Understanding Heritage Poultry

Understanding Heritage Poultry 

 

1. Introduction

2. Heritage Breeding: the Key to the Whole

3. Heritage Chickens

4. Heritage Ducks and Geese

5. Heritage Turkeys

 

Introduction

 

           It is wonderful to see, hear, and read about the current resurgence of interest in heritage fowl.  They are a dear possession in the passing of time, and time has, indeed, passed since they were last recognized by the broader community for the intrinsic value they offer to the maintenance of local culture and the establishment of sustainable food systems. 

             Over the course of the last several decades of neglect, they have suffered much in the way of poor breeding.  It cannot be understated that the stability of their future depends on a renaissance of active engagement in good breeding methods that aim first and foremost at the revival of their useful farm qualities.  Every homestead, even the most humble, is able to contribute to this reemergence of traditional farming fowls. 

             As of early summer 2009, major hatcheries across the country are sold out.  The demand is so great that stock cannot be procured.  At first impression, this might lead one to concur that the fate of heritage fowls will be thereby assured.  However, if the destination of the majority of these fowls is to be maintained only as a laying flock, without the presence of a cock for in-house flock perpetuation, then this boom is sadly finite.  Many hatcheries depend on the same small breeders for their stock, if one depends on hatcheries to maintain the requisite biodiversity for the preservation of our breeds, this dipping repeatedly back into the source only repeats the genetics, it does not improve or diversify them.   Moreover, there is real potential for the genetic exhaustion of the flock of origin.  Without other homesteaders working to develop lines of their own, the flocks of origin have no possibility for the refreshment of their own bloodlines. 

            I have heard many as of late state how much they enjoy their chickens.  Internet sites are abuzz with eager enthusiasts, but are these same folks open to taking the relatively simple step of becoming a breed steward?  Let us hope, for the sake of our heritage breeds and the future of our sustainable, small-scale, locally focused agriculture, that the rush of newness and sentimentality does, indeed, mature into an understanding of these breeds' need for us to resume the stewardship that was once the cause of their thriving.

            In order for this to come to pass, certain basic principles must be understood and maintained.  A sort of cultivated discipline, based in breed appreciation and knowledge, must be fostered, and certain practices must be avoided.  If our collective efforts are consistent and enduring, our success is ensured.

            For the would-be steward, these two gaffes must be avoided:

  1. First and foremost,  factory chickens are verboten.  They are largely hybridized, removed from the land, and represent genetic dead-ends.  Such fowl are: Cornish X; anything referred to as a broiler (red, black, or otherwise); any fowl whose name includes the term "sex-link"; any bird whose name sounds like a space staion, i.e. Golden Comet; any bird whose name includes a number; and it's generally good to avoid birds whose descirptions make them sound like an egg-producing robot.  As a hint, you will discover that the vast majority of heritage fowl are named after a specific place.  There is a distinct reason for this, having directly to do with that fowls' particular heritage.  Indeed, many are so specific as to be named for the very town of origin, or which at least made them famous: Dorking, Crevecoeur, La Fleche, Houdan, Ancona, Leghorn (Livorno), Faverolles.  Others represent regions or islands: Minorca, Andalusian, Sussex, New Hampshire, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Catalana, Sicilian Buttercup, Marans, Lakenvelder, Spitzhauben, Barnevelder, Paduan (a.k.a. Polish), Hamburg (even if it's arbitrary), and the Delaware (a heritage fowl by the skin of its teeth).  A few enjoy a unique name that speaks to their region, original breeder, traditional use, or some remarkable physical atribute: White-faced Black Spanish, Orpington, Dominique, Russian Orloff, Old English Game, Scots Dumpy.
  2. Choose one breed and do it well.  Buying a hodgepodge of this, that, and the other thing, might be fun, but it does nothing for the good of the breeds selected.  It's always disheartening to hear someone announce that they raise heritage fowl only to find that they have one of this, three of that, four of the other, and a Silkie rooster because he's so cute.  Such flocks might amuse the owner, but that is the end of the benefit derived therefrom.  In order to maintain your laying/breeding flock, have the space for raising the young, and have the time to learn about your selected breed, it is necessary to restrict the number of breeds.  The alternative is treading water and the further degradation of the fowl.  Remember that there is no stasis in nature; either there is evolution or there is entropy.

           Described quickly, heritage breeds of poultry are all those old breeds that have served our homesteads and communities for generations, centuries, and even millennia.  A heritage breed is a purebred and breeds pure.  Almost all heritage breeds are represented in the Standard of Perfection, the vade mecum of the American Poultry Association.  Those few breeds of heritage poultry, with long histories of service on our farms, hitherto excluded or retracted from the Standard, e.g. the Russian Orloff, the Rose-combed Red and Colored Dorkings, among a few others, should be added or reinstated as soon as possible in order to insure their continued existence.

 

 Heritage Breeding: the Key to the Whole        

           Aside from being rare, or, in many cases, in danger of extinction, one could safely assert that virtually every heritage breed still in existence has suffered from neglect, a.k.a. bad or one-sided breeding.  A shameful proportion of stock available from large, industrial hatcheries is simply bad stock.  The birds from these institutions show very little sign of any sort of breeding program whatsoever.  Worse, it is usually in the rarer breeds that one sees the most deplorable stock.  Deceived by pretty images and fancy descriptions, the unexpecting buyer forks out sums that should only be paid for stock of quality. 

            One-sided breeding is the curse of the single-minded fancier, whose eye often falls first on the superficial.  For many generations poultry writers have been warning about the negative effects of breeding for fancy points.  Is the crest large enough?  Globular enough? Full enough?  Are the feathers fluffy enough?  Profuse enough?  Tight enough? Is the comb too big or too small?  Is the spangling just so?  Is the white the purest of whites?  The list of fancy point concerns seems endless and is often of little value to the farmer or homesteader.  Although culling is extremely important, even a sure sign of the serious poulterer, some fanciers cull their birds so tightly that one can literally feel the constricting bloodlines in their vaunt.  Indeed, one could posit that the obsession over Standard-based fancy points has potentially damaged every heritage breed.  On the other hand, one could also suggest that, were it not for fanciers, these breeds would already be extinct, which is in truth a rather tenable argument.  The question, then, of reconciling breeding goals to the ultimate future good of the fowl gives pause and asks one to reconsider the American Standard of Perfection or rather one’s reading of the Standard.

            In his work Domestic Geese and Ducks, first published in 1947, Paul Ives offers this with regards to the proper breeding of fowl, “Select for the following qualities in the following order.  Vigor, temperament, correct size, true breed-type, approved color.”  This mandate is clearly advantageous to the homesteading worthiness of heritage breeds.        Vigor reflects health and the ability to transfer that healthiness to progeny.  It is the inner expression of a fowl's ability to live well with and in nature.  Temperament is, via generations of experience, of the utmost importance with regards to the farming utility of the breed.  The best layers are spry: fast on their feet, often flighty, and wary.  Asiatic meat birds are lethargic and gentle.  The best dual-purpose breeds tend toward the Golden Mean, the balance between the two.  Correct size also serves a fowl’s usefulness.  Layers are light.  Meat birds are heavy, and dual-purpose breeds are, again, somewhere inbetween.  True breed-type speaks to shape, or confirmation.  There are shapes that serve meat production.  There are shapes that serve egg production.  There are shapes that serve practically nothing at all.  Lastly, there is color which, in most circumstances of domestication, serves nothing but beauty.  It has been said that this is the purpose of beauty: to serve nothing save beauty.  Now, all things being equal, selecting for beauty is noble indeed, yet this statement rests on “all things being equal”.  In The Biggle Poultry Book: A Concise and Practical Treatise on the Management of Farm Poultry (1911), the author, John Biggle, offers this didactic quote, “Don’t estimate the size of the egg from the length of the cackle.  Fine birds are not made by fine feathers.”  With this in mind, we return to the question of the Standard and how we might best use it to the advantage of the fowl and the homesteaders and farmers for whom they are destined. 

            A textbook’s format tells much about its purpose, and the Standard is nothing if not a textbook.  Each entry follows a specific pattern, which, when read as representing an order of importance, is rather useful.  In the Standard, each breed is introduced with some in-depth information concerning its history, i.e. its heritage.  Following right behind is an expression of its economic qualities, which are the legacy of its heritage.  This heritage is of primal interest insofar as it points to what ought to be its present and future.  Next are any breed disqualifications, which alert the breeder as to when one is completely off base.  The following matter of interest is standard weight, i.e. correct size.  The next category is shape, i.e. true breed-type.  Lastly comes color. 

            Considering then the format of the American Standard of Perfection, it would appear that Ives’ mandate for proper breeding and the ordinal emphasis of the Standard are in complete agreement as to what is important for the breeding of useful farm fowls.  This is, of course, from a farmer’s perspective and with regards to farming utility.  For the homesteader and farmer, a Houdan with a stellar crest and perfect plumage coloring is of very little worth, if it also lays poorly and is severely underweight.  When poultry breeders conform themselves once again to the aforementioned principles, it will be a boon both to farmers and to the breeds they protect.  From a farming perspective, the vast majority of breeds still in existence today are but a shadow of their historic potential.

            Carefully reflecting, we recognize that our heritage breeds are in desperate need of rejuvenation through breeding methodologies that celebrate their outstanding utility: delicious meat, wonderful eggs, excellent foraging capabilities, superior disease resistance, and a purebred history ready and able to project itself into another future of healthy and appreciative consumers, i.e. you.  If we continue to allow heritage breeds to fail and disappear one by one into oblivion, we further the purpose of industrialized farming and a misguided USDA who would see us completely dependent on the currently ubiquitous, factory produced hybrids that serve the sole purpose of advancing the profit margins of rich conglomerates.  No greater proof of their combined nefarious intent need be supplied than to invoke the imperialistic regulatory potential for decimating traditional American farming representated by the National Animal Identification System   

             

 

Heritage Chickens 

1. Foundational Breeds vs. Composite Breeds

2. The Classification of Chickens

3. Meat Breeds

4. Egg Breeds

5. Dual-purpose Breeds

Foundational Breeds vs. Composite Breeds

            Heritage breeds of chickens can be divided into two groups: heirloom, or foundational, breeds and composite breeds.  An heirloom heritage breed is one of the many foundational breeds of poultry whose origins are obscured by centuries.  They are the fowl, which simply are.  They are part and parcel of their place of origin.  Their time of origin can only be speculated.  Their mode of origin, i.e. parent stock, etc…, can only be guessed.  They shaped the indigenous diet of their place of origin as much as they were informed by that same diet.  These indiscernible beginnings make them irreplaceable.  They are a particular treasure.  Once extinct they will never be revived.  Too many are on the brink of oblivion.  They are the Dorking, La Fleche, Houdan, Crevecoeur, Old English Game, Redcap, White-faced Black Spanish, Ancona, Sicilian Buttercup, Brahma, Cochin, Hamburg, and, perhaps, the Dominique, to name but a few.  Should they disappear it would be to our cultural impoverishment, another bridge burnt in the wake of this hullabaloo we continue to call “progress”.

            Composite heritage breeds are those breeds that rose up in the hustle and bustle of international trade and the push for progress that was the rhythm of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The opening of the Far East in the days of the Clipper Ships led to the importation of new breeds of poultry, drastically different from the old vanguard of the European front.  Their arrival in Europe and the Americas eventuated a fusion of bloodlines, resulting in many relatively new breeds of poultry that went on to be highly influential in the poultry circles of the 19th and especially the 20th centuries.  They are the Faverolles, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Wyandotte, New Hampshire, Orpington, Australorp, and Holland, among several others.  Though theoretically replaceable, insofar as they could be developed again by following the original breeding program, which lead to their existence, they hold such a place of importance historically and culturally that their loss would be that of an entire epoch.

 

The Classification of Chickens      

            The American Poultry Association classifies breeds with reference to their point of origin: American, English, Continental (European), Mediterranean, etc.  This is of great historic, thus heritage, interest.  However, for this discourse, it should be more useful to divide them into their old farming designations, which are four: meat breeds, egg breeds, dual-purpose breeds, and ornamental breeds.  These designations speak more to their potential for profitability as farming fowl, were we to recommence the practice of breeding them for the farm and homestead. 

  

Meat Breeds

              What are referred to traditionally as meat breeds, are those breeds, whose egg production is slight, or the hens are too large to be used for the economical production of eggs.  In the past and on account of their size, the fowls classed here were the Brahma, Cochin, and Langshan, effectively the Asiatic class of the A.P.A. Standard.  However, the flesh of the Brahma and Cochin is usually considered to be course-grained, which in chicken is not the ideal.  It would seem that the tendency to class these as meat birds is more on account of their poor laying skills than in recognition of their quality meat attributes: "The Asiatics are not infrequently referred to a meat breeds, but their slow maturity has prevented their e bcoming popular for this purpose.  Generally, they are placed more properly among the ornamentals" ( Lippincott et al.  Poultry Production. 1946).  Recognizing that feed cost is the number one obstacle to profitable poultry farming, the modern poulterer is almost certainly wiser to choose one of the dual-purpose breeds as his or her meat birds.

            The flesh of the Langshan is reputed to be of higher quality.  They are also said to have potential as layers.  Indeed, there are some that suggest that the Langshan would be best considered a dual-purpose breed, but I should leave it to those with more experience with this breed to give the final word.

            These three breeds are all to be considered “heirloom” or “foundational”, being part of the foundation used to develop the many composite breeds.  Indeed, it is from them that originate brown eggs, foundational European breeds’ eggs being white or creamy tinted.  The utility of the breeds could be strengthened by emphasizing impressive meat quality and good winter laying, as well as strong laying in their second year.

            In addition, to the aforementioned breeds, several of the game breeds are suited to meat production.  Two in particular, the Cornish and the Old English Game, are of particular interest, the former for its size, the latter for its quality.  Neither is appropriate for egg laying, although Craig Russell, president of the SPPA, asserts that well bred Old English Games should evince dual-purpose laying capacity.  The Old English Game is one of the most respected broody hens in the chicken roster.        

            Lastly, it would, perhaps, be appropriate to place the Jersey Giant among this classification.  Although generally considered a respectable layer, its sheer mass and slow rate of growth are a distinct liability.   Economically speaking, it is simply too big for its own good.

 

 

 

            Egg breeds are small, spry fowl, light weight and capable of sustained flight over a fence and across the field.  They are full of nervous, busy energy, delighted to forage for a large portion of their keep.  They are more wary of people, especially if their caretaker is not gentle while tending them.  However, when managed in a calm fashion, they do tend to tame easily.  They consume markedly less feed, lay noticeably more eggs, and, as a whole, are disinclined to set on a clutch, although there is an exception to every rule.  There is more than a little wisdom in looking first to this class of hens, if one's goal is profitable egg-production.

            The vast majority of heritage egg breeds originates in Europe.  The most famous are, by far, those in the Mediterranean class. These are all foundational breeds, being rather ancient.  The best layers are the Italians, Leghorns and Anconas.  They have one sole raison d’etre: the efficient production of abundant eggs.  The fowl of Spanish origin are also of high repute: Minorca, Andalusian, Catalana, and, one of the oldest extant breeds of purebred poultry known to man with one of the longest histories in the New World, the White-faced Black Spanish.  In their heyday, the Spanish fowl were generally renowned for producing numerous eggs of impressive size.  Another advantage often cited for the Spanish fowl is that, being larger than their Italian counterparts, they fetch a higher price as stewing fowl when culled for market.

            Most of these breeds have rose-comb varieties, which, although exceedingly rare at the present-day, offer northern poulterers the possibility of efficient egg-production without the incurrence of damaging frostbite.  One approach to dealing with this problem of limited rose-comb availability is to procure a number of rose-combed birds and another strain of single-combed birds.  The gene for rose-comb is dominant to that for single comb, and through a process of selection, one will soon have a flock of rose-combed birds with the combined vigor of the two strains. 

            For preservation purposes, a special note here goes out to the White-faced Black Spanish.  These are almost certainly the first of the laying breeds to have crossed the Atlantic with settlers in the New World.  Indeed, there is the rather real possibility that they are the longest standing European fowl in the Americas.  They were known as excellent producers of notably large eggs, and their white faces earned them the endearing nickname of Clown-faces.  Here is also an example of a breed that has been highly damaged in the name of fancy points.  The push to develop their white faces to ever greater size has led, for decades now, to the disregard for their impressive production qualities.  The White-faced Black Spanish is in desperate need of dedicated breeders who are willing to look beyond the superficial to realize the excellent homesteading potential that this bird offers to the public.

            The rest of Europe is also possessed of efficient egg producers.  The Netherlands, with a nod to Britain and Germany, give us the Hamburg, an excellent producer of small to medium eggs.  There telling nickname is “egg-a-day layer”. 

            Closely related to the Hamburg is the Redcap, a productive breed from the north of England.  Ideally they should be classified as a dual-purpose breed, intended meaty enough to stand its own as a roaster..  However, this rare and ancient breed has suffered from both general neglect and from breeding for large and exaggerated rose-combs at the expense of their productive qualities.  This breed lies at the brink of disappearing.  Only a concerted effort to revive its numbers and impressive productive qualities will save it from otherwise certain extinction.  

            Other European layers of note are the Lakenvelder, Appenzeller-Spitzhauben, Campine, and Sicilian Buttercup.

 

Dual-purpose Breeds

            The dual-purpose breeds are those which lay a respectable, often impressive, number of eggs, while also furnishing a well-fleshed carcass for the table.  The capacity of each breed to produce eggs varies from strain to strain.  With concentrated efforts to select for heavy egg production, your strain can be ameliorated.  However, be careful not to sacrifice size to eggs.  These are our true meat breeds, and they need to remain such.  Most strains available today do not live up to the Standard requirements for weight.  As stewards of these breeds, we need to undo this unfortunate situation.  If a light weight egg-layer is required, turn to the established egg breeds.  It is better to honor one of these with your cares than to dishonor the heritage of a dual-purpose breed with incorrect selection intentions. 

            The most ancient of this classification are four foundational breeds of special note.  These four fowl, in company with the Old English Game, are praised above all others in the traditional literature for the quality of their meat.  They are the Dorking, Houdan, Crevecoeur and La Fleche.  Their meat is excellently juicy, fine-boned, fine-grained, and deeply flavorful.  Moreover, they are good layers of white or tinted eggs.  The Dorking are among the most accomplished broody hens in the chicken world.  An added bonus to these fowl is their striking appearance.  Each is uniquely beautiful.  These four breeds are in need of serious conservation.  All four have suffered on account of neglect and the overemphasis of breeding for fancy points.  Concerted efforts can still save these four gems of the poultry world for yet another generation of gastronomic excellence.

            Among this rank are found the vast majority of the many composite breeds originating in the 19th and 20th centuries.  As a group they are thrifty foragers, of relatively mild temperament, good to excellent layers, nice eating fowl, with a general tendency toward broodiness in the late spring and early summer.  Among the dual-purpose composite breeds are found the Chantecler, the oldest Canadian breed, and the Dominique, the oldest American breed.  Other composite breeds are: the Faverolles, Orpington, Sussex, New Hampshire Red, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Buckeye, Wyandotte, Black Australorp, Holland, Marans, and Lamona.

            The Java is considered an American breed, and yet it is not.  It, like the Dorking, is an import.  On the other hand, the Java's American history is almost as old as the Dorking's American history, which makes it rather important to the US, almost as imprortant as the Dorking.  Indeed, the Dorking is considered the first fowl to be imported with English settlers.  For this reason, it is the fowl of honor at such places of historical relevance as Plymouth Plantation and Jamestown.  The Dominique is considered America's first breed to be developed on American soil.  This is most certainly true.  The difficulty in documenting its parentage suggests that it could be America's closest thing to a foundational fowl. 

            The choice of which heritage dual-purpose breed to raise is important; each has something to offer.  All are worthy for the self-sustaining homestead; however, in truth, some need to be bred up before they are ready for small-scale commercial farming.  Make no mistake, they all need to be bred up; the difference is in how long it is going to take.  For the self-sustaining homesteader who is primarily focused on providing meat and eggs for his or her family, the pressure is not so severe to produce truly market quality fowl.  Thus, they are in the ideal situation to rescue the rarest and bring them up to par.  

            It is always difficult to deal in division, but here I make the plea for the non-commercial homesteaders to come to the rescue of these breeds and varieties needing care to bring them up to be worthy candidates for local heritage poultry production.  They are as follows:

  1. The Houdan, Crevecoeur, and La Fleche need to be bred extensively for superior size.  They have excellent meat quality and strong egg production, but are currently way too scrawny.
  2. The Java, though of good size, is too slow in maturing to market weight and fleshing.
  3. The Buff, Partridge, Black, and Siver-penciled Wyandottes need some serious farm breeding.
  4. Like the aforementioned Wyandottes, the Partridge, Silver-penciled, Blue and Columbian Rocks need some good farming breeding before they can be depended upon for income.
  5. The Red Sussex, Blue and Black Orpingtons, White Faverolles, Holland, and Lamona simply need to be brought back to the radar screen.

With proper attention from dedicated homesteaders, all of these fowl can be reclaimed for the farm and sustainable food production.  Please consider one of them carefully.  In your hands is their renewal.

 

            When considering those fowl that are readier for serious small-scale farming, it must be emphasized that they are still in need of focused breeding programs in order to hone in their productive attributes.  Many of them are available in outstandingly pretty form, but underneath that prettiness we need to see some major gusto:

  1. The Dorking, in all varieties, possesses the highest quality flesh of all the farming-ready dual-purpose breeds.  They are good layers.
  2. Second place for flesh quality probably goes to the Sussex and Faverolles, undoubtedly on account of their Dorking parentage.  They are good layers.
  3. The best in carcass shape to promote quality meat dimensions are the Dorking, Dominque, and Wyandotte.  They are good layers, with a special nod to the Dominique in this quality.
  4. The New Hampshire Red is definitively the fastest maturing.  They are generally strong layers.
  5. The Plymouth Rock and Orpington are both recognized for their sturdiness.  In carcass presentation, they're rather similar--long, if a bit narrow in the breast.  Of the two, the Plymouth Rock is the better layer.
  6. For winter hardiness in northern climates, where the risk of frostbite is a serious threat, the rose-combed Dorking varieties, Dominique, Chantecler, Buckeye, and Rose-combed RI Reds and Whites are to be recommended.  Single-combed birds are prone to severe frostbite damage.
  7. Those poorest in meat qualities are the RI Reds and Black Australorps; however, they are probably the best layers of the lot.
  8. Several of these varieties are prone to roosters that "go mean".  A good pair of jeans goes a long way.  Remember, you are bigger than a rooster.  Nonetheless, if docility is a necessity than the Dorking is easily the best choice.
  9. In matters of foraging, they are all rather persistent scroungers.
  10. In matters of heritage, the Dorking reigns supreme.  All of the others combined have about fifty percent of the Dorking's curriculum vitae. 

            These fowl are, each and every breed, representative of the hopes and aspirations of our collective agrarian legacy.  Each is possessed of enduring qualities that plead its case for the future.  Correct husbandry is our responsability.  We must resist the urge to raise them only for what they give us, without a care for their needs as our partners in sustainable, local agricultrue.  We recognize honestly that such a tendency is born of modern complacency and the habit of unbridled consumerism.  If we are to look to them on the horizon of our future, we must be mindful of what is needful in their present. 

            For the homesteader, whose primary goal it is to provide meat and eggs for one's family, consider one of the very rare breeds mentioned above.  Choose one breed, even if it is difficult.  You will assuredly be their champion.  Choose one breed, and may it accompany you throughout your life time, supplying you with nourishment and the sight of their beauty to bring you peace after the long day.

            For those intending to enter into a local market economy, based on the production of meat and eggs, the scope of your intention may necessitate the choice of two breeds: one heritage layer, whose eggs are had at a profit, and one heritage dual-purpose breed, whose eggs serve to augment the total egg-production of your farm and offset the cost of meat production, generally increasing overall profits.  Consider carefully.  Choose once.  Choose well.  Be independent, and listen to your inner thoughts.  Don't just follow the crowd.  The uniqueness of your selections is a strong marketing edge.  In thirty years may they say of your stock that there is none better to be had.  

 

  

Heritage Ducks and Geese

           

Happily, ducks and geese have been shielded from the industrial hybrid invasion.  The Pekin, which dominates industrial duck production, and the Embden, which dominates industrial goose production, are both heritage breeds.  The difficulty here is not that these are raised; it is that only these are raised.  There are many other breeds of duck and goose that could, and should, grace our tables.  As we slowly awaken form the monocultural agricultural slum that has been suffocating our food supply for too long, we will begin to rediscover these breeds that are worthy of our attention.

The common methods of raising ducks and geese used by industry might also be considered and then, perhaps, reconsidered.  The common method of raising waterfowl for agribusiness is the production of green ducklings and goslings.  These are birds that are pushed, with high levels of grain input, for the maximum growth potential in the shortest period of time.  Seven to ten weeks is all they’re given and then off to the slaughter.  This method leads to exaggerated fattiness and birds that are too young to have acquired the finer flavor that can only come with a slower rate of maturation.  The result are greasy birds with less flavor.  Insofar as it is generally difficult to procure birds raised otherwise, this inferior product damages the general reputation of duck and goose meat, which is, when well-raised, of the highest, tastiest quality.  By raising ducklings and goslings on healthy forage, allowing more time for a more natural rate of maturation, and utilizing different breeds that are generally less fatty, the farmer is able to offer a vastly superior product to his or her consumers. 

It should be noted, though, that, as the demand for duck eggs begins to grow in our society, agribusiness is busy developing industrial hybrid duck layers to replace our cherished, heritage-rich breeds.  Let us not let them overshadow our ducks the way that hybrid chicken layers were allowed to displace our old-times favorites.  Our food is either and extension of our culture or an extension of our profit-driven industry.  If our culture is naught but an outlet for profit-driven industry then we are, indeed, lost.

 

Heritage Turkeys         

           The difference between a heritage breed turkey and one of the shocking broad-breasted mutant varieties used for agribusiness is so outstandingly evident that the reality can be left to argue its own point.  Broad-breasted turkeys are sorry creatures, unsuited to farm life, lacking any sort of immune system, incapable of foraging for their own food in any meaningful way, and completely unable to reproduce naturally, thus necessitating human intervention with every new generation of ill-fated poults.  This is not the way to feed a nation.  Benjamin Franklin looked with such admiration at the turkey, thinking it worthy of becoming our national symbol.  One might wager that his respect would not have extended to these by-products of agribusiness’ push for ever greater profits.

            On the other hand, heritage turkeys are absolutely charming.  They have great personality.  Are they dumb?  Well, maybe they aren’t the brightest bird in the barnyard, yet they are comical and often surprisingly affectionate.  Indeed, a heritage turkey is a bit like a dog, following its owner about, begging for food, and vying for attention.  They reproduce naturally, make proof of exceptional mothering abilities, and possess an immune system that is not threatened by nature.  Moreover, they are superb foragers, being capable of ranging for much of their daily food.  Lastly, they are, indeed, much tastier than anything agribusiness has thrown our way.  Here’s to the reemergence of culture and flavor! 

 

Egg Breeds

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