The most common question asked of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is: “What heritage breed should I get?” When responding to this question, we always encourage farmers and would-be farmers to consider their needs, environment, markets and climate (among other things), but we also encourage them to pick breeds they like. Just like picking a new dog breed for the family, you want something that appeals to your eye. You’ll see these animals in your pastures every day, and while looks aren’t everything, many heritage breeds combine allure and productivity to give you the best of both worlds. Take a peek at some of these heritage breeds with unique physical traits that will bring beauty and function to the farm. They just might stop onlookers in their tracks!
Belted Galloway cattle
Often referred to as “Oreo cattle,” the Belted Galloway is a strikingly attractive breed, but don’t let its beauty fool you. Behind that black and white belted coat is a hardy, “rough and tumble” meat producer that makes an excellent addition to a grass-based, small-farm beef operation. Originating in Scotland, the Belted Galloway was first a color-variant of the Galloway breed. Further selection for the belted appearance led to the development of the Belted Galloway breed, which was recognized with its own herdbook in 1928.
Because the breed was developed in the rugged upcountry of Scotland, Belted Galloways have developed many survival characteristics such as a dense, shaggy winter coat, superb foraging abilities, and strong maternal instincts. Today, the breed is still known for its economical production of beef under range conditions. Belted Galloway beef has been described as tender, sweet and juicy – giving it great market appeal. Farmers raising the breed have found niche markets for the beef, but also a market for the unique belted coat through the selling of hides for rugs and other garments. Belted Galloways are medium in size, with cows weighing about 1,000 pounds and bulls averaging 1,600 pounds. The Belted Galloway is a naturally polled breed. Today, the “Beltie” is growing in popularity as farmers rediscover the beauty and performance of this historic breed.
Nigerian Dwarf goat
The pint-sized Nigerian Dwarf goat is a cute and cuddly critter, but this little “kid” on the block packs a big punch when it comes to milk production for the small farm. In fact, many small-scale dairies are using Nigerian Dwarfs because their milk has a very high butterfat content (averaging 6 to 7 percent), which yields excellent cheese and butter.
Originating from African goats brought to the United States between the 1930s and 1950s, Nigerian Dwarfs have been selected to resemble miniature dairy goats. Initially, the breed was developed as a companion and show goat, but it has proved to be a successful milker as well.
Because of their initial selection as people-oriented backyard animals, Nigerian Dwarfs have developed friendly dispositions and a charming appearance. Nigerians Dwarfs come in a variety of colors and patterns, and typically weigh about 75 pounds, the size of a large dog! Some have horns, and some do not. They can produce one to two quarts of milk per day, and can be milked for up to 10 months. In addition to milking, many owners capitalize on the manure and weed/brush control provided by the breed. Farmers find the Nigerian Dwarf’s petite size a plus when it comes to care and maintenance. Nigerian Dwarfs can adapt to a variety of climates. Today, this breed is proving that size isn’t everything; a cute, small milk goat is all some farmers need.
Stylish and regal, the Clydesdale horse has gained worldwide recognition thanks to the Anheuser-Busch Co., but behind its grace and beauty is a powerful draft horse that knows how to get the job done. Developed in Scotland in the mid-1700s, the Clydesdale was originally created as a multipurpose workhorse for agricultural needs, working in coalfields and heavy hauling. The breed was first exhibited under the breed name in 1826, and it was first imported to the United States in the 1840s.
Today, Clydesdales are often found in street parades or pulling carriages, any time or place where power and grace are necessary. The Clydesdale is the ultimate display of strength, agility and docility. The breed ranges from 16.2 to 18 hands, and weighs 1,600 to 1,800 pounds, though larger animals can weigh over a ton. Clydesdales are most commonly bay, but also can be found in black, brown, chestnut and roan. They are famous for their feathered legs and distinctive white markings. Clydesdales have gained popularity and notoriety in recent years, helping their numbers grow to roughly 2,500 annual registrations in the United States. The breed would be an ideal fit for a farmer looking for a refined, active, intelligent horse to serve as a draft animal for work, show or pleasure.
Dorset Horn sheep
With their twisted, spiraling horns, Dorset Horn sheep grazing in the pasture are sure to get second glances and pointing fingers. As the mascot of the famous UNC Tarheels, the Dorset Horn is a meat and fiber breed that is great for the small farm. Developed in southwest England, one of the most notable characteristics of the breed is its prolificacy. Unlike most sheep breeds, the Dorset Horn is a non-seasonal breeder, meaning farmers can plan lambing to meet the demands of the Christmas market, and can have three birthing cycles in two years.
Although there is a polled version of the Dorset, considerable interest exists in the original horned variety, which has a majestic beauty and unique traits. Horned Dorset ewes make great mothers, are easy lambers, and they milk well – making them a great option for 4-H or FFA projects. They are also avid grazers and do well in pasture-based production systems. They produce 5 to 9 pounds of medium grade wool per year. Horned Dorsets are white, and weigh between 150 and 275 pounds, depending on the sex and strain. In the horned variety, both ewes and rams have horns. Horned Dorsets are heat tolerant, which contributes to their non-seasonal breeding. Today, there are fewer than 1,000 Horned Dorsets annually registered in the United States. If you are looking for meat, fiber, milk and beauty, give the Dorset Horn breed a try.
With long, graceful feathers, the Sebastopol’s looks often steal the show, but underneath the flashy feathers is a great meat goose for the small farm or homestead. Originating in southeastern Europe near the Black Sea, the Sebastopol’s history is a bit uncertain, but some say it may be one of the oldest domestic goose varieties. Because of its curly flight feathers, the Sebastopol is incapable of flight, making it a nice choice for the small farmer who doesn’t want to worry about confinement and fencing for geese.
Thankfully, despite the bird’s beauty, it has retained some utility as a homestead goose. Sebastopols are hardy birds and will forage for food. They are said to be easy keepers, and are quite docile and friendly. Though they are often kept for show, they make a respectable table bird that can feed a small family. Their attractive feathers also can be sold for crafts and projects. The Sebastopol is a moderate-sized goose weighing 12 to 14 pounds. White is the most common color, but grays and buffs occasionally occur. They are characterized by their long, soft-quilled, curling feathers. To keep the feathers clean, Sebastopols need access to clean water for swimming. Also, Sebastopols can require protection from the elements in colder climates. Today, there are about 1,000 breeding Sebastopols in the United States. If you’re looking for an easy-to-keep table bird with attractive plumage, consider the Sebastopol.
Carolina born and raised, Jennifer Kendall resides in Raleigh, North Carolina, and dreams of one day owning some of these heritage breeds.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect more than 180 rare breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. Founded in 1977, ALBC is the pioneer organization in the United States working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. ALBC’s mission is to ensure the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.
Membership in the organization is $35 per year. For more information or to join, call 919-542-5704 or visit the ALBC website.