Preserving the birds of the past: Poultry conference promotes heritage poultry breeds

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WILMOT, Ohio — Ohio’s Amish country set the scene for one of the 2015 Sustainable Poultry Network Conferences. Poultry producers met at the Amish Door in Wilmot, Ohio, Oct. 5-7 to discuss topics of breeding, flock management and challenges with raising heritage breeds.

Producers of all sizes — from the backyard enthusiast with six hens to the producers with a few hundred birds — came together from across the nation to share their success stories and challenges and to learn from industry experts.

It wouldn’t be a poultry conference without chicks. Lisa Schmidt (left) holds a Wellsummer chick and Leslee Turner holds a Black Australorp chick at the Sustainable Poultry Conference Oct. 6 in Wilmot, Ohio.
It wouldn’t be a poultry conference without chicks. Lisa Schmidt (left) holds a Wellsummer chick and Leslee Turner holds a Black Australorp chick at the Sustainable Poultry Conference Oct. 6 in Wilmot, Ohio.

Many attendees were just beginning flocks of their own and had a lot of questions about the different breeds and the basics of raising poultry.

Steve Hornyak, of Atwater, Ohio, attended the conference for the first time this year after deciding to start his own heritage flock of Buckeye chickens.

“My hens are getting ready to start laying,” said Hornyak. He came to the conference to learn how to set up his operation more efficiently and how to get the best production out of his hens.

“(The conference) is a great networking opportunity to have avenues to sell and learn,” said Hornyak.

About SPN

The Sustainable Poultry Network (also referred to as SPN-USA)  was founded by Jim Adkins, SPN-USA president, five years ago as a way to connect producers with a shared interest — raising sustainable poultry.

“We focus on the historical slow-growing breeds, the heritage breeds,” said Adkins.

These breeds include: the Rhode Island Red, Buckeye, Black Australorp, Barred Plymouth Rock, Chantecler, Cornish, Delaware, New Hampshire and Welsummer breeds.

The poultry network deems these birds to be sustainable due to their natural ability to reproduce, be genetically maintained, and grow at a slower rate on outdoor pasture. The poultry network believes the slow growth rate in these birds promotes strength in bone structure and overall immune system, as well as a more flavorful meat product.

“We are feeding the future with the birds from the past,” Adkins said.

Certification

SPN-USA offers a flock certification for breeders who breed quality birds and work to preserve the heritage breeds. Breeders work with mentors or a certified SPN Coach to determine what genetics are best for their flocks.

Culling and selection are key when it comes to selecting the best genetic lines for the birds. In turn, the best genetics will help producers improve the quality of their egg and meat production.

Once a breeder receives certification, he is inspected annually. (Full certification  guidelines can be found at spnusa.com.)

Avian influenza

Adkins said, to date, the avian influenza strains that broke out have not impacted any SPN member flocks. “We work really hard to breed our birds with strong immune systems,” he added.

However, Adkins and his fellow producers are not relying solely on this testament to strong genetics. The poultry network advises producers to take precautions such as keeping clothing and supplies clean at all times, reducing any possible contact between flocks and limiting introducing new birds onto the farm for the rest of the year.

The poultry network also advising keeping chickens in environments that create the least stress possible.

Heritage dinner

Producers came together around the dinner tables at Wholesome Valley Farms, in Wilmot Oct. 6, to share a meal prepared from heritage breeds of poultry.

Awards were given to top producers and most improved producers within the network. Among those receiving their flock certifications were Mark Reed, a producer from Walhonding, Ohio, and Shelly Oswald of Stoneboro, Pennsylvania.

The meal was not only a time to sample the poultry, but an opportunity to network with fellow producers at the table. “The reason we are all here today is to talk to each other and learn from each other,” said Adkins.

International influence

Georges Tenny Ngu made his first trip to America from Cameroon, Africa, to attend the poultry conference.

Georges explained 70 percent of the birds that make up his home country are indigenous species and have low productivity for farmers in Cameroon.

Working with a cooperative in his home country, Georges has already had 6,500 Cornish crosses — with plans for 7,000 more — delivered to his home country from America so that they may study the genetics.

“We think we can start something using our own indigenous breeds,” said Georges, who plans to selectively breed the indigenous birds with the Cornish crosses.

“We will see how we can do some upgrading,” he said. “We want to give our farmers good layers to raise.”

Adkins and SPN is planning a trip to Cameroon in November to help look at the current resources and genetics. Georges has hopes of starting a branch of the Sustainable Poultry Network in Cameroon.

A second conference will be held in Petaluma, California, Oct. 26-28.

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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture. Formerly a reporter for the Farm and Dairy, Catie is now pursuing her master's degree in education.

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