Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tips For Keeping Livestock in Cold Weather

Ancient White Park cattle, photo by Cecilia Whitaker
Here are some quick tips for keeping livestock healthy and hardy in the abnormally cold weather plaguing many parts of the country.

  • Animals should have plenty of fresh water. Dehydration is a common problem in winter due to ice. Check several times a day to ensure water is not frozen and consider a water heater or some other option to keep water from freezing.
  • Ample food is necessary during the cold of winter. It enables animals to produce energy in the form of body heat.
  • Make sure animals needing shelter have access to clean, dry living spaces. Many breeds can cope with weather extremes so long as they can be dry. The health of animals housed indoors can suffer if bedding becomes too soiled with ammonia and fecal build-up.
  • Even the hardiest animals should have access to a windbreak. High winds can create bitter cold that can be dangerous for livestock.
  • For some livestock, (such as horses or youngsters born out of season) you may consider a waterproof, insulated blanket.
  • Keep de-icers and other chemicals away from livestock. They can be toxic if ingested and can cause irritation if they come into contact with feet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Hope you all have a great holiday season. ALBC is so thankful for all of its members and supporters, and we look forward to 2011. Thanks to all the breeders and producers out there raising these rare breeds so that they will be here for future generations.

Jeannette Beranger, ALBC Research and Program Manager, is also one of ALBC's best photographers. When she travels to farms around the country, she is always taking pictures! Jeannette has gathered some of her favorite images taken over the course of this past year. Hope you enjoy this tiny glimpse of some of our work! Best wishes for the New Year.
Jeannette Beranger's slideshow of rare breed images

Monday, December 6, 2010

Heritage Cattle Definition

In an effort to secure the term Heritage in the food and agricultural marketplaces, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), a non-profit organization working to ensure the survival of rare breeds of livestock and poultry, has defined the term Heritage Cattle and established criteria for beef and dairy products made from Heritage Cattle breeds. In 2005 and 2009 respectively, ALBC defined the terms Heritage Turkey and Heritage Chicken which have become widely accepted in the marketplace.

“The goal of defining Heritage for cattle and their products is to secure a market niche for the term so that these historic breeds can be promoted in their own right,” said ALBC’s Executive Director Charles Bassett.

Cattle have been a part of the American agricultural landscape since the arrival of Spanish colonists beginning in 1493. During the colonization of America, cattle indigenous to Europe were brought over with the settlers. For centuries these breeds provided milk, meat, leather, tallow, draft power, and companionship.

Today, many cattle breeds that were once core components of regional cultures are in danger of extinction. Variety is decreasing as production is increasing. As cultures are homogenized and historic agricultural traditions are abandoned, the flavors and food traditions of these breeds, and the breeds themselves, are threatened. Through Heritage branding efforts, ALBC hopes to raise awareness of and support for endangered breeds of livestock. The ultimate goal is to ensure the long-term genetic conservation of these breeds.

Heritage Cattle, as defined by ALBC’s definition, must meet several criteria:

1. True Genetic Breed. The breed is a true genetic breed of cattle. That is, when mated together, it reproduces the breed type.

2. Endangered Breed. The breed is or has been endangered, as defined by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), and appears on the ALBC Conservation Priority List in the Critical, Threatened, Watch, or Recovering categories. (CPL)

3. Long History in US. The breed has an established and continuously breeding population in the United States since 1925. If developed since 1925, foundation stock is no longer available. If more recently imported, the breed is globally endangered.

4. Purebred Status. Heritage Cattle must be registered purebred animals or immediate offspring of registered purebred animals. Cattle that are the result of a breed association sanctioned grade-up program must have obtained purebred status.

Once cattle have met the criteria above, their products too must be evaluated against the criteria established for Heritage Cattle products.

ALBC worked with a number of partners and organizations to develop these criteria, addressing elements such as diet, management practices, antibiotic and hormone usage, environment, and humane treatment. The crafters of the definition struggled with including the management criteria, but sound arguments for management’s influence on a breed’s genetics prevailed. “We are after a definition that catches the interaction of genome, management, and manufacturing that provides for a sustainable, closed system,” said ALBC Technical Advisor Dr. Phillip Sponenberg.

Belted Galloway breeder Karen Thornton illustrates the point. “Genetics are lost when management practices are homogenized,” said Thornton. “There were once thousands of farms with varying environments which allowed for gene expression and perpetuation of many characteristics not needed in intensively managed systems. Adaptation to varying management practices led to the development of breeds to suit many more purposes than we see today.”

So why does the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization interested in genetic diversity, care about defining Heritage Cattle? As late as the mid-1950s, cattle breeds such as the Pineywoods, Randall Lineback, and Red Poll were found on small farms across the country. In less than 50 years, nearly 60 percent of all beef cattle operations closed their doors, production strategies changed, and breeds of interest changed. Animals valued for their survival skills, reproductive health, and sound, functional bodies were replaced by animals with faster growth rates and larger sizes.

As a result, many breeds disappeared from the American dinner table. “We need to give these animals their jobs back,” said Marjorie Bender, research and technical programs director for ALBC. “These hardy, tasty, historic and culturally significant breeds need to find a market niche again. If we can help them find their place at the table, we are much more likely to save their valuable, versatile genes.”

“Genetic diversity is the key to change,” added Bender. “Diversity brings options and choices. Agriculture has changed dramatically in the past 60 years and it will continue to change. If our generation stewards the animals well, we – ourselves, our children, and future generations - will have options.”

Heritage breeds provide necessary genetics for a healthy, diverse food system. These genetics help to secure our food system. “To rely on only a few breeds is, well, to put all our eggs in one basket,” said Bender.

While the definition of Heritage Cattle may be complex, the goal is to ensure that the legacy left to succeeding generations has as much genetic breadth and biological robustness as the current generation has inherited from previous generations. The definition draws attention to endangered breeds of cattle, supports their genetic integrity and long-term conservation, encourages management strategies that are biologically appropriate and agriculturally sustainable and celebrates the cultural and culinary traditions of these breeds.

To see the complete definition of Heritage Cattle and their products visit:  http://www.heritagecattle.org/


Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Poll - Quality Performance on Your Plate

Guest blogger, John W. Leimgruber III, shares his experiences with Red Poll cattle.

After embarking on my Red Poll adventure just over a year ago, I quickly realized the dizzying array of confusing numbers that exist in the beef cattle industry: EPDs, birth weights, hanging weights, frame scores, shear tests, ultrasound rib-eye area, genetic marbling scores- the list never ends! While all these numbers are undeniably important for tracking and improving cattle performance, I think it is possible to get too caught up in all the statistics and lose sight of what often matters most to consumers: quality, price, and convenience. So I decided to test my beef where it matters most: on the dinner plate! I entered the 3rd annual PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) 100% Grass-Fed Beef Cook-off1 where a dozen professional chefs, fine-food purveyors, and food critics sampled and rated rib-eye steaks from 14 farms representing a variety of cattle breeds all across Pennsylvania.

I understand that many cattlemen sell to the commodity beef industry, which grades and rewards for carcass quality before anybody even sees the end-product. However, a growing number of consumers are creating a market demand for locally raised beef fattened on a grain-free diet. Opportunities exist, given the right location, for beef to be marketed directly to consumers at potentially higher profit margins than conventional commodity markets. As for market volume, my experience has been that demand is increasing and currently outstrips the supply of grass-fed beef as a number of existing CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and restaurants in the Pittsburgh area can't seem to find a sufficient and steady supply. Despite all of these positives, I believe that it is imperative to maintain the momentum by delivering these three key attributes of quality: a great first impression with consistent product experiences, tenderness and full-flavor enough to convert a vegetarian, and a belief that eating this beef makes you a better person. The Red Poll breed is in a great position to excel at exactly these qualities.

Firstly, with mainstream marketing historically emphasizing corn and grain-fed beef, it is vital that new potential customers have a wonderful first impression with grass-finished beef to keep them coming back for more. Hamburger currently seems to be the best "gateway-drug" to grass-fed beef because it can be easier to control by varying the grind, can be cooked more easily by customers (than steak), and usually costs less than other cuts . As for a consistent steak, very few if any directly marketed carcasses are ever graded, so the responsibility falls to the cattleman to select for genetic consistency in order to have confidence that every piece of meat they sell will make a great beef experience. As a pure breed, Red Poll can provide a great base for genetic consistency whether as a source of prepotent sires for a commercial herd or as a straight purebred herd.

Next, while tenderness and taste can be a very subjective experience, it seems to me that consumers of grass-fed beef expect a tender (but not mushy) mouth feel and a full nutty buttery flavor. For
tenderness, it is important that your abattoir not chill the meat too rapidly after slaughter; this is to prevent the affect known as "cold shortening."2 The meat should also be allowed to dry-age in the
cooler for about two weeks. To develop flavor when finishing on grass, it is important to be patient
and allow for the animal to mature and truly fatten before harvesting. The cattleman must account for this additional time and plan for extended grazing seasons and likely seasonally finish off of the spring or fall flush. Most entires into the grass-fed beef cook-off were harvested between 18-30 months of age; my steer was just shy of 2 years old. Here again the Red Poll has advantages due to its moderate frame size, early maturing ability, ability to fatten on grass alone, and tenderness associated with the British breeds.

Finally, many customers turn to grass-fed beef because of how it makes them feel as a consumer. Grass-fed beef is typically raised with an all natural or similar protocol in a non-confinement rotational pasture based environment. Beyond environmental impact, it has been suggested that grass-fed beef may have some health benefits over traditionally finished beef.3 It also allows for a direct face-to-face connection between farmer and customer bolstering local economies and building integrity into the often anonymous and highly regulated food industry. Additionally, the status of the Red Poll as a "Heritage Breed" allows for a unique marketing proposition that consumers can quickly understand and on which they place value.

That’s all great, but how does that steak perform on the plate? The judges finished their first round of blind taste testing and narrowed the competition down to six finalists. After a second round of fresh sizzling steak samples, the ballots were cast and out of all 14 competitors: my Red Poll beef took home a third place ribbon! I couldn't have been more happy with the results! I really can't take much credit for the result, as I've had a lot of help getting started from PASA, the Red Poll community, and of course my grazier, Rudy D.H. Byler. Also, all of the steaks that I myself sampled that day made for good eating; and just between you and me, unbeknownst to me, I even rated a few of them higher than my own steak! This level of competition tells me that producers are getting serious about delivering great grass-finished beef (especially the top two contestants representing Irish Black and Salers breeds). So even though there's no one number that can truly measure success, I'm confident that my team is off to a good start and with enough time, patience, and mistakes, we'll eventually get even better at delivering consistent quality performance onto your plate (and hopefully have a little fun doing it too!).


[1] 3rd Annual PASA Beef Cook-Off:


[2] Cold Shortening:


[3] Potential Health Benefits:


John Leimgruber lives with his wife Stephanie in a one-bedroom apartment in Pittsburgh's Northside neighborhood of Manchester. There they farm approximately 36 square feet of garden in their backyard and have one steer of a mutt dog named Linus. John purchased his foundation herd of Red Polls from Dr. Dan Schmiesing of Mardan Acres in May 2009 and contract grazes his cattle with Rudy D.H. Byler of Eastbrook Homestead near New Castle, PA. John became interested in raising grass-fed beef cattle after reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and watching Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm DVD. He decided to actually do something about it after attending the 2009 PASA 100% Grass-Fed Grass-Finished conference track where guest-speaker, Greg Judy, suggested that he should "just get started".

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Heritage Turkey Publication Just in Time for Thanksgiving!

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) is pleased to announce the release of a new Heritage Turkey resource entitled Selecting Your Best Turkeys for Breeding. This is the second publication in the ALBC Master Breeder series, which is a collaboration of known master breeders, researchers, and ALBC staff working together to codify knowledge and historic information about heritage breed selection, husbandry and breeding.
With growing consumer demand for tasty Heritage Turkeys to grace their holiday tables, more farmers are trying their hands at raising them. However, farmers often find themselves struggling to find production information specific to raising these colorful cousins of the Broad-Breasted White turkey found in supermarket freezers. Since the industrialization of turkeys in the late 1950s, much of the knowledge and printed information on how to select, raise and breed traditional turkeys has slowly been lost.

The information found in Selecting Your Best Turkeys for Breeding was once widely available at a time when small-scale agriculture and pastured-poultry keeping was commonplace. Changes in agricultural practices have caused this information to be largely lost to subsequent generations.

“ALBC recognized that there was a knowledge gap when it came to raising and breeding Heritage Turkeys and many other rare breeds,” said ALBC Research and Technical Program Director Marjorie Bender. “If we want to establish a sustainable market for these birds, we’ve got to give the farmers the tools they need to raise and breed quality animals.”

As people once again become interested in the systems suited to rare breeds, it is extremely important that the knowledge once used to successfully manage these systems be made available again. ALBC is pleased to lead the effort to re-educate the entrepreneurial farmer in the production of one of America’s agricultural treasures, the Heritage Turkey.

As recently as 1997, Heritage Turkeys were in danger for extinction – remembered only by the “old-timers”. At that time, only 1,335 breeding birds were found in the United States. Today, thanks to the efforts of breeders, producers and consumers, the Heritage Turkey’s numbers are on the rise, with a reported 2006 census number of 10,404 birds.

To download and view ALBC’s new publication Selecting Your Best Turkeys for Breeding, visit:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ALBC Enews

If you haven't signed up for the ALBC E-news, check out the most recent issue.

We just started this electronic newsletter in January of this year, and so far we have received very positive feedback from members and supporters. The e-newsletter provides educational materials, upcoming event information, conservation food for thoughts, and more.

You can sign up to receive the newsletter on our website. This publication is free! It's a great way to get to know our organization, learn about some of our projects, network with other members, and more.

Monday, August 30, 2010

ALBC Conference Quickly Approaching

The ALBC Conference is rapidly approaching. Join us November 11 - 13, 2010, in Hamilton, NY for this exciting event themed Healthy Herds – Healthy Markets.

The conference website is now live and online registration is available.

Some of the highlights from the conference program include:

Pre-conference Clinics (Friday, November 12)

• Hog Husbandry and Breeder Selection

• Haute Cuisine of Heritage Poultry

• The Tricky Business of Managing a Breed Association

• Raising Heritage Turkeys on Pasture

• Managing Bulls

Conference Session Topics (Saturday, November 13)

• Managing Stallions and Jacks

• The Rationale for Selecting for Body Type in Chickens

• Raising Rare Rabbit Breeds for Market

• Heritage Dairy Cattle and Where They Fit

• A Perfect Pair: Land Conservation and Rare Breed Conservation

• Chickens in the City

• Having Fun with Youth and Heritage Breeds

• The Art of Incubation

• Managing Rams and Bucks

• Marketing Using Social Networking

• And many more!

This year's conference features a two-day intensive Dairy Processing 101 clinic - a must for anyone interested in dairying with heritage breeds!

Register now!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Conservation Priority Projects

July 1 started ALBC's "new year". Our fiscal year runs July - June, so the summer brings new opportunities and projects that we hope to achieve in the coming year.  Below is a summary of some of the key projects we are hoping to accomplish and hoping to acquire funding for. These are just a few of the many projects that are constantly in motion here at ALBC.

Heritage Dairy Cattle Breed Recovery Program
In the U.S., the rebirth of the farmstead cheese industry is rather new. It began during the 1980's and has grown exponentially since 2000. This is due primarily to the increase in interest in the local food movement and the diverse palate of consumers looking for something that tastes great. With the current interest in local foods and dairy value-added products, there has been significant interest in selecting heritage cattle breeds for their traditional use as milk-, cheese-, or cream-producing breeds. The goal of the Heritage Dairy Cattle Breed Recovery program is to develop science-based tools, funding, and marketing and communication strategies for breed organizations and breeders of heritage cattle to help them market heritage dairy cows to small dairy operators and cheese makers.

Recovering Breed Production Characteristics in Endangered Poultry Breeds
In 2006 and 2007, ALBC conducted a pilot project to recover production qualities in endangered chickens. The project first focused on the critically endangered Buckeye chicken. This rare breed was chosen by ALBC for the pilot project for several reasons: the breed’s ability to thrive in a pasture-based, husbandry system; its hardiness in a variety of climates; its excellent reproductive qualities; its reputation for producing fine broilers, and the availability of stock. The Buckeye project produced a protocol for breeder selection that improved the productivity of an ALBC line of Buckeyes and resulted in a highly marketable bird for farmers wishing to sell non-industrial pasture raised poultry. The goal of the expanded project is to recover production characteristics in endangered poultry breeds to enable producers to recapture the production qualities of the breeds that made them successful in the past. Prior to the emergence and domination of industrial breeds, many breeds of poultry were productive and flourishing across the US. Through this project they may once again find a place on the American table and provide good income for farmers interested in diversifying production on their farm.

Saving Endangered Hog Breeds
Several trends are indicating that the U.S. is now on the cusp of a new era of livestock and swine production. There is growing consumer demand for locally and less intensively produced agricultural products. There is also a sense that the genetic variation found in the endangered U.S. swine breeds may be useful to the swine industry as a whole. Rare breeds of pigs are a vital part of this nation’s agricultural resource. They are the seed stock that fed the nation and formed the basis of the swine industry. Most of these breeds are now critically endangered. Industry no longer maintains seed stock of these old breeds. Rare pig breeds need to be saved for their genetic wealth, which makes them healthy, hardy, sturdy, and actively foraging animals. They also must be saved as potential genetic reservoirs for disease resistance.

To capitalize on this emerging mindset, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) proposes a project that will secure and fully utilize the genetic variation embodied in endangered swine breeds, improve herd husbandry, and develop niche markets. ALBC will assist with genetic research, breeding strategies, marketing support, and more.

The Master Breeder Program
Throughout history, uncounted numbers of individuals have dedicated themselves to caring for domestic animals. Each generation of livestock and poultry keepers served as stewards for the complete array of “local” breeds. Changes occurred in each generation, but the pattern remained stable. The complete package of genetic material embodied in an individual breed, along with an understanding of its specific husbandry needs, production uses, and marketing strategies, passed from one generation of keeper to the next. Unfortunately, the continuity of this legacy is now threatened.

The need for livestock genetic resource conservation is urgent. This is true of both breeds and the systems that fostered and shaped them for production and adaptation. The Master Breeders’ Apprentice Program is based on the fundamental premise that the existence and continuity of master breeders is critically endangered, while at the same time there is an emerging group of interested and capable future stewards of rare breeds of livestock and poultry that can replace them. Getting these two together is the critical piece of ALBC’s conservation initiatives.

Breed Rescue and Conservation Acquisition Program
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) is dedicated to the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry in the U.S. ALBC promotes breed conservation through research on the status of livestock populations, by educating its members and the general public about the importance of genetic diversity, and by informing and supporting the efforts of breeders, farmers, ranchers, and other guardians of rare breeds. In addition, ALBC has established partnerships with breeders and breed associations where it serves as the inspiration and the catalyst that brings people together with the scientific knowledge and understanding needed for successful conservation. Successful breed conservation is a mission that must involve many individuals and organizations. Individual breeders have always been and will continue to be the best stewards of genetic diversity, provided they have the skills and resources they need to be successful. A major contributor to their individual success will be ALBC’s ability to provide them with the knowledge, information, networking capacity, and the resources that are essential if they are to keep rare breeds alive and vital in their agricultural niche.

Southeastern Livestock Breed Initiative
Following the emergence of industrial agricultural practices in the mid 20th century, many of the regionally historic breeds of livestock and poultry kept by farmers in the southeastern United States have slowly declined in numbers as breeds better suited for industrial production have been favored over the old breeds. Although these regional breeds may not grow as large or fast as industrial breeds, their strong point has always been that they are well-adapted to the challenging climates and environments of the Deep South and thrive with little input from farmers. They represent unique genetic resources that are not found in the industrial breeds. Beyond their adaptations, these breeds have unique cultural connections with the community that, in some cases, span hundreds of years. Heritage breeds are superbly adapted for sustainable agriculture yet, their producers struggle to find a niche for their products in emerging markets.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy proposes the reintroduction and expansion of a once productive sustainable food system in the Southeast using regionally historic breeds integrated into traditional and environmentally low impact farming systems. ALBC will connect farmers, processors, and consumers to develop a regional model for rare breed production and marketing utilizing proven expertise and projects that have been successful in other regions of the country. Together these collaborators will identify and implement a production and marketing strategy that will benefit the system as a whole. This will be accomplished by gathering an in-depth understanding of the existing meat production systems as well as the inherent taste and nutritional qualities of the meats that can benefit consumers. Utilizing this data, the project will then focus on researching and implementing new market opportunities for historic breed products.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

ALBC on Mother Earth News Radio

Check out ALBC's recent discussion with the staffers at Mother Earth News Radio. The interview will air this Saturday (August 7th) at 11:00am Central time. (http://www.motherearthnews.com/radio.aspx)

Also, don't forget that ALBC's own Jeannette Beranger does a regular feature on the Chicken Whisperer Talk Show. Jeannette is featured the first Tuesday of each month and talks about many of the rare breeds on ALBC's Conservation Priority List.

In the meantime, we'll be working on several pieces featuring some of our recent travels and fieldwork.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Letter from a Donkey

ALBC members are very active in promoting rare breeds. Through out the country, members attends shows, fairs, and gatherings to spread the word about ALBC. This particular 4-legged member decided to share her experience.

Dear Friends at ALBC,

My name is Lake Nowhere Eden and I am a 5 month old American Mammoth Jackstock jennet. My human mom saw in your newsletter that there was going to be a Rare Breeds Show at the Garfield Farm Museum in LaFox, IL on May 23rd, 2010. She wrote to Mr. Johnson, the Executive Director of the Museum and asked if they would like for me to visit. He told her that I was invited and that she could come as my wait staff. I have no idea where Illinois is, but I had a grand time in the trailer for 8 hours playing with my Jolley Ball and eating out of TWO hay bags!

We got to the museum three days before the show so that I could rest and check out the farm. It is a really neat place, but they put me in an old barn next to some big oxen and I did not like that one bit! My accomodations were lavish with all sorts of straw and food and water, but there were no humans there at night to keep me company. My Mom walked me a mile and 1/2 everyday up to a feed store near the farm and I had great fun visiting the animals there. I also got to see all the wonderful human volunteers that came to the farm to help set up for the show. I tried to help, but without thumbs I really could not do too much! The day of the show I got up early and got my halter (with rhinestones on it) and lead rope on and my mom let me eat the nice grass that was outside the barn. Then all the other animals started to arrive.

All sorts of cows, sheep, horses, mules and poultry that I have never seen before were at the show. It was really interesting walking around even though some of the animals did not like my big ears! I wanted to become friends with the oxen, but they had no interest in talking with me at all. That was o.k. because then the humans started to arrive! I got petted and adored and just had the best time, but I got tired, so about half way through the show I decided that I needed to roll on the nice dirt floor of the barn and decided to take a siesta. Humans still came and visited me, as well - they should have and I enjoyed it immensely! It was a very hot day, but I walked in and out of the barn. There was a table with ALBC pamphlets on it and a wonderful display in the barn too. My mom told me that I could not touch the ALBC display, but I did try to eat an ALBC pamphlet and let me tell you, they don't taste so good! What about hemp paper and soy ink in the future? Anyway, I just wanted to tell you what a great trip I had and I hope that I can do it again next year. Mom said something about an ALBC annual conference. I am ready to go, I will just have to alert my wait staff! Thanks for letting me know about wonderful events like this.

Your friend,

Eden AKA The Diva

PS - I met a very nice lady who loved "my fiber" (I think that is fur?). She told my mom that when I get body clipped that my mom should send my fur to her. She is going to spin it and make my mom a hat! One for herself too...I think it will be funny to see my mom wearing my fur...maybe the lady can put big ears on my mom's hat so she will look more like me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Office Dogs

By Jeannette Beranger

Loads of folks call the ALBC office thinking that we keep or sell livestock from the office. Although this isn’t the case, what we do have here on four legs are the ALBC dogs. National Bring Your Dog to Work Day (June 25th) is upon us and I thought it would be appropriate to shine a light on the animals that have become an integral part of the ALBC family to connect us to the animal kingdom while serving as ambassadors to our office visitors.

The decision to allow dogs in the office actually began with a feline visitor who got stuck in the crawlspace under the old ALBC office. We were able to get him out of the space after two days and had him settle into life in the office as we searched for his owner. We started calling him “Toby” as “cat” didn’t seem to fit him at all. He was well-mannered but had a knack for getting stuck in the weirdest places you could imagine. After a few days of Toby-proofing the nooks and crannies of the office, he seemingly found life in the office appealing. Visitors would often find him relaxed sunbathing in the front display windows on sunny winter mornings. A month-long search around the community and with local shelters ended with no one claiming the cat. At that time our office manager, Angelique, brought Toby home one long holiday weekend and found that her husband Arnold had instantly fallen in love with the cat. It was decided that this was fate and that Toby had found a permanent home with them to this day.

The ALBC staff all agreed it was pretty neat and relaxing to have an animal around the office so Chuck, our Director, graciously agreed to allow my old Border Collie mix, Sydney, to come to the office. She had recently needed extra attention in order to monitor a medical condition so coming to work was a real boon for her. She was a perfect office dog that was well mannered, quiet, but gently exuberant whenever a new face walked into the office. Sydney happily came to the office with me for over a year before she finally succumbed to renal failure at the ripe old age of 16.

Sydney was gone but having an office dog was now a part of life at ALBC. The problem was we all had dogs we would like to bring to work. We decided that we would begin rotating days so we all had a chance to have our four legged friends accompany us to work. We have a dog for every day of the week now!

Our longest standing office dog is Lucy, a Dachshund/Rat Terrier mix who began coming to the office shortly before Sydney passed. She was adopted by Angelique and basically grew up in the ALBC office with all of us. She is a dog with a definite mind of her own but once inducted into her “circle of friends” you are there for life. She’s extremely intelligent and has a great portfolio of tricks she’s learned over the years from dog training classes and even a canine acting workshop.

Buck is a Catahoula Curr that came into my life shortly after Sydney passed. Because of all of the work I have done for ALBC in the Southeast, I became interested in Currs as they are very common farm and hunting dogs in this region of the country. Catahoulas are a traditional farm dog originating from Louisiana and are used for everything from herding cattle, pest control, hunting, to guarding livestock. They are high energy working dogs but Buck knows when he’s in the office, he is to be on his best behavior. You most often find him snuggled on his blanket under my desk or not far from my feet. One thing for certain, in the office you’ll never hear a peep out of him outside of an occasional yawn or the jingle of his dog tags. It isn’t until we get back home that his high energy nature kicks in and drives him to run and play until dark with our farm’s guardian dog, Gigi, a large Anatolian cross rescued from a local shelter.

Michele is the official ALBC office dog aficionado and expert. During their free time she and her husband Brian are very successful show dog handlers and breeders of champion pure bred Branestorm Kennel Collies. Their dogs are not only successful in the show ring but they are also trained to herd sheep and duck as well as compete in agility events. Michele rotates several dogs on her assigned day including Lark, a champion show and agility dog and mother to the latest litter of puppies. One of her pups, Joy, is another that comes to work. Joy is future star in the making for Michele who hopes she will succeed and excel as a show Collie just as her mother has over the years.

A beautiful English Setter by the name of Geoffrey comes to the office through Marjie. Geoffrey came to Marjie by way of one of the finest field trial kennels in the country. Because of Geoffrey’s timid but sweet nature, he did not make the cut as a field & gun dog and needed to be placed in a good home. Marjie stepped up to the challenge of raising this high energy pup and we have all delighted in watching him blossom into a joyous and stunning young dog. Despite his hulking size, he still considers himself a lapdog when he can but has the athletic drive that keeps Marjie on the go outside of his down time.

The newest addition to the ALBC office dog line-up is Daisy Mae, a very sweet Chihuahua mix rescued from the local dog pound a couple of months ago. It was love at first sight for Anneke when the two met. Daisy loves coming to the office and will “make the rounds” to everyone’s desk several times a day to be sure no one forgets about her. She’s sweet and affectionate and it seems like she understands that she made out like a bandit when she found her now home with Anneke.

Jennifer and Chuck like to joke that they have their pick of pets since a different dog is in the office each day. The both share an affinity for Basset hounds. Jennifer has a Basset mix, Sadie, who on occasion visits the office. She prefers her soft bed at home to the hard floors at the office. Chuck (Bassett) appropriately had a Basset hound for many years but now he just enjoys the office pets.

Much of ALBC’s work is based behind a desk or on the phone so it is easy to sometimes feel disconnected from the animal side of our work. Although they aren’t rare breed livestock, the office dogs represent a direct animal connection to constantly remind us of the living, breathing creatures we all work so hard to conserve.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Spanish Goat Rescue: Update

As many of you may have read or heard, ALBC is in the process of rescuing a feral population of Spanish goats on an island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The following provides an update about the rescue and explains the importance of this specific population.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) has completed the first phase of rescuing an isolated population of Spanish goats on an island in South Carolina. This population is one of only two known strains of Spanish goats to exist in the Southeast. Their genetics are extremely valuable to the Spanish goat population as a whole which currently numbers less than 2,500 animals in the entire United States.

This specific population has adapted to the challenges of the hot, humid, swampy environment of the Southeast for 500 years. These adaptations are unique among Spanish goats and are worth conserving.

According to Dr. Phil Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics at Virginia Tech University, “Spanish goats are important as one of the main landrace representatives in the US for the goat species. As is true of landrace livestock, they tend to be adapted and productive in compromising environments. The southeastern representatives of the landrace are extremely important, because these are the very ones expected to have the most inherent resistance to parasites and other environmental challenges. These few remaining herds are extremely important to save as an intact genetic resource.”

Due to inbreeding and predation, the South Carolina Spanish goat population is threatened with extinction. Just 30 years ago, there were over 100 goats on the island. Today, fewer than 30 remain. These animals possess valuable genetics that need to be maintained for future generations. Removing selected animals from the population and placing them into a conservation breeding program will ensure the survival of this unique strain.

On May 15th, ALBC staff members Jeannette Beranger and Marjorie Bender traveled to South Carolina to complete the initial phase of the removal process. Previous trips ensured the herd was documented and photographed. Photos were then evaluated by ALBC’s Technical Advisor, Dr. Phillip Sponenberg to determine Spanish phenotype and to identify target conservation animals prior to beginning removal.

ALBC staff members worked closely with the local community to ensure they were educated about the breed and the process for removing the animals. They were supportive of the efforts and a local Native American group, Keepers of the Word, assisted with the rescue. The group consisted of teens and their leaders from the Keepers of the Word “Venture Crew” which is a scout group for teens with a focus on Native American principles. “This was an opportunity to connect tribal members with animals they would have traditionally kept hundreds of years ago and incorporate them into the genetic rescue efforts,” said ALBC project leader Jeannette Beranger. “Ideally, one or more residents will want to become conservation stewards so the animals would literally return home, but to a safer environment.”

In the first phase of the rescue, two pregnant does were removed along with one doeling and one buckling. Members of Keepers of the Word assisted with moving the goats, while volunteers provided their boats for transport. Director of Keepers of the Word, Cathy Nelson, felt “this was a true service learning experience.” She added, “We’ve been trying to shed light on how DeSoto and other Spanish explorers impacted the tribes in our area and these goats are a living legacy of that era.”

Goats were brought to the mainland where they were documented, hair samples were taken for genetic analysis, and they were moved into a large trailer for transport. The pregnant does were transported to Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve just south of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Brookgreen Gardens has agreed to work with ALBC to develop a conservation breeding herd that can be dispersed as numbers are increased. Brookgreen has several other rare breeds of livestock and has devoted over 6 acres to house the goats. The proximity of Brookgreen Gardens to the island ensures the goats will be kept in a natural habitat similar to that of the island.

The young doeling and buckling that were removed are being kept by volunteers, as they require regular bottle feedings. Once they are able to browse and forage, they will be transported to Brookegreen Gardens to join the rest of the herd. Removal of the young animals was necessary to ensure they were not eaten by predators.

Select animals will continue to be removed and transported to Brookgreen Gardens. As the population grows, satellite flocks will be established. “Following conservation breeding strategies will be critical to the survival of this line. The small population makes the challenge significant, but with the cooperation of satellite breeders and careful management this strain and its unique adaptation to the hot, humid and marshy Southeast can be saved,” said Marjorie Bender, ALBC Research and Technical Programs Director. “The goal of our efforts is to secure these animals and their genetics for future generations.”

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lowcountry: Part 4

Lowcountry Heritage Breeds Festival - February 27th, 2010

Saturday was the Lowcountry Heritage Breeds Festival at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horne Plantation. The Coastal Discovery Museum has been very supportive of ALBC’s efforts to preserve rare breeds of livestock, and they have been great partners in educating people about these breeds.

The purpose of the Lowcountry Heritage Breeds Festival was to educate people about heritage breeds. ALBC set up several displays and gave two presentations including an Intro to Rare Breeds and a History of the Marsh Tacky Horse presentation. These presentations were very popular and each had standing room only!

Aside from the presentations and displays, the most exciting part of the day was the animal display. ALBC coordinated with several members in the area to bring rare breeds of livestock and poultry to the event. Many breeds native to the Lowcountry were on display including Pineywoods cattle, American Buff geese, Black turkeys, Leghorn chickens, an American Mammoth Jackstock mule, a Marsh Tacky horse, Guinea Hog piglets, Ossabaw Island hogs, and more. People enjoyed petting the animals, talking to the farmers, and learning about the breeds.
Although this was the first time for the event, we had about 1,200 people in attendance. This was a great turn-out and we hope to expand the event next year to include many more breeds and presentations. The event was a great kick-off and complimentary event to the Marsh Tacky Horse races occurring the following day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lowcountry Part 3

Auldbrass and Marsh Tackies

On Friday we had to be at Auldbrass Plantation at 11, so we had some time in the morning to stretch our legs before spending most of the day in the car. We decided to walk around the Beaufort waterfront. We wondered down some side-streets and saw beautiful old southern homes, covered in Spanish moss, echoing the sounds of history.

After leaving Beaufort we headed to Yemassee to Auldbrass. Auldbrass is a Frank Lloyd Wright plantation owned by Hollywood director Joel Silver who produced Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, the Matrix, and more. It's the only southern plantation designed by Wright. The reason for our visit was that Frank Lloyd Wright actually designed stables to fit the Marsh Tacky horse native to South Carolina. There are large stables on the property and then smaller stables for the Tackies since they are smaller horses. It's a testament of the history of the breed in this area.

We got to view and photograph the stables which were indeed a lot smaller than the stables for the Friesians. We also got to see the owner’s Friesians and Texas Longhorn cattle. He had several other animals on the property including Zebras, Hippos, and Pigmy Hippos. In our trek around the property, we saw a gorgeous Cypress Swamp. It looked like something out of a movie.

After leaving Auldebrass, we headed to Ridgeland to visit an old-time Marsh Tacky breeder. D.P. Lowther's family has had Tackies for years and years and he continues to raise them. He has the largest herd in the country and has helped keep the breed alive. We went to his property and he showed us around. There were probably over 100 horses, all in different fields and pastures. There were all sorts of colors, types, geldings, stallions, etc. After looking at the horses we visited with D.P. and his wife, Ms. Dan while they talked politics and Marsh Tackies. D.P. is a living legend when it comes to the Tackies and he’s well respected for his knowledge and breeding of the horses. The visit allowed Jeannette to get some information for the Marsh Tacky Studbook as well as learn and glean more information about the Tackies. D.P. also shared a story about the “old Wood cattle” that used to be common in the area. Most likely these were Pineywoods cattle. After leaving the Lowther place, we headed to Hilton Head for the next leg of our journey.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lowcountry Adventures: Part 2

Day 2: Charleston, Good Food, Goats, and More

After saying our goodbyes to the Lockwoods, we headed to Charleston. There is a chef in downtown Charleston working with Guinea Hog meat. Guinea Hogs are critically endangered and we are just now getting to a point where there is a large enough population where we can market them as a food source. The chef's name is Craig Deihl and he is the Executive Chef at Cypress Restaurant about 4 blocks from the Old Exchange in downtown Charleston. He's not your average chef, in fact, he's been nominated for a James Beard award which is like the Oscars of the chef world (more about Oscars later).
We had a few hours to kill before our meeting with the chef, so Jeannette and I toured the Exchange Building. The current building was built in 1781, but for many years it was the site of other important buildings in the early colony. In the basement of the Exchange, you can see the old walls that used to surround the city. The dungeon area was used as a prison for pirates, Revolutionary War prisoners, and more. We tried to catch a glimpse of the old images in the building to determine if any historic or rare livestock breeds were depicted.
At noon, we went to Cypress to meet with Chef Deihl. The restaurant isn't open for lunch, but he agreed to meet us, give us a tour, and cook us some samples of Guinea Hog meat. Since he's one of the first to cook with this meat, our goal was to learn his thoughts on the Guinea Hog meat. ALBC is trying to understand how these products handle in order to help market them. Chef Deihl is really excited about the project and he was delighted to share some of his treats. We enjoyed Guinea Hog liver patte, Guinea ham, shoulder, tender loin, and belly. It was all quite impressive!

While we were trying samples of the meat, Chef Deihl’s next Guinea hog carcasses arrived at the restaurant. It was interesting to see the process come full-circle. I’ve seen the live animals, seen the carcasses, and now tasted the delicious meat they provide. This type of experience provides a much deeper appreciation for the complexities that producers and chefs face when working with rare breeds – but the result is very rewarding!

After lunch we headed to Walterboro to meet with a woman affectionately known as “the goat lady.” This woman has had wild goats on her property since 1985. She lives in a marshy area and the goats survive on the island with little to no input from humans. ALBC believes the goats are traditional, brush goats from the area which would likely mean they are Spanish goats or are of Spanish descent. Phenotypically, they sure looked like Spanish goats! We photographed and documented the goats for further investigation. These isolated pockets of breeds could prove to be a valuable genetic resource that could help add increased genetic diversity to the current Spanish goat population.
After our visit with the goats, we headed to Beaufort. Beaufort proved to be a good stopping point since the following day involved several investigations near the Beaufort area. Along the way, we stopped at Hunting Island State Park. It's a maritime forest of ancient palmetto trees. It looks almost tropical. In fact, the Vietnam scenes from Forest Gump were filmed here. After finding a place to stay, we turned in for the night and prepared for another long day of field investigation and documentation on our way to our final destination.

More to come in the next post.....

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Little Lowcountry History

Last month, Jeannette and Jennifer headed to South Carolina for a whirlwind tour that accomplished many conservation and marketing objectives. They met with many conservation breeders, members, and organizations in effort to promote many of ALBC programs and projects. The next series of blog entries will focus on this field work.

We left on Wednesday morning for our tour of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. On our way down, we met ALBC member and conservation breeder Gra Moore to drop off Java and Buckeye eggs. Gra has the facilities to hatch many eggs, and he’s helping with the Buckeye and Java recovery projects.

After dropping off hatching eggs, our first stop was the home of Rabbit Lockwood and Debbie Chard which is North of Charleston, in Huger, SC. Rabbit owns Marsh Tacky horses and is a harbor pilot in Charleston harbor. At 70 years-young, he knows a lot of history about the Lowcountry. We drove many miles through the swamp and through the Francis Marion National Forest, before we arrived at the inconspicuous gate for the home. Driving up the driveway, we could see open fields and huge, century-old live oak trees cloaked in Spanish moss. Up on the hill was the house of Longwood Plantation. It was beautiful.

When we arrived, Rabbit offered to give us a tour of the place - so we hopped on the golf cart to ride around the property. At over 350 acres, walking the property would have been a challenge. He had 2 labs and a little Maltese that joined us for our jaunt around the property. As we were riding through the woods, Rabbit shared some of the history of the property. It was first established by Saint Julienne de Malichare (sp?), a French Huguenot who moved to the area sometime in the 1600s. As we were riding through the woods, we happened upon a chapel. The chapel was built on the property because the British declared that they wouldn't recognize any marriages not performed in an Anglican Church - so the French Hugenots just built an Anglican church so their marriages would be legal. The chapel was rebuilt/bricked in the 1700's and you could see dates carved into the bricks. In fact, there was a free mason symbol etched into one of the bricks along with a 1700 date. The property sits along a tributary of the Cooper River and right at the edge of the chapel was where they'd dock the boats to come to church. Today, they open the chapel up twice a year for a service and they have a picnic in the meadow afterwards. It was amazing to see such an old piece of history.

Just when we thought we couldn't find any more historical gems, we rode through the woods some more and arrived at Middleburg Plantation, one of the oldest wooden plantation homes on the eastern seaboard that is still standing. The plantation home has a "live oak drive" with some of the largest trees I've ever seen. The Spanish moss is draped from them. It's a scene out of a movie. This property was occupied by both the Union troops and Confederate troops during the Civil War. On the glass panes in the windows, you could see where Union "General Potter" had etched his name into the glass of the house.

Next to the plantation house was the original commissary building. It was in rougher condition but still standing. On one side of the building there was a holding area, where they'd keep slaves when they were first brought to the plantation. We rode around back of the house and saw the remains of the old rice plantation. There were the rusted remains of where a water wheel once was to mill the rice. In later years they had a steam engine to turn the wheel. They had built a huge brick furnace structure where they'd start the fire. There were pipes that transferred the heat. All these pieces were still there, but in poor condition.

We continued to ride around the property where we made our way to the Marsh Tackies. We took many photos for the Marsh Tacky studbook. We saw some chickens on the property that are referred to as “Hell Hole Swamp chickens.” It is rumored that these chickens were fighting chickens that lived wild in areas of the Hell Hole Swamp. Something has figured out how to kill and eat these birds, so there are very few if any left. Rabbit still has two roosters. ALBC is investigating this lead to determine if these birds are still around in other pockets and if they may be of genetic importance.

After dinner and documenting local history and animals, we turned in for the night. Next stop, Charleston….

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thinking About Heritage Turkeys

Spring is finally here and with the warmer weather and longer days comes hatching season. With that being said, have you reserved your Heritage Turkey for Thanksgiving? It may seem a little premature to be thinking about Thanksgiving dinner in March, but in reality, all those Heritage Turkey producers are preparing NOW for Thanksgiving.

This past year I answered a number of media calls about Heritage Turkeys. These birds are all the craze around November, but what about every other day of the year? I think sometimes people forget all the effort that goes into raising these birds. For most consumers, a Heritage Turkey is a one-day event, but for the producers of these birds Heritage Turkeys are a year-round committment. I'm not sure the average consumer understands what goes into raising these birds, and to be honest, I'm not sure I have a complete and wholistic perspective of what it takes to save these breeds. The blood, the sweat, the tears.....they are often forgotten.

Last year after coming to this realization that there is an untold story behind the Heritage Turkey, I decided that 2010 would be the year of the Heritage Turkey Project. It needs a catchier name, but essentially I've already reserved my Thanksgiving turkey for this year and I plan to track my turkey through the process from conception to consumption. I want to share the farmer's story, the bird's story, the breed's story, and all the side stories that result from raising these breeds.

I've reserved my bird from Border Springs Farm in Virginia. The farmer, Craig Rogers, has agreed to help me tell this story by providing regular updates, images, and dialogue as we go through the process of hatching, growing out, and finally eating this bird. I'm excited about this venture and I hope it will help capture the conservation process. Heritage Turkey conservation doesn't happen on Thanksgiving day alone - it happens every other day of the year - and we need to remember that!

A word from the farmer:
I asked Craig to paint a picture of his farm for me and for others interested in this project. Enjoy!

Border Springs Farm - By Craig Rogers
Border Springs Farm is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge area in Virginia, just a stone’s throw away from the North Carolina border. Our nearest Tractor Supply, movie theater, and McDonald’s is in Mt. Airy, NC, better known as Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show. We can see Pilot Mountain (Mt. Pilot on the TV show) from our farm.

Everything on our farm has an aesthetic purpose. Our sheep are our primary farm business but they came to us as a result of our love and admiration for working Border Collies. For Joan and I, nothing is more serene and beautiful than a flock of sheep grazing on the green pastures on the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

We have a donkey, Marshall, who was supposed to guard the sheep but instead fell in love with Tuff and Maverick; a Quarter Horse and a Tennessee Walker. Really, Tuff and Maverick are nothing more than pasture ornaments as well.

We have several livestock guardian dogs living with the sheep, or chasing buzzards, or “greeting” new guests who add color and an evening serenade known as the “Shepherd’s Lullaby”.

There have been the occasional chickens to provide eggs for the dogs diet and an even less frequent omelet. But the latest addition that just tickles me endlessly, are my Heritage Turkeys.

Last year, as a result of my fascination and disdain with the claims of “sustainable” farmers who buy livestock through the US Mail, I decided to try a new “hobby” to test the challenges of truly sustainable poultry rearing.

As a sheep dog handler who has traveled the country competing with my dogs, on both sheep and cattle, I have always found turkeys on a farm hosting a dog trial to be so incredibly cool. I love the way they strut around, I enjoy the show of colors, and I get a kick out of their chatter.

Fortunately, there is a breeder of game birds and poultry just across town and his father raises heritage turkeys. So to get started last year, I bought an assortment of day old poults; Bronze, Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Slate; and it appeared some “mistakes” shall we say.

I had a great time raising these birds, first in my basement and then in the barn before they were released to enjoy the entire 60 acre farm. It was nothing short of an amazing learning experience. Fortunately, we had no major problems. The turkeys did very well. They enjoyed the trees surrounding the barn, a couple of pesky Toms terrorized the livestock guardian dogs much to the dismay of my wife, the roamed every inch of our farm but always found their way back to the barn 30 minutes before sun down.

They added so much fun to farm tours. When children would come to the farm, we would search out the turkeys. When one of the children would “gobble” all of the turkeys would answer back. It made children and adults laugh and it was not long before Mom, Dad, Granddad and Grandma were gobbling and chatting with the turkeys.

About the only thing I knew about turkeys, I had learned with all of my other livestock ventures, that if you want to have the best livestock you must search out the best foundation breeding stock. So off to Lindsborg, Kansas I was bound to see Mr. Frank Reese – the Godfather of Heritage Turkeys.

More to come on the breeds and the foundation stock in the next edition of the Heritage Turkey Project.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lowcountry Heritage Breeds Festival

This past week, Jeannette and I spent several days in the Lowcountry of South Carolina doing field work, outreach, education, marketing, and promotion. It was a busy trip with lots of interesting side stories that we will share here over the next few weeks.

On Saturday, ALBC participated in the first annual Lowcountry Heritage Breeds Festival held at the Coastal Discovery Museum in Hilton Head, SC. The event was a success! There were over 1,200 people that attended and everyone was engaged and eager to learn more about heritage breeds.

We tested out our new display which features then and now images of endangered breeds. It's great to see photos from a 100 years ago next to pictures from today - and these breeds look the same! They really are the breeds of our ancestors. Jeannette also did two presentations at the event. These were both very well received. There was standing room only and probably 70+ participants at each one. It's exciting to see people wanting to learn more about these breeds, how they shaped agriculture, and how we can help save them.

We are still catching up from the trip, but I wanted to post a few images from the Heritage Breeds Festival. More images to come from the 2nd Annual Marsh Tacky Races!