2021 Poultry Census graphic


Contact: Brittany Sweeney
(919) 542-5704

Editor’s Notes: Interviews available upon request.

Pittsboro, NC, USA  [March 22, 2021] – The Livestock Conservancy is excited to launch the 2021 Poultry Census, sponsored by Murray McMurray Hatchery. This critically important project will focus on breeding populations of domestic poultry (purebred breeds or landraces), including chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. The census will enable The Livestock Conservancy to understand how poultry populations are faring in North America and guide future conservation efforts.

Many heritage breed poultry are historically significant and represent irreplaceable genetics that may be essential to the future of agriculture. Rare and traditional poultry breeds are an important option for small farms, possessing traits such as foraging, maternal ability, disease resistance, and heat- or cold-tolerance that are beneficial to small farmers and backyard hobbyists. Even as backyard poultry keeping becomes more popular, many of the less common or more challenging breeds are in real danger of extinction.

We invite anyone who manages breeding flocks, small or large, to complete the 2021 Poultry Census. The greater the participation, the more precise the picture of poultry populations in North America. Responses will remain anonymous, but you may opt to share your contact information with The Livestock Conservancy. This will help identify breeders who hold flocks of high conservation value, which are important to the long-term genetic diversity of endangered poultry breeds. A detailed summary of census results will be shared following analysis of collected data.

To participate in the 2021 Poultry Census, fill out the survey online at http://bit.ly/2021PoultryCensus.  

The last poultry census, conducted in 2015, showed an overall improvement for most poultry breeds. More than half of all poultry breeds had more than 1,000 breeding birds, making them far more secure than when last censused.

As a result of that census, Orpington and Wyandotte chickens both graduated from the Conservation Priority List. As dual-purpose birds, both breeds benefited from the popularity of small flocks for backyard egg production. Orpingtons are especially popular with families because of their gentle temperament, and Wyandottes have many appealing color varieties.

The 2015 census also showed overall success for heritage turkeys. The first census of turkeys, conducted in 1997, found fewer than 1,400 breeding heritage turkeys in the U.S. The Livestock Conservancy launched a recovery project to recruit more breeders and partnered with many organizations to develop a seasonal market for heritage turkeys as a high-quality, high-value option for the holiday table. In 2006, breeding turkey numbers rose to more than 10,000, and more than 14,500 in 2015. The population of heritage turkeys is much more stable, but conservation is still necessary.

Changes to duck numbers were especially encouraging in the 2015 census because fewer farms raise waterfowl than chickens and turkeys. In 2000, six duck breeds had fewer than 500 breeding birds, but in 2015, this fell to only two duck breeds. Although not nearly as popular as chickens, ducks continue to benefit from growing poultry rearing trends. In recent years, ducks have established a foothold in the marketplace for local meat and eggs.

Breeding numbers of geese, on the other hand, declined overall. The number of hatcheries advertising domestic ducks and geese in 2015 was about a third of what was reported in 2000, contributing to the decline. Three breeds of geese, Pilgrim, Pomeranian, and American Buff were more numerous in 2015 than in 2000. African and Chinese geese, however, while still in the Watch category, had about 50% fewer breeding birds than found in the previous census. This mixed outlook for geese warrants more attention in the 2021 census.

The Livestock Conservancy hopes to see a continuation of favorable trends with the 2021 Poultry Census. Data collected will provide the evidence base for future conservation efforts for chickens, ducks, geese and turkey breeds in the U.S. listed on the Conservation Priority List.


Why is genetic diversity important?
Like all ecological systems, agriculture depends on genetic diversity to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Genetic diversity in domestic animals is revealed in distinct breeds, each with different characteristics and uses.

Traditional, historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency – fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts and resistance to disease and parasites. As agriculture changes, this genetic diversity may be needed for a broad range of uses and opportunities. Once lost, genetic diversity is gone forever.

What Are Heritage Breeds?
Heritage breeds are livestock and poultry breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These breeds were carefully selected and bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to the local environment and they thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern agriculture.

Heritage animals once roamed America’s pastoral landscape, but today these breeds are in danger of extinction. Modern agriculture has changed, causing many of these breeds to fall out of favor. Heritage breeds store a wealth of genetic resources that are important for our future and the future of our agricultural food system.