What constitutes a heritage breed?

Heritage Chicken Definiton

by Frank Reese et al.
Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch Inc.

The purpose of marketing Heritage Chickens is to maintain, improve, and expand populations of high quality chickens for the production of meat and eggs that conform to the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection for poultry breeds from genetic populations established prior to the mid-20th century. Chickens must meet all of the following criteria to be marketed as Heritage.

Heritage Chicken must adhere to the following:

  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.
  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 Chicken 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 14 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.

Chickens marketed as "heritage" must include the variety and breed name on the label.

Terms like "heirloom," "antique," "old-fashioned," and "old timey" imply "heritage" and are understood to be synonymous with the definition provided here.

Abbreviated Definition
A Heritage Egg can only be produced by an American Poultry Association Standard breed. A Heritage Chicken is hatched from a heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, is slow growing, naturally mated with a long productive outdoor life.

Prepared and endorsed by the following:
Frank Reese, Reese Turkeys, Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch, Standard Bred Poultry Institute, and American Poultry Association;
Marjorie Bender, Research & Technical Program Director, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy;
D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD., Technical Advisor, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and Professor, Veterinary Pathology and Genetics, Virginia Tech;
Don Schrider, Communications Director, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy;
Don Bixby, Technical Program Manager, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy;
R. Scott Beyer, PhD, Associate Professor, Poultry Nutrition Management, Kansas State University;
Danny Williamson, Windmill Farm, Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch, and American Poultry Association;
Anne Fanatico, PhD, Poultry Program Specialist, National Center for Appropriate Technology;
Kenneth E. Anderson, Professor, Poultry Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University; and
Anne Malleau, BSc. Agr, MSc., MBA Agr, Director of Research and Education, Animal Compassion FoundationTM;
Barbara Bowman, Boss Dog Marketing, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Board of Directors, Slow Food USA