There was a story from ABC news this morning on my news feed about the alarming loss of genetic diversity in farm animals. Australia is particularly hard hit. Their inability to import new pig genetics for example means they have to keep their existing breeds viable because once they lose something it’s gone for good unless they change their import laws.
Here in America we nearly lost the Devon cattle. At one time they were the most abundant breed in America, triple purpose: meat, milk and draft power. They were especially popular in New England where they were used as draft animals, where we in the midwest have horse pulls at our county fairs they have ox pulls.
Devons are long living and good mothers, ours don’t mind feeding the other calves in the herd to help out a friend. They’re smaller in size than other breeds so you raise more pounds of beef on an acre but dress out surprisingly heavier than they look.
The big but in all their wonderful attributes is they hate living in a feedlot and eating grain. They just do not perform as well as other breeds at this. So farmers began choosing other breeds for their farm. The Angus breeds’ advertising program made Angus heavily popular. Testing done on beef in stores advertised as Angus with the accompanying larger price tag revealed the beef was any other breed that came in black a large percentage of the time.
The Devon attributes most people see as a drawback makes them perfect for us. We just plain like red cows and Devons are known as ‘Ruby Red Devons’. Their ability to grow fat, raise a calf and do it again next year on grass and forages alone fits perfectly with our program. They’re healthy and so are we.
The one way everyone can help keep genetic diversity alive and well in our food supply is to eat rare breeds. This seems counterintuitive but if no one wants rare breeds then they just become rather expensive lawn ornaments. Nice to look at and a spot of color for the yard but who needs more than one or two?
Rare breeds were kept going up until factory farming took over because they had something to offer, Jersey milk cows are famous for their high butter fat. Some breeds are extra good to eat, in Spain they fatten a special breed of pig on forest mast, acorns and nuts, it’s rightfully considered a delicacy. There are two breeds of sheep that originated in extremely cold climates that have 4 or 5 lambs instead of the normal one or two. They have their babies when there is grass to fatten them, in the fall the lambs are butchered giving enough meat to last until next year and they only have to feed a very few sheep over the winter.
We have the Devons, and instead of raising the Cornish Cross chickens every factory farm uses we have breeds like Australorps, Delawares, Barred Rocks. No, they don’t grow as fast as Cornish Crosses or as scary large but they are healthy birds and extra tasty. And somewhere in their gene pool could be the gene to resist the next pandemic to hit.
This was our first year raising pigs in a long time but now that we’ve successfully done this we’ll be looking for a supplier of rare breed pigs to help keep another rare breed alive and well for a long time to come.