Pittsboro, NC, USA [October 12, 2016] – “How many chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys are there in North America?” This question has prompted one national nonprofit to conduct a year-long study to determine how many birds of each breed exist, and rank those at the bottom of the list in order of endangerment. There are over fifty endangered chicken breeds, as well as nearly three dozen types of ducks, geese, and turkeys currently threatened with extinction in the United States alone, according to The Livestock Conservancy, an organization dedicated to saving endangered farm animals from extinction.
Livestock and poultry were once as diverse as the landscapes where they lived – each uniquely adapted to its local environment and the needs of the people in that region. Most of today’s birds are bred for a very specific type of production agriculture. Modern commercial poultry breeds reach Thanksgiving dinner-size quickly and lay a large number of eggs with minimal inputs. But now the older “heritage breeds” that have been raised for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years, are becoming as rare as farmers themselves. What’s the point in keeping these older breeds around if they’re less productive? “Because maintaining biodiversity plays the most important role in protecting our food supply.” Says Dr. Alison Martin, Executive Director of The Livestock Conservancy. She explains that heritage breeds retain many traits, such as disease resistance, regional adaptation, and foraging and mothering instincts that help farm animals remain resilient against various environmental factors. “Plus, they’re fun to look at, of course.”
Getting a chicken to fill out a census form was not an option, so The Livestock Conservancy set out to count birds by reaching out to farmers, hobbyists, universities, hatcheries, and anyone else who may be breeding poultry and waterfowl. “We used our relationships with partners like Murray McMurray Hatchery, who funded the project, and were able to reach over four million poultry enthusiasts,” said Jeannette Beranger, Senior Program Manager. “This census is the most comprehensive study of the poultry population ever conducted in America, and probably in the world.”
Although the census found nearly ninety breeds of birds still at risk, there are some bright spots. Two chicken breeds, the Orpington and the Wyandotte, have successfully graduated from the endangered list after spending 12 and 28 years on it respectively. Overall, 26% of breeds were more numerous than in the previous census, conducted over a decade ago, and 7% declined. Heritage turkeys fared exceptionally well, with an increase in the breeding population of over 1,000% since they were first counted in 1997. Heritage ducks saw a less dramatic, but still significant increase in numbers, while results for geese were mixed.
The 2015 poultry census information is publicly available on The Livestock Conservancy’s website and they intend to use the data collected as the base for poultry conservation priorities over the next ten years. To read the full report from the North American Poultry Census and to learn how you can get involved with conservation, click on the following link.
If you know of others who breed old landrace & large fowl standard bred poultry, please forward the link to this page to them and share the census results with any poultry networks you are associated with.