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poultry:
benefits and costs

which breeds
 to keep?

our breeds

poultry for
 meat

feeding 
chooks

fencing
for chooks
housing 
for chooks

the 
chook run

breeding and
raising chicks

building our own 
incubators

pests and
diseases

buying
chooks

 

Which breeds to keep?
 

Bad luck with our ISA Browns
When we started to keep poultry in Tasmania we got three ISA Brown hens. They are prolific layers that were developed for the commercial egg industry and they are readily available. After about twelve months two had died. Why did this happen? We don’t know, but we started to look into different breeds of poultry and we made some astonishing discoveries! We decided never again to buy hybrids designed for the commercial egg industry!

Hens and roosters how they used to be
Up to the first decades of the 20th century people were trying to breed perfect poultry for their particular local area. These were good egg layers, good meat birds or good dual-purpose breeds. They had to be hardy and healthy, they had to be able to range freely on the farm, they had to pretty much look after themselves. Many different breeds were developed in different countries. When the commercialisation of the poultry industry happened in the 1950s the industry found that traditional breeds did not bring the best profits in the new commercial cage systems. The commercial hybrids were developed; they replaced the traditional breeds to such a degree that many traditional breeds were on the brink of extinction in the 1970s and 1980s.  
Designer poultry for the industrial production of eggs
During the second half of the 20th century egg-laying hens were developed especially for the industrial production of eggs. These designer hens were bred to produce a maximum number of eggs during the first 16 months of their life while eating a minimum amount of food. In other words: they were selectively bred for short term productivity instead of long term health. Once they go into their first molt and stop laying, commercial operators usually replace them with new ones and the health of these birds is only an issue in so far as that they should survive the first 16 months.
These commercial birds are hybrids. A hen and a rooster from two different breeds are used to produce them. As all hybrids do, they reproduce without predictable results. The qualities of their offspring will differ greatly and they won’t necessarily resemble the parents. Examples of commercial hybrids are ISA Browns (developed at the ‘
Institut de Sélection Animale’ in France), Hy-Lines and Hisex. 
Multinational companies and the ownership of poultry
Multinational companies own the “formulas” for these commercial hybrids and they are a closely guarded secret. Commercial poultry farming operations can have 100,000 hens or more in their farms and they do not breed chickens. They buy their replacement stock from companies such as Hy-Line. If we as backyard poultry keepers decide to keep commercial hybrids such as ISA Browns or Hy-Lines, we support the commercial poultry industry. If everybody would do this, then multinational companies would eventually own the monopoly to all the poultry in the world and they would become the only suppliers of hens. This is a situation that is very similar to the one where large seed companies sell hybrid seeds that make it impossible for farmers to save seeds and replant, but force the farmer to get new seeds from the seed company every time they want to plant.

Hy-Line International is one of the leading companies producing huge quantities of commercial hybrids. Photos of their commercially produced birds are available on their website. This is a quote from Hy-Line International's homepage
"For more than 70 years, Hy-Line International has been the leader in the layer breeding industry by expanding the frontiers of genetics..."
And this is the ultimate goal as expressed in the vision statement: "At Hy-Line International, we strive to breed the most efficient laying hens"

Hy-Line's "products" page has links to their management guides for intensive poultry farming underneath each of their individual products (chooks). These guides are eye openers!

The logical conclusion for us was to never buy commercial hybrid hens again! Only when we ourselves buy from breeders who keep traditional breeds will we help those breeds to survive. 

Biodiversity of the world's poultry
The total number of chickens in the world was estimated at 24 billion in 2004 (Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds, Ed. Perrins, Christopher. Buffalo, N.Y.: Firefly Books, Ltd., 2003).

The commercialisation of poultry for egg and meat production caused an ever-increasing uniformity of the birds selected. Recent studies have found that industrial chickens have now lost between fifty and 90 percent of the genetic variations that wild populations once showed. In other words: the vast majority of today’s fowl are genetically closely related to each other (Muir et al, 2008 and Biello, 2008).

This dramatically increases the threat to the world’s poultry population by avian influenza and other diseases. The less genetic variety exists the smaller the chance that the birds will be able to fight off the disease. It is quite possible that the time will come when breeders of industrial poultry have to fall back onto the genetically varied birds that backyard breeders keep to build up genetic variety in their own breeds again. Without the genetic variety of the world’s backyard poultry, diseases might quite possibly wipe out domesticated poultry completely. This is why it is so important that as many people as possible keep a large variety of traditional breeds rather than commercial hybrids in their backyards. We all become “the guardians of the vast majority of the diversity in poultry breed genetics in Australia.” ( Rare Breeds Trust of Australia, Status report 2006, page 45)

But there is something else: from a purely aesthetic point of view isn’t it disappointing that most fowl today look so much alike?  Wherever you look, you find ISA Browns and Hy-Lines, brown ones and white ones, all looking similar. Where are the colourful birds we see in old photos or paintings? 

The situation in Australia
Between 1949 and 1989 there was a total import ban in place on live poultry and on fertile eggs in Australia (imports from New Zealand were the only exception). This ban was somewhat relaxed in 1989, but importation is still so difficult and expensive that it is mainly feasible for large-scale commercial companies.
This means that traditional breeds were hit twice as hard in Australia. People had lost interest in them when commercial hybrids became available, and when they were interested again the import ban had arrived. Many traditional poultry breeds are now endangered in Australia; several of them are critically endangered. These breeds will only survive in Australia if people keep them in their backyards.

The Rare Breeds Trust of Australia is dedicated to the protection by conservation and breeding of endangered domestic farm livestock in Australia. In 2006 it published a status report that lists the breeds of poultry present in Australia. Breeds with less than 100 breeding pairs in Australia are listed as “critical”, those with less than 200 breeding pairs as “endangered”, less than 300 as “vulnerable” and those with less than 500 purebred breeding pairs as “at risk”. These breeds need the support of Australia’s backyard poultry keepers to assure their survival in Australia! 

And these are the breeds we have kept in the past:
- Minorca 
- Salmon Faverolles

- New Hampshires
- Welsummers
- Dark barred Plymouth Rocks
- Light Sussex
- Lavender Araucanas
- Rhode Island Reds
- White Leghorns
- Indian Game
- French Marans

poultry:
benefits and costs

which breeds
 to keep?

our breeds

poultry for
 meat

feeding 
chooks

fencing
for chooks
housing 
for chooks

the 
chook run

breeding and
raising chicks

building our own 
incubators

pests and
diseases

buying
chooks

 

 

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Home

Poultry & eggs for sale

Poultry info Garden 
Diary
Alphabet of Gardening Recipes Gardening 
Calender
Orchards Kitchen Garden Vegie Garden About us Contact
Resources
Disclaimer

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