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.