Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Heritage Breed Chickens and the Buckeye

As an owner and breeder of Buckeye for over a decade I'm somewhat fascinated by the efforts of people to create new terms and/or words to describe their poultry or to sell their poultry products.  It first started with the "Organic" and "Free Range" craze a few years ago and today we are in the midst of a "Heritage Chickens" or "Heritage Breed Chicken" revolution it seems!  Five (5) years ago this term was NOT widely used to describe the Buckeye (or any other breed of chicken) to my knowledge but today you can't walk by a magazine stand without seeing the term "Heritage Poultry", or "Heritage Chicken" being used on the cover of a Poultry rag.  It's really been a GREAT marketing tool to sell more magazines, turkeys and chickens, some people are even trying to profit by "Certifying" other peoples flocks of "Heritage" fowl in recent years. 
Prior to the term "Heritage" a lot of folks were using the term "Heirloom", "Antique" or "Old Fashioned" to describe certain breeds of rare, threatened or endangered poultry.  I suspect these three terms just were not as appealing or as marketable as the term "Heritage" so they didn't stick!  "Heirloom" is still frequently used for plants and seeds to a greater extent but it is often used in conjunction with "Heritage" when talking about livestock or poultry.  I feel it is important to mention both terms since they essentially have the same meanings are are frequently used today.

So where did this term "Heritage" as it relates to poultry come from one might wander?

Personally, I credit several organizations working to help preserve a variety of rare, threatened and endangered poultry breeds for helping motivate the use of "Heritage".  One of the first was the SPPA, or Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, an organization that began in 1967 and who's mission was to protect or preserve a variety of "standard bred" domestic fowl.  The SPPA had one of the earliest lists of rare, threatened and endangered chickens, waterfowl and turkeys available to the public.  However, they NEVER used the term "Heritage" in their website or other publications until very recent years.  In fact, Christine Heinrichs, the SPPA Historian and well known poultry author wrote a Buckeye article in December 2009 that was published by Backyard Poultry Magazine and not once did she use the term "Heritage" to describe the Buckeye!

Another organization that came along in 1977 and then actually created a definition for "Heritage" as it relates to turkeys in 2005 was the ALBC, or American Livestock Breed Conservancy.  As early as 1996 the ALBC was using the term "Heritage" to describe certain breeds of livestock and in an article from September/October 1996 the ALBC Director, Don Bixby, was quoted saying this;

"We can help people develop a marketing plan for specialty products such as
unusual wool colors and textures from heritage sheep.  Instead of selling
the product at a low market price because of low demand, they can sell
high in a niche market."

It's safe to say the ALBC was using the term "Heritage" to describe certain livestock but I'm certain they did NOT coin the term "Heritage" on their own or for describing poultry.  The ALBC simply gave the term "Heritage" a definition and began marketing it to the public in recent years.  It was April of 2009 when the ALBC began marketing their definition of "Heritage" as it relates to chickens and turkeys to a variety of publications and websites.  Here is a caption from Hobby Farms magazine on 4/21/2009;

 "In an effort to secure the term Heritage in the food and agricultural marketplaces, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), a nonprofit organization ensuring the survival of rare breeds of livestock and poultry, has defined the term Heritage for chickens."

The article goes on to define the term "Heritage" as it relates to chickens and so we can say it wasn't until 2009 that it became officially recognized and given validity in the form of a proper definition!  I would give the ALBC credit for their marketing effort and giving "Heritage" a definition that the general public can fall back upon. We know this term "Heritage" was being tossed about somewhat loosely starting about 2005 by people attempting to define rare, threatened or endangered turkeys when selling poults and hatching eggs on the internet.  Who actually coined the term is not well known but sooner or later someone will step up and take credit I'm certain!

So now we know "Heritage" is a relatively new term for chickens but how does it relate to the Buckeye breed?

In my personal opinion is its simply a marketing term, just like "Organic" or "Free Range", and nothing more!  Based on what we know about the Buckeye and its origins the breeds creator set out to develop a better dual purpose fowl of DARK MAHOGANY RED color.  Nettie Metcalf was concerned about both egg production and meat quality but found the Buckeye to be a tremendous success in the exhibition world as well.  She worked closely with the APA, American Poultry Association, to establish the breed and its breed standard from which she felt was critical for future growth of this unique American fowl.  Her greatest concern during this era was breeding to the STANDARD and maintaining three essential qualities; 1.) Body Shape 2.) Weight 3.) Color.

If we look at the ALBC "Heritage" chicken definition they do expect a "Heritage" chicken to "meet the APA Standard of Perfection and to this extent some Buckeyes will meet this criteria.  However, its the additional requirements that put the term "Heritage" into the realm of marketing from my perspective.  Let's consider their position on reproduction of "Heritage" chickens and the ALBC believes a "Heritage" hen should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years!  Personally, based on my own experience with Buckeyes I think they have this backwards at best or totally useless to a Buckeye breeder.  I think it shows a lack of understanding of the term "productive" on their part as well.  Buckeye hens (and other large fowl for that matter) have a significant decline in egg production after year 2 of egg laying making them very unthrifty to keep (NOT economical) beyond that age for either breeding or egg production.  I've had Buckeye roosters in breeding pens beyond the age of 8 years with good success but most are again NOT economical to keep beyond 3 years of age.  Again based on my own experience Buckeye males get heavier and heavier as they age and their interest in mating declines each season thus making them less effective as breeding stock.

Finally, the ALBC website actually confirms my belief and personal opinion that "Heritage" is a marketing term by stating;

"Chickens must meet all of the following criteria to be marketed as Heritage."

So before anyone goes out and pays someone $1000 or more to "Certify" their flock of Buckeyes as "Heritage" chickens just tell them, "Thanks, but no thanks my Buckeyes are fine just the way they are!"--------Copy right Jeffrey Lay--------

1 comment:

Bill Dyke said...

Myself, I prefer to use the term "traditional" as it has a more precise meaning then heritage, which to me means virtually nothing.