Thinking of adding poultry, pigs, sheep, horses. or cattle to your homestead? Why not consider a heritage breed?
Heritage breeds are the livestock our ancestors would have raised. These animals are hardy, adept at foraging for their food, and resistant to disease and parasites, making them ideal for the backyard or pasture. Moreover, they are able to reproduce and raise their young naturally.
Modern agriculture over the years has abandoned the use of many of these animals in favor of a few select breeds for meat, dairy, and fiber. As a result, many heritage species are in danger of extinction.
The Livestock Conservancy is a wonderful resource for learning about these breeds. They list according to phylum (some of these are native to the American Indian while others were brought over hundreds of years ago) and categorize them according to their population levels as critical, threatened, watch, recovering, and study.
A few years ago I began reading up on heritage breeds. After a lot of research on various poultry and livestock, I decided to add heritage breeds to our homestead where possible. This included Lakenvelder chickens as well as Naragansett, Bourbon Red, and Blue Slate turkeys (I will be devoting a blog to heritage turkeys shortly). We will eventually be adding Jersey Giants to our pasture raised flock of chickens, as well as Guinea Hogs from a breeder we located about 40 minutes away.
My dream is to have longhorns in the next two years.
Advantages to raising heritage breeds:
You help an endangered species recover and repopulate
You raise awareness of the breed for consumers and other homesteaders alike
You preserve an important piece of our history
The breeds’ characteristics lend themselves to be well suited for the hobby farmer
Heritage breeds tend to be disease-resistant and adaptable to a variety of climates
The appearance of the heritage breeds are unique and often very beautiful
If there is a disadvantage to raising a heritage breed, it often has something to do with the productivity of the animal versus its more common commercial counterpart. For example, my heritage turkeys took longer to grow out (six to seven months) than the standard broad-breasted variety (which take four to five months) and were smaller.
My Lakenvelder hens lay a lovely white egg with the most delicate hint of rose hue. They lay up to 160 eggs per year, which is fairly average, but such productivity cannot compete with the Rhode Island Red, for example, which lays on average 250 eggs per year and of larger size.
From talking with someone who raised a guinea hog, he said this heritage pig did indeed take longer to grow out, which even on pasture meant more outlay of money for feed. However, it produced much more bacon (say no more!). When I asked if it was true that the heritage hog did not root up the earth as much as your standard pig is known to do, he was noncommittal.
My experience is that heritage breeds are delightful to have on the homestead, and knowing that you’re playing a part of their vital preservation is wonderfully rewarding.