The Finnish Landrace Chicken breed has its origins in several local landrace chicken populations that existed in Finland before commercial egg production became the norm. Large-scale egg production resulted in the introduction of new breeds and hybrids which almost totally replaced the native breed. Fortunately, a few isolated local populations of the Finnish Landrace Chicken still remained in remote villages.
Photo taken by Marjatta Sihvonen.
First conservation actions were taken already in the 1960s when the ‘Kiuruvesi’ population or lineage was rescued. The conservation programme, established in 1998, maintains a total of 12 different landrace lineages. The uniqueness of each discovered flock has been evaluated according to their known history and phenotypic characteristics. Instead of having a centralized living gene bank, the Finnish conservation programme is completely based on the involvement of the public: the conservation programme is based on a voluntary network of more than 350 hobby breeders, and is coordinated by Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). The programme is continuously open for new enthusiastic breeders of this endangered native breed. The conservation programme aims at maintaining genetic and phenotypic diversity and breed purity of the Finnish Landrace Chicken. Breeders joining the conservation programme sign an agreement with the coordinator agreeing to follow the rules of the programme. Breeders submit an annual report to the coordinator including information on the number of breeding females and males at the end of a year, the brooding success, phenotypic traits of birds and eggs, and sale of chicks and adult birds to other Landrace Chicken breeders. The coordinator is responsible for maintaining the database, communication and information gathering. Annual meetings, courses and consultations are also provided by the coordinator. A four-member advisory group supports the coordination work and provides practical expertise to the network members. Information on program activities are available on the website of the national genetic resource programme and on Facebook . Poultry farming organizations such as The Finnish Poultry Association and Finnish Food Safety Authority-EVIRA, contribute knowledge to the conservation programme. When the conservation programme for the Finnish Landrace Chicken was established the breed was endangered due to cross-breeding with exotic chicken breeds. Currently the hobby breeders in the network have more than 5000 Finnish Landrace hens and breeding roosters. The modern trend to have “city chickens” in urban areas has increased the popularity of the Landrace Chicken. The lineages maintained by the network members are kept separate to prevent crossing. The genetic diversity of the lines and relationships among them are currently being investigated using whole-genome SNP-marker analysis. The study should provide new information for an appropriate conservation strategy, possibly including the exchange of genetic material between some closely related lines. Recently, a BSc thesis summarized experiences, opinions and future needs of breeders in the Landrace Chicken network. Great enthusiasm was observed amongst the network members. The appreciation of the native breed as a valuable genetic resource, and an important part of cultural history is one of the main driving forces amongst the breeders. The conservation program is regarded valuable; it provides possibilities to connect with people sharing the same values, offers group support, facilitates the exchange of breeding material, and provides beneficial education. Breeders also suggested several improvements, including more active communication from the coordinators, and improving the traceability of breeding material. Moreover, network members requested more education, as understanding the regulations and rules would strengthen the commitment towards the conservation programme. A high level of commitment is essential for such a network-based conservation programme. Although open for new enthusiastic breeders, a conservation network has to evaluate the possible trade-off between the expansion of the group and the level of commitment of the members. It is encouraging that the current Finnish Landrace Chicken conservation network is mostly joined by young people! The Finnish Landrace Chicken conservation programme has demonstrated the success of a decentralized living gene bank. Involvement of the public in the conservation work has saved the endangered Finnish Landrace Chicken through the most natural way: active use of this valuable breed.