Conserving Heritage Breeds

The vast majority of chickens raised today are industrial bred and represent only a few breeds (Leghorn, Rhode Island Red). One concern with focusing on two or three lines of poultry breeds is a lack of genetic diversity, increasing the birds’ susceptibility to disease. A new variant of an old disease or a new disease could wipe out the world’s industrial chicken and egg production (Miller, 2010). BYH owners can play a role in ensuring genetic diversity continues to exist within North American flocks through keeping heritage breeds.

The commercial focus on only a few breeds has led to the listing of many poultry breeds as endangered, some critically (Miller, 2010). One of these endangered breeds includes the Chantecler (Rare Breeds Canada, 2012; Ussery, 2011); the first of only two Canadian breeds, developed to withstand our cold northern winters (The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, 2012). If hens are legalized in Winnipeg, BYH keepers can become a part of the conservation solution. Increased breeding of heritage breeds can help ensure the survival of the Canadian Chantecler, and 53 other endangered breeds – instead of becoming rare zoo specimens or part of genetic libraries (Ussery, 2011).