The German lines of New Hampshire chickens have a fascinating history. At the turn of the 20th century, poultry raisers in New Hampshire had begun focusing their efforts on creating a true dual-purpose breed. Recognizing the value and quality of many Rhode Island Reds, they also felt there was a lack of focus on true production. To that end, they began to select specific strains of Rhode Island Reds (“RIR”) for early feathering, egg production, rapid maturity, and good conformation of meat. While many RIR growers were looking for dark mahogany coloring, the New Hampshire strains were lighter in color, with less of the traditional “brick shape” and more toward a triangular appearance. Mother Earth News has a nice article on the breed.
During WWII, red meat shortages in the US gave the poultry industry a big boost. At a time when poultry was focused more on eggs, suddenly households around the country were cooking and barbecuing chicken instead of beef. As the war wound down, the poultry industry could see the writing on the wall. The result? The “Chicken of Tomorrow” contests of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s (click on the link for a period movie on the contest). This was the beginning of the modern broiler industry, a competition to create the top meat production chicken. The New Hampshire x Red Cornish cross was the winner of the first contest. It is interesting to note that the beginning of poultry’s rise to prominence in America also marked the beginning of the decline of the heritage breeds in our food system. It was here that the industrial market realized the value of hybrid-vigor. Follow this link to a discussion of the contest (among other interesting history) and its resulting focus on cross-breeds.
But what about the New Hampshires? Well, as the American lines were slowly assimilated into other breeds and cross-breeds, some miraculously escaped this fate. How? Again we have to go back to WWII. During the war, the German countryside was decimated as a result of a hungry army needing to fuel its soldiers. Chickens were virtually eliminated, either because they were eaten by soldiers and families, or reportedly because they were from the Allied countries (like Sussex and Orpingtons from England) and were destroyed by Hitler’s decree. Apparently as a good will effort, American poultry was exported to Germany to help support the rebuilding of the country. As the Chicken of Tomorrow contest was going on in the States, American New Hampshires were being exported to Germany. These birds survived for decades outside of the industrial market, raised for their beauty and their production.
In recent years, the German line of New Hampshires has been imported back to their homeland. These birds are absolutely beautiful, a combination of both looks and utility. They are listed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste for their unique contribution to our heritage food. We have been fortunate enough to attain some of these genetic treasures. Not only are these birds outstanding in and of themselves, but they are also the key to improving the German Bielefelders currently offered from select importers. The Bielefelder is part New Hampshire, part Welsummer, and part Rhode Island Red. We will have a limited number of Bielefelder pairs available in April, and possibly RIR’s as well.
German New Hampshire from Sunset Meadow Farm
ALBC’s info on the New Hampshire
Great article from our friends at Scratch Cradle
Slow Food’s Ark of Taste listing