Heritage Breed Livestock: Multipurpose Menagerie

Heritage breeds serve in more than one capacity on the farm.


| September/October 2010


Move over Barnum and Bailey, there’s a new collection of unusual animals in town – and this collection of rare, domesticated livestock breeds can reside in your own backyard. Many heritage breeds are in danger of extinction, and in order to keep them around for the next generation, they need their jobs back. Integrating multipurpose animals into your farm can yield productive results, both for the farm and for the animals. The following breeds historically served many roles on the family farm. Do you have room for part of this multipurpose menagerie?

Gulf Coast Sheep

Status: Critical

For centuries, Gulf Coast Sheep were the only sheep found in the Deep South, providing meat and wool for home production. They are descendants of Spanish flocks brought to the New World in the 1500s. These sheep were shaped by natural selection, becoming well-adapted to the heat and humidity of their environment. The sheep lack wool on their faces, legs and bellies, which is yet another adaptation for tolerance to heat and humidity. Gulf Coast Sheep vary in size, with rams weighing 125 to 200 pounds and ewes 90 to 160 pounds.

Because of their natural adaptations, Gulf Coast Sheep have many desirable qualities for the sustainable farm such as heat/humidity tolerance, parasite and foot rot resistance, year-round breeding abilities, and good mothering abilities. These adaptations make the breed an easy-keeper while returning many benefits to the farm.

Gulf Coast Sheep can provide high-quality, mild-flavored meat, and the fleece can be used to create fabrics, blankets and sweaters. The fleece averages 4 to 6 pounds per ewe. Some producers also harvest milk to create butter and cheese for the family. The Gulf Coast, an excellent forager, can also serve a landscaping role, eating noxious plants that tend to overtake pastures and yards. As breed numbers continue to decline, Gulf Coast Sheep are a critical conservation priority. 

Chinese Goose

Status: Watch





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