Heirloom Poultry: Cash and Genetic Conservation
The commercial poultry industry has refined poultry breeds to focus only on maximizing meat and egg production, which has lowered genetic diversity and animal durability but increased production inputs.
Objective: To assess the competitiveness of heirloom varieties of chickens and turkeys as compared with hybrid, commercial varieties in growth and thrivability on pasture, and customer preference.
The producer pasture-raised and marketed 500 Buff Orpington heirloom chickens alongside 500 Cornish X control chickens, as well as 100 Bourben Red heirloom turkeys with 100 commercial Broad-breasted White control turkeys. The free-range cages are moved every two to four weeks.
Results: Growth rates for heirloom breeds were slower than commercial, and most sales were conducted at farmers markets. The project is extended to analyze data on rate of gain, thrivability, marketability and customer taste preference.