We must never relent in our efforts to maintain a tenable position for the fancy.

And Never the Twain Shall Meet

by John M. Freeman
Reprinted from the 1975 APA Yearbook

Since its inception in 1873, the American Poultry Association has been dedicated to the to the development, improvement and promotion of standard-bred poultry of all categorizes. Without this guidance and promotion there is no telling what position in economic importance commercial poultry would occupy today, but it is a certainty that it would be decades behind its present prominence.

To fully comprehend this, we must go back 100 years or more and study the position then held by poultry on the average farm. A vast majority of the farm flocks at that time were made up of a hodge-podge of cross-bred and mongrel fowls whose unhappy lot it was to fend for themselves, roost where they could, eat what scraps they could scratch up plus such table scraps as might be thrown out the kitchen door by the thrifty farmer's wife. In return, they were expected to lay 40 to 50 eggs a year and provide a Sunday dinner when the parson came to call.

Now a fancier is born, not made, even in those bleak and bygone days there was a small nucleus of men and women who enjoyed and loved purebred chickens and who found sufficient reward in breeding for the betterment of their flock, according to their judgment, whether that betterment took the form of fancy feather, conformation or egg or table qualities. This group of early and independent fanciers was given a tremendous boost when the Port of Shanghai was first opened to international trade in 1843 and the sea captains brought back the earliest specimens of the raw, undeveloped Shanghai that was to be made by selective breeding into the Brahma, the Cochin and the Langshan of today.

It was with this thought in mind that the American Poultry Association was formed and convened at Buffalo, New York, for its first general meeting in 1873. In 1874 the First Standard of Excellence was published and made available to the public and from that day up to the present tremendous progress has been made.

To what degree that progress has benefitted mankind in general, is not for me to decide, but that, after the first 25 or 30 years, it was detrimental to the breeder-exhibitor, the so-called fancier, is a certainty. In the beginning, it is true, the successful breeder profited greatly, for it was to him the utility interests turned for seed-stock. It was during this period on up to the second decade of the 20th century that North America and England accomplished the closest approach to truly dual-purpose fowl and by dual-purpose I do not mean egg and meat birds but rather birds bred to the Standard of Perfection and at the same time bred for production. Of course, there were plenty of breeders who were interested only in exhibition, but there was a ready market for their surplus stock among the utility men and hatchery producers who found it necessary to tap such sources in order to maintain standard qualities in their stock.

As the poultry industry became more specialized, however, it became increasingly apparent the paths must diverge. At first the leading hatcheries, egg farms, and broiler plants stuck to the breeds and varieties recognized by the Standard but with less and less attention paid to standard qualities so that, finally, only specimens with blatant disqualifications were barred from the breeding program and the only desideratum was production.

Sometime during the latter part of the third decade of the twentieth century, a few of the big hatcheries experimented with cross-breeding. While cross-breeding had been practiced by the fancy since its inception and was, indeed, responsible for nearly all of the recognized breeds and varieties, it had heretofore, been used judiciously and with a purpose. Once that purpose had been accomplished and the desired points achieved, the crosses were discarded in favor of line-breeding and inbreeding.

Just who pioneered cross-breeds for production flocks, I do not know. One of the early promoters was the Hall Brothers plant. They produced a Rock x Red crossbred that they labeled "Hall cross" primarily as a sex-linked meat-chicken although they also boomed the laying qualities of the pullets. The pullets did lay well but had a strong tendency to persistent broodiness. Now ever since the acceptance of the first Standard of Excellence, cross-bred or mongrel flocks had been looked upon as a bad investment that could not compete with purebred poultry that had been bred along production lines. To counteract public opinion, it was necessary for the commercial breeders to come up with some sort of a gimmick and this they did with a vengeance. In order to ally the feeling against cross-bred or so called mongrel stock, somebody came up with the idea of hybrid vigor. From that point on, there were no more cross-breeds. Overnight they had become "hybrids." Now a Rock-Red or a Rock-Cornish or any other of the various crosses used is no more hybrid than you or I. A true hybrid is a mule and sterile. The utility cross-bred fancy, however, that it was soon applied to crosses of two highly inbred lines within a breed. The progeny of the cross of two highly inbred lines within a breed. The progeny of the cross of these two inbred lines was advertised as having "hybrid vigor."

As a result of all this touting and experimentation, the vast majority of commercial flocks today consist of what is, in the final analysis, mongrel stock. That is, if bred together or, indeed, if bred at all, they will not produce their kind. Whether "hybrid" vigor is real or fancied I cannot say, although it seems reasonable to assume that vigor, like any other trait, can be bred for and developed in a pure breed more surely and to a great degree than would result from crossing. However, it is a fact that there is a limit to the number of points that can be developed through selective breeding and it is because of this that the utility interests have abandoned all effort to produce standard bred fowl and have concentrated on utility features.

During the turn of events above described, the poultry industry grew from a small side-line to a substantial business and, finally, to a mammoth industry. Up to the second world-was 1000 laying hens was felt to be the greatest number that could be successfully managed by one man. Feeding , watering, handling the poultry and eggs and taking care of sanitation were all done by hand. It was also a fact that a small family could subsist in a modest way on the income from a successfully managed flock of 1000 laying hens.

After the war, as the economic picture changed, flocks grew larger and the margin of profit grew smaller. It was not long before it was not feasible to maintain a small farm flock until today one can drive over hundred of miles of rich farmlands without seeing a single flock. The Rocks, the Wyandotte, the Reds, that used to present a leasing sight as they scratched about in nearly every farmyard are but a nostalgic memory.

With this change came mechanization and integrated flocks (I used to think an interested flock was one made up of a mixture of Leghorns and Minorcas) and giant plants that housed (albeit under conditions that would make the average fancier shudder) form one to five hundred thousand layers and broiler plants that start a million or more chicks a year. The poultry industry, obviously, had become "Big Business" and a successful operation would require an initial investment of several hundred thousand dollars. This glutting of the market, despite our mushrooming census, has so decimated the margin of profit that any operation other than one of vast scope is not practical from a profit standpoint.

Since beginning, there has always been a wide divergence of opinion between the practical and what might be termed the aesthetic poultryman. The utility interest little patience with that element that preferred fancy feathers to high production, and those breeding primarily for exhibition were inclined to look down their noses at those who would line-breed birds of less than mediocre confirmation and feather. The bitterness between the two factions grew as the commercial interests increased in power until by the early nineteen-thirties it reached it apex. This was at the time when interest was centered on the "300 egg hen". The big commercial breeders were directing their efforts towards this end with no regard for egg-size, body-weight, vitality or any other of the many features necessary for a successful operation. Up to this period, the egg-laying contests had been based primarily on the number of breeders would up with a three to three and a half pound Leghorn short on twenty to twenty-two ounce eggs. This situation brought about the Tom Barron strain of English Leghorn, bred for body-weight and large eggs and increased the popularity of the Red Island Red both in the laying contest and on the egg-production strains with remarkable freedom from broodiness and as soon as the laying contests inaugurated a point system wherein quality and size counted, the Rhode Island Red pretty well dominated the top placements.

With the advent of the mammoth egg farms and broiler plants, disease became more and more of a problem. So long as poultry raising had been confined to the fancier, back-lotter and the comparatively small farm flock, disease had been more of a preventable nuisance than a catastrophe. Roup and coccidiosis were perhaps the could be avoided by dry clean draft-free quarters and plenty of fresh air. Also both of these ailments would respond to proper treatment. Now, however, with thousands upon thousands of birds kept together in crowded conditions, multitude of new afflictions sprang up. Leukosis, Tracheitis, Newcastle Disease, Pullorum and a host of other ailments appeared and were immediately named. This was the beginning and the cause of the experiments with cross-breeding with its resultant so-called "hybrid" vigor.

Never sympathetic or tolerant towards exhibitors and exhibitions, the commercial interests have singled out the fancy as a target and are making a strong effort to place much of the blame for spreading disease on the doorstep of the exhibitors. While this claim si completely unfounded and obviously unfair, human nature is such that, once the seed was planted, it took root and is, today, an accepted fact amongst the commercial breeders. In the first place, there is never under any circumstance, contact between exhibition and commercial poultry. Your commercial poultryman would no more consider attending a show, let alone exhibiting, than would a fancier consider taking a valued breeder into the disease-ridden atmosphere of any one of the vast commercial enterprises.

Secondly, and of equal importance , is the fact that rarely, if ever, does any disease more exotic than chronic bronchitis, fowl-pox and other comparatively controllable disease strike the small flock. Were it not for the mammoth commercial plants, the exotic, virulent and decimating disease would be unknown not could they occur under conditions other than those due to the crowded conditions other than those due to the crowded conditions and intense confinement brought about by the over-population of the commercial plants.

Unfortunately, the fancy finds itself in a very difficult position. Forced to be on the defensive by powerful interests, with a strong political bloc, unlimited resources and the sympathy of the uneducated public, we must rely on individual effort and common sense to keep the all but strangling restrictions to a minimum. We can look for no help and no sympathy from the other side for, to them our activities are frivolous and have been by them albeit unjustly, adjudged a threat to their very livelihood.

I have often heard it said and seen it printed that the commercial poultryman is interested in the welfare of the fancier since the industry considers this a necessary source of supply of seed-stock. I do not, personally, believe one word of this nor do I consider it a possibility in the foreseeable future. Such pure-breeds as are necessary to maintain the present system of cross-breeding are raised aplenty. With the lack of demand for heavy roasters, the emphasis on quick growth and quick feathering and the necessity to produce layers that, de-beaked and de-combed can for a short while, produce flavorless eggs under adverse condition, while confined six deep in a 12" x 12" x 30" laying cage, we have little to offer.

It is true that the exhibition stock of good quality is made up of beautiful fowls with conformation approximating the ideal necessary to perform those duties for which they are intended and with color and pattern that lease the eye and bring joy to the soul. It is further true that, for an average family, such a flock will supply a sufficient amount of richly flavored eggs and meat superior by far to the mass-produced pale eggs and rubber chicken one finds in the supermarkets. However today's taste seems geared to quantity rather than quality. We must never relent in our efforts to maintain a tenable position for the fancy. Conform where we must and practice the strictest hygiene. Remember it's the same the whole world over.