What breed is that chicken?

We cannot say that any chicken is "purebred."

Tracking chicken parentage is too logistically difficult to be practical generally.
  • It can be very hard to know which egg came from which mating, to keep track of an individual egg in an incubator or under a hen (especially a hen brooding "adopted" eggs), to tell chicks apart, etc. It is possible to segregate breeding pairs, and then specially mark eggs and chicks, but few people want to take on such involved processes.
  • Also, chickens can each have a large number of offspring & a fairly high percent may die in embryo or while still chicks, so it can be overwhelming trying to keep records of each.

There are no "breed registries" for chickens.
  • There is no way to "prove" a bird's ancestry. Unlike for dogs or horses, there are no organizations that store certified pedigrees for chickens.

Fanciers of specific types of chickens often breed "outside" birds into main lines.
  • Frequently, if an exhibition-quality breeder finds a bird of a different breed that they think will improve characteristics in their main breed line, that person will cross in the "outside" bird, and then carefully choose how to breed the offspring.
  • Until genetics sufficiently re-stabilize after the cross (which might take a few generations), it may be that only some of the offspring will qualify as being the main breed of chicken. However, this careful cross-breeding will result in many descendants that are classed as the original main breed, though none are purebred.

A chicken's individual characteristics -- not its ancestors -- officially determine its breed.

 A chicken or waterfowl is officially classified as a certain breed ONLY by examining whether it matches a standardized description.
  • The American Poultry Association (APA) and American Bantam Association (ABA) are the main official breed-determining organizations in the U.S. They maintain "Standard of Perfection" books that list the required characteristics for each breed that they oversee. There are other smaller breed-specific organizations that also create their own "Standard" descriptions. If an individual bird fits a Standard breed description, the bird qualifies as that breed within the organization's authority, whether the bird's parents did or not.
  • "Official" breed classification is only really important if you are showing birds, selling birds as definitely being a particular breed, claiming birds are "true" or "show-quality" members of a breed, or trying to help preserve a particular breed by sustaining a correct breeding pool.

Official breed requirements include specific coloring.
  • Each recognized breed description includes one or more "varieties" of that breed. The "variety" subcategories include genetically consistent color patterns.
  • Even if a particular bird's other characteristics match a breed description, if its coloring (feathers, skin, beak, eyes, feet and leg shanks) does not sufficiently match a single one of the "Standard" listed varieties, the chicken does not qualify as a member of that breed.
    • Exception — Varieties under development:  Birds with intergenerationally consistent color patterns may be bred to develop new varieties. Such birds may be entered in shows as follows:
      • At APA and ABA shows, these birds should be called "[Color Pattern] [Breed]". Officially, they should be judged only against other birds of the same color pattern and breed. They cannot be named Best or Reserve of Breed, Class or Show.
        • Caution: At these shows, judges may be less accepting of or even disqualify a non-recognized color pattern, particularly if is not commonly known to consistently breed intergenerationally true to color, nor to be under development by several breeders for official recognition.
      • At breed club shows and fairs, these birds are often entered as "AOV" (All Other Varieties), and described as "AOV [Color Pattern] [Breed]", "AOV [Breed]", or "[Color Pattern] [Breed]". Often all birds of a single breed that have unrecognized color patterns are judged within a single variety grouping called "AOV [Breed]", though rules differ. A number of shows allow such birds to also be considered for Best or Reserve of Breed. It is less likely the birds may also be considered for Best or Reserve of Class or Show.

Appropriate genetic crossing is needed for reliable breed production.
  • Even if a rooster and a hen both meet Standard requirements, if their genes are not fully harmonious, they will produce "wildcard" chicks.  (ie. It won't be predictable for their chicks to fit the qualifications for a particular breed.)
    • If the parents are from two different color varieties of a breed, they are likely to have some or all chicks that don't meet the breed's standard. Those chicks would be disqualified at official poultry shows.
      • Exception — Color patterns involving diluter Blue: Some color pattern groups have three versions—a "Black", a diluter "Blue" (not Self-Blue/Lavender), and a "Splash" (which has a base of white, marked with "splashes" of this same color pattern). These versions can be crossed (ONLY WITHIN THAT SAME COLOR PATTERN GROUP) to produce chicks that will reliably fit into the three versions of that group. (See "Colour Genetics of Blue Birds"and "Blue Marans Varieties".)
        • Example color patterns that may inter-breed versions involving diluter "Blue" genes:
          • Black:  Black, Blue, & Splash (which is actually a Splash of Black/Blue)
          • Wheaten:  Wheaten, Blue Wheaten (not plain Blue), & Splash Wheaten
        • Note: Some breeds may have officially recognized varieties for the "Black" and "Blue" versions, but not the "Splash" version of a particular color pattern group. In that case, a "Splash" bird may be used just for breeding or possibly shown as a variety under development.
    • An example of a type of crossing quite likely to result in many breed-qualified chicks would be a "bantam" (miniature-size) chicken crossed with a small "large fowl" chicken (sometimes confusingly called a "standard chicken") of the same breed & variety.
    • Chicks from parents with compatible genetics that are likely to produce offspring that meets "Standard of Perfection" requirements are more correctly called "Standard-bred chicks", rather than "purebred chicks."
    General breed classification varies between people.
    • Outside of official standards, different people have different ideas of how certain breeds look. They will class a bird as a member of a particular breed if its or its parents' characteristics match their impression of that breed.
    • This works comfortably as long as people claim birds to be "true" or "show-quality" chickens of a particular breed ONLY if they meet the Standard requirements published by the appropriate poultry organization. Otherwise, buyers become defrauded when their purchased birds are disqualified at official poultry shows, and also when future chicks from the birds are turned down by informed future customers.
      • Possible alternate descriptions that could be used for some non-Standard birds could be "quality", "traditional", or "classic-type".
      • A possible ethical description for "wildcard" chicks might be: "Chicks are from true [Variety] & [Variety] matings of true [Breed] parents. Chicks will mostly have general breed characteristics, though some will not meet every official requirement."
    • Official poultry show judges become certified by passing tests about appropriate breed Standards. However, it is not uncommon for a judge to make a mistake and miscategorize a bird, or overlook characteristics that officially should disqualify a bird, Some birds that are often mistaken by judges are those entered as Ameraucanas, and birds whose coloring does not completely match a particular variety's.
      • At some county fairs or in some youth classes, judges may also be knowingly lenient about Standard guidelines.