Know Why You Want a Rare Breed on Your Homeplace

The Livestock Conservancy, formerly the ALBC, is a great resource for those interested in conserving a rare breed of livestock.

  • Highland cattle thrive in the cold.
    Photo By Heather Bashow
  • A Dorset Horn ewe cuddles her lamb.
    Photo By Christine Byrne
  • A Buff tom surveys his surroundings.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • American Buff geese on the march.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • A Blue Choctaw gilt roams the barnyard.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • An American Chinchilla Rabbit is ready for showing.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • A Chantecler pullet poses for show.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • The American Cream is the only draft horse breed developed in the United States.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • Buckeye chickens are cold-weather-hardy birds that excel at producing both meat and eggs.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • Though not recognized as a heritage breed by The Livestock Conservancy, the English Longhorn is a rare breed from England often bred for beef.
    Photo By Christine Byrne
  • Saxony ducks, according to Dave Holderread in Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, are one of the best large all-purpose duck breeds.
    Photo Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy

Gung ho over Guinea Hogs? Fascinated by Friesians? Hooked on Highlands? If the answer is yes, you are by no means uncommon when it comes to having an affinity for rare livestock.

Rare breeds are unique, interesting, hardy and challenging. They can be rewarding to raise, but it’s important to choose the right species, as well as the right breed, for your needs and setup.

First of all, what exactly is a rare breed? If it were just a simple matter of numbers, more than a few of the off-the-wall breeds might qualify, but the true meaning of “rare breed” goes much deeper than that.

The Livestock Conservancy (formerly The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy or ALBC), founded in 1977, was the first American organization to take a good hard look at some of the historical livestock breeds that had begun disappearing, such as the Milking Devon. Originally founded by a group of agricultural historians, The Livestock Conservancy’s membership and mission now includes farmers, scientists, philanthropists and hobbyists who share the same passion for conserving rare breeds of livestock.

In order for a breed to be listed on The LC’s Conservation Priority List, a host of criteria need to be met. First of all, the breed has to be sufficiently few in number. There are five categories, from Critical to Study, and each has numerical criteria for inclusion. While no breed wants to land in the Critical category, it can often serve as a wake-up call for people to take seriously the need to conserve that particular breed.

Secondly, the breed must have a continuous breeding history in the United States dating back to 1925. Imported breeds are not excluded, but the foundation stock must no longer be available.

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