The Livestock Conservancy lays out strict requirements for heritage chicken breeds. To be called “heritage” a chicken must be have parents and grandparents of a breed recognized by the American Poultry Association prior to the mid-20th century, they must reproduce through natural mating, live a long productive life (5-7 years for breeding hens) and have a slow growth rate, reaching market weight in no less than 16 weeks.
Heritage chicken breeds are desirable for the backyard flock because they are healthy, hardy and productive birds. Some heritage breeds have special traits, like the ability to lay eggs during the winter months when other hens cease to lay. In general they are more likely to become broody and hatch out a clutch of eggs than other chicken breeds
Best Heritage Chicken Breeds
There are currently fifty heritage chicken breeds recognized by the Livestock conservancy. Here are the ones that might be of particular interest to you as a backyard chicken keeper:
Best Laying Chickens to Raise
These are the best layers of all the heritage chicken breeds:
Andalusian – An excellent winter layer, this rugged breed lays large quantities of big white eggs.
Minorca – These adaptable hens are rarely broody and produce large white eggs. They adapt easily to confinement.
Spanish – Glossy black and green birds, Spanish chickens lay huge numbers of record breakingly large eggs. Eggs up to 4.25 ounces in are not uncommon.
Java – The Java is an ideal homestead chicken. They do quite well when allowed to free range, producing lots of large brown eggs on little feed.
Image courtesy of westtexaschicks.wordpress.com
Best Heritage Chicken Breeds for Meat
If you are raising heritage chickens for meat, consider one of these heritage chicken breeds:
Cochin – This fluffy and beautiful meat breed is very prone to broodiness. Each hen will happily hatch multiple clutches each year, making them ideal breeders for meat production.
Jersey Giant – Mature roosters can top 13 pounds, making this one of the extra large chicken breeds ideal for meat production. They are also good layers, making this a great dual-purpose breed.
La Fleche – This French breed is prized for its quality meat. The meat is tender and juicy, with good fat distribution and large ratio of meat to offal.
Wyandotte – Another good dual-purpose breed, the Wyandottes are good mothers and decent layers. They mature around 8 pounds.
Image courtesy of roysfarm.com
Heritage Chickens for Sale
Getting started raising heritage chicken breeds takes patience. It may take awhile to find the right heritage breed chicken hatchery for your needs, or to locate a farm that is raising the breed you are interested in.
Here are a few places to get started in your search:
Sand Hill Preservation Center – They offer a wide range of heritage poultry for sale, including ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas and quail in addition to heritage chicken breeds.
True North – This is a Canadian hatchery specializing in heritage chicken breeds. They are located in British Columbia and will ship to the US.
Meyer Hatchery – This large American hatchery offers several heritage chicken breeds.
If is often easiest to buy heritage chickens from a small farmer dedicated to preserving a particular breed. Many of these farmers raise heritage chicken breeds and sell the eggs or meat and may be willing to sell you chicks or adult birds to get your own flock started.