Karen Johnston on Becoming a Heritage Chicken Breeder
What is a heritage chicken? Why it is a good idea to keep a heritage breed flock? How to find the right bird for you? How and why would a backyard chicken owner want to breed them? These are just a few of the topics Karen and I are exploring in this interview. When I asked Karen to be a guest on our show, I had a general idea that it is important to have different breeds of chicken available, but also thought that a willy nilly reproducing backyard flock is equally good. Boy, was I wrong!
Some Highlights of our Conversation
- A heritage breed was in existence before 1950 and the specifics or standards were/are recorded.
- Heritage chickens are mostly dual purpose birds – they lay a decent amount of eggs, but also develop enough to make a good meal.
- Having many breeds keeps gene diversity.
- Different breeds are less susceptible to certain diseases.
- Commercially, we basically use two breeds of chicken. Leghorn for eggs and cornish cross for meat. Mono crops can be wiped out by a disease.
- Commercial meat chicks grow very fast. Studies are exploring if the ob
esity gene in the chicken we consume triggers obesity in humans.
- There are breeds especially suited for particular climates.
- Buy from a local breeder – even within a breed, birds get adapted to a climate.
- Talk to the breeder. What are they selecting for? Eggs? Meat? Broodiness or not to get broody? Lay early or grow up before laying?
- There is such a thing as chicken “puppy” mills. Avoid them!
- It could be fun to become a chicken breeder yourself.
Resources and How to Reach Karen
The Sustainable Poultry Network founded by Jim Adkins
The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery