Heritage Breeds and Exotics

These aren't the same thing. Heritage Livestock Breeds: These are old-time livestock breeds. Some are still popular, but many are quite rare and some have vanished forever. Back in the old days they were regular farm livestock, an essential part of rural life and agriculture. Years ago there were far more breeds of the 9 basic livestock species (asses, cattle, chickens, ducks, horses, geese, sheep, swine, and turkeys) worldwide than there are now. Back then, every area of the earth where people lived was a distinct eco-niche in which those humans and their specifically adapted animal breeds sustained each other. Modern times and agribusiness (mass) production of a very limited number of the most profitable breeds have caused the extinction or near-extinction of most of those other old-time domestic species. The mass-market producers tend to choose just one or a very few breeds and let the others approach or cross the line to extinction.

The preservation of these heritage livestock breeds happens on family farms that have a use for or an interest in such critters as pigs that thrive on pasture rather than in confinement (such as the Tamworth breed); poultry that will set and hatch their eggs; and a cow that is small in size and moderate in milk production (the Jersey). The Florida Cracker cow is adapted to the hot, humid climate of the Deep South. The horned, spotted Jacob sheep is a good survivor.

Commercial agriculture has zillions of the one breed most suited to agribusiness' mass production: Holstein for the dairy industry, Leghorns for the chicken industry, etc. But homestead-type folks keep the others going. The old-time breeds of livestock are worthwhile for their genetic uniqueness as well as their historic value. For example, someday there might be a disease in pigs equivalent to the hybrid corn blight. Rare breeds also may produce lovely colored wool, unusual cheeses, astonishing feathers, etc. And heritage breeds are typically better suited than industrial ones for the free-range, chemical-free homestead family's needs.

Carolyn Christman of the ALBC again sums it up: "These animals have better forage efficiency on pasture, maternal abilities, disposition, longevity, parasite and disease resistance, and general health. Their animal services—such as brush clearing, pest and waste control, production of manure, and grazing to improve pasture—are also quite valuable on the homestead farm."

I hate to spoil the fun, but I can't end this without sourly adding that some less common species have been left behind for good reasons, and the ALBC says only the good things about heritage livestock. Do your homework so you aren't disappointed.

NOTE: Before shopping for livestock, know exactly what you want your animals to be able to do in your particular eco-niche, or what market you are aiming their production toward. Then choose the most suitable species.

By the way, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy works to protect nearly 100 endangered breeds of American livestock and poultry from extinction. They take a periodic census of all varieties of domesticated livestock in the United States. They name those at risk of extinction and encourage people to buy and breed them. If you join ($30/yr), you get a bimonthly newsletter, annual breeders directory, and access to a long list of reports and publications on rare and endangered livestock: ALBC; 919-5425704; Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312; [email protected]; www.albc-usa.org. Their newsletter contains classified ads for heritage breeds as well as a calendar of events like these: Country Fair and Crafts Festival, Hancock Shaker Village: Eric Johnson; 413-443-0188; PO Box 927, Pitts-field, MA 01202. 19th Century Agricultural Fair: Patty Warren, Genesee County Village and Museum; 585-538-6822; Flint Hill Rd., Mumford, NY 14511; www.gcv.org. exotics: An exotic breed is one that is either newly created, a once-wild native (such as buffalo!), or recently imported and new to the United States. For instance, have you considered raising butterflies? Contact Rt. 1, Box 447A, Mathis, TX 78368, www.butterflyrelease.com for more info. The Asclepias Seed Co. provides milkweed planting seed for nurturing monarch butterflies and larvae: 800-6213696; 218 Prospector Dr., Ogallala, NE 69153.

You'll find listings of many rarer breeds of livestock at www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds. Their scarcity, the media interest in them, and speculators' hopes for profit make for risky business. The exotic market has on occasion seen speculators making large profits — and the unaware taking large losses. The beefalo (a cow-buffalo cross) was once the center of bidding excitement, as were a relatively useless rabbit variety called the Belgian hare and later the ostrich. It's safest to pay a price for an animal based on its potential to produce meat, work, hide, fur, or feathers rather than its potential as a breeder (rather than speculating, that is, that since you were willing to pay a mint for an animal, that means you'll be able to sell its many offspring for a mint each too). That get-rich scenario runs into trouble when there are no more well-heeled speculators available to buy your animals — or when the media interest shifts to some other unfamiliar creature.

Nevertheless, there are good profit possibilities in raising exotics, so I'm not trying to totally talk you out of it; I just want to instill a healthy caution. Do consider raising breeds such as buffalo, ratites (ostriches, emus, and rheas), caribou, elk, antelope, water buffalo, red or fallow deer, cat-talo (another buffalo-cow hybrid), and South American humpless camels ("camelids") such as llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas. You can sell to restaurants that want unusual meats on their menu and to people who want the meat or an unusual pet. You can sell exotic fibers (such as camelid wool). You can sell the animals for packing (the camelids, www.packllama.org), or performing draft work (river buffalo). In South America, guinea pigs (raised on a diet of corncobs, grass, alfalfa, and lettuce) are butchered when they are 6 months to a year old. Their meat is an Andean special treat: "cuy."

Exotics include breeds such as yak (International Yak Ass'n; www.yakpage.com). Also, there are now miniature breeds of cows, horses, goats, pigs, etc. Miniature horses, for example, stand 19 to 38 in. high. They're too small to be ridden, even by children, but they can pull a cart. (Available from 520-682-8009; fax 520-616-7022; [email protected].)

Humpless Camels. For expert advice on the medical problems of South American camelids, especially guanacos and vicunas, contact Dr. William L. Franklin: billfranklinl @juno. com.

Llamas are said to be useful as livestock guardians. Doesn't make sense to me that one could handle a bear, cougar, pack of wolves, or coyotes. (I recommend you get one or more Great Pyrenees dogs for this: www.c-c-farms.com).

Here are lots more camelid info resources: Alpaca Discussion List is for alpaca owners and those interested in them. The mailing list serves 700+ persons and is moderated by John L. Pinkowski (Pine Ridge Alpacas; 330-849-6435; Alpacasite-[email protected]; subscribe at www.onelist.com/group/Alpacasite. AlpacaNet includes files about alpacas, their fiber, and directories of products and ranches; www.alpacanet.com. Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association sponsors an annual convention: 970-586-5357; fax 970-586-6685; PO Box 1992, Estes Park, CO 80517; [email protected]; www.aoba.org/; www.Al-pacaOwners.com. Canadian Alpaca Breeders Ass'n: www.caba-alpaca.org. Canadian Llama and Alpaca Ass'n: 800-717-5262; 403250-2165.

Llama Information Exchange Newsletter is info about llamas and their issues, written by owners: members.aol.com/lamainfoex. Llama Search's site contains farm listings, info links, products, etc.: www.llamasearch.com/. Llamapaedia was written by vet students. It covers husbandry, breeding, care, etc.; www.llamapaedia.com; www.llamaweb.com/. Pack Llama Trail Ass'n: PO Box 25, Meridian, ID 836800025; [email protected]. Rocky Mountain Llama Ass'n maintains a research library and holds many public llama events: 303-241-7921; 593-19 3/4 Rd., Grand Junction, CO 81503; www.rmla.com. Suri Alpacas are unique in the camelid family for their fiber, which hangs in long, separate locks rather than being woolly: surinetwork.org. Useful Llama Items is a catalog for llama and alpaca owners offering halters, leads, medications, grooming and farm and training supplies, books, videos, shearing equipment, packs, harnesses, carts, wormers, specialty clothing, etc.: 800-635-5262; fax 815-234-7684; 5458 N. Rizoville Rd., Byron, IL 61010; www.usefullama items.com.

Camelids of Delaware sells guanacos: 313-545-2820; 130 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, MI 48220. Mettowee Valley Farm sells alpacas: 802-325-3039; fax 802-325-7023; PO Box 55, Rupert Mountain Rd., Pawlet, VT 05761; [email protected]; www.mettoweevalleyfarm.com. Seldom Scene Farm raises both llamas and alpacas: 606873-8352; fax 606-873-1622; 1710 Watts Ferry Rd., Frankfort, KY 40601; [email protected]; www.seldom-scenefarm.com. Or contact Spa Alpacas: 518-885-0585; 7 Paisley Rd., Ballston Spa, NY 12020; [email protected]; www.spaalpacas.com. Or Tia and Peter Rosengarten: 802824-8190; Mountain Pond Farm, 74 Obed Moore Rd., Weston, VT 05161.

Deer/Elk/Reindeer Farming. Deer and elk farming is big business in New Zealand, which exports, and in the former West Germany, which consumes venison second only to beef and imports more than 25,000 tons per year [1989] and produces at least the same amount within the country. Commercial venison production is doing well in the United

States too. The first deer farm ever in this country was the Lucky Star Ranch in Chaumont, NY. An extension bulletin says Lucky Star Ranch raises 3,000 deer on 1,500 fenced acres and has done well with its own USDA-inspected slaughter and processing plant on the premises. Owner Joseph von Kerckerinck, founder of the North American Deer Farmers Association, sells fresh and frozen venison cuts directly to consumers by mail, but most deer and elk ranchers make arrangements with a cattle slaughterhouse to do that work.

Von Kerckerinck wrote me that the big start-up expense for raising deer or elk is a fence between 6 feet 3 inches and 8 feet high, which is a necessity. He says if you are raising fallow deer, you can keep 4 deer per acre; wherever you can pasture 1 cow, you can keep 6 to 7 fallow deer. Coyotes and domestic dogs are a problem for deer ranchers, but there are ways to make your pastures predator-proof. And for meat that may sell at $5-$ 10 per lb., the risks may well be worth it. He sells a videotape on the subject: 315-649-5519; Lucky Star, 13240 Lucky Star Rd., Chaumont, NY 13622.

The H <5ar A Ranch offers bison bulls, bred bison cows, elk bulls, and bred elk cows: 731-845-5671; 411 Redbud Lake Rd., Lexington, TN 38351; [email protected]. For more info, order the Bison Breeder's Handbook and The Buffalo Producer's Guide to Marketing and Management from the National Bison Ass'n: 303-292-2833; fax 303-292-2564; 4701 Marion St. #100, Denver, CO 80216; [email protected]; www.bisoncentral.com. ATTRAs article on "Bison Production" is at www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/bi-son.html. You can subscribe to the North American Bison Journal: 800-253-3656; fax 605-347-2525; bisonjournal.com. They have years of archived issues on their website.

Want to raise reindeer? Ethel Evans is Corresponding Secretary for the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Ass'n: 303841-4098; 10190 Bayou Gulch Rd., Parker, CO 80134; [email protected]

Ostrich. Ostrich hides make good boots, and ostrich meat is plentiful and good, but these birds can live for as long as 70 years and will keep producing beautiful plumes all their lives. You can't determine the sex of ostrich chicks until they're at least 8 weeks old. Ostrich chicks are liable to have nutritional problems and pneumonia unless kept well fed, warm, and dry. An ostrich hen can lay as many as 30 to 50 eggs a year, but not all the eggs will hatch. Abuse or teasing stresses the birds. They should not be left alone with small children, for they don't understand the strength of their peck. Their big bills snatch up a wristwatch, glove, ring, or buttons in an instant. Their strong forward kick protects against coyotes or stray dogs. Young ones can be crowded, but adults need space—Vi to 1 acre per adult pair of ostriches. Fence height depends on age; for adults you need a 5-foot fence. Ostriches don't fly or jump, but they will lean into a fence. As long as it doesn't fall over and they don't fall over it, it will hold them.

Dale Coody offers a 36-pg manual, Ostriches: Your Great Opportunity, for $12.50 and a video for $59.95 from his 4-C Ostrich Farm: 580-353-3078; Rt. 1, PO Box 71 A, Lawton, OK 73501. He also sells ostrich-scaled incubators and brooders. A subscription to Emu Today &> Tomorrow— $25/yr for 12 issues—is available from phone/fax 580-6282011; 11950 W. Highland Ave., Blackwell, OK 74631.

More Exotic Info

Animal Finders' Guide is "The Magazine Devoted to Animal Lovers," covering current animal issues, reader letters, classified ads, 18 issues/yr, $25, $2 for sample copy: PO Box 99, Prairie Creek, IN 47869; 812-8982678.

Animal Market Place is a periodical of classified and display ads and articles featuring rare, unusual, and hard-to-find animals, pets, and alternative livestock: $24/yr from Kyle E. Blankenship, PO Box 35784, Canton, OH 44735; 877-879-6527; [email protected]; www.animalmarketplace. com. Animals Exotic and Small is a big international bimonthly magazine for breeders and owners of miniature, exotic, and unusual animals. Each issue is 100+ pages; $25/yr; sample $5 USA: 1320 Mountain Ave., Norco, CA 92860-2852; 909-371-4307; fax 909-371-4779; [email protected]; animalsexoticandsmall.com. Heart of America Game Breeders' Assn., annual dues $10, offers twelve 8-pg newsletters with free ads for members and a Breeders' Directory listing about 475 members in 27 states: Terry Smith, 14000 W 215th St., Bucyrus, KS 66013. Rare Breeds Journal, "The Digest of the World of Alternative Livestock, Wildlife, Animals and Pets," offers an exotic market review, a global connection to the exotic animal industry for $25/yr,: Box 66, Crawford, NE 69339; 308-665-1431; fax 308-665-1931; [email protected]. Wings & Hooves Magazine, "covering all animals since

1988," is $16/yr for 12 issues, sample $2; write Rt. 1, Box 32, Forestburg, TX 76239-9706; 940-964-2314; [email protected]

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