Heritage Chicken Breeds for Your Backyard
A flock of heritage chicken breeds could be well-suited to your setting. Let us help you pick which one.
Java chickens do well when given the opportunity to free range.
courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
Over the past few years, the age-old tradition of raising backyard poultry has regained its mainstream status. For centuries, chickens were a backyard staple, providing pest control, entertainment, and fresh eggs and meat. Today, hobbyists, foodies, farmers and families across the country are raising chickens in their city, suburban and farmhouse backyards.
As more folks clamor to add poultry to their urban or suburban landscapes, the question has become: What kind of chicken should I get? Not all chickens are the same, and not all are well suited for backyard or urban production. Heritage chicken breeds offer a number of excellent attributes for backyard production, such as natural foraging abilities, longevity, self-sufficiency, natural disease resistance and more. These are the breeds of our ancestors and their ancestors before them, and with a little research you can find a heritage chicken breed that will fit your lifestyle.
Want an excellent egg layer that also makes a great meat chicken? Try the dual-purpose Java. Considered the second oldest breed of chicken developed in the United States, the calm, sociable Java is seldom aggressive, making it a nice option for the backyard or urban flock. Javas were originally used as market fowl, making them the typical “Sunday Dinner” meat chicken. Their black feathers helped indicate whether the birds had been properly plucked by the seller. While their meat is superb, the Java is also an excellent layer, laying up to 150 large, dark brown eggs each year.
Javas come in three varieties: black, mottled and white. The Black Java is noted for its beetle-green feathers, which put off a brilliant green sheen, while the Mottled Java is noted for its ornate, busy coloring. The Java’s body type is one of its most distinguishing characteristics. They are rectangular, with a long, sloping back. In fact, Javas have the longest backs in the American class of chickens. Javas should also have a single comb with the first point not too far forward on the comb. While it is a threatened breed, the Java’s role as an ideal homesteading fowl makes it a great option for future stewards.
The Nankin is one of the oldest known true bantams, meaning it’s a naturally small fowl that has not been miniaturized from a larger breed. While the Nankin is one of the smallest recognized breeds of chickens, it doesn’t suffer from a Napoleon complex. In fact, the breed’s calm, personable and sociable demeanor makes it an excellent option for the backyard flock or 4-H project. Historically, Nankin hens were used to brood the eggs of chickens and game fowl such as partridge and quail. This made them quite popular on English game farms. The broodiness of the breed is still evident today. Nankins are a great option for those wanting a cost-effective means to increase the flock size of other breeds. Incorporate a few Nankins into the flock and let them be your natural brooders.
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