A Clarification about Selective Breeding

black australorp roosterI think it’s important to clarify something about selective breeding because it has, to some degree, gotten a bad rap.

Some people take issue with selective breeding because it is an approach that has enabled breeders to produce factory-raised broiler chickens with unnaturally high growth rates and finished size—chickens that can even have difficulty supporting their own weight. It’s important to understand that this isn’t the only use of (or misuse, as some might say) of selective breeding.

Selective breeding is a tool or an approach. Like all tools, it can be used for a wide range of purposes to accomplish very different goals. I can use a carving knife to carve a sparrow or a frog—two totally different animals. Similarly, selective breeding can be used to produce birds suitable for small-scale food production, as it has historically, or chickens for large-scale, industrial food production. The tool is similar, but the end result is vastly different. And the methods and approach used to raise the chickens and the type of care involved also differ greatly.

On this website, we’re talking about breeding and raising chickens that fit well into home-based or small-farm-based food production models. Chickens that work well for small-scale food production. So the purpose and goals we have in mind for selective breeding are vastly different from those of an industrial breeder, and the types of chickens we produce are also quite different.

One important point, which I’ll discuss more in other articles, is that we need to consider the overall health of the bird and its ability to survive and thrive in our climate, on our farm or homestead, under our management style. I’m very interested in improving my pasture and garden and building soil fertility where I’m growing fruit trees. So part of my management style is to move my chickens around in portable shelters where they can both forage and drop manure directly on parts of the homestead that can benefit from it the most. This forms one aspect of my management style, and I want to raise and adapt chickens that will thrive in this type of environment. To a lesser degree, I make some use of free-ranging, partly to reduce cost and control bugs, so I want chickens that are good foragers, among other things. These types of traits are related to the overall health of the chicken.

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