Rare Breeds of American Livestock Top ALBC Watch List

Meet nine rare breeds of American livestock, U.S. heritage breeds, on the watch list of the ALBC.

| March/April 2010

America’s rich agricultural history includes untold numbers of livestock breeds that developed right along with the farms and farming practices of the day. These animals were sometimes so suited to a specific geographical area that they served their purpose almost perfectly. Most of these so-called “heritage breeds” never enjoyed widespread fame, but many became popular regionally, nationally and sometimes internationally. Most of these breeds of a bygone era fell out of favor, as evolving agricultural models called for fewer and more “standardized” breeds. So we now have hogs and cattle whose cuts will fit neatly in a shipping box, but the cost of that efficiency is profound.

Many heritage breeds no longer exist; many others are in danger of extinction. These include some of the best-tasting poultry and pigs, some of the hardiest cattle, and America’s own draft horse. Heritage breeds store a wealth of genetic resources that are important for our future. They also embody histories, cultures and traditions that tell of our past. By their very nature and genetics, heritage breeds can make a perfect animal addition to small, integrated and niche-based farms.

Here’s a glimpse of U.S. history told through America’s own heritage breeds. 

Making “Granny” Proud: American Cream Draft Horse

Status: Critical

The American Cream Draft is the only draft horse breed developed within the United States. The breed originated in Iowa in the early 1900s with a horse named Old Granny. Old Granny was a cream-colored draft mare who consistently produced cream offspring. During the 1930s, cream draft horses became popular in the counties surrounding Melbourne, Iowa, leading local breeders to develop the American Cream Draft. Just as the breed was becoming established, however, the market for draft horses collapsed as agricultural practices mechanized.

American Creams are medium to large animals, averaging 15 to 16.3 hands at the withers. Mares average 1,600 to 1,800 pounds, and stallions range from 1,800 to 2,000 pounds. The breed has a characteristic cream color with pink skin, amber eyes, and white manes and tails. They are well-known for their good dispositions and willingness to work. The American Cream is critically rare, but its numbers are increasing due to its unique appearance, history and natural fit within sustainable farming practices.

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