Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Animals: Why Heritage Breeds?

While many organizations fret over supposedly shrinking or endangered wildlife species, few focus on another real genetic resource, rare and endangered livestock species. Why should we care? Primarily because these are species and breeds most influenced by human intervention and many have extraordinarily unique characteristics that warrants their preservation.

The American Livestock Breeders Association notes that as agriculture has become increasingly industrialized and based on a corporate model fewer and fewer breeds are accounting for more and more of the base herd. For example, more than 90% of all dairy cattle in the US are Holsteins. No problem unless something hits that breed and it crashes. In the scramble to replace them we could come up short on genetic diversity needed if alternative breeds are extinct.

Typically these breeds - often referred to as Heritage breeds - are multi-tasker animals or fowl. Heritage cattle will give meat, milk, and pulling capacity. Chickens meat and eggs and are good breeders. Goats, meat and milk, and so forth. Animals that perform a multiplicity of functions fit well into Valhalla where everyone works - most often at several jobs! We won't get a break, why should the critters? Ain't fair!

Another great reason for Heritage breeding is that there are grants out there for organizations that focus on expanding the breed lines as well as the fact that they are usually people-friendly, very hardy and disease resistant, make a good living on free range or pasture, and take care of their needs - breeding and raising young - without a lot of human intervention. All good.

Having Heritage breeds tends to spotlight the facility in a positive way and attracts attention for its own sake. If we can leverage some of this attention into support for Valhalla then so much the better.

While many are difficult to find and a bit more expensive to purchase than "ordinary" stock, that is to be expected. Rare means rare. On the other hand, their self-sufficiency also equates to lower feed and vet bills and less labor intensive attention. As a plus whatever doesn't go into the cook pot can be sold to bring a small income stream into the project.

We're looking at several major categories of livestock and poultry to have on Valhalla. Naturally these will be phased in over time. I've already been to the movie where 250 animals are waiting for pickup and the farm isn't ready for them! Since the second kick by a mule is not a learning experience we'll definitely have our act together on the receiving side and bring them in slowly over time.

Species under consideration are the following: donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and honeybees. Raising quail and pheasant is being researched. Our jury is out on horses. They seem like awfully big eaters for little return. We'll see in time.

We'll have to have guard animals for the predator issues, and donkeys and dogs top that list.

We're going to post some information on all these species including specific breeds we're looking at and why on these pages.

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