The Poultry Resource Centre at the University of Alberta is launching a unique program on Thursday in hopes of deferring the costs of preserving heritage chicken breeds.

"You can adopt a hen for $75 and you’ll get a dozen eggs every 14 days," said Martin Zuidhof, associate professor of poultry systems and academic leader at the Poultry Research Centre.

"What you’re doing is just helping us preserve these lines."

Zuidhof says the breeds  — Barred Plymouth Rock, Brown Leghorn, New Hampshire, White Leghorn and Light Sussex — were commonly seen on farms 50 to 100 years ago.

He says it’s important to preserve the genetic traits that have been lost through commercial production, which breeds birds that need a lot less feed to grow.

"[The heritage breeds] are more likely to have genes for a stronger innate immune response," he said.

"So if an emerging disease came along that wiped out a commercial line, we would have the genes conserved here that could be used to re-generate new commercial lines."

It costs the centre $75,000 each year to care for the 1,500 birds. Zuidoff says university cutbacks may put the program in jeopardy.

"To help us continue our program we need public support because we’re in danger of having to get rid of the program for economics, which would be a tragedy."

Two hundred people have already signed up to adopt chickens. An expanded program will be launched in the fall.

Zuidof says that people who adopt a hen get to select a name.