Poultry Breeds

Roosters of some heritage breeds that were popular on Saskatchewan farms until the 1950s. Left to right: White Wyandotte, Barred Plymouth Rock, Light Sussex, White Jersey Giant.
University of Saskatchewan Archives , R.D. Crawford Fonds, MG 132, FILE C.26.9

The term “poultry” includes all bird species that reproduce freely under man's care. Saskatchewan has them all. Predominant are chickens and turkeys. There are hundreds of poultry breeds, such as Plymouth Rock and Leghorn, distinguished by outline or silhouette, and there are many hundreds of varieties within breeds, such as Barred Plymouth Rock and Single Comb White Leghorn, distinguished by feather colours and patterns and by head adornments. The leading academic reference book is Crawford's Poultry Breeding and Genetics (1990).

Poultry breeds in Saskatchewan can be divided into three categories. Fancy poultry, bred for perfection of feather and form, are kept and exhibited by hobbyists. Little attention is paid to production (eggs and meat) performance. A Canadian monthly publication, Feather Fancier, provides news and information, and sources of breeding stock, books, and equipment for hobbyists.

Heritage breeds were used in the past for food production but they have been discarded now by the commercial poultry industry. Light Sussex, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Brown Leghorn chickens, and Bronze turkeys are examples. A national organization, Rare Breeds Canada, provides communication and coordination of activity for conservationists who want to maintain these old breeds.

The commercial poultry industry provides eggs and meat for consumers. Only a few breeds and varieties are utilized - White Leghorns for eggs, White Plymouth Rocks and White Cornish for broiler chicken meat, and white turkeys for meat. They are bred by multinational corporations using sophisticated breeding and selection procedures. Their production stocks are distributed throughout the world. All of our eggs and poultry meat come from these production stocks although none of them are bred in Saskatchewan.

R.D. Crawford

Further Reading

Crawford, R.D. (ed.). 1990. Poultry Breeding and Genetics. Amsterdam: Elsevier.