Over centuries farmers developed livestock that had admirable qualities that were well suited to the conditions and priorities of the farmer. This breeds are all considered heritage breeds and at risk of extinction.
Endangered farm animals. It’s true. An average of one breed a month becomes extinct. A total of 190 breeds have become extinct over the past 15 years. And it’s devastating.
These animals are a part of our heritage. Developed over centuries, around on farms for decades or even centuries. Well adapted to the small farm conditions they were raised upon. And then, something changed.
The way we farm and raise livestock (and crops for that matter) has changed drastically in the past 100 years or so. Instead of developing breeds full of qualities to be not only productive, but well adapted, the world has embraced only a select few breeds that are better adapted to industrial farming practices.
In fact, a handful of breeds make up the majority of our food supply.
Why Livestock Diversity is So Important
Only 14 species provide over 90% of the human food supply.
A whopping 91% of all dairy cows are holsteins. And only 4 other breeds are utilized on industrial dairy farms.
Fifty years ago 15 different breeds of pig existed. Today only 7 of those breeds remain, the other 8 have become extinct.
Five breeds of chicken make up the majority of all egg production in the United States. Just five!!
Seventy percent of the beef cattle market is made up of only 3 breeds of cattle.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) 20% of farm animal species are currently endangered totaling 150 breeds.
Why To Consider Heritage Breeds On Your Homestead
What Are Heritage Breeds?
These livestock breeds were the ones raised and developed by our ancestors. A part of our heritage and were once an integral part of farm live before industrialized and mechanized agriculture took over the landscape.
Most were developed to maintain self sufficiency on the small farm. They were able to naturally reproduce, could forage for their food (as opposed to needing the commercial feeds of today), were great mothers, disease and pest resistant and fairly self sufficient animals.
These breeds are still very well suited to modern, small farms, but do not do well on commercial farms. Each species has its own criteria to meet which can be found here by scrolling to the bottom.
Benefits of Heritage Livestock for Your Homestead
These animals are not in short supply of benefiting you and your self sufficiency goals. They don’t need all of the modern amenities that a lot of commercialized breeds need.
Since these breeds were developed to suit localized environments in their time, they are incredibly self sufficient, disease resistant and productive in small farm settings. Just like our ancestors had.
- Heritage breeds were bred to endure the harsh conditions of real life. They will not require a temperature-controlled barn or coop. This is essential for a lot of us since electric in outbuildings (especially coops) isn’t always possible (or cheap).
- Heritage breeds are much more adaptable to small, sustainable farms than their commercialized counterparts. They don’t need a lot of space to be appropriately raised. However, they do tend to forage for their food, so keep space, available forage, and cleanliness in mind when you’re choosing heritage breed livestock.
- Heritage breeds were bred to naturally resist disease making the use of antibiotics a lot less likely. Not to say that you’ll never need to use them, but you won’t need to use them as often.
- As I mentioned these animals are much better adapted to pasture and naturally forage which can cut down on your feed bill significantly. Some do not require grain rations at all, though since it is common practice, you may have to make adjustments.
- Raising heritage breeds helps maintain livestock diversity. This is essential to food security. So, not only are you making a difference by preserving a part of our past, you’re helping maintain food security and diversity that is essential.
- These animals all must have the ability to naturally mate and reproduce. Many have high fertility rates and many were bred to have very few (if any) need for intervention during birth.
- These breeds also have a much longer life-span and productive stage than most of the common commercial breeds of today. They do typically take longer to grow out, but they produce higher quality, more nutrient dense product as well.
How to Get Started With Heritage Breeds
Make a Plan
Farming requires planning. I don’t care who you are. You can’t just take on living creatures without some sort of plan. You should at least halfway know where you think you’re headed. Ask yourself….
What are my long term goals? Do I want to raise them for food? Do I want breeding stock? Do I want to sell their products?
Ask yourself a lot of questions about what your long term goals are before you decide which species and breeds would be best suited for your goals.
Consider Your Locale and Resources
Can you have livestock or are there regulations or covenants in place that prevent that from happening? Do you have neighbors close by that would be irritated? Do you have enough land to raise your preferred species? Do you have predators that would be a risk to your livestock?
You’d hate to finally get those chickens you always dreamed of only to lose them all to a coyote or a disgruntled neighbor.
Do you have the finances to not only purchase the livestock, but the upkeep of said livestock? Do you have lots of pasture or are you stuck in the woods? Do you have adequate time to raise these animals? Consider all avenues before taking on raising any animal! They’re living breathing creatures too. They deserve the best life we can provide them with!
Once you’ve detailed all the nitty-gritty you should have a better idea of what species will work for you. Perhaps you want to raise a bit of everything (all in good time) or maybe you only have room and time for a few hens. Maybe you want milk and beef, or maybe you just want pets.
It’s all up to you. Once you decide on a species, you can start investigating the different heritage breeds that are available. Check out the list here for all of the endangered breeds currently on the list. There are links available for each breed to find out more about them.
Found a breed or two that you’re interested in? Check out this list of breeders. If you cannot find what you want there, try googling your particular breed. I bet you’ll come up with a bit more information!
Not only are you helping conserve a breed, you will benefit from the biodiversity available to you from these breeds. They are truly a treasure that you will not be sorry you invested your time, research, love, and finances into. Without us, these breeds and all they have to offer will be lost forever!
I love adding heritage breeds to our homestead. They’re always a great addition, and I love keeping the breed alive!