Episode 43

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!

Rooster selection

Are they good enough to breed?

black heritage chickens

Chickens are free to roam

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.Candling an egg
  • 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.
Baby chicks

Keeping warm

Baby chicks

Babies meeting up at the bench


Resources and How to Reach Karen

The Sustainable Poultry Network founded by Jim Adkins

The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery

Karen’s Facebook Page

Karen’s Website

Peak PoultryKaren

The Lifestock Conservancy


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