Heritage poultry are diverse breeds of chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese that were developed over the ages to thrive under traditional and regional farming practices. They were carefully selected and bred for traits that made them well-adapted to their local environment. They thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern industrial agriculture, but are often still found on small family farms and homesteads. Their genetic lines can be traced back multiple generations, and their traits match that of a breed standard for appearance, production, and behavior.
Many breeds used in large scale agriculture have been specifically developed for intensive production systems, where traits such as rapid growth, feed efficiency and continuous egg production are targeted. Many industrial breeds of chickens and turkeys are not able to breed naturally, live relatively short lives and are best maintained in controlled indoor environments due to their more fragile physiology. Heritage breeds have more robust and well-rounded genetics. While breeders may select their animals for certain characteristics, they’re not selected so narrowly so as to lose other valuable and biologically important characteristics. Most heritage poultry breeds are "dual purpose", with the females providing strong egg production while the males offer an excellent table bird.
Historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency--fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts, ability to mate naturally, and resistance to diseases and parasites. The diverse reservoir of genetics that they represent may prove vital in the future, as environmental changes, disease and genetic bottlenecks in industrial poultry lines threaten an important human food source. Yet many of these old breeds are in danger of extinction, as commercial hatcheries have switched their focus to modern hybrids and generic versions of old breeds that bear little resemblance to their ancestors.
All birds bred by Peninsula Poultry Breeders come from heritage lines, reproduce naturally and live long, productive life spans in the fresh air of outdoors. They lay eggs longer than hatchery birds and taste better than industrial meat birds. Like those before us, we selectively breed for robust health, good dispositions, productivity and good foraging abilities. Our breeds thrive in the rigors of a pasture-based, outdoor production system. They have a slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in approximately 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. It also leads to a more complex flavor and higher nutrient profile of the cockerels raised for the table. Heritage birds have fewer calories, more grams of protein and lower cholesterol than the industrial meat chicken found in grocery stores. And that nutrition is all packed into a richly flavored meat.
We hope you will join us in working to save these historic breeds for the future. By purchasing heritage chicks, raising your cockerels for the family table and possibly even breeding your own sustainable flock of birds, you can be a part of preserving these important traditional breeds for future generations.
16 week old Delaware Cockerels