Now that chickens are finding favour as city pets who happen to lay beautifully formed fresh eggs, more people are becoming interested in the wide variety that is available. Heritage Chickens are a specific group that is defined by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). Examples of all types of chickens exist within the ALBC's definition, including heavy breeds, light breeds, game birds and bantams.
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A Heritage Chicken is a bird whose breed was recognised by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the 1950s. These birds are able to reproduce by natural mating and live long, productive lives outdoors. Hens should be productive for at least five years and roosters should be able to breed for at least three years. Heritage Chickens are slow-growing animals, reaching market weight in at least 16 weeks.
White or Tinted Egg-Laying Breeds
Some of the Heritage Chicken breeds lay a white or off-white egg. A few are large enough to make excellent table birds and have calm personalities, such as the Dorking, Faverolle and Holland. The majority are small, flighty birds who divert much of their energy to making eggs. The smaller white layers are Ancona, Blue Andalusian, Buttercup, Campine, Catalana, Crevecour, Hamburg, Houdan, La Fleche, Lakenvelder, Lamona, Leghorn, Minorca, Phoenix, Polish, Redcap, Spanish, Sultan, and Sumatra.
Brown Egg Laying Breeds
Brown eggs generally come from calmer, dual-purpose birds that have been popular on farms for generations. When an older hen ceases to lay, she is still large enough to stew. The brown layers are Australorp, Barnvelder, Brahma, Buckeye, Chantecler, Cochin, Delaware, Dominique, Java, Jersey Giant, Langshan, Manx Rumpy, New Hampshire, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red and White, Russian Orloff, Sussex, Welsummer, Wyandotte and Yokohama.
A few Heritage Chickens were selectively bred for fighting -- this used to be a common past-time in many cultures, including that of many parts of rural America. The hens of these breeds make excellent mothers, but the roosters can be very aggressive. The game birds are Aseel, Cornish, Cubalaya, Malay, Modern Game, Old English Game and Shamo.
Bantams and Other Breeds
The ALBC recognises two bantam breeds as Heritage Chickens. These are the Nankin and Sebright. A bantam is a miniature chickens. ALBC bantams are birds that are not bred down from larger chickens but are simply a genetically small breed. Another breed of note is the Araucana, a chicken that lacks a tail (properly called rumpless) and lays blue eggs.
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