We raise several heritage breed chickens on an open pasture, free-range system. Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, and Dominiques. We specifically chose these chicken breeds because they met our below criteria::
Benefits of Heritage Breed Chickens
Heritage breeds Chickens thrived on nearly every small family farm from the colonial days up to the early 1900’s. They provided families with eggs and Sunday chicken dinners. They had to be disease resistant, capable of surviving weather extremes, and able to fend for themselves.
The 1940s brought in the Industrialization of modern production chickens. Dual-purpose breeds stepped aside to make way for the new hybrid chickens bred specifically for Commercial Egg Production or Meat Markets. Many desirable traits were disregarded and the modern day hybrids lacked Foraging Ability, Self-Reliance, and Disease Resistance.
Chickens are Essential for Regenerative Agriculture
Heart and Soul Farm NC needed self-reliant chickens capable of surviving open pastures and “working” along side our Katahdin Sheep. They scratch and aerate the soil, spread manure, help reseed the livestock pastures, keep the bug and rodent population down, and leave natural nitrogen rich fertilizer behind. Their fertilizer helps grow and regenerate the pastures for the sheep.
The chickens also supply our farm with fresh, free-range, pastured eggs and a sustainable, chemical free meat source.
Dominiques are America’s oldest chicken breed and existed on most settler’s farms by the 1750’s. To survive the harsh Colonial days, they had to be self-reliant, capable of foraging for their own food, successful mothers, and tolerant hardy to both extreme cold and heat.
With the introduction of the commercialized poultry industry, the Dominiques’ popularity declined. By the 1970’s, they were nearly extinct. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) worked with the few remaining flock owners to increase their numbers and save the Dominique Chickens. As of the 2021 Census, Dominique Chickens have been upgraded from “critical” to “watch” status.
— Color – black and white baring with a rose comb
— Tri Purpose -meat, eggs, and incredibly soft feathers
—Auto-Sexing – identify gender shortly after birth
— Laying Age – Approximately 22 weeks of age
— Eggs – 180 – 220 medium/large brown eggs per year.
—Less prone to broodiness than other heritage breeds
—Eggs will be small at first then gradually increase in size
— Livestock Conservancy Status: Watch
Did you know that Dominiques are listed as a "watch" group by The Livestock Conservancy Organization?
Help Conservation efforts of Heritage Breeds by starting a flock of your own. You can learn more about The Livestock Conservancy by clicking here.
Black Australorp Chickens
Black Orpington Chickens were originally created in England but started arriving in Australia during the 1890s. Australians kept refining the breed with the intent purpose of maximizing the egg production, while England was refining the Black Orpingtons to maximize meat production. Australia’s version became known as Australorps to differentiate from England’s Black Orpington.
In 1920s, Australorps started winning top prizes in Egg Laying contests and attracted worldwide attention. The record laying hen laid 364 eggs in a 365 day year!
Australorps hit a steep decline in the 1940s when a new breed, the Austra White, was an even more prolific egg layer and replaced the Australorps in commericial egg production. They were previously listed as “threatened,” but have recovered and graduated from The Livestock Conservancy in 2023.
Black Australorp Characteristics
— Color – glossy black feathers with a green sheen
— Dual Purpose -meat and eggs
—Better Layers than most chickens, regardless of season
— Laying Age – Approximately 23 weeks of age
— Eggs – 260+ large brown eggs per year.
— Average tendency to become broody
— Need ample shade in hot climates due to black color.
— Livestock Conservancy Status: Graduated in 2023
Buff Orpington Chickens
In the late 1800s, many dual purpose breeds were arriving in England, but most had yellow skin. The British preferred white skin on their meat chickens. William Cook had a vision to create a hardy, large, fast-growing table bird with white skin and still retained above average egg laying ability.
He made his vision a reality. By 1891, he had succeeded in creating the Buff Orpingtons and they quickly became popular in America up until the industrialized meat and egg poultry production era of the 1940s.
Officially recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1902, they had eventually become endangered like so many other heritage breed chickens. They graduated from the endangered list on the Livestock Conservancy in 2016.
Buff Orpington Characteristics
— Color: golden buff feathers and light beaks and toes
— Dual Purpose: meat and eggs
—Large meat birds ready for meat processing by 18 weeks
— Laying Age: Approximately 22-24 weeks of age
— Eggs: 200-280 large brown eggs per year.
— High tendency to become broody
— Need ample shade in hot climates due to heavy feathers.
— Livestock Conservancy Status: Graduated in 2016