The older ‘rare’ or heritage breeds of farm livestock are a direct link to our past farming cultures. These breeds were slowly developed all around the world as perfect adaptations to the prevalent local farming conditions, both in terms of the climate & land type, and also the ultimate end-use of the animal products. Thus genetically they are a priceless heritage of many thousands of years of knowledge, skills, & experience, and a knowingness about the land and animal husbandry that to a large degree has become lost in our modern fast food world . Since the Second World War, the farming culture in the Western world has shifted quickly to an industrial model based on high inputs of oil-based inorganic chemicals. Farm livestock has been rapidly bred to adapt to this high-input,high-output model, where quality is often sacrificed for quantity. The older breeds have largely been brushed aside in this shift, not being able to compete with newer breeds on the high volume criteria. However, for those whom quantity and size is not everything, the older breeds have much to offer modern farming. They are breeds which are suited to more extensive lower-input style of farming, which organic or biological agriculture is based upon.
Heritage breeds generally have a genetic predisposition to much higher natural immunity to pests and diseases, not having been bred to depend on the artificial aid of constant pharmaceutical supoort. They are also able to thrive on what would be regarded in modern agriculture as ‘poor’ or ‘unimproved’ pasture, but which often translates to more nutritionally-balanced pasture. They are generally ‘smarter’ than their modern counterparts, and know where & when to seek shade or shelter, and are diligent mothers, since the natural intelligence hasn’t been bred out of them. The cooking and eating qualities of the produce from these older breeds is often far superior to that of modern breeds, as they were specifically bred over multiple generations for their food value, and not just for a commodity chain. So the productivity of these older breeds, if both input and output sides of the equation are tallied, can be pretty impressive if all factors of health, ease of care, longevity, nutritional value etc, are taken into account.
As well as these more commercial considerations, heritage breeds are often more interesting and rewarding to keep, especially on a small farm, as they being more intelligent they can often relate more to their handler, as well as which they are striking and attractive to have in our paddocks.