HOLD THE PRESSES: Duane Urch is Done?!/Future of American Purebred Poultry



13 Years
Jul 7, 2010
Memphis, TN
I just came across this post on Facebook from A YEAR AGO and could find no mention of it when I search the forum, but this seems MAJOR. Can we talk about this post? I feel it's important:

--copied content below--

This post was on the American Poultry Association and its author Joseph Marquette is one of MY MENTORS and a well respected APA/ABA judge.
From November 2018

Thinking This Through

So a week or so ago, I posted a quick note to try to rally the troops to start thinking creatively, yet systematically, about Duane Urch's stock. What began as an exhortation to action became a lament for the retirement of who might be the last true stringman and certainly the last standard-bred hatchery.

Now, we are witnessing the University of Arkansas' decision to eliminate its standard-bred poultry program. We may lament that passing, but it is representative of the age. Budgets are not unending, and administrations need to make decisions that support the health of the whole institution. Whether or not they fall in concert with our own agendas, chances are there is a rhyme and reason.

If we step back and become reflective, what this is pointing too is a shift. Every so often, we change gears. There are elements that come from the outside to us with which we must grapple and which establish certain limitations within which we must learn to function. However, we are not forcibly impotent; we have choice, even if it is choice within parameters.

Again and again we are going to come back to the reality that these birds, this hobby, the APA, the ABA, these exist because of breeders, real breeders.

Real breeders built these breeds, created them, culled them into shape, turned loosely similar land-races into picture perfect specimens. Real breeders perfected land races and created composite breeds, each with individual breed character, each capitalizing on genetic potential and revealing unique shapes and colors.

Real breeders needed a play book by which to establish parameters, focus, and unified goals which behooved the poultry and created a bull's eye at which to aim. This book, in turn, enabled shows and empowered judges to create community and commitment, competition and consensus.

For a hundred years this culture bloomed and remained vital, and then time brought changes and new priorities for industries and for individuals. The world opened up; Paris moved next door. Professions proliferated; urbanization and internationalization have created myriad opportunities with, perhaps, the unintended consequence of eclipsing the barnyard in the name of progress. There's no sense in pretending that past times were better than they were and that new advantages are unworthy of our gratitude, yet we can move forward with intentionality.

We lament Urch's retirement and UofA's program shifts because, like many other programs still extant or passed, they felt a bit like community bank accounts. I didn't have to move on such and such a goal because so and so was taking care of it. The great Greek philosopher looked out over the river and said: "panda xorrei, ouden menei--all things flow, nothing stays"

So as we flow down this river, the question asserts itself: What are we taking with us? Breeders created these breeds from the dunghills of backyards across the globe; it is breeders that will bring them forward, yet efficacy often depends on a plan, or at least a good outline.

We need to take a good long look at the large fowl in the Standard, and then we need to get honest. We can't do everything; not everything is salvageable. Moreover, not everything is real. There are some breeds and many varieties in the Standard that were always peripheral, personal fetishes that were never popular, that never represented established populations with deep meaning.

Which then become our sine qua non large fowl, those large fowl that, should they pass out of existence, the fancy would seem hollow. Imagine a fancy without Barred Plymouth Rocks. Heck, what is America without Barred Plymouth Rocks.

Color is an obstacle to clarity and quite frequently highly redundant. If breeds are to remain strong, we need to channel our efforts and focus on communal projects that support each other. Breeds have defining varieties, and all of us who are poultry people from the cradle know what they are. Most breeds have one or two breed defining varieties, a few have three, only a couple have four, only one has more.

(PS: stop reading at this point if you're starting to find this offensive. I am writing this for a specific audience, and different audiences work, and need to work, with different priorities. Please refrain from reading this and then telling me how inconsiderate I am because I don't think Barred Hollands are a priority)

When it comes down to it, you can reduce each class down to five breeds, Continentals and AOSB maybe to six because they're grab bags; e.g., the American class: Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, and Dominiques. Everything else is a bit of fluff and fantasy, and that doesn't have to be insulting; it could just be real. It doesn't mean they're not nice. It just means that a cake without sprinkles is still a cake, yet a handful of sprinkles does not a cake make.

Consider Red chickens. There are four red chickens, all of an age. Two were groundbreaking, bedrock institutions, and two were not.

In North America, Red Sussex were absolutely inconsequential in and of themselves save that they led to the Speckled Sussex which is the sole impactful variety of Sussex in US history. The loss of the former, well its already gone, and who really cares, the loss of the latter, means the loss of one of the most beautiful birds in the Standard.

The Rhode Island Red is one of the most important breeds of fowl to has ever existed. Its history is fascinating; its development is truly unique; its niche indisputable as one of the top ten breeds of fowl in the history of chickens. Its standard type is exemplary to its purpose. It is relatively, as opposed to actually, safe, at this point; it has a handful of anchor breeders and a community of minor breeders, which is frankly better than most.

The New Hampshire, like the Rhode Island Red, is one of the most impactful breeds of poultry to have ever existed. It and the RIR are two of the six breeds that established the bedrock of the industrial edifice. Whereas the the color of the Rhode Island Red is a study of beauty in unity, the color of the New Hampshire is that of harmony in diversity. Are there three anchor breeders of American, as opposed to German, New Hampshires?

The Buckeye was never important. It grew up in the shadow of these prior two. It was in no way the match of the former for eggs nor of the latter for meat. Like the Holland, the Lamona, and the Delaware, it was just kind of there. It does not mean that it didn't have a few faithful breeders, but it was a fringe breed with little historical importance. A fringe organization chose to mythologize it, and now it has become a staple for a subgroup, yet that doesn't change that it's not the top red chicken. 'Tis more than a bit of a shame that they didn't whip cyberspace up over the New Hampshire which, strong or in decline, will always be the superior fowl.

What is the point? The point is that there aren't a lot of us willing to hatch 100 to 500 out each year, so what are they going to be? That doesn't mean that 50-a-year flocks aren't impactful, but they need those 100-500-a-year flocks to go back to every so many years for vim and vigor. If a breed doesn't have at least one 100-500-a-year breeder, it's on thin ice; it's caught in a juggling act.

So this post is for the 100-500 a year breeders or up-coming breeders (remember the point above about being offended). What are we doing? I had two breeds: Dorkings and Anconas. I needed to reduce to one because of work demands, and I wasn't willing to reduce to 50-a-year in both, so it had to be one. The community built around Dorkings is fairly active online but hugely sporadic. There are too many varieties in the breed for its own good; the efforts are too divided. I can't think of a single judge working on them, and the only major breeder I know who has them has twenty-four different projects going. The Ancona is maligned online on fora for beginners as flighty and hard to raise. It has a quieter community without a huge online brouhaha in the US, but with them I know two other professionalized breeders working on them that are bringing them to the fore via discipline and a breeder's mentality and there is a growing number of smaller breeders. Hedging my bets, I went with Anconas.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone should stop breeding Buckeyes; that ship has sailed. Yet, I am implying that some of us might want to consider tightening up the ranks. Unfortunately, I think we are going to see some breeds, and definitely some varieties, join the annals of history. If we follow the fads, where are we going to be in twenty years? If we create long tales around insignificant breeds, while ignoring real histories around staple breeds, what is the show hall going to look like in twenty years?

An example, to my knowledge the Golden Spangled Hamburg has been reduced to nothing beyond one or two hatcheries. On the one hand, it is not the flagship variety of its breed, on the other hand, it has more history and culture around it than all of the Buckeyes, Marans, Hollands, Delawares, and lord knows what combined. That it may be that there is no random hype around them on the internet, doesn't mean that this statement cannot be quickly and easily verified with a bit of honest research. If someone doesn't order 100-200 chicks and fly with them, they will be gone. Is that cool? And I mean that as an open question. Not addressing the disappearance doesn't mean that the disappearance is not occurring, just like internet hype does not actually constitute genuine, heavy-hitting history.

The Urchs of our hobby are going to want, or perhaps, simply need, to retire. The UofA's are going to have to redirect their ever battling budgets into the broiler and layer industries because that is where the vast majority of their graduates are going to find gainful employment. If breeders are going to save breeds and the breed-defining varieties of those breeds for future enjoyment, then we need to transform some mentalities, by which I'm not saying all mentalities (go back to the offended bit)

1. There are breeds that are huge.
2. There are breeds that aren't huge but are still pretty darn impactful
3. There are breeds that were never important
4.There are breeds introduced to scam the unaware out of money
5. There are breeds that if they disappear, we will hold a collective moment of silence.
6. There are breeds that is they disappear, there will be a hollow in the fancy that will never be filled

1. There are flagship varieties that are the leading royalty of their breed
2. There are secondary varieties that hold significant importance.
3. There are tertiary varieties that never were important at all
4.There are colors that "belong" to a certain breed
5.Some varieties are perfectly reciprocal, such that the one is actually the other: SC and RC White Leghorns, Golden and Silver Campines. Their coexistence does little to weaken the breed
5. Some varieties have nothing to do with each other and the existence of the one does little to do with the existence of the other such that they really are two completely different breeds for all intents and purposes: Barred Rocks and Buff Rocks, if we want them both, we have to maintain them both essentially independent of each other.

What do you need?
Well, you need what you need, and no one can tell you otherwise; hence this post is not written to everyone. The Brits have a great expression: "Not my pig, not my farm."

What do the breeds need to be viable populations of excellent stock?
1. What they have always needed: several heavy-hitting breeders willing to stay the path, not in spite of, but in order to generate, steep competition such that the motivation leads to focus and persistence.
2. Without a deep and spacious genetic pool they have nothing.
3. The more that genetic pool exists in unity, the stronger, the deeper, the longer the pool will endure.

Five varieties of Dorkings are too many varieties of Dorking. Damn, Australorps are lucky--and it shows.

PS: If all of this seems ahistorical to you or like a bunch of egoic raving, you were probably meant to stop reading about midway when I noted that this post was not written for everyone. If you absolutely MUST deliver the Barred Holland from oblivion, than God love you and keep you, and I look forward to seeing the fruit of your work at the shows. If I ever get the opportunity to judge them, then they will get a 100% fair shake, and if you knock my sox off with their excellence, I will place them according. None of this will change, of course, that they are one of the least important fowl in the American cannon; it will simply mean that you have busted for them.
There is no way I can read that entire thing. It's long winded and meandering.

The gist of it being the old school breeders are passing. Institutions that conserved breeds are no longer doing so. The future of breeds are in the current poultry cultures hands and those hands are lacking the strength to maintain the breeds. Sad but true.

Though the word lament was used three times before I stopped reading the above posting it's still a good word- I lament the current "breeders" and their desire to cross this breed to that breed or obtain the most obscure or non recognized breed from Europe and beyond because it's the latest fad.

The American Class of poultry has some mighty fine birds. Many of our own culture of breeds are in need of aid let alone the fancier varieties of them. If people would simply pick a breed and stick with it to maintain it it would be an improvement to the current situation. Very few have the desire or knowledge to improve on a variety. Many obtain stock to puppy mill them out for profit and breed any and all to maximize output instead of breeding the few best to maintain the standard of perfection.

The current culture in poultry is going to be the bain of many varieties.
To me the gist is that we need to try to circle the wagons and save "the most valuable" and "most important" breeds and varieties. It was definitely very pointedly regarding some of the great in-depth efforts I saw start here in these forums.
"Unfortunately, I think we are going to see some breeds, and definitely some varieties, join the annals of history. If we follow the fads, where are we going to be in twenty years? If we create long tales around insignificant breeds, while ignoring real histories around staple breeds, what is the show hall going to look like in twenty years?"

I agree that it seems like many people are trying to create new breeds or varieties and those become fads, and this is hurting the historically important breeds, such as the New Hampshire, the author mentions.

The author is arguing that breeders should focus on important breeds and the important varieties in order to have enough breeders with a viable gene pool for those breeds/varieties to survive and stay strong in the future.

I believe that a chicken breed should be founded in utility. A chicken breed should be useful for meat and/or eggs, and beauty should be secondary.

It reminds me of how dog shows have ruined breeds of hunting dogs, such as the Irish setter. Chicken breeds that are just pretty feathers are nothing but an ornament. The reason most chicken breeds became important was because they were useful for meat and/or eggs.

The author also discusses how some breeds have too many varieties and that is hurting the breed. He mentions that the Australorp has been helped by the fact that there is only one variety -- black.

The author is encouraging those who want to breed chickens to pick one historically significant breed and choose one variety and work to perfect it as best he or she can, rather than breeding many varieties or historically unimportant breeds/varieties.
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I know this kind of thing gonna happened soon or later.
Only the fittest will survive and remain, today demand is speed, as long as you have fast grow and productive one you'll gonna make it.
Old breed usually grow slower, most industrialize people dont see any point in keeping them alive.
In fact chicken is the most productive animal after insect (which we probably gonna eat later, ugh.. just imagine we have a pack of grasshopper at our supermarket shelves, or a fried cricket at our drive thru, frozen caterpilar?..).
Most species already exctict anyway, just ask chicken, what happen to their ancestor.
And we only tak about variety that rank below subspecies, its not even a species.

Nowadays scientis can play with gene just like a kid with their puzzle board you can get some trait with genetic modification, cross breed and decade of refining is useless todays.

Well not to mention that they can grow meat in a lab lately, we might just burn down all the farm and revolutionize food production.

Technology is everything. Human wont be human anymore.
Elon musk said: "human have a lot of limit, we cant beat a machine, so instead of trying to defeat them, why not join them". He's talking about a chip that will be planted in our brain, that will connect us...
Well goodbye human.

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I think you can't see the forest for the trees.
This mindset has been around for a long long time. I dealt with it in the 70s and early 80s. Have things went downhill since then? Yes of course but there's a bigger problem that has been snowballing for a decade or so and it's what is ruining the poultry hobby.
This is gonna probably cause an uproar but the bigger issue is backyard chickens. Chickens spreading through suburbia.
There's a huge movement to change chickens from livestock to pets. That is what is killing breeds and varieties of old and pushing the rare breed fads. That is what is taking the utility out of the picture and replacing them with yard ornaments.
Just look at the view of roosters now days. And look right here on BYC. A lot of people only want a rooster if it isn't quite a rooster. It can look pretty and it can be a companion but don't have any other purpose. Quit being loud. Quite with your sexual desires and surely don't be here to be a meal.
The pet movement will reclassify chickens and bring restrictions and animal rights groups into all our backyards. Their will be licenses and permits. There will be a cry to quit eating your pets. And breeding will began to be frowned on and groups will want everything to be desexed.
Maybe this is crazy talk and far fetched but is it? There's people keeping chickens in their houses. Dressing them up in clothes and putting diapers on them. People out walking chickens on leashes.
I'll end my rant there but the tides are turning.
Certainly this gives me pause as I look out the window at my Isabel leghorns while making arrangements to bring home brown and silver leghorns, but I also think there is something contradictory in this message from Mr. Marquette.

His whole lament stems from the loss of two major programs: Turnland Poultry and the University of Arkansas. Each of these were known for keeping MANY breeds and varieties and I'm not at all sure that all of them this judge would classify as "significant".

That being said, I DO recognize the value of specializing in whatever breed or variety you choose and I know that a year from now I will finally have my Houdans that I've been dreaming of for over a decade and the Leghorns may or may not still be here at all. If I don't have the resources to hatch 100+ Houdans each year AND Leghorns, the Leghorns will likely go or will be kept for laying only with hatching only for replacement pullets.

On the flipside, I appreciate tremendously what @The Moonshiner is doing in recreating and preserving various varieties of Leghorn. I think it's a fantastic way to not only generate interest in this great and important breed, but to stir up a TON of genetic diversity and really stimulate the gene pool. That's a genetic stockpile that's invaluable, IMO.

So, I guess my take away is that for those who want a serious breeding project and want to make this a significant part of their lives but are still looking for their "one true love" ... this message may be useful in breed selection and encourage specialization and dedication in preserving some breeds that are maybe not so trendy, but are really freaking important to the fancy.
I agree with @The Moonshiner about backyard chickens. In fact, I loathe backyard flocks and house chickens. It is my personal opinion that they will be the eventual death of the poultry industry and a large stain on the name of animal husbandry.
I wrote a research paper about urban chicken keeping, and the research I found to use as my support backs up my claims that urban chicken husbandry is a harmful practice typically done by uneducated people.
I dunno, I'm not going to indulge that conversation here in a forum specifically designated to encourage keeping chickens as a sort of backyard companion. It doesn't seem to be what this diatribe is addressing one way or another. I know for a FACT that some casual "pet" chicken keepers get introduced to the fancy via this culture, and a few of those become serious poultry keepers and breeders.

BUT, I think backyard pet owners are pretty irrelevant to this discussion at the moment and it's more addressing people that ARE keeping cocks and breeding and hatching.

Are THOSE people that can and do breed focusing their resources in a productive and truly conservatory manner?

I just read back through the Houdan thread I started nearly ten years ago and when folk realized there were only perhaps a couple of long-time knowledgeable breeders (to my knowledge,) there was all this talk about encouraging folk to keep a pair or a trio "because they needed help" but what help did that provide? I don't see that a single one of those people are still in the breed. The breed DOES need help, but casual small flock and backyard keepers aren't helpful outside of buying some birds and eggs so the more serious breeders can get a bag of feed or something.

So, that's why I say they're kind of irrelevant. But who knows, maybe I missed someone. Maybe someone that started casually did get really into them and they're breeding great birds that get better with each generation. If we got even one person out of that conversation, I'd say it's worth something.

All of this is.

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