What are Heritage Breeds?
According to The Livestock Conservancy:
Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These breeds were carefully selected and bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to the local environment and they thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern agriculture.
Traditional, historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency – fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts, ability to mate naturally, and resistance to diseases and parasites.
Heritage animals once roamed the pastures of America’s pastoral landscape, but today these breeds are in danger of extinction. Modern agriculture has changed, causing many of these breeds to fall out of favor. Heritage breeds store a wealth of genetic resources that are important for our future and the future of our agricultural food system.
Why is Conservation of Heritage Breeds Important?
These once very common farm animals are now facing extinction. Many of these breeds are now quite rare in the United States, and also worldwide. Yet they provide an invaluable amount of genetic information, represent an irreplaceable piece of earth’s biodiversity, and offer incredible variety that may be needed for future farms. Understanding how these animals are more disease resistant, thrive in pasture-based settings, and are so well-adapted to their natural environments can offer clues to how farmers can better raise their animals in the future. This information can also aid in providing food security for our world.
What Heritage Breeds Do We Raise?
Currently we are raising only poultry. We have Heritage Breed ducks, chickens, and geese. Our chickens are Rhode Island Red (Watch), New Hampshire (Watch), Cochin (Recovering. Our ducks are Silver Appleyard (Threatened), Welsh Harlequin (Watch), Blue and Black Swedish (Watch), Buff/Orpington (Threatened), Cayuga (Watch). Our geese are African (Watch) and Pilgrim (Threatened).
The Livestock Conservancy categorizes poultry breeds as Critical, Threatened, Watch, or Recovering:
Critical (C) Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the United States, with five or
fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and an estimated global
population less than 1,000.
Threatened (T) Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the United States, with
seven or fewer primary breeding flocks, and an estimated global population
less than 5,000.
Watch (W) Fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the United States, with ten or
fewer primary breeding flocks, and an estimated global population less than
10,000. Also included are breeds that present genetic or numerical concerns or have a limited geographic distribution.
Recovering (R) Breeds once listed in another category, but have exceeded Watch category numbers, and still need monitoring.
Be informed! Get educated! Learn how you can help these rare breeds recover!
Perhaps the best place to start is The Livestock Conservancy. This is an incredible organization whose mission is “To protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction”. They are a wealth of information! Their website alone can answer just about any questions. They also have breed directories, a marketplace, membership, breed clubs, and many resources.
Check out the following videos and presentations!
Overview of The Livestock Conservancy, its mission, and its work: https://livestockconservancy.org/images/uploads/docs/General_Presentation.pdf