On improving heritage breeds

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by HaikuHeritageFarm, Aug 10, 2010.

  1. HaikuHeritageFarm

    HaikuHeritageFarm Songster

    Jul 7, 2010
    Anchorage, AK
    I've been researching a lot of information on a number of heritage breeds in both chickens and rabbits and I'm very conflicted about something:

    Can you 'improve' on traditional shortcomings of a heritage breed and still preserve it?

    For example, I just found this interesting link to a book about strains of domestic poultry in the early 1900's: Races of Domestic Poultry

    It basically says the Russian Orloff has little economic value, as the hens are poor layers and though there is a fair amount of breast meat for table birds, it tends to be tough and stringy.

    It seems the breed has had little to no historical commercial use, and may have been, essentially, of little value to anyone outside of providing a few eggs here and there and a stringy bird for dinner every now and again. At the time of that writing, even then, the focus of what little intentional breeding was happening with the bird seemed to be focused on color, etc.

    In order to "preserve" this "heritage" breed, then, should I continue breeding strictly for physical appearance...or would I be departing from tradition by seeking to improve the breed as a dual purpose layer and meat bird, far past what I can find it has been in the past? (As it seems most current breeders I've seen are.) I personally am attracted to it due to its reputation for extreme cold hardiness...but if I continue striving to work towards a great dual purpose breed, even if it retained key hallmarks of the traditional breed, would it still be a Russian Orloff?

    And this is just for example. I've often wondered the same thing with other breeds of chicken and even other species of heritage animals.

    Where do you draw the line between preservation and creating an animal that is useful in current context and 'earns it's keep'?
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging 9 Years

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    Purely my opinion. I'm not a breeder nor do I show birds.

    If you are trying to preserve the breed, you need to try your best to meet the published standards for that breed. This is not just color but body configuration among other traits. I think you should try to breed it so you can take it to a show and win a ribbon, even if you don't ever intend to show one. I very much doubt that egg laying is included in the standards by which the breed is judged, so improving egg laying can be a trait you choose to enhance above and beyond the standards. I see no problem with that, but I do see a problem with not meeting body configuration.
  3. 95yj

    95yj Songster

    Nov 25, 2009
    Central Vermont
    I think that to preserve a heritage breed we should be breeding it back to what it was when it was originaly declared a breed. Many of the animals have changed in slight ways (i think, not sure, could be wrong, don't sue/flame me) and to preserve to "heritage" breeds we should be breeding them back to the original form. Heritage breeds are one of my passions, i unfortunately do not have much space left and can't start up a breeding program, which i would really love to do, but i think that preserving these breeds is one of the most important things the poultry community can do. finding out what a bird looked like and acted like in the early 1800's can be difficult, but there are resources out there, especially for the better known breeds, like dominiques. Many of the "heritage" breed hatchery birds available today are drasticaly different from the birds seen when the breed originated.
  4. TomNY

    TomNY Songster

    Mar 12, 2010
    Quote:re: Orloffs I doubt many of today's Orloffs carry any APA standard Russian blood. The white legs on many should tell you where the spangled color came from. Cross in anything you want and don't worry about losing the original Russian genetics because they aren't there. If an individual meets the Orloff standard AND BREEDS TRUE it's an Orloff. This year my Orloffs laid better than my exhibition strain Minorcas. Tom
  5. rancher hicks

    rancher hicks Crowing 9 Years

    Feb 28, 2009
    Syracuse, NY
    Delawares are my passion breed of poultry. I have not read the book you've posted. However Delawares were originally a dual purpose bird for both eggs and table. While appearance is important I can not disclude these important traits. From my point of view all aspects and traits of a breed should be bred for. Personality, appearance, and productivity.

    It can hardly be considered that the original Rhode Island Reds, another dual purpose breed were bred for aggressive roosters. Which many are finding.

    As for the Orloff, the Feb issue of Practical Poultry, of which I am an avid fan , has an article about the Orloff.

    It seems to me that an Orloff that lays more than the expected 150 eggs per year would still be an Orloff. Though adding another breed to the line to achieve that end would disqualify it as an Orloff.

    Just as I believe adding Columbian Rocks or CornishX's to the Delaware breed to improve meatiness disqualifies it from being a true Delaware.

    A breed must breed true and a Delaware pair that throws offspring that look similar to the Columbian Rock or has the body type of the Cornish X are not true Delawares.

    Unless of course the APA disagrees.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2010
  6. JoAnn_WI_4-H_Mom

    JoAnn_WI_4-H_Mom Songster

    Jun 17, 2009
    West Central WI
    At the risk of being a target for rotten tomatoes, I also wonder about saving domestic breeds that do not have enough traits to make them useful in a home-farm or commercial-farm setting.

    If a breed is being bred strictly for SOP appearance, and that breeding has led to a line that is practically non-laying and poor at producing meat, has fertility issues, is susceptible to disease and non-thrifty, then I consider that a "fancy" and not a sustainable endeavor. People may continue to do it because they love the look or because they feel powerful in being able to make genetics do what they will, but they are not producing something that will last generations.

    I believe it is possible to breed towards SOP, but also keep an eye on performance traits. All breeding plans of domestic animals should promote healthful/animal comfort and productive traits right along with those that are strictly appearance related. The Russian Orloff should continue to be bred to be a very cold-hardy bird.

    Note that many of the type traits in the SOP are related to production, Example the long body of a Speckled Sussex was a desired table-bird trait.

    As long as you keep the bird true to type, I would not think it terrible to favor birds with better egg or meat production right along with proper feathering. I do not believe that a dual-purpose body type would ever approach a production Leghorn in laying ability.

    I cannot believe the originators of a breed would stop evolving their lines if they could improve the production capabilites and still maintain identifying traits.

    An SS that lays more often than the average and still looks like a SS is an SS. I do not believe it is necessary to require that all your line lay at the rate expected of SS in the 1800's in order to say you have Heritage SS. There is nothing in the standard that says "if it lays more than 3 eggs a week and the egg is larger than medium sized, then it is disqualified as a SS Breed".

    So if you can make your Orloff lay better, more power to you!
  7. Chris09

    Chris09 Circle (M) Ranch

    Jun 1, 2009
    Russian Orloff --
    A Persian breed (Iran), they got their name from Count Orloff, who imported them into Russia.
    When first imported from Russia, Orloffs were heavy boned, hard muscled, meat fowl that reminded a Malay. However, in American and German hands they were bred more along utility lines and height was reduced and egg production was improved. Still the breed resembles the Malay and that fowl certainly was a major contributor to the Orloff's genetic makeup. Its other ancestors are less obvious and without access to Persian sources may never be authoritatively named. However, Brown stresses that this is a "powerfully built fowl, capable of defending itself in the extreme." And a German breeder once said that this was originally a game fowl. So, muffed and bearded games, which are themselves quite old, could be at least part of the breed.
    Information above I found on the net..

    So the Russia breeders had a part in changing the breed also not just the U.S...
    Truthfully it not even a Russian Breed its a Persian breed....

    Last edited: Aug 10, 2010
  8. I think there's a balance to be found. If you breed for rapid meat production, and end up with something more like a cornish rock, well, that's not an Orloff no matter what it looks like.

    On the other hand, I certainly don't think that 200 years ago people were aiming for stringy meat with few eggs! Such a breed would hardly have lasted long at all, unless they were purely pets.

    Also, I feel that one important way for heritage breeds to be preserved is to make sure they are valuable in the modern world. That might mean looks, as many people value a bird more if it can win at a show. It also means utility, though. A bird is unlikely to make much of an impression on the backyard farmer who reads that it's unlikely to lay many eggs and has tough, stringy, meat!

    So breed your Orloffs to be Orloffs, as you think they should be. Breed for eggs production, meat, etc., but don't loose the other characteristic features of an Orloff. It should always have that unique look. AND an Orloff must be cold tolerant!
  9. TomNY

    TomNY Songster

    Mar 12, 2010
    I bought a Malay cock with too high a tail to be used in a Malay breeding pen to sire my Orloff crosses. The chicks are very nice Orloff type except for the tails. They are all below horizontal, way lower than the cock's. They all look mahogany but I suspect some may show spangle later. Tom

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