Credit: Courtesy of ALBC

Heritage breed chickens are increasingly popular among poultry hobbyists, small farmers, and the homesteader-wanna-be. Each is unique and will bring its individual strengths and weaknesses to your flock.

How in the world can you choose? Raising chickens is not difficult but you will want to have a type that thrives in your environment. Here are some heritage breeds that you may want to consider.

ALBC Heritage Breed Poultry

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has identified a number of breeds of chickens that are in danger of extinction. If you are planning a backyard flock consider these breeds first.

Australorp

The Australorp are an Australian breed that is similar to the Orpington. While it is a heritage breed it is not currently in danger of extinction. This is a gentle, dual purpose breed that is well known for its egg laying abilities.

Characteristics:

- Brown eggs, averages five a week

- Eggs tend to be large

- Seven to eight pounds

- Winter hardy

- Broods easily

- Breed is recovering

Barred Plymouth Rock

The Barred Plymouth Rock was developed from the Plymouth Rock variety of chickens. The Barred Plymouth Rock is one of the most common of this variety. It is a heritage breed that is not in danger of extinction.

Characteristics:

- Handles cold

- Brown eggs

- Lays about four a week

- Wide breasted

- Usually docile

- Forage well

- Seven to eight pounds

- Breed is recovering

Buckeye

The Buckeye is the only known breed developed by a woman. They were developed in 1896. The Buckeye looks similar to a Rhode Island Red, and they do share some common history, however there are several differences as well.

Characteristics:

- Dual purpose

- Meaty thigh

- Large breast area

- Brown eggs

- Friendly

- Unafraid of people

- Males can be aggressive

- Are good for controlling mice, comparable to a cat

- Tolerates cold

- Tolerates hot, dry conditions

- Good forager

- Six to nine pounds at maturity

- Tend not to be broody

- Critical list, in danger of extinction

Cubalaya

The Cubalaya is a beautiful dual purpose chicken that is popular in Cuba but thought to have developed in the Philippines. It has long, silky feathers and is often used as a purely ornamental breed. It should be noted that the meat has a delicate flavor and the egg laying capabilities are similar to other dual purpose breeds. This breed is considered rare in the United States.

Characteristics:

- Six to seven pounds

- Cream or tinted eggs

- Lays four medium eggs a week

- Can be aggressive

- Tolerates some cold

- Will brood

- Breed is on the threatened list

Delaware

The Delaware chickens were developed during the 1940s. Originally they were called "Indian River" chickens. This breed was developed from Barred Rock and New Hampshire chickens and were popular as broiler chickens because of the white feathering. White chicken feathers leave the skin looking white after the bird is plucked. This is much more attractive than some of the dark feathered breeds which can have dark spots.

Characteristics:

- Calm and friendly

- Dual purpose - Grow fast - Reach six to eight large brown eggs - Brood easily - Tolerant of cold - Critical list, in danger of extinction Dorking The Dorking is a dual purpose breed, excellent for producing both meat and eggs. It is believed to have been developed in England, having been brought there from Sicily by the Romans. Because of this it may be one of the oldest breeds of chickens still in use. Characteristics: - Do not tolerate extreme cold - Docile - White eggs - White skin - Lay about 3 eggs/week - Shy - Seven to eight pounds - Will brood - Breed is on the threatened list Sussex The Sussex is not very well known in the United States; however it is one of the best dual purpose breeds. It is one of the oldest breeds still available and was bred well over a hundred years ago. The chickens come in eight colors, from black and red to silver and white. Characteristics: - Cream to brown eggs - Prolific egg layers, four to five a week - Will brood - Mature quickly - Seven to nine pounds - Docile - Good foragers - Breed is on the threatened list [h2]Raising Heritage Breeds[/h2] Raising heritage breeds is a satisfying way to ensure that the animal breeds that have been bred for generations will continue to flourish. These breeds often have unique characteristics and have not been hybridized to the point that they cannot even breed without human help. The unique flavors of the meat, the variety of egg colors, and the hardiness of these breeds are the reason that they were so popular on the small, family farms of yesteryear and continue to be popular on homesteads today. You can find more rare breeds at the American Livestock Conservancy website.