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Chicken keepers can purchase chicks from flocks certified as meeting American Poultry Association Standards from Murray McMurray Hatchery next year.
“This certification validates our breeder flock practices,” said McMurray Hatchery Vice President Tom Watkins. “We are trying to highlight conservation and support the APA.”
Chicks from flocks certified as meeting the APA Standard will be available starting November 1, 2021. Five of Murray McMurray Hatchery’s breeds are already certified, with five more anticipated in the 2022 season.
“This is a great opportunity for people to purchase standard-breed birds to start their own home flocks for meat and eggs,” said Stephen Blash, chair of the APA’s Flock Inspection Committee.
The hatchery catalog will include information on the APA and its role in breed conservation. At the height of the hatching season, McMurray hatches 150,000 chicks a week.
“We are in business to sell chicks, but we are always working behind the scenes to preserve the heritage qualities of those breeds,” said Marketing Director Ginger Stevenson.
Flock Inspection Program
Inspecting and certifying flocks was one of the APA’s roles in the past. About 50 years ago, as poultry-raising shifted from pre-World War II integrated farms to post-war industrial flocks, meeting the APA Standard became less significant. Consumers lost interest, and hybrid cross broilers came to dominate the market.
At the turn of the 21st century, backyard poultry became popular. Suburban and even urban dwellers began keeping small flocks of chickens — for eggs, as pets, and because chickens are fun. Interest in breeds followed.
That was how I learned about chicken breeds, by starting with some chicks for my daughter. They soon grew into Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, and others. The only references I could find to chicken keeping in 1988 were about commercial raising. That taught me the next lesson: that if you are looking for a book and can’t find one, that means you have to write it. The first edition of How to Raise Chickens was published in 2007.
Backyard Poultry magazine launched in 2006, to overwhelming demand. The Livestock Conservancy responded to the increased interest with its Poultry Census and updating its Conservation Priority List. Participate in the 2021 census, sponsored by McMurray Hatchery, online at http://bit.ly/2021PoultryCensus.
In 2019, the APA revived the Flock Inspection program, but few poultry keepers registered. The program allows flocks that meet APA Standards to sell products with the APA’s imprimatur, giving their eggs and meat an advantage. But producers didn’t feel the need for more marketing leverage. Their customers were already buying out everything they could produce.
The APA formed a Flock Inspection Committee to encourage interest in the program. The partnership with McMurray Hatchery was a natural next step. McMurray Hatchery’s customer base spans the entire U.S., Canada, and other countries. It’s one of the oldest and best-known hatcheries. A partnership with them was an excellent way to educate a wide audience about the APA Standards and the Flock Inspection program.
“We jumped at the chance to show that we have really quality stock,” Watkins said.
The hatchery can use the APA logo and the prestige it carries to market its birds. McMurray Hatchery will feature the breeds that have been certified in their upcoming 2022 catalog and on their website.
Products and exhibition
That original Standard was written to improve the quality, uniformity, and marketability of poultry flocks. Over the years, its emphasis changed to focus on poultry exhibitions. Utility became an afterthought, although the Standard still lists Economic Qualities in its breed descriptions.
“Standard” is the operant word, meaning breeds that have been documented and officially recognized. Heritage, historical, traditional, antique, heirloom, and other words are descriptive, but their meanings vary slightly and can be stretched and distorted to cover anything. “Standard” is a word with a defined meaning.
Certification assures the purchaser that the product they are buying meets the APA Standard. That can increase the value of products, as knowledgeable consumers are willing to pay more for better quality.
“We believe breeds should meet both type and function when it comes to the Standard. This is important to us, that breeds meet the function and vigor that the breed was developed for, as well as type and conformation,” said Ms. Stevenson. “We are partnering with the APA to bring awareness to the Standards, to highlight some of our stand-out breeds, and to show the quality of poultry we produce.”
How to get certified
The APA sent experienced judges Bart Pals and Art Rieber to inspect the hatchery’s breeding flocks. They concluded that the White Langshan, White Polish, Partridge Plymouth Rock, Buff Plymouth Rock, and Silver Penciled Plymouth Rock would be certified.
“They agreed that our stock is of breeder quality,” said Watkins. “Some poultry aficionados have snubbed us in the past.”
Hatchery stock is often considered inferior to that of APA breeders. Watkins welcomes the opportunity to assure customers that McMurray Hatchery birds meet the APA’s Standard.
“Our goal is to upend the term ‘hatchery quality’ and make it a positive,” said Ms. Stevenson.
“The APA is very excited to finally certify some of McMurray Hatchery’s flocks,” Blash said. “We look forward to working with them on other breeds and varieties so that they too may become a foundation stock for many of the Standard-bred poultry varieties for years to come.”
Not every chicken with a Standard name will make a good, productive flock. Birds bred for exhibition may have lost productivity. Chickens are more than pretty feathers. Each breed’s genetic profile is unique. Conserving a breed means keeping those traits strong. The APA and its Standard show breeders what to aim for in breeding their flocks.
Backyard chicken keepers are a gateway to chicken exhibition and breeding.
“For the new chicken people out there, it’s a natural progression, where it becomes more than a hobby,” said Watkins. “First, they want chickens to lay some eggs, teach some lessons to the kids. Then as you like individual breeds more, you really want to give them an opportunity to continue on. They become conservators of these breeds. It’s not just economic qualities, but diversity in chickens, that needs to be cared for.”
Originally published in the August/September 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.
White Polish in featured image: Photo by Beth Gagnon courtesy of McMurray Hatchery