American Livestock Breeds from Colonial Times

Meet some of the American livestock breeds from Colonial times that arrived on the Mayflower.

| May/June 2010

We’ve all learned the stories of Christopher Columbus, conquistadors, Pilgrims and Native Americans, colonists and pioneers. We were taught to honor the earliest settlers to this country, but what about those animal heroes who braved the New World, making the Pilgrims’ lives possible, the livestock breeds from Colonial times? Colonists carried many breeds of livestock with them while making this epic journey. These animals supplied food, clothing and labor for the early settlers, yet their legacies are often unsung.

Remnant groups of many historic livestock breeds face new obstacles as modern agriculture favors “improved” breeds. Even worse, many foundational breeds of American agriculture are on the verge of going extinct. Today, let’s celebrate some of the four-legged settlers that became the foundation stock of modern American agriculture. They are a living testament to our past, and a genetic resource for our future.

Marsh Tacky (Colonial Spanish) Horse

Status: Critical

Although the exact origin of the Marsh Tacky horse is unclear, it can be attributed to Spanish stock that arrived on the coast and islands of South Carolina as “drop offs” by Spanish explorers, and also to stock brought over by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. During the American Revolution, Marsh Tackies were used by many of the troops of the famous “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion. Known as the “Father of American Guerrilla Warfare,” Marion not only was a great tactician, his troops inadvertently had the technical advantage of riding horses superbly adapted to the rough and swampy terrain of the region. British troops mounted on larger European breeds were at a disadvantage in trying to maneuver in the dense, wild swamps of the lowlands.

The Marsh Tacky is a sturdy, well-balanced and easy-keeping horse. Its gentle nature and easily managed size (13.5 to 15 hands) historically made the Marsh Tacky the preferred mount for women and children, but the breed’s strength, prowess and fearlessness in the field made it popular as a working animal utilized for hunting and herding cattle. They are a direct remnant of the horses of the Golden Age of Spain, and the type is mostly extinct now in Spain. The breed remains critically rare. 

Ossabaw Island Hogs

Status: Critical

3/31/2015 1:18:05 PM

And rabbits, what about rabbits?

3/31/2015 1:16:14 PM

13.5 hands is not possible. If the horse is 13 and 1/2 hands, it would be properly displayed as 13.2 hands. A hand is 4 inches. The writer should do more research before publishing an article on creatures they are unfamiliar with. I have to suffer such issues in fiction books, it should not have to be done in articles containing history and facts.

5/19/2014 11:07:57 PM

Aren't there smaller species that were brought over? And what about poultry?

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