Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Now that it's time to get chicks, I determined to select ones that will add beauty to my practical egg basket. Ameracauna was the first breed that came to mind. Also known as "easter eggers", Ameracaunas lay pastel blue and green eggs and are relatively easy to find this time of year at Tractor Supply or Hudson Hardware. But Deborah also inspired me to look for rare and/or heirloom breeds -- her dark brown eggs are laid by Welsummer hens and her Javas are an heirloom breed.
I had alot to learn -- what exactly is an heirloom breed? Are heirloom breeds different from heritage breeds? Which are endangered? What color eggs do they lay and how often? Will they do well on my urban homestead (tolerate NC winters, bear confinement well, get along with the other girls)?
Heritage / Heirloom Breeds
First, a visit to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy web site ( http://albc-usa.org/ ). Based in our own Pittsboro, NC, this non-profit works to conserve historic breeds of livestock from extinction. According to ALBC, heritage chickens (heirloom, antique, old-fashioned are synonymous)
1. 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;
2. must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
3. must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems (hens productive for 5-7 years, roosters for 3-5 years).
4. must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks.
ALBC lists poultry breeds according to categories of endangerment. Categories include:
Critical: Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the US, with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and estimated global population less than 1,000.
Threatened: Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the US, with seven or fewer primary breeding flocks, and estimated global population less than 5,000.
Watch: Fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the US, with ten or fewer primary breeding flocks, and estimated global population less than 10,000. Also included are breeds with genetic or numerical concerns or limited geographic distribution.
Recovering: Breeds that were once listed in another category and have exceeded Watch category numbers but are still in need of monitoring.
Study: Breeds that are of interest but either lack definition or lack genetic or historical documentation.
I was pleased to know that I already have birds from the list. An Andalusian (threatened); Jersey Giant (watch); Orpington and Wyandotte (recovering).