Native breeds depend on human care, they are after all domesticated animals, however, the degree of dependence varies greatly and this plays an important part in selecting a breed. Poultry breeds that have been specifically developed for exhibition such as the Sebright, Rosecomb and even the Orpington to some degree require greater care than independent farmyard breeds such as the Redcap, Old English Pheasant Fowl and Old English Game. Often, confined and isolated rearing is necessary to ensure they remain in prime condition to achieve the high standards expected of these breeds for showing. Orpington’s for example are docile and slow natured, making them easy prey, so a secure pen is essential. They are also prone to lice and scaly leg mite meaning that they may require treatment more often. The Old English Pheasant Fowl on the other hand is one of few breeds that rarely if ever suffer from leg mites even in poorly maintained environments and their tighter, less profuse feathering and active habit is less enticing to lice. Their alert and flighty nature when roaming free also prevents their predation. Old English Pheasant Fowl are not popular like the Orpington which is large, fluffy and easily-handled, traits that persistently take priority with many keepers. The Orpington also has excellent brooding instincts a fact that has been fostered and exploited by many hobbyists. However, in the case of both the Redcap and the Old English Pheasant Fowl the lack of, but not total absence of brooding instinct may speculatively be a result of fox predation on brooding hens in centuries past when they received minimal care while roaming farms and homesteads in northern England. Therefore, through natural selection the brooding instinct has been largely lost from those breeds.
Orpington’s on the other hand have been protected by the invention and availability of chicken mesh which was being utilised before the breed’s creation and would have been used by hobbyists or farmers for keeping exhibition stock safe and for commercial poultry farms that were increasing in size and requiring secure pens for the large often docile breeds then being used for egg and meat production. The Orpington being originally created for commercial purposes but quickly developed for exhibiting has always received a greater deal of care and publicity.
Similar comparisons can be made between sheep breeds. Longwool and Down breeds for example require shearing and dagging to prevent maggots and to remove the fleece before the heat of summer. They may also require more regular hoof care. They are highly prolific mothers, meaty and produce high quality and abundant wool. Primitive sheep breeds however, still retain some degree of natural moulting are more resistant to parasites and extreme weather and can survive on a minimal diet, even with some degree of starvation. The cost is that they are far less productive both in meat and wool but also in the number of lambs born. Primitive breeds can also be difficult to shepherd and are difficult to catch, although usually easier to handle once caught. Despite their lower productivity their hardy and independent nature still has value for the home farmer requiring only enough lamb or craft wool for their own purposes at minimal care and cost. Whether primitive sheep and goats can be left to roam semi-feral without daily attention is debatable, certainly though, due to their naturally independent nature it is only right for nature to have a greater say, so to speak, in their selection. It is important to utilise breeds suitable to your environment and desired level of care. The level of care given to a breed should be the same as the type of care that the breed has evolved or been selected for. For example, compassion at lambing time and the manual feeding of a man made diet with confined rearing on lush lowland pasture with winter housing may prove to be detrimental to the continued hardiness of primitive breeds which are accustomed to an independent lifestyle on rough grazing on exposed sites. Likewise, grazing Down sheep on poor, wind-swept pasture on high ground would be detrimental to their wellbeing. Old English Game domestic fowl likewise are un-suitable for keeping in small pens with access to children due to their flighty and aggressive nature and Modern Game, a popular, tall and fancy exhibition breed of poultry may fare poorly on an exposed open field.
To fulfil your needs most efficiently and for both your well being and the welfare of the chosen breed it is important to research and carefully select your breed. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from.
Remember to take responsibility for their needs, you may desire a highly productive breed but the likelihood is their care requirements may be subtly more demanding.