Episode 316: Heritage Livestock

Once upon a time, there were hundreds of different breeds for every farm animal here in America and across the world. But with the industrial agriculture movement, old-fashioned or heritage breeds fell from popularity in favor of more productive breeds, those with a consistent size or rapid growth.

Leicester Longwool lamb - this dual-purpose heritage breed grows lustrous, long and curly wool prized by handspinners

Leicester Longwool lamb – this dual-purpose heritage breed grows lustrous, long and curly wool prized by handspinners

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 20 percent of the world’s breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry are currently at risk of extinction. The industrialized food movement forever changed the way livestock was used in agriculture. As certain breeds were favored for their rapid growth and production, other breeds (animals that we just took for granted) did not fit into that mold and for the last 50 years, their numbers have been dwindling at a rapid rate. Many of the old-fashioned breeds began to face extinction.

But with the renewed interest in sustainability and organic agriculture heritage chickens, ducks, goats and other farm animals are making a comeback both on farms and in neighborhood backyards.

One of the organizations at the forefront of this movement is The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in Pittsboro, NC. Today we learn why heritage breeds are so important to our food system and how our choices can either help or hinder the conservation efforts. We also visit a small-scale farmer to see how certain breeds are being used to actually restore the land.

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Growing A Greener World is a national gardening series on Public Television that features organic gardening, green living and farm to table cooking. Each episode focuses on compelling and inspirational people making a difference through gardening. This gardening series covers everything from edible gardening and sustainable agriculture to seasonal cooking and preserving the harvest.

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