Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Preserving Heritage Breeds

The following is a snippet from a NY Times article:

Located on a 45-acre estate in Newport, Rhode Island, SVF is the only organization in the country dedicated to conserving rare heritage livestock breeds by freezing their semen and embryos.

About 45,000 semen and embryo samples from 20 breeds of rare cattle, sheep and goats are preserved there in liquid nitrogen. Each time the foundation freezes a batch of embryos from a new breed, it thaws a few and transplants them into surrogate animals.

While commercial livestock have been bred for consistency, heritage breeds have not been continuously "improved" by humans. They have been shaped more by natural selection and survival-of-the-fittest forces. They are a valuable resource to the livestock industry.

Before SVF, the preservation of heritage livestock was through natural reproduction and organizations like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Read full article in New York Times

As a fan of heirloom plants, unique characteristics and genetic diversity, this piques my interest. Line bred plants and animals are for commercial farms. They're boring but predictable. They can be high output and uniform, but can also be rather demanding for feed and maintenance. Small farms and home growers have the opportunity to work with something more interesting and unique and self sustaining in heritage breeds and heirloom plants.

Looking further into the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, I find they also have several rabbit breeds listed. These are mostly rabbits originally selected for fur and meat, so not the true "naturally selected" hardy breeds I would consider heritage, but they are endangered as rabbits have fallen out of favor for fur, and though they are still bred for meat by some it is on a small scale only. Angoras, of course, are still kept and bred for *wool*, not pelts, but obtaining and propagating these heritage breeds, as well as careful interbreeding with angoras, may produce some lovely wool rabbits with hard to obtain color and different textures while improving genetic diversity of the angora. Of course, if you have space, you'll also want to help keep the heritage breed itself going, but by at least obtaining a kit from a breeder support is provided for those dedicated to the breed.

Something to think about.

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