Saturday, August 15, 2009

Helping Animals One Search at a Time

You may not have heard of the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. It’s been around since 1967 and has had 501c(3) nonprofit status since 2002. Its mission is to protect and preserve, for historical, educational and recreational purposes and in the public interest, standard-bred domesticated poultry, waterfowl, turkeys and guineas. The Helping Animals One Search at a Time Contest,, can raise awareness of the organization and its cause.

SPPA’s mission covers a lot of birds, and the breeders who dedicate their lives to them are nearly as rare as the breeds themselves. SPPA needs more members, whether they are able to breed historic birds or not, to keep these breeds going.

Although chicken and eggs are enormously popular foods, the breeds raised by the industry have been designed to meet very narrow needs: high egg production and rapid conversion of feed to meat. They are genetically very limited, lacking the variety of color, size, behavior and many other traits that have made poultry such a welcome companion to human life through the ages.

Historic breeds continue to delight the eye with their colors, from the glossy greenish black plumage of Sumatras to delicately edged feathers of Golden Laced Wyandottes. Their combs range from the crown of the Buttercup to the jaunty tailed rose comb sported by many breeds, including the tiny bantam that bears its name, shown here in a painting done by poultry artist A. O. Schilling.

Crested breeds such as the Polish, like this Golden Laced bird belonging to Fred Anderson, are often pictured as Bad Hair Day chickens, but crests trace a long history back hundreds of years for their usefulness.

Some, like the Brahma, have feathered legs, such as these from Tom's Chicken Farm. This photo also illustrates the size differences between large fowl and bantam birds, only one quarter to one third the size. Others such as the Dorking have clean legs. Many breeds retain broodiness, the instinct to set on eggs for three weeks or longer to hatch their own chicks and then tenderly raise them. Their example is so touching that we call a doting mother a Mother Hen.

Those bright characteristics please the eye and warm the heart, but the value of their genes may impress the more practically minded. If a foundation breed such as the Dorking disappears, its genes are gone forever. Losing those genes may also take with it resistance to disease and ability to overcome other challenges, yet unimagined but perhaps vital in the future. The narrow genetics of modern poultry production is inherently precarious. A whiff of even a low pathogenic form of Avian Influenza can wipe out an overcrowded poultry shed of 40,000 birds. Without the historic breeds, there would be no way to retain those valuable strengths. As yet, viable poultry eggs and sperm cannot be frozen and regenerated.

Poultry are accessible livestock, requiring simple care that puts them within the abilities of children and people with disabilities. More communities are welcoming chickens in backyards, peacefully clucking and producing delicious eggs. Many whose lives have left them battered have found healing in caring for chickens. Women often wistfully remark, “I’ve always wanted to have chickens.”

SPPA supports poultry advocates everywhere. It has organized an initiative to encourage the First Family to add chickens to the White House Organic Garden, posted on this blog March 27. The members provide advice to those who are working to change local laws to allow chickens in their communities. They help novices get started and experienced breeders who are looking for answers. We’re not only saving poultry. We’re saving the world. Join us through


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


PoultryBookstore said...

Thanks. Voting continues through August 31. Please vote!