Heritage Chicken or Heirloom

Heirloom chickens have a long history. Spanish explorers introduced chickens to the Americas. Since then, many different breeds have been developed in different regions, world-wide, to provide meat, eggs, and pleasure.

Heirloom chickens have a long history. Spanish explorers introduced chickens to the Americas. Since then, many different breeds have been developed in different regions, world-wide, to provide meat, eggs, and pleasure.In 1873 the American Poultry Association began defining and publishing standards of perfection for all recognized breeds. These breeds proved hearty in outdoor production, being adapted to different climates.

To be recognized by the APA, breeds had to have genetic health, consistent attributes, be long-lived, naturally reproductive, and provided a healthy source of protein to the ever growing population until the mid-20th century. 

With new factory-like facilities and fewer farm raised chickens in the market, many breeds of Heirloom chickens were cast aside. There was a preference for a few rapidly growing hybrids. 

According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, over three-dozen breeds of chickens were in danger of extinction. To draw attention to these endangered pure breeds, and support their long-term preservation, steps have been taken to recover these breeds to historic levels of productivity. 

To re-introduce these Heirloom treasures to the marketplace, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has defined Heritage Chicken. In hopes of reviving these breeds they must meet strict criteria to be marketed as Heritage.

Chickens marketed as Heritage must include the variety and breed name on the label. Terms like “heirloom chickens,” “antique,” “old-fashioned,” and “old timey” imply Heritage and are understood to be synonymous with the definition provided here.

To qualify as one of the true Heritage breeds:

1. APA Standard Breed. Heritage Chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage Chicken must be produced and sired by an APA Standard breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed hen.

2. Naturally mating. Heritage Chicken must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.

3. Long, productive outdoor lifespan. Heritage or Heirloom Chickens must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years.

4. Slow growth rate. Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.”

The information above came from: The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.


The Dark Cornish is one of these breeds: Dark Cornish were originally from Cornwall England, where they are also known as Indian game. This pair is from the Cotner Farm near Chico, California, where they free range and enjoy roosting in trees.

The following Breeds are on the list of endangered Heritage or Heirloom chickens world wide:

Campine, Chantecler, Crevecoeur, Holland, Modern Game, Nankin, Redcap, Russian Orloff, Spanish, Sultan, Sumatra, Yokohama, Andalusian, Buckeye, Buttercup, Cubalaya, Delaware, Dorking, Faverolles, Java, Lakenvelder, Langshan, Malay, Phoenix, Ancona, Aseel, Brahma, Catalana, Cochin, Cornish , Dominique , Hamburg, Houdan, Jersey Giant , La Fleche, Minorca, New Hampshire , Old English Game, Polish, Rhode Island White, Sebright , Shamo, Australorp, Leghorn- Non-industrial, Orpington, Plymouth Rock , Rhode Island Red - Non industrial , Sussex, Wyandotte , Araucana, Iowa Blue, Lamona, Manx Rumpy (aka Persian Rumpless), Naked Neck (aka Turken).

Looks and labels can be deceiving. Many of these breeds are available by name, but may not carry the complete standards of perfection, so don’t qualify as a Heritage Bred chickens.

If you have a particular love for any of these breeds, enjoy breeding and raising high quality chickens, you will want to invest in pedigreed Heritage stock.

Heirloom chickens or Heritage, no matter what you call them, should produce well for you for many years, average is 5 -10. The hens are good at going broody and doing a great job of raising chicks, and may produce more than 200 eggs per year.

If you’re looking to select one of these breeds, it’s best to find one that was developed for the type of climate you live in. As mentioned earlier in this article, hybrids or cross bred chicken breeds have been established for the chicken industry.

These breeds mature quickly, hens begin laying earlier and can produce well over 300 eggs per year, but often only for 2 years. Heirloom chickens, aka: Heritage, may be the best choice for the non-commercial family farm.

With good care and a well set up coop and yards, you may be able to breed your own replacement hens, have adequate egg production for your family and raise some chickens for meat, too. These are generally dual purpose breeds of good size; hens laying large to XL eggs and roosters of good size for the table.

Return From Heritage Chicken To Chicken Breeds

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