Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Dear Members and Supporters,

Thanks so much for your support this past year. The economy has been a challenge to each of us, but ALBC appreciates your continued support of our mission and projects.

Jeannette Beranger, ALBC's Technical Program Manager (and in-house photographer), has compiled a photo collection of some of ALBC's work this past year ----> Enjoy!

Have a happy and safe holiday season!


The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Staff

Pictured: A Nigerian Dwarf goat

Monday, December 14, 2009

It Only Takes an Acre of Less...

by Leslie Edmundson

When we read stories about how a dedicated individual has single-handedly kept a breed from extinction, it’s inspiring. It’s amazing. We’re reading about a fellow ALBC member who has achieved something that most of us would deem impossible, but has managed to succeed. We’d all like to do that, too. But for many of us, who don’t come from three generations of farmers and who don’t have large farms, the dream of saving a breed is, well, a little daunting. Especially to those of us who don’t know the difference between a cow and a heifer and who could never handle a large horse or an ass without looking like one.

Think again. We ‘little people’ can be important breeders, too. Look around you – your cat has had fresh water in her bowl every day for ten years and her coat looks great. Your dog is up-to-date on all of his shots and gets his walk even in inclement weather. You have what it takes to be a responsible breed steward, you just don’t know it yet. We need you to start thinking about it.

Look way back into your family tree. Someone there had some livestock in their backyard. Not a big operation with modern high-production, genetically-engineered livestock, but just a small handful of hardy stock. Heritage breeds. The kind that don’t need specialized treatment to raise and manage. The kind you could rely on to keep a family going. That’s what kept the good breeds going for so long. Surprisingly enough, many of the highly-endangered breeds are still being kept alive in the same manner. ‘Backyard breeders’ still represent the majority of breeders of many of the heritage breeds listed by the ALBC. Their role contributes significantly to the continued existence of these breeds, and we’d be lost without them.

If you only have an acre or two, you can successfully breed heritage livestock. Actually, you can do it on a quarter of an acre. Let’s see how it’s done, shall we?

Raising chickens is simple. Just build, buy, or order a coop. It doesn’t have to be big. Get five hens and a rooster, all of the same endangered breed. In the morning, fill a bowl with chicken feed (aptly named – it costs about $3.00 per month to feed six chickens), put out a 1-gallon bucket of fresh water, and open the door of the coop. Don’t worry, they won’t fly away. At night, once the chickens have all gone to bed of their own accord, close the coop. Pretty easy, huh? The eggs taste great, the chickens will eat all of the creepy-crawlies in your yard, and when you let a hen keep her eggs for awhile, she’ll hatch out a nice brood of chicks for you. And each time she does, you’ve successfully increased the population of that breed.

Maybe you don’t have enough room for six chickens. Perhaps you should talk to Alan Shrader of the American Blue and White Rabbit Club­. He’ll tell you all you need to know about keeping rabbits; he’s incredibly interesting and very kind. Rabbits are gentle and rabbit hutches are compact. Your neighbors could never complain about a couple of rabbits in your back yard. There are only 150 American rabbits left. They really need more dedicated breed stewards. They’re friendly and easy-to-keep, and just because they’re a meat breed doesn’t mean you actually have to eat them. Just get a buck and a doe, and have fun playing with the baby bunnies until they’re old enough to sell to other responsible breeders (you might try eating a few of them, though).

If you have one or two acres, you may wish to bring that ‘pastoral’ look to your place. Nothing is more serene than a flock of sheep grazing on an open field of grass. Back yard breeders will be happy to learn that you don’t have to have twenty sheep in a flock. You can just have two. A sound breeding program is perfectly respectable even if it’s very small. Enjoy sitting back with a cold drink doing a bit of knitting while the sheep clip and fertilize your lawn for you all summer long.

Goats, perhaps? Goats are great fun. Baby goats and children are a natural match, and goats are hypoallergenic. Goats love fast-growing vines like honeysuckle and poison ivy. Hoof trimming is only as difficult as trimming the nails of a dog ­– tricky the first time, but after a few tries it just takes two minutes. San Clemente Island bucks are very gentle, and with a global population of 200 you may wish to commit to keeping a couple. They only live as long as dogs, so your commitment need not be for the rest of your life. But goats are easier to keep than dogs, as they won’t bark at the postman or drool on your cat.

People often avoid critically endangered breeds for fear that the animals, being so rare, are therefore very expensive. Untrue. We’re breeders, not poachers. Even the rarest of breeds are usually priced competitively, and are expected to earn their keep by production, not by exploitation. If you have just a couple of animals, don’t expect a large profit, but even hobby breeders should expect their animals to earn their own feed and to contribute food to their owners’ tables, one way or another.

Many rare breeds have a very limited geographical distribution. We need to increase populations, but we also need to spread them out geographically. This means that bringing breeding animals into your area, where none existed before, is a good thing. But it also means that you’re going to have to get creative with a logistical challenge: how to bring the animals home. When the nearest breeding pair of goats is three states away, is this an insurmountable obstacle? Not at all. Getting them is half the fun, and if you can’t travel, they can hitchhike a ride on a horse trailer, truck, or with a travelling relative. Chickens can travel by mail, and baby goats will fall asleep in the back seat of your car or in the cargo hold of an airplane.

Meeting the challenge of bringing your breeding stock home also means that you’ve greatly expanded the distribution of your breed. Now the breed is available to everyone in your area, and has become miles closer to the next area that needs to be populated. Other breeders who need to add variance to their gene pool will have a better chance of obtaining it, thanks to you. By importing a couple of breeding animals, you start a chain reaction that can result in a greater nationwide distribution and availability of endangered breeds. Backyard breeders can do this, whereas it might be prohibitive to the Big Guys who only keep Big Herds. This makes your little breeding program an invaluable asset to endangered breeds, doesn’t it?

As you can see, you can help to save an endangered heritage breed in your own back yard. If you don’t know anything about raising geese, ducks, pigs, or any of the other animals, don’t worry, almost every dedicated heritage breeder will help you learn and succeed. That’s what breed associations do, too. Try calling a breeder or a breed association and see what happens. You’re asking someone to talk about their favorite pastime. It’s really fun! And don’t forget that the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is here to help too. Not only are the ALBC staff always willing to go the extra mile to help you accomplish your goal of becoming a breed steward, but the +/-4,000 ALBC members are all on your team, too, even if you’re just an aspiring novice looking for a couple of turkeys. All Livestock Breeders Count.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The staff at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy wishes each of you a happy Thanksgiving. We hope your holiday is filled with family, joy, and relaxation.

There has been a lot of media buzz about Heritage Turkeys this holiday season. ALBC is excited to see growing consumer interest in saving rare breeds. By putting them back on the American dinner table, we can increase their population numbers and ensure genetic diversity and security for our agricultural food system.

In October as part of ALBC'S Master Breeder program, staff member Jeannette Beranger traveled to Kansas to do a walk-through of Frank Reese's flocks. Frank is the owner and operator of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch and he's a notable heritage poultry breeder.

During her tour, Jeannette tried out her "turkey whispering" skills. And the verdict - see for yourself! (These are Bronze turkeys.)

To learn more about Heritage Turkeys, visit www.albc-usa.org.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Lost Art of Last Cuts

This past week ALBC had the opportunity to partner with two talented local chefs to do a cooking demonstration with rare breeds. The event was educational, fun, and tasty!

Chef Scott Crawford of Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa and Chef Brett Jennings of Elaine's on Franklin shared their culinary expertise and passion for underutilized cuts from rare breeds. They invited us into the kitchen at Herons restaurant and allowed participants to see first hand how to break down a carcass and utilize multiple parts to make a delicious meal.
Byran Childress, the Hog Island sheep producer, was also on hand at the clinic to educate participants about the breed. Byran gave a brief history of the breed and answered questions. Many were amazed to learn that the Hog Island sheep is listed as critical on the ALBC Conservation Priority List, meaning there are less than 200 annual registrations of these animals in the United States.

An important part of saving rare breeds is developing a market for them - and with many of these breeds that market is food. Heritage breeds have different genetics from your standard industrial breeds; therefore, they have different tastes, textures, aromas, and flavors. The more ALBC can educate consumers and chefs about these breeds, the more we can support the mission of conservation. It may seem paradoxical, but by creating a demand for these breeds it will encourage farmers to raise more animals which in turn helps genetic conservation.

The breed that was prepared at the cooking clinic was the Hog Island sheep. The Hog Island sheep is a breed that has its beginnings in the 18th century. The breed was developed from British sheep living on Virginia’s barrier island, Hog Island, which was historically inhabited by America’s earliest colonists. The sheep evolved in response to the island’s natural selection for hardiness, foraging ability, and reproductive efficiency. In the 1930s, hurricanes destroyed Hog Island and forced inhabitants back to the mainland; however many of the sheep were left on the island and reverted to a feral state. In the 1970’s, the Nature Conservancy purchased Hog Island and most of the sheep were removed.

Today, the breed is extremely rare, with fewer than 200 animals registered annually. Hog Island sheep vary in physical appearance. Most of the sheep are white wooled, though about twenty percent are black. Ewes may be horned or polled. Rams can have horns or are somewhat polled. Mature animals weigh between 90–150 pounds. Hog Island sheep are excellent foragers and prefer to browse rather than graze, if given the opportunity to do so. They stay in very tight flocks and are extremely alert in nature. The breed is a rich part of American history and needs stewards to help it survive.

The best part of the cooking event - the food!
The menu was as follows:
  • Crispy Livers with Celeriac, Apples, Maitake, and Sherry-Brown Butter
  • Roast Lamb with Ratatouille, Lemon Confit, and Black Olive Jus
  • Warm Pumpkin Waffles with Autumn Fruit Compote and Calvados Ice Cream

To learn more about Heritage breeds or how to incorporate them into your farm plan, resturant, or dinner table, contact the ALBC office or visit www.albc-usa.org.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Northeastern Exposure Part 3 – Legends in Sleepy Hollow

By Jeannette Beranger

I left Tilley Foster Farm in Brewster, New York, and made my way south to meet with Craig Haney, Farm Manager of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in Tarrytown. He and I were scheduled to give a presentation together at the famous Astor Center in New York City that evening. Along the way, I wanted to stop in the infamous community of Sleepy Hollow (yes, it actually exists!) that is adjacent to Tarrytown.

The first thing you notice coming into the town is the huge, historic cemetery where the famous author, Washington Irving, is buried. At the entrance to the cemetery is the former location of the bridge that Irving describes in his novel as “the place where poor Ichabod Crane meets the Headless Horseman.” The covered bridge is no longer there but there are the remains of a 17th century manor house. The property has become a living history museum that is open to the public. Philipsburg Manor is a beautiful facility that incorporates some rare breeds into its programs. I came upon an impressive Randall Lineback oxen team comprised of Jacob and Joshua. The two, led by farm manager Stephen Kozack, were busy pulling a load of hay from a nearby field on the property. Along the way, they passed numerous Wiltshire Horn sheep crosses that populate the entire farm and make visitors feel as if they have stepped back in time onto a working farm.

Time was growing short, so I made my way to Stone Barns in the next town over. Formerly an estate owned by David Rockefeller, the property is now open to the public and is dedicated to celebrating and teaching advanced community-based food production and enjoyment as well as “farm to classroom to table.” Several heritage crops and animals are raised at Stone Barns including heritage chickens, turkeys, and geese. I met up with Craig and along with his wife and new daughter and we made our way into New York City to the Astor Center.

The Astor Center, located in NoHo on the eastern edge of Greenwich Village, has the reputation of selling one of the most diverse collections of wine and spirits in the entire city. In keeping with the independent culture of “the village,” Astor goes beyond being just “another store” by offering a wide assortment of courses and presentations ranging from cooking, wine, food, and culture. ALBC was invited to the learning center at Astor to talk about rare breeds and how they are finding their way back onto farms and onto the American dinner table. Craig followed by talking about how rare breeds are incorporated into the sustainable farming practices of Stone Barns. The class was nearly filled to capacity and was well received by attendees. Craig and I were very pleased to see several familiar faces of friends from the Slow Food USA national office in NYC.

The trek northeast came to an end after NYC and I was very happy to finally make my way back to North Carolina and back to my own farm. My stay in North Carolina wasn’t very long as I had field work in Washington state and Oregon a couple of weeks later. On the road again….

Happy Halloween All!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

St. Croix on the Ark of Taste

ALBC is very excited to share that Slow Food USA has added the St. Croix sheep breed to its “Ark of Taste.” The US Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. Through the promotion and eating Ark products we can help ensure they remain in production and on our dinner tables.

To qualify for inclusion on the Ark of Taste, a product must be:
Outstanding in terms of taste—as defined in the context of local traditions and uses
At risk biologically or as culinary traditions
Sustainably produced
Culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice
Produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies

ALBC hopes that the St. Croix will enjoy population growth as a result of its recent listing on the Ark of Taste. We hope more people will learn about this breed and its great meat qualities.

About the St. Croix
The St. Croix is an American sheep breed that is part of the Caribbean Hair sheep family of breeds. Caribbean Hair sheep were developed from the hair sheep of West Africa and a few European wooled sheep that were brought to the Caribbean beginning in the 1600s. The sheep proliferated as subsistence livestock, and they were also valued for the manure critical to sugar cane production.

Over time, Caribbean Hair sheep became well adapted to the heat and humidity of their environment. The hair coat, which eliminates the need for shearing, is part of this adaptation. Today, there are several landrace populations within this breed family in the Caribbean. Two breeds, the Barbados and the St. Croix, are also found in North America.
In 1975, Dr. Warren Foote of Utah State University imported 22 ewes and three rams from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Foote chose a relatively consistent group of polled, white sheep from a landrace called Virgin Islands White. Offspring of this imported group were further selected for consistency of conformation, and this process has resulted in the development of the St. Croix, a standardized breed in the United States.

The St. Croix is adapted to the heat and humidity of a tropical climate, and this adaptation has several manifestations. The breed has well documented parasite resistance, far superior to that found in most other sheep breeds. It is small, with ewes averaging 120 pounds and rams 165 pounds. St. Croix sheep are known for high fertility, and ewe lambs become fertile at about six months of age. Ewes often produce twins and have plenty of milk to raise them. Two lambings a year are not uncommon.

St. Croix sheep are excellent foragers and very easy keepers. Their browsing ability makes them useful for land management, including mowing grass in orchards and the control of invasive pest plants. Though heat tolerant, the sheep can be raised in many parts of North America. In colder areas, they grow a heavy winter coat of wool and hair that is shed in the spring. This combination of characteristics makes the breed an excellent choice for low input meat production. The St. Croix is increasing in numbers, and though it is still rare, the breed’s future seems promising.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Northeastern Exposure Part II: Preserving History at Tilley Foster Farm

Part 2- Preserving History at Tilley Foster Farm
By Jeannette Beranger

After leaving Rhode Island, the next stop on the road trip was Putnam County New York and Tilly Foster Farm Museum located in the city of Brewster. The farm itself is a beautiful historic property that once served as a premier Thoroughbred farm for the region. Horses can still be seen on the property, but instead of race horses, most are boarders whose owners enjoy the facilities that were once reserved for the cream of the equine crop in New York.

Through the efforts of George Whipple and The Whipple Foundation / Society for the Preservation of Putnam County Antiquities & Greenways, Tilly Foster Farm has been preserved to and will become a museum and home to an assortment of endangered American breeds of livestock and poultry. The primary goals of the foundation are to keep Tilly Foster Farm free and open to the people of Putnam County while making the farm self-sufficient to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Whipple plans to build a a world-class farm museum that incorporates rare farm animals that will serve to educate the public about farming, local history, and animal husbandry. George’s personal commitment to rare breed conservation has made him a long-time member of ALBC since the organization’s early years. His relationship with ALBC has recently been broadened with his election to the ALBC Board of Directors.

George grew up in Putnam County and is deeply concerned with preserving the beautiful rural qualities of the area in and around the county. He still resides on his grandfather’s Pine View Farm in the rural town of Kent, not far from the farm museum. Outside of Putnam, George works in New York City and is known to New Yorkers for his celebrity interviews on Whipple’s World, a show he films for NY1 News. I had the pleasure of getting to know George when he first began thinking about livestock and poultry breeds on the farm. He called the ALBC office for advice on appropriate breeds for the farm and to determine where he could find them.

After much brainstorming, George walked away with a breed list. He extended an invitation for me to visit the farm if I was ever in the area so, as I made my way back towards New York City for my lecture, I decided to stop by. Upon arriving at Tilley Foster Farm, I was in awe at the beauty of the old buildings and the fine herd of Randall Lineback cattle in the front pasture. George greeted me by the newly renovated guest cottage that will supplement the farm’s income by being rented out to visitors wanting to experience the farm and enjoy the pastoral setting the property has to offer. We began the afternoon with a walk around the farm. We were accompanied by George’s Parson Russell terrier, Mayfair, who is retired from the show ring and enjoy her new job as master of all she surveys on the farm. (She takes particular delight in making sure the ducks and geese keep in line.)

As George and I visited the farm, we discussed the future of the facility and the development of programs to promote the rare breeds. Plans include utilizing a meeting facility and restaurant for on-farm seminars and classes. As part of the farm’s lecture programs, ALBC Board President Callene Rapp was scheduled to give a public presentation at the farm on raising heritage breed rabbits.

Among the breeds we saw on the farm were Jacob (American) sheep, Blue American rabbits, Guinea hogs, Narragansett turkeys, several varieties of Heritage Chickens and ducks, and their famous American Mammoth Jackstock, Nate. Children’s book author Sheila Mealy recently made him a local celebrity by publishing a lovely book about the donkey and the adventures that brought him to Tilly Foster Farm.

The basement level of one of the barns contains a wonderful display of antique farm equipment. A collection of tractors, valued at over one million dollars, is exhibited in the area. The machinery and displays are on loan to the farm by the Putnam County Antique Machinery Association. Some other assets of the farm include an impressive investment in infrastructure to make the property largely energy efficient through solar and wind power made on the farm. The solar array alone can produce up to 13,000 watts of electricity for the farm.

Beyond the animals, Tilly Foster Farm also serves as a home for a unique rock and roll museum called Avalon Archives. The museum’s collection is owned by a friend of George’s by the name of Ned Moran. Ned is a retired New York City firefighter and an amazing music guru to all that know him. Ned’s collection contains highly prized items and memorabilia that any rock and roll enthusiast would give their right eye for. Ned began his collection while living in San Francisco between 1969-1974, a golden age of rock for many. It seemed only appropriate to take a step into the museum as that day happened to be the 32nd anniversary of the Elvis’ death and the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Much of the collection consisted of highly coveted concert posters, cards, and artwork. I’ve visited Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I can say that in comparison, Avalon’s intimate setting gives visitors a more tangible and personal connection to the history on the walls. After leaving the museum, I had the distinct feeling of just having spent a quiet afternoon with old friends in that building.

By late afternoon, the temperature peaked (90°+!) and it was about time to finish the tour for the day. By then, most of the animals were in their barns or had the good sense to get in the shade and keep cool. Having spent a pleasant day in his company, I said my goodbyes to George and headed towards my next destination.

In the next installment, Jeannette will head to meet Craig Haney at the Stone Barns Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buckeye Broiler Breeder Clinic in Ohio

Join the Countryside Conservancy and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) for a Buckeye Broiler Breeder Clinic in Peninsula,OH. The event will be held October 6, 2009, at the Happy Days Lodge.

The clinic will begin with a one-hour lecture. Learn about Heritage poultry breeds, their use in sustainable agriculture, ALBC's Buckeye Recovery Project, how to evaluate production traits, and practical breeding strategies for bloodlines improvements. The second hour of each session will be devoted to careful physical examination of Buckeye birds in order to understand how a breeder/grower can improve commercial traits over time.

All clinic participants will:

  • Receive preferential treatment for purchasing ALBC strain Buckeyebroiler chicks

  • Be eligible to participate in a new regional Buckeye breeders andgrowers network

  • Receive copies of several ALBC publications including: Selecting for Meat Qualities and Rate of Growth, Selecting for Egg Production, On-going Selection of Breeding Stock, ALBC Chicken Breed Comparison Chart

Buckeye Breeder Clinics
When: Tuesday, October 6th
Times: 10am-noon and 2-4pm
Cost: Registration: $100 per person or $150 per couple from the same farmoperation.
Location: Happy Days Lodge @ 500 W. Streetsboro Rd., Peninsula, OH 22264

Space is limited. First-come-first-serve.

To register for one of the Buckeye Breeder Clinics or to find outmore information about any of the events, contact swebb@cvcountryside.org or call (330) 657-2542.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Tar Heels' Dying Breed

By Jennifer M. Kendall

This Saturday, thousands of Tar Heel faithful will pack Kenan Stadium for the first Carolina football game of the season. As kick-off time nears, Ramses, the coveted UNC mascot will strut down the sidelines - beaming Tar Heel pride from his radiant blue horns. But behind the wooly coat and massive horns, Ramses hides a secret that few know – he’s part of a dying breed.

A Carolina tradition since 1924, Ramses the Dorset Horn sheep may soon be a mere legend. On any given game day the 60,000 fans that pack Kenan Stadium outnumber the estimated global population of Dorset Horns. In 2009, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy listed the breed on its Conservation Priority List under the Watch Category, citing a global population of fewer than 10,000 breeding animals.

On a hot, steamy August afternoon, I met with the Hogan family of Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm, just outside of Chapel Hill. The Hogan family has kept Ramses for the past 85 years, helping to give the Dorset Horn breed a future, blue-horned ram after blue-horned ram.

“My family has been on this farm since 1757. I’m a 9th generation farmer and 4th generation ram keeper,” said Rob Hogan. In 1924, the same year the ram was introduced as the mascot, Hogan’s great-grandfather assumed the duties of the ram keeper. “My great-granddad, Clay Hogan, had four sons and two were UNC alums. Henry Hogan played on the football team. I think between the farm’s proximity to campus and the family connection to the university - it just made sense,” said Hogan.

The current Ramses is the 18th Horned Dorset kept by the Hogan family to go by this name. University archives suggest the first UNC Horned Dorset came from Texas in 1924, when then head cheerleader Vic Huggins suggested UNC get a live mascot to honor famed Jack Merrit, known to his fans as the "Battering Ram."

The current Ramses is not a direct relative of the first UNC ram, but since 1996 there has been a direct line of succeeding males. Hogan, a cattle farmer by profession, says it’s a little different from raising cattle. “With cattle, you switch out the bull every so often to keep genetic diversity, but since we always have to have a male – Ramses regularly gets a new wife from another flock.”

This year, Ramses wife’s name is Tulip. Tulip was given to the Hogans from the Cassell family, in Wytheville, VA, right in the center of Hokie country. Yes, the baby Ramses may have some Hokie blood in its veins. One great benefit of the Horned Dorset breed is that they can reproduce out of season, a quality not seen in most wooled breeds. If properly managed, Horned Dorset ewes can give birth three times over the course of just two years.

So why is the Dorset Horn sheep an endangered breed? The “blow to the horns” came from one of UNC’s biggest rivals, North Carolina State University. The rivalry went beyond the football field and into the genetic arena. In 1949, a Horned Dorset ram on an N.C. State farm sired four hornless ewes. Over the next five years, the late livestock scientists Dr. Lemuel Goode and Sam Buchanan bred the Horned Dorset ram to those four ewes and all other ewes in the flock. Finally in 1954, a ewe delivered twin rams, one with horns and one without. Within 20 years, 70 percent of all registered Dorsets were hornless (polled).

Rob Hogan has his own ties to N.C. State. Hogan graduated from State’s Agricultural Institute in the late seventies. “People ask me that all the time,” Hogan said when I asked him how a State graduate felt about being the guardian of UNC’s prized mascot. “People say it doesn’t make sense, but it makes all the sense,” Hogan offered. “The only school in this area at that time that offered agricultural education was State and knowing I was going to take over the family farm, it made all the sense to go there.” When asked how his college peers felt about his family housing the ram, he jokingly responded, “Well, you knew not to bring something like that up.”

And that led me to my next question which Hogan also knew was coming, “Who do you pull for on State vs. UNC game days?” He replied with a nonchalant, “On those days, I can’t lose.”
And with that, it was time to go find Ramses the Horned Dorset for his one-on-one. In the heat of the afternoon, he was cooling his “heels” in the wooded area of the pasture and close-by was Tulip, his current mate. Hogan approached him and convinced him to give up his shady spot for a bit.

Hogan commented, “Obviously he has a good temperament. He goes down in front of 60,000 people on any given Saturday and the bands are playing, fireworks are going off, people are hooting and hollering, and Ramses is unscathed.” Hogan says Ramses’ docile nature is just part of the breed along with some proper handling and training.

And out into the pasture came Ramses in all his horned glory. He was quite muddy and his horns were faded, but Hogan assured me that come Friday night, game rituals will commence. “Every Friday night before a home game we put him out in the backyard and he gets a shampoo.” After his shampoo comes the most important part. “After he’s clean, we paint his horns blue.”

Hogan’s entire family joins in the pre-game prepping of Ramses. Hogan’s Aunt Carolyn makes Ramses game attire which is his Carolina blue blanket. Hogan’s sons help with cleaning and prepping the animal and on game day they all enjoy the ride to town, with Ramses in the back of the pick-up truck.

As Ramses grazed in the pasture, Hogan chuckled as he shared some of his favorite questions people ask. “They always want to know where I found a sheep with blue horns. Or, they want to know if it’s male or female – never mind the two foot long testicles on the ram.” Hogan’s wife Ann added, “They always ask if he’s real.” Ram-napping stories are also a regular source of laughter for the two.

As I touched the faded blue paint on Ramses horns I was reminiscent of seasons past. While admiring this symbol of Tar Heel tradition, I could not help but wonder about the future of the breed and many others. Over 170 breeds of livestock and poultry are considered a Conservation Priority by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the list is growing.

So this Saturday and every game day, amongst the cheers, and bands and excitement – thank the Hogans for all that they do for this breed and thank all the other Horned Dorset breeders out there helping to keep the breed alive. And when Ramses the coveted UNC mascot struts down those sidelines - beaming Tar Heel pride from his radiant blue horns – don’t take him for granted.

For more information on how to help save heritage breeds of livestock, visit http://www.albc-usa.org/.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northeastern Exposure, Part I

By Jeannette Beranger
ALBC Research & Technical Programs Manager

ALBC was invited to a couple of events in the Northeast region of the U.S. that spanned several days. The first event was a rare breeds meeting in Troy, New Hampshire, to commemorate the establishment of the new American Kerry Cattle Society and to bring together rare breed owners and enthusiasts for a day focused on rare breed efforts in the Northeast. Afterwards I headed to New York to meet with the folks at Tilley Foster Farm in Brewster, Stone Barns Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Tarrytown, and finally the Astor Center in New York City. This is the first of four installments about the trip.

Part 1- Learning from the Past in Rhode Island
Landing in LaGuardia Airport seemed logical since the trip in the Northeast would end in this area. After picking up the rental car, I made my way north for the meeting in Troy, New Hampshire. Having lived in Rhode Island for many years, I thought I would stop in and stay the night with friends before heading to the Kerry cattle meeting the following morning. As it turns out, before I got out of New York City, I received a phone call to inform me that the meeting was postponed due to extenuating circumstances with several of the organizers. It was a great disappointment to miss the opportunity to meet with the breeders in this region but hopefully the opportunity will come around again.

Since I had plans to stay with friends in Rhode Island that evening, I decided to make the best of the circumstances and the extra time that I had on my hands to visit some farms in the area.

Rhode Island was once a strong agricultural force in early America and what most people do not realize is that it also served as a great center of horse breeding during Colonial times in the 17th and early 18th centuries, especially in and around Narragansett. The most notable equine accomplishment came in the form of a breed called the Narragansett Pacer, which got its name from the local Native American tribe from the southeast portion of the state. Prior to the development of proper roads that could accommodate carriages, the Narragansett Pacer was the “Cadillac” of its day and was famed for the comfort of its gait and the ability to travel long distances without tiring. At the height of the horses’ popularity, a Rhode Island clergyman by the name of James MacSparran wrote of them “I have seen some of them pace a mile in little more than two minutes, a good deal less than three.” At that time the Narragansett Pacer was also the favored mount of General George Washington.

Local lore about the origin of the Narragansett Pacer tells of the breeds development beginning with Lt. Governor Robinson in the early 1700’s. The most famous of his stallions was an animal by the name of “Old Snip” which is said to be the father of the Narragansett Pacer breed. Some speculate he was an Andalusian while others ponder he could have been an Irish Hobby. His origins will never be certain but he was considered an important stallion for Robinson’s horse breeding efforts.

In Colonial Rhode Island horses were managed along the coast by fencing off peninsulas and allowing the horses to run wild, feeding on the salt grasses in the marshes. This management made for outstanding horses that were toughened by the feral lifestyle and admired for their vigor. The Narragansett Pacer became the most sought after riding animal in New England and for plantation use in the southern colonies and even in the Caribbean. This ultimately became the downfall of the breed when coupled with the decline in large scale horse breeding in the region. The enormous, early plantations began to diminish in size as families grew and land became subdivided among the owners’ children over subsequent generations. At the same time, horse buyers were sent to Rhode Island to secure large numbers of horses for plantation use. In particular, one un-named purchasing agent was said to have come to Rhode Island to acquire large numbers of the finest animals for importation to Cuba. It was said that no good horse available for purchase went unsold to this man upon his visit. The end result depleted the breeding population and had a dramatic impact on the future of the breed in Rhode Island.

By the time breeders realized that the breed was in danger of disappearing, the fate of the Narragansett Pacer was set for extinction. There are no conclusive dates for exactly when the breed disappeared completely. One of the later references to the breed appears in a footnote within James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans published in 1826. Cooper mentions that “Narragansett Pacers are still in much request as saddle horses” when he wrote the famous novel. Locals from coastal Rhode Island say they persisted in the southern coastal counties in small numbers until the later 1800s before they disappeared altogether.

This hard lesson about the security of domestic breeds made me wonder how many others have met the same ending over the years. To me, the idea drove home the importance of the work we do for ALBC and how easily a breed can slip away if we are not vigilant.

While making my way through Rhode Island, I made an effort to drive by the historic farm of Lt. Governor Robinson. Although the farm is not open to the public, the property is still owned and lived in by his descendants. Today there are no horses to be found on the carefully manicured grounds. I am told by friends of the family that a period painting of their famous Narragansett Pacers still sits above the mantel of their fireplace and is the last remnant of the family’s legacy with the breed.

Following the visit to the Robinson farm, I traveled a short distance up the road to another historic farm called Casey Farm. Unlike the Robinson property, this colonial period farm is open to the public and has been in continuous agricultural production since 1702. (An outstanding accomplishment by any measure!) The farm is currently owned by Historic New England and operated by its caretakers Polly and Mike Hutchinson. The farm operates a very successful CSA for its produce and also offers a summer camp and a very popular farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. I happened to be there on market day and enjoyed viewing a wide variety of products ranging from cheese, to honey, to a wide assortment of organic produce and meat.

While wandering around the farm, it was great to see that they have incorporated several heritage breeds into their organic production system including a sizeable flock of Dominique chickens, Heritage Turkeys, and Belgium draft horses. A reminder of yesteryear stood atop the barn in the form of a weather vane depicting an Old English Game chicken which, no doubt, would have been a resident on the farm during colonial times.

In the next installment, the trip takes me back to New York state and to the endangered breed farm project of George Whipple at the historic Tilley Foster Farm.

For more information about RI agricultural history visit:

Casey Farm, 2325 Boston Neck Rd., Saunderstown, RI, 02874, (401) 295-1030, CaseyFarm@HistoricNewEngland.org, http://www.historicnewengland.org/visit/homes/casey.htm

Pettaquamscutt Historical Society Museum on 2636 Kingstown Road, Kingston, RI 02881, (401) 783-1328, pettaquamscutt@yahoo.com, http://www.freewebs.com/pettaquamscutt/index.htm

Historic New England, Headquarters, 141 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114, (617) 227-3956, http://www.historicnewengland.org/

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A New Classified Service for Rare Breeds and Rare Breed Products

I must admit that I am a CRAIGSLIST user. I love to look at the events going on in my area, the pets for adoption, and the random things that people try to sell. From jewlery to cars, to clothes and boats, Craigslist sells it all.

Over the years, many ALBC members and non-members have suggested that ALBC develop a similar "classified" site for rare breed breeders, animals, and products. Many members say that marketing is an essential part of being able to afford to raise these breedes, and they've been searching for a vehicle to help market their products.

After much discussion and development, ALBC is excited to announce the release of a classified section on the ALBC web site. The site was launched last Wednesday, August 12, and already we have nearly 100 registered users. We hope to increase this number as additional members learn about the service. The site will also be marketed to those who may not be ALBC members, but may be interested in rare breeds or their products.

Check out the new site and let us know what you think. You must be an ALBC member to post to the site, but anyone can view ads and respond to sellers.

Happy posting!

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's A (Rare) Girl!

On July 18, 2009, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, KS, welcomed a baby Poitou donkey. The Poitou, a young female named Vivienne, is the first of her kind born in a zoo in North America.

Poitous are categorized as Critical on ALBC's Conservation Priority List, meaning there are fewer than 200 annual registrations for this breed in the US and an estimated global population of less than 2,000.

The Poitou is an ancient French breed. The breed was developed in the Poitou region of western France, where mule breeding has been documented for over one thousand years. The breed nearly became extinct after World War II, when the demand for mules collapsed. The Poitou’s limited geographic area increased its vulnerability. Fewer than 80 Poitous survived in 1980.
Today, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy works with breeders around the country to help increase the number of Poitous. This breed has a rich history that need not be lost.

Congratulations and thanks to the Sedgwick County Zoo for helping to support rare breeds by breeding them and sharing them with the public.

Click here for more information about the breed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Rare Visit With the Smithsonian

By Jeannette Beranger

ALBC had the honor to be invited to a sneak preview of an upcoming exhibit created by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Entitled A Song For The Horse Nation, the exhibit focuses in on the relationship of Native American tribes and the horse. Because most of the historic tribal horses were Colonial Spanish, ALBC’s work with the remaining strains of those horses is of interest to the museum.

ALBC staff members Marjie Bender, Phil Sponenberg, and Jeannette Beranger made the trek to Washington D.C.. ALBC Board member Jamie McConnell and his wife Mary both helped to support the exhibit and arranged the invitation for all of us to meet with the exhibit curator, Emil Her Many Horses. The visit was timely in that it is about to be packed up and shipped to its first official showing which will occur on November 14, 2009 – March 7, 2011 at the George Gustav Heye Center, New York. Following New York, the exhibit will become larger and will open in Washington D.C. in 2011 at the Museum of the American Indian.

We began our visit at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center (CRC) which is where much of the research and conservation of the museum collection is accomplished. Angela Leipold, the NMAI Assistant Director for External Affairs, welcomed our group and we were then joined by Exhibit Curator, Emil Her Many Horses. Emil is of the Lakota tribe and a recognized expert on Native American art with an emphasis on bead work. His tour started in the main storage area of the CRC, where we were greeted by a large model of a horse that was adorned with a beautifully beaded lady’s saddle and tack created by the Absaroke (Crow) tribe circa 1885. Next to the ornate horse was a table covered with horse related artifacts that ranged from dance sticks, to pipes, to lovely beaded bags. Emil was gracious as he explained the significance of each item and enabled the group to understand the importance of every piece. It was interesting to note that many of the images of horses depicted the classic phenotype of the Colonial Spanish horses we know today. It was an exciting revelation for the ALBC crew! As the group viewed the priceless pieces of Native American art, clothing, and horse tack, it was clear that the horse had an immeasurable impact on tribes throughout the country.

We toured several areas where Emil pulled open draws loaded with precious artifacts. One particularly beautiful piece was a jacket commemorating the battle prowess of a Cheyenne warrior. The jacket was adorned with dark human hair and horse hair that was dyed yellow. Emil explained that the human hair was likely “donated” hair from the warrior’s family members and represented his slain opponents from battle.

Our final stop was to the conservation area where we saw artifacts being cleaned and repaired in preparation for the exhibit. There were lovely head masks for the horses, brightly colored hoof ornaments, and lovely beaded head stalls for horses. On one table were several old rifles, one of which actually belonged to famous Geronimo of the Apache tribe and another to Chief Joseph of the Nez Perez tribe. On another table was an intricate horse’s mask decorated with colored porcupine quills. In the end the group was humbled by the incredible history laid out before us and knowing that the Colonial Spanish horses ALBC works with are a living component of American Indian culture.

ALBC would like to thank Emil, Angela, and the SNMAI staff for their hospitality and taking the time to give us a unique look at their amazing museum collection.

For more information on the items in the exhibit, you can purchase the book A Song For The Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures edited by George P. Horse Capture and Emil Her Many Horses available through the book store of the National Museum of the American Indian at http://www.nmai.si.edu/ .

Click here to learn more about the exhibit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Chicken Choosin'

By Jennifer Kendall

This past Monday, I had the opportunity to visit Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA, for the fifth tasting in a series of tastings co-sponsored by ALBC. On the menu - CHICKEN! 10 different types to be exact. The purpose of the event was to allow chefs, foodies, farmers, media, and others to explore the differences in taste between various breeds of Heritage Chicken. (Breeds tasted: Dominique, Dorking, Speckled Sussex, Faverolle, Delaware, Buff Orpington, Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Buckeye, and Corn/Rock Cross for comparison)

Each chicken was raised at Ayrshire Farm under the same conditions. They were all raised on pasture and fed organic feed. They were all slaughtered at 16 weeks, with the exception of the Corn/Rock cross (would not live to 16 weeks).

The event was a blind taste test. Each breed was assigned a number. Tasters were asked to rate the chicken on a scale from 1-10 with 1 being the lowest possible score and 10 being the highest possible score. There were 3 categories that each sample was graded on: taste, texture and appearance. Each attendee was asked to pick their first, second, and third place choice based on highest score. As the results were being tallied, each bird was referred to by a number. It was not until all the results were in that the number identities were revealed.

Several celebrity judges also participated in the event, providing a more educated palette for the chicken tasting.

So, which chickens took home top honors?

Public Results:
First Place:
Second Place: Rhode Island Red and Corn/Rock Cross tie
Third Place: Dominique and Buckeye tie

Celebrity Judge Results:
First Place:
Dorking and Corn/Rock Cross tie
Second Place: Barred Plymouth Rock
Third Place: Faverolle

Over the next few days, I'll share more about the event. From the farm tour, to the identities of the celebrity chefs, to my own personal taste preferences. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Annual Conference Update

As many of you are aware, ALBC recently had to change the location of it's 2009 Annual Conference. The conference was scheduled to be in Houston, TX, but due to some last minute, unexpected circumstances, the conference was moved to Raleigh, NC.

These past few weeks the ALBC staff have been working extremely hard to re-work all the logistics for the conference in NC. We are very excited about the opportunities and programming that North Carolina presents - and we think it will be a great conference.

So, do we have you curious? Are you ready to start making your reservations?

The conference is still November 13-14, 2009

The host hotel for the conference will be the Clarion Hotel State Capital in Downtown Raleigh, NC. The hotel is in the heart of Raleigh's downtown area and it's a great central location for the conference. The hotel is about 13 miles from RDU International Airport.

Conference attendees will receive the promotional rate of $79.00 per night (Friday and Saturday). When contacting the hotel, be sure to mention the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in order to receive the discounted rate.
Clarion Hotel State Capital
320 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC, US, 27603-1786
Phone:(919) 832-0501
Fax: (919) 833-1631

Below are some images of the hotel:

Pre-conference clinics will include the following: (November 13th)
Breed Association Workshop
Rare Breed Pig Husbandry Workshop
The Lost Art of Last Cuts: Taking Advantage of Underutilized Cuts of Meat
Introduction to Micro-dairying with Rare Breed Cattle, Goats, and Sheep
Breeding Rare Breed Rabbits for Productivity
Selecting Heritage Chicken Breeding Stock for Productivity

Conference talks will include the following: (November 14th)
Ecology of Place: The Association of Rare Breed Foods & Where They Come From
The Kentucky Hamburger Alliance: Finding An Outlet For The Rest Of The Beef
Poultry Incubation: Hatching for Success
Incorporating Rare Breeds Into Your Farm Plan
Emergency Preparedness for Responsible Endangered Breed Stewardship
Introduction to Rare Meat Rabbit Breeds
New Genetics Technologies for Breed Conservation: DNA Analysis & Interpretation
Pork: The Other Red Meat
How to Work Productively with Your Processor
Because They Taste Better: The Competitive Edge of Heritage Breeds In Grass Based Production System
Demystifying Farm Economics
Navajo Churro Presidium: Direct Marketing Rare Breed Sheep
Marketing 101: A Closer Look at Marketing Strategies for Independent Producers
New Tools and Strategies For Rare Breed Producers

More information will continually be added to the conference website, http://albc-usa.org/Conference2009/ALBCconference2009.html - so check here for regular updates.
Also, all members will receive a conference packet within the next few weeks outlining the entire conference and all the presentations. The online registration form will also be available in the coming weeks. We are very excited about the event and look forward to seeing you all there.

Monday, June 15, 2009

ALBC in Historic Bethania

On Saturday, June 13, 2009, the community of Historic Bethania near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, celebrated its 250th anniversary. Amidst historic demonstrations and period costumes, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy setup a booth featuring information about historic breeds of livestock. While it's important to know our cultural heritage, it's just as important to understand the history behind many of the historic breeds of livestock and poultry that are now threatened with extinction.
ALBC's exhibit included information about rare breeds, but the focus of the day quickly became the rare breed animals on display.

Jeannette and Fred Beranger brought their Marsh Tacky horses to help raise awareness for the breed. Many visitors were very impressed with the history of the horses as well as their hardiness and good looks. The horses were very relaxed and calm and enjoyed the visitors.

Charles Taft, ALBC Board member and rare breed raiser, brought his St. Croix sheep and Delaware chicken with chicks. Children flocked to the chicks and parents learned more about the history behind the breed. Mamma Delaware was very tolerant of the children holding her babies.

The St. Croix sheep were also a hit. Children and adults alike enjoyed petting the docile lambs and ewes. Charles Taft shared his experiences with raising the sheep and answered questions from the public.
Despite the 90 degree heat, the day was a success. Many people walked away from the exhbit realizing that many breeds of livestock and poultry are endangered. Being able to pet the animals and see the animals upclose made the experience more real. These were no longer just pictures in a book - these were real, live animals that need our help and protection.