A future for heritage livestock?

heritage livestockOver the last 40 years farm production has become industrialized. Historically, multi purpose, hardy livestock were raised on small farms with relatively low costs inputs for housing, care and feed. Now the agriculture industry depends on highly productive specialized breeds raised in controlled environments and requiring high-cost inputs for nutrition, housing and health care.

The Slow Food movement has done a terrific job in reawakening interest in foods selected for flavour and having deep roots in regional and traditional farm settings. The organic movement documents the potential hazards of relying on food products that are laden with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Environmental groups have publicized the toll of intensive industrialized food operations. Slowly, the demand for flavourful food, from older breeds that thrive under natural conditions, is growing.

Despite these advances, the outlook is still not good for rare breeds.

Before we lose the traditional breeds that are hardy, disease resistant and well suited to natural production methods. These breeds are the gene pool, the only source of genetic material that exists to produce future generations of livestock. Many breeds are facing extinction, or severe loss of genetic diversity. Support is needed from farmers, governments, and those who value traditional livestock.

Rare breeds provide a healthy and environmentally sound alternative to industrial food. Farmers of heritage breeds typically look to the long-term benefits of their operations and take care not deplete their resources.

Rare Breeds and Small Farmers