At our three farmers markets last week, I was asked over and over again, what a “Heritage Breed” animal is — what it is and what it isn’t. What makes it special. Here is a well-put mini-essay from Sustainable Table on Heritage Breeds:
Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture. Within the past 15 years, 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide, and there are currently 1,500 others at risk of becoming extinct. In the past five years alone, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct.
Heritage animals were bred over time to develop traits that made them particularly well-adapted to local environmental conditions. Breeds used in industrial agriculture are bred to produce lots of milk or eggs, gain weight quickly, or yield particular types of meat within confined facilities. Heritage breeds are generally better adapted to withstand disease and survive in harsh environmental conditions, and their bodies can be better suited to living on pasture.
These livestock breeds also serve as an important genetic resource, and when heritage breeds become extinct, their unique genes are lost forever and can’t be used to breed new traits into existing livestock breeds. Therefore, by raising heritage livestock breeds, sustainable farmers not only maintain variety within our livestock populations, they also help to preserve valuable traits within the species so that future breeds can endure harsh conditions.
There is no official definition or certification for “heritage” animals, but for a livestock breed to be truly heritage, it must have unique genetic traits and also be raised on a sustainable and/or organic farm. Heritage animals are well-suited to sustainable farms since they are able to survive without the temperature-controlled buildings and constant doses of antibiotics administered to the commercial breeds raised on factory farms.
Next week we will be featuring Sausage at our markets: I will drag out the Sausage sign, and have great sausage recipes that use Sweet Italian, Hot Italian, and Breakfast Sausage.
You can catch us Tuesdays in Bernardston, Wednesdays in Conway, and Thursdays in Northfield, all from 4-7.