lady about turkeys one year. I wanted one certain breed and that’s what she advertised until I called. She couldn’t tell me WHAT she had.
Hu? How can you not know?
She said they just wanted to see what kind of colors they could get so they let a whole bunch of breeds have a big ol’ orgy.
The more I talked to her, I realized this wasn’t the case. They weren’t carrying out some scientifically planned beautiful scope of rainbow. Unfortunately, what she didn’t know, I happened to know some neighbors.
The real story….
Moving here from up North, neither knew a thing about Farming and didn’t look into it that much either. Thinking they could get alot of money – easy money– for turkeys, they bought a bunch of different breeds but then realized they were unequipped to separate them. They would just breed with whatever Hen they could get , what resulted was a bunch of I-Dont-Know-Whats.
Now I picked the breed of turkey that I wanted by quite a few traits– one of which was what weight they would turn out to be. This lady couldn’t promise me a thing. How could she? She didn’t even know what the heck she had.
What concerns me the most is, we have some very popular breeds that are on watch lists. For example, The Leghorn, according to, Storey’s Illustrated Guide To Poultry Breeds, is considered “Recovering”. That means, the Leghorn, was a threatened Breed. It’s numbers were fewer than 5,000 in the US and endangered globally. While the Leghorn’s numbers are starting to climb back up, it is still on a “Watch List”. Sadly, I just seen someone selling Leghorn mixed with something else on a Yardsale Site the other day. Are we helping to ruin these breeds? Am I reading too much into it?
The Lists are broken up into these categories:
(Descriptions used from, Storey’s Illustrated Guide To Poultry Breeds)
Critical: Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the US with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more) and globally endangered.
Threatened : Fewer than 1000 breeding birds in the US with seven or fewer primary breeding flocks and globally endangered.
Watch: Fewer than 5000 breeding birds in the US with ten or fewer primary breeding flocks and globally endangered. Also included are breeds with genetic or numerical concerns or limited geographic distribution.
Recovering: Breeds that were once more threatened and have now exceeded “watch” category numbers but are still in need of monitoring.
So, let’s give some examples of breeds…I won’t list them all, but if there is a big interest, I’ll list more. If you want to know a specific one, please comment.
Campine : Critical
Catalana & Chantecler: Critical
Plymouth Rock : Recovering
Rhode Island Red: Recovering
Rhode Island White: Watch
Welsh Harlequin: Critical
Beltsville Small White: Critical
Bourbon Red: Watch
Midget White: Critical
Royal Palm: Watch
White Holland: Threatened
So why should we respect the history of these breeds any ol’ way? Let me use the Dorking Chicken as an example. The English is credited for the Dorking but we now how agricultural evidence– records kept– that place the bird in Ancient Italy. It is said that the bird was brought to England in 54 BC by the legions of Julius Caesar.
The Dorking is a dual purpose bird. That is why it’s so special. (One reason, anyway.) It can be used for eggs– great egg laying production and meat. The bird matures slowly, not like an Industrialized bird that is ready to butcher in a few short weeks, so you don’t have to butcher all at once. You can just go pluck one up whenever you have need.
And when you have need, this bird is said to be a real treat. It’s famous for its fine-texture and very white meat. As far as feeding– the bird is great because it doesn’t simply reply on you to give it food. These birds are quiet, docile and awesome foragers. Plus, they don’t do a lot of damage to land and landscape (Perfect for the backyard chicken-keeper.). When one goes broody, they tend to send all the Hens into a state of motherhood. Great mothers. This means another hen killing chics is less likely since they will all have chics. Hens will also lay well throughout the winter.
Can you see the importance of this breed and why it was important? Then and how it would be now? It is reasons such as this as to why we should slow down and respect these breeds, having a deep appreciation as to why they were made so. Let’s help preserve and not destroy. Please.
Return to It’s All About Them Chickens