Farming With Critically Endangered Livestock
It was perhaps having my formative years of childhood in the 1980s, that I became a bit engaged in the area of endangerment. Save the Whales, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and locally the plight of the Spotted Owl all echo in my memories. An animal lover at heart, I guess I understood the importance of conservation at an early age. It seems that you can go a few different ways as an adult – you can become a radical vegan PETA type (nope), forget your childhood ideals altogether (nope), make a few conscious efforts at conservation and an occasional contribution to a “pet” cause (did that for awhile) or make a very focused, diligent effort to exact change in area that you can create the most impact (there we go).
When we settled down to farm a few years ago, admittedly we didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the livestock we purchased. We bought what we liked, what we thought we needed, what was affordable and locally available. Through years of trial and error and the incredible education of hard knocks, we have learned a lot of things. One biggie is that modern breeds of livestock don’t always thrive or perform as you feel they should on a homestead or small farm. Their DNA reflects generations of confinement, heavy grain diets, growth spurred hormones and steroids, and immune systems artificially bolstered by broadcast use of antibiotics. When success is punctuated by disappointments and sometimes failures, as a farmer you spend a lot of time considering what other options are available to you.
In the last year or so the Nitty Gritty Man and I have refined our focus to breeds of livestock that would thrive on a pasture based system, be naturally disease and parasite resistant, breed unassisted, birth with little or no intervention and have gentle family friendly dispositions. This naturally led us down the path to more primitive, “un-improved” breeds, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered in the Livestock Conservancy.
But isn’t their conflict in consuming animals that are already critically endangered?
The answer is exactly: No.
Much like the beloved type writer, the newspaper and Saturday mail services – many amazing breeds are slipping into obsolescence due to our demand for cheaper, faster and disposable. As many of these breeds have escaped the modernization of the food industry, they too have lost visibility and therefore demand. And when that demand decreases in favor of heartless grocery store packaged goods, these ancient breeds lose their foot hold bit by bit.
Farmers and consumers can resurrect the demand for these amazing breeds by again bringing these animals to the table and demonstrating the outstanding qualities of their breed. Sure some of these breeds might take a smidge longer to achieve our modern standards of proper butcher weights, but to me that is a small price to pay for the amazing flavor and quality of their meats and the tremendous satisfaction of actively contributing to the resurgence of a threatened or critically endangered livestock breed.
For more information please visit the Livestock Conservancy.