Choosing Heritage Breeds of Livestock For the Homestead
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.
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.
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.