Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Defining Heritage Chickens

Frank Reese,, has developed a definition of Heritage Chicken that covers the subject for marketing purposes. One of his goals was to write it so that it would not be subject to being subverted by the poultry industry the way 'natural,' 'free range' and 'organic' often are. Definitions get stretched to the point that they are meaningless. According to Consumers Union,, "the term 'natural' is so loosely defined by USDA that virtually all fresh cuts of meat and poultry qualify as "natural."
'Free range' may mean chickens that are given access to a small barren yard after they are several weeks old and not inclined to explore even that far. It may offer nothing worth scratching and eating to attract them, as these Light Brown Leghorns, Dark Cornish (and one White Laced Red Cornish cross) and Barred Rocks are at Ryon Carey's farm in Lindsborg, Kansas.
Frank's definition is:
Heritage Chicken must adhere to the following:

1. APA Standard Breed
Heritage Chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed.

2. Naturally mating
Heritage Chickens must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. Chickens marketed as "heritage" must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.

3. Long productive outdoor lifespan
Heritage Chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for five to seven years and roosters for three to five years.

4. Slow growth rate
Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 14 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.

Chickens marketed as 'heritage' must include the variety and breed name on the label.

Terms like 'heirloom,' 'antique,' 'old-fashioned,' and 'old timey' [I would add 'historic'] imply 'heritage' and are understood to be synonymous with this definition.

Abbreviated Definition

A Heritage Egg can only be produced by an American Poultry Association Standard breed. A Heritage Chicken is hatched from a heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, is slow growing, naturally mated with a long productive life.

Prepared and endorsed by the following individuals:

Frank Reese, Reese Turkeys, Good Shepherd Ranch, Standard Bred Poultry Institute and American Poultry Association; Danny Williamson, Windmill Farm, Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch and American Poultry Association; Marjorie Bender, Research & Technical Program Director, Don Bixby, Technical Program Manager and Don Schrider, Communications Director, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy; D. Philip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, Technical Advisor, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Professor, Veterinary Pathology and Genetics, Virginia Tech; R. Scott Beyer, PhD, Associate Professor, Poultry Nutrition Management, National Center for Appropriate Technology; and Kenneth E. Anderson, Professor, Poultry Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University.

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