Why keep a rare breed?

Quite simply, rare breeds will not survive without people prepared to keep them - some of our rarest breeds have only survived because just one or two people have kept them. The variety of rare breeds means that there is likely to be one that is suitable whatever your environment and circumstances. There are breeds suited for free-ranging in a field and perching in trees at night right through to ones you can show off with or are conversation starters because of their unique characteristics.

Why is it important to breed rare breeds?

Many breeds were either created for a specific trait or are behind the more modern popular breeds or original hybrids that provide our food today. With evolving diseases and the need to adapt to environmental changes, the genetic diversity represented by these breeds could be vital in the future. By breeding, you are keeping a living heritage going. Check out what we do for the UK's poultry breeds.

Where to start

There are several ways, but RBST recommends you contact either the Poultry Club of Great Britain or the Rare Poultry Society (RPS). Either will put you in touch with the relevant breed club (if there is one) or the RPS breed registrar. If it is a breed without a breed registrar, they will try to put you in touch with breeders. 

If you want to start with live birds, be prepared to travel or to arrange a courier. For some breeds there will be a waiting list for stock. Otherwise, think about getting hatching eggs. Be aware though that while there are some reputable breeders selling eggs online, there are issues with eggs being sold that are not as advertised. Ideally it is best to obtain eggs from a source that you can go back to for advice should you need it. 

If you start with hatching eggs, or are planning to breed, you do need to consider what you will do will the excess cockerels. It can be difficult to keep multiple mature cockerels due to both noise and potential fighting. Only the very best should be retained for breeding and it can be difficult to sell any but the best. However, many breeds will make a good meal if you are able to humanely dispatch them.

How to start breeding

This will vary between breeds. For some, you need to “double pen”, with one pen for breeding males and one for breeding females. With others, you need a knowledge of breed genetics to reproduce certain characteristics such as colour. However, most are more straightforward. The best general advice is to join the relevant breed club as they will normally be happy to encourage people to get started, and help you to understand what you need to look for when choosing breeding stock.

The general advice is that you should breed a couple of generations in order to understand the genetic makeup of the birds you are starting with. Then, if you only have space for one breeding pen you can swap out the cock bird to bring in new blood. If you have space, the ideal is to have three pens – one for your stock you are breeding, one for the new stock you are looking to introduce and the third for test matings between the two lines before you commit to folding the new line into your existing stock. Birds are more resilient to inbreeding depression than mammals, so with careful selection you are able to breed a couple of generations of related stock before introducing new blood.

Finally, you should consider whether you should breed. If you have the space, and can deal with the excess males responsibly, then yes. This is how these rare breeds will survive.

Choosing your chickens

Basic health care

Feeding and watering

Housing your chickens

Rules and regs