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Choosing Heritage Breeds of Livestock For the Homestead

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

For centuries farmers all over the globe have raised an assortment of livestock for food, for fiber, and for work. When small, family farms flourished animals were carefully chosen for their unique abilities and ability to survive in harsh conditions. In very cold climates animals like Icelandic sheep were chosen for their unique ability to survive long winters on sparse browse as well as their dual qualities of warm fiber for wool and delicious meat...In southern areas the Icelandics didn't do so well and but the Gulf Coast breed was able to thrive in the heat and humidity that killed other breeds. And so it was for every type of animal on the family farm.

Barred Rock Chickens have been utilized on the family farm for over 150 years as both meat and egg producers.
Barred Rock Chickens have been utilized on the family farm for over 150 years as both meat and egg producers.

Commercial Farming - Big Business

Enter the commercial farm.

Ability to survive was not an issue. Animals spent their entire lives in pens and were fed the same feed year round. What the commercial farm needed was animals that were able to grow and produce products cheaply and quickly. Hybrid animals were created and bred and interbred until the strengths of the individual breeds, the genetic diversity, was lost in the race to create the profit animal.

Within the past two decades nearly 200 breeds of livestock have become extinct around the world, with many others put on the endangered list. Livestock has become standardized. Nearly every commercial dairy cow in the United States is a Holstein while beef cows are Angus or Hereford. Most of the sheep are a Suffolk based breed, and the large majority of pork in the States comes from only three breeds of pigs.

One of our Nigerian Dwarf does, a rare breed of dairy goat about the size of a small golden retriever.
One of our Nigerian Dwarf does, a rare breed of dairy goat about the size of a small golden retriever.

Loss of Genetic Diversity

The loss of genetic diversity in the animals is creating many issues. Because the animals may not be suited to the local environment the farm must provide commercially grown food for them as well as shelter.

Survival depends on environmentally controlled barns, vaccines and medications, and a lot of human interaction - hard on the environment and time consuming for the producer, as well as being unhealthy and expensive for the consumer!

Loss of genetic diversity causes inherent weakness in the animals making it nearly impossible for them to survive outside of the factory farm.

Heritgae Breeds Are a Logical Choice

Heritage breeds carry within their gene pools strengths that can be introduced to other breeds. Valuable survival traits are preserved.

The homesteader isn't interested in turning out a large amount of milk or beef for a short period of time. He is interested in the quality of the product and the ability of the animal to survive in the conditions and environment it is living in. Frugality and sustainability top the list of what many modern consumers want.

These unique breeds produce meat that is unlike the hybridized breeds. The texture is different, the taste is more intense than the insipid, plastic wrapped, gassed material found at the local grocer, and the quality is high. Because of these traits many farms raising heritage breeds have found niche markets at upscale, local restaurants. The cost of raising them to production levels is much less and yet because of their rarity the cost to consumer is higher than average.

With the multiple purpose of heritage breeds, their ability to forage, their genetic good health and conformation, and the satisfaction of knowing you are enabling a breed to continue to exist as it has for centuries, heritage breeds of livestock are as much a good, and green choice for the modern homestead as they were for the generations before.


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    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      When I have my mini-farm of layers, sheep, goats, and may be one or two yaks, which I am planning to have 3 years down the road, I will have heritage breeds. That is for sure. Designer breeds are not for me and my loved ones.

      Great hub. Thank you for sharing. Hubs like these keep encouraging me to shoot for my goal.

    • profile image

      theYakRanch 7 years ago

      Great post! It good see people developing an understanding that the key to preserving any breeds characteristics in making those characteristics marketable.

      Keep it up!

    • profile image

      Jamie 9 years ago

      Love your page! We raise Nigerian Dwarf goats as well, LOVE them!

    • safetyfirst profile image

      safetyfirst 9 years ago

      Thanks for the great hub. This past year we raised the Tamworth pig, a heritage breed. The beauty of this breed is its ability to turn almost any forage into tasty, lean meat. Keep up the good work.

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue! I don't raise livestock of any kind myself (travel too much to make it work, even though I have enough land), but I've been a supporter of the ALBC for years.

    • profile image

      emmabalmer 9 years ago

      I love the Nigerian Dwarf goat! So, so cute :) I love my saannen/nubian crosses. They are great companion animals and perfect company for my draft horses. Thanks for the informative post!