What exactly are "Heritage" breeds?

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by IndianaHomestea, Oct 29, 2012.

  1. IndianaHomestea

    IndianaHomestea In the Brooder

    Sep 20, 2012
    New Palestine, Indiana
    This may be the wrong spot for this, if so my apologies and feel free to move it.

    Is a heritage breed basically just an "original" breed that hasn't been crossed with other breeds?

    Initially I was totally convinced that I need heritage breeds in order to be self sustained (the chickens hatch and raise their own chicks) but after reading a few articles I'm not so sure.

    1. Are non-heritage breeds genetically modified or are they just cross bred?
    2. Do any non-heritage breeds go broody and hatch their own eggs?
    3. For those people who do swear by ONLY heritage breeds, what is typically their reasoning?

    Thanks in advance! This community has been invaluable for my chicken education :)
  2. This concept takes a bit of time to read, study and digest. A few sound bites doesn't cover it. Upon spending some time reading through the various Heritage Threads here on BYC, you will see birds that simply aren't available from hatcheries. Yes, they've been bred true to type. Yes, some of these heritage lines are a century old and carefully kept.

    Here on BYC there are threads for Heritage Large Fowl, Heritage Rhode Island Reds, Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch Barred Rocks, and many other specific breeds that will show you heritage breeds. The pictures are indeed worth a thousand words.

    Also, start here. The American Livestock Heritage Conservancy. A site committed to conserving our heritage of fine livestock, including poultry.


    We keep both utility strains of hatchery stock and century old lines of heritage birds. There is a world of difference between the two.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012

  3. Heritage birds, however, are not for everyone. Heritage breeders generally have more requests for their fowl than they can supply. Hatchery birds are readily available whereas heritage birds are often only available at certain times of the year. In some cases, heritage fowl take longer to mature, requiring a patience that is not to everyone's liking. Unless one is going to breed their birds faithfully, there really isn't much need for heritage stock. Many, many keepers of chickens, never breed, so there'd be little point in acquiring them. All they want is healthy, available birds that lay lots of eggs. For such people? The hatchery stock is likely right up their alley. I hope that helps.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  4. IndianaHomestea

    IndianaHomestea In the Brooder

    Sep 20, 2012
    New Palestine, Indiana
    Thank you very much for all of that excellent info!

    So, then, would it be safe to say that if I went with, say, Freedom Rangers as meat birds (I don't believe they're heritage) I could successfully have a self-sustained flock that regenerates itself? And as far as nutrition, there really isn't any difference between, say, a Freedom Ranger (non-heritage) and a Delaware (heritage) ?

    I stay away from GMO foods, so if there were any questionable genetic modifications I definitely would NOT want that bird. But from what I understand that's not the case?
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  5. Laingcroft

    Laingcroft Songster

    Nov 22, 2011
    The ALBC definition of a heritage breed pretty much covers it and Fred's Hens answers are great too.

    I'd just like to add that though you may hear many people "bash" hatchery birds, I raised them for over ten years before I became interested in heritage and rare breeds. There is NOTHING WRONG with acquiring and raising hatchery chickens if you just want to have a flock for table eggs and have no interest in breeding. Not everyone wants to hatch, keep roosters or find homes for/dispose of all the extras. The only thing I would caution is that there is a somewhat higher incidence of defects like crossed beaks, spraddle legs or as noted, non-Standard (APA Standard of Perfection, the guidelines for breeders) features like color, size, feathering, etc. Note that those things can also be found in "pure bred" or heritage breeds if the breeder is not culling for them.

    If you want to preserve a living piece of history, wrap your brain around chicken genetics, study and understand the SOP and learn how to breed to it, spend a lot of time locating, bidding on and traveling to pick up starter stock, enjoy the addiction of hatching and raising your own chicks, the thrill of getting one that just might be "perfect" and finding homes for all the culls, then by all means, jump into the heritage or rare breed(s) that sparks your interest. Because basically that's what it all comes down to. Buy what you like, whatever breed, as long as they're healthy. I still have cross bred birds that I love for their personality, coloration, crests, and/or egg laying ability. I am also working with heritage and rare breeds primarily because I like those particular breeds, but also because I want to preserve and carry on the qualities that make them what they are as best I can. You may think some of the breeds I like are darn ugly or maybe not. That's what is so great about having so many kinds of chickens. They all lay eggs for the table while providing beauty to the eye of each beholder.

    Since I am on the east coast anxiously hoping to avoid power outages from Sandy, I am reminded of an analogy that may make some sense to compare the "modern" breeds with the "heritage" breeds. Each of our family members have smart phones and for the house we just had to purchase a replacement (a roughly 6 yr occurrence) land line phone with all the latest bells and whistles. However, when the power goes out in the extensive areas predicted, also having my 1978 vintage "AT&T Slimline" basic phone THAT STILL WORKS, without electricity, is an advantage. Go with what works for you.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
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  6. First, I am not sure about Freedom Rangers being able to reproduce themselves. Since they are specialized, cross bred concoction for the broiler raisers, I doubt it. But I just don't know.

    As for true bred, heritage Delaware? They are as rare as hen's teeth. Some contend that they went extinct. That may be true. KathyinMo, a member here, is "recreating" them, using heritage parent stock to re-cross and remake them. It is going to take a fair number of years to bring back the real Delaware. Those sold by hatcheries are a far, far cry from what a Delaware should be. Right now? Given the rarity of most heritage strains, I'd be inclined to point you in the direction of the Buckeye. It has made a strong come back and finding heritage Buckeyes is a bit easier than most. Most other heavy bodied, heritage breeds continue to be quite rare and tough to come by.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  7. Chris09

    Chris09 Circle (M) Ranch

    Jun 1, 2009

    Quote: Depends on who's definition of "Heritage" your using and what you mean by, "crossed with other breeds".

    Quote: There are no "Genetically Modified" chickens.

    Quote: Yes "Non-Heritage" breeds will go broody, just the same just because a breed is a "Heritage" fowl does not mean they will go broody.

    Quote: My main reason is to preserve the breed.


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