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Heritage Livestock. The Importance of the Heritage Livestock Genetics, for the future of farming. GENITIC DIVERSITY. Traditionally, farmers throughout the world have raised thousands of different animal breeds.

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Heritage livestock

Heritage Livestock

The Importance of the Heritage Livestock Genetics, for the future of farming

Genitic diversity

  • Traditionally, farmers throughout the world have raised thousands of different animal breeds.

  • However, since today's industrial farms rely upon only a few specialized types of livestock, thousands of non-commercial animal breeds have disappeared, along with the valuable GENITIC DIVERSITY they possessed.

  • Fortunately, a growing number of sustainable farmers are preserving agricultural variety and protecting biodiversity by raising “heritage” or “heirloom” animal breeds.

Heritage livestock breeds
Heritage Livestock Breeds

  • Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture.

  • Within the past 15 years, 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide, and there are currently 1,500 others at risk of becoming extinct.

  • In the past five years alone, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct.

Industrial farming
Industrial Farming

  • Heritage animals were bred over time to develop traits that made them particularly well-adapted to local environmental conditions.

  • Breeds used inIndustrial Agriculture are bred to produce lots of milk or eggs, gain weight quickly, or yield particular types of meat within confined facilities.

  • Heritage breeds are generally better adapted to withstand disease and the ability to survive in harsh environmental conditions, and they are better suited to living on pasture.


  • Then came the industrialization of agriculture.

  • Animals were treated like mechanical objects and housed in minimal conditions.

  • They were fed standardized rations regardless of their location or circumstances, and sometimes without regard for their biological needs.

  • A few breeds tolerated that treatment well enough and remained productive, so they became the favorite breeds for that species for commercialized production.

  • Sadly, for several decades that model of agriculture was taught as the "best" and sometimes the "only" way to raise livestock.

Industrial percentages
Industrial Percentages

  • 83 percent of dairy cows are Holsteins

  • 60 percent of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds

  • 75 percent of pigs in the US & Canada come from only 3 main breeds

    Yorkshire, Landrace and Duroc

  • Over 60 percent of sheep come from only four breeds, and 40% are Suffolk Bred

Industrial farming1
Industrial Farming

  • Happily, enough people were still interested enough in traditional methods, and in the merits of genetic diversity.

  • At the same time, the industrialized production model began showing stress cracks, which only grew worse in subsequent years.

  • Those highly productive breeds proved to have very high maintenance requirements, experienced rapid burnout under industrial production management, and were not well equipped to weather diverse climate, parasite and temperature conditions.

  • In short, this experiment in treating animals like machines only proved that one size does not fit all very well.

Genetic diversity of livestock
Genetic Diversity of Livestock

  • Scientists studying lack of genetic diversity in wild animal populations began to realize that the same risks faced domestic animal populations.

  • a lack of genetic diversity resulted in less ability to thrive in various conditions. Large, productive animals would struggle in less than ideal conditions.

  • Breeds developed in temperate climates did not fare well in hot, dry locations.

  • The situation had come full circle, but now those breeds which used to thrive in those various conditions were often close to extinction.

  • Those bloodlines which had once provided goods to small family farms now needed small family farms to rescue them.

Genetic diversity of livestock1
Genetic Diversity of Livestock

  • The genetic diversity of livestock is threatened worldwide, but especially in the global South, where the vast majority of farm animal breeds reside.

  • Documenting and conserving this diversity — of cattle, goats, sheep, swine and poultry — is just as essential as the maintenance of crop diversity for ensuring future food supplies in the face of health and environmental threats.

  • Just as we should know which crop varieties are most tolerant to flooding or disease, we should know which kinds of milking goat can bounce back quickly from a drought, which breeds of cow resist infection from sleeping sickness and which types of chicken can survive avian flu.

  • But while crop genes are being stored in thousands of collections across the world and a fail-safe gene bank buried in the Arctic permafrost, no comparable effort exists to conserve livestock genes.

Saving our valuable heritage breeds
Saving our Valuable Heritage Breeds

  • We need a parallel, even bigger, to link local, national and international resources and conserve livestock genetic diversity through dedicated livestock gene banks. These should store frozen cells, semen and DNA of endangered livestock from across the world.

  • Gene banks should also be used to conserve the legacy of 10,000 years of animal husbandry. Collections must be accompanied by comprehensive descriptions of the animals and the populations from which they were obtained and the environments under which they were raised.

  • We must as farmers and herders work together to conserve the farm animal breeds that have largely been selected and nurtured into existence by generations of farmers attuned to their environments.

Critical cattle recovering
Critical Cattle Recovering

  • Canadienne

  • Dutch Belted

  • Florida Cracker Cattle

  • Kerry Cattle

  • Milking Shorthorn - Native Cattle

  • Milking Devon Cattle

  • Piney woods Cattle

    • Florida Cracker Cattle


Belted Galloway Cattle

Devon or Beef Devon Cattle

Dexter Cattle

Highland Cattle

Critical goats recovering
Critical Goats Recovering

  • Arapawa Goat Tennessee Fainting Goat

  • San Clemente Goat Nigerian Dwarf Goat Spanish Goat

    Spanish Goat

Critical pigs recovering
Critical Pigs Recovering

  • Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig

  • Large Black Pig Nothing recovering

  • Mulefoot Hog

  • Red Wattle Hog

  • Red Wattle Hog

Critical sheep recovering
Critical Sheep Recovering

  • Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native

  • Leicester Longwool Sheep

  • Romeldale/CVM Sheep

    • Barbados Blackbelly

    • Clun Forest

    • Shetland

      Barbados Blackbelly

American livestock breeds
American Livestock Breeds

  • ABOUT ALBC http://albc-usa.org/

  • Ensuring the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

  • The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect over 180 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. Included are asses, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Founded in 1977, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is the pioneer organization in the U.S. working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. We hope you'll browse through these pages and learn more about the diverse and valuable agricultural heritage that is ours to enjoy and to steward.