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True heritage breeds are becoming extinct. Losing these livestock breeds would be a tragic for homesteaders everywhere. When any species disappears, it weakens the gene pool. In other words, losing a species means that more inbreeding will happen. This, in turn, creates weaker animals. Extinction is always tragic. Extinction in agriculture can be devastating. Diversity in genetics is necessary to reduce issues from inbreeding and continue providing quality livestock.
The Livestock Conservancy is an organization committed to saving and promoting these livestock breeds with Heritage Livestock Education. They provide a marketplace for breeders to sell heritage animals. Plus, they have a community for those interested in becoming breeders themselves. Heritage livestock is an excellent option for homesteaders. The breeding programs are often smaller and more select. They don’t require lots of space for hundreds of animals. They’re ideal for kids looking to go into programs like 4H and FFA. Taking on a heritage breed means you’re helping to save and preserve American history from disappearing.
What is a Heritage Livestock Breed?
Heritage breeds are livestock breeds that farmers raised before industrial agriculture became mainstream. Farmers and Ranchers developed these breeds to survive and be self-sufficient. Heritage breeds are fertile, clever enough to forage their own food, and above all, resistant to many diseases and parasites. They’re ideal for a rougher, harder lifestyle. Heritage Livestock gets out of the barn and works on your land.
Why should I invest in Heritage Livestock?
Many heritage breeds are on the verge of extinction because they aren’t as easy to harvest for mass production. Their loss removes their genetic resources from future agricultural systems. Losing genetic source material may have a devastating effect on the future of American agriculture. They are meant for smaller breeding programs which is, in fact, ideal for homesteaders. Not only that, but you can raise them in smaller spaces with less upkeep. This makes them perfect for smaller farms and homes such as homesteaders. In contrast to large herds of cattle or sheep, a heritage breeder needs only keep a small flock.
What is the definition of heritage breeds?
There isn’t a single definition that covers all the species of heritage livestock. Heritage species fall under three categories:
- Livestock – Cattle, Goats, Pigs, Rabbits, Sheep
- Equine – Donkeys, Horses
- Poultry – Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Turkeys
Currently there are only four official definitions for heritage species:
- Chickens – Heritage chickens are third-generation APA recognized breeds as well as meeting the standard for their breed. These breeds must be from before the mid-20th century. Ask the owners to show their heritage back to the grandparents. You want to select hens and roosters with parents that naturally mated. Hens should be productive and lay eggs for 5-7 years. Roosters should be productive for 3-5 years. Likewise, birds should reach market weight no sooner than 16 weeks.
- Cattle must be true genetic breeds, which means they make member of the same breed when mated. They must be registered as purebred or immediate offspring of purebred. Cattle breeds should also be listed as endangered. Finally, if they are the result of a breed-up program, they must have obtained purebred status.
- Turkeys – Must be naturally mated from both parents and grandparents with breeding hens productive for 5-7 years and toms for 3-5 years. However, they should also have a slow to moderate growth rate. You want them to reach market weight around 28 weeks so they can develop strong bodies.
- Swine – like cattle, swine must be a breed that is a true genetic breed and registered as purebred or purebred offspring. If they are the result of a breed-up program, they must have obtained purebred status. In addition, heritage swine breeds are always endangered with a long history in the United States.
Unfortunately, there are no definitions available for other animals such as goats, ducks, or sheep at this time. The Livestock Conservancy is working on them.
What is a heritage cattle product? Isn’t that just a cow?
Nope. Heritage cattle products are things like beef and dairy. They must come from heritage cattle herds that have been selected for longevity, fertility, and productivity. In addition, the herd should be raised sustainably in an open pasture environment with a mostly forage-based diet. They should be free from prophylactic antibiotics, as well as growth promoters and growth hormones. Heritage products come from cattle slaughtered humanely, and all products should include the name of the breed.
Is there a regulating body for the definition?
No. Unfortunately, there is no governmental regulating body that has determined these definitions. The closest thing is Livestock Conservancy. The Conservancy is not able to police the consumer market. Instead, it is up to those buying livestock to ask hard questions about where their livestock is coming from. You must educate yourself to know whether that history meets the definition of heritage for your potential purchase.
Where can I purchase Heritage Livestock?
Livestock Conservancy has a breeder and products directory as well as a marketplace for buyers and sellers to get together.
Are Heritage Livestock good for a homestead?
Absolutely! Farmers and Ranchers bred heritage livestock specifically for traits that made them perfect for homesteads back more than 100 years ago! These breeds will always be a boon to your land. Heritage Livestock Breeds are much hardier than hybrid livestock; in addition, these breeds also know how to be more self-sufficient.
Is there a list of Heritage Breeds?
The Livestock Conservancy regularly updates a list with the names of Heritage Breeds and their current status.
Why aren’t other animals like llamas or ostriches listed?
The Livestock Conservancy is working hard to preserve the traditional USA livestock species and four poultry species. While other animal breeds may be struggling, they do not fall under the scope of the Conservancy. While a species may be one of those covered, there are still enough numbers that the best course of action is to watch for a decline.
How can I get more involved in Heritage Livestock?
If you can, invest in heritage breeds that catch your attention. Learn about them, create a suitable space for them, and breed and grow them! Kids should try raising them as part of 4H and FFA projects. The Livestock Conservancy offers memberships that help to pay for their efforts in conservation – consider joining! Work in your community to further knowledge and education about Heritage Livestock breeds and how important they are for our agricultural future.