Thousands of America’s conservationists, farmers, ranchers, shepherds and animal preservationists will join with their partners around the globe to observe International Heritage Breeds Week starting Sunday, May 19. During the 10th annual celebration, The Livestock Conservancy is sharing the critically important message that rare breeds of livestock and poultry are an important key to maintaining agricultural biodiversity, ensuring food security and preserving irreplaceable genetics.

The Livestock Conservancy is the Pittsboro, North Carolina-based not-for-profit organization responsible for the annual Conservation Priority List. This roster of more than 180 endangered breeds of livestock and poultry across 11 species ranks the extinction threat for America’s farm animals.

“The International Heritage Breeds Week campaign was created to increase global awareness of these lesser-known breeds and the irreplaceable genetic diversity they contain,” explained Judy Brummer, interim executive director of The Livestock Conservancy. “These breeds include donkeys, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. And they often have longer lifespans and productive years, a slower growth rate, and are adapted to specific environments, making them unique and fascinating. They thrive when raised by more traditional farming practices.”

Brummer said there is tremendous value in preserving and protecting heritage breeds.

“Many of these endangered breeds contain traits carefully developed over hundreds of years. Today, heritage breeds serve as primary reservoirs of the genetic diversity found within most domesticated species of animals. Up to 50% of a breed’s biodiversity is found nowhere else within the species,” she said.

Biodiversity matters. Today, three-quarters of the world’s food supply draws on just 12 crops and five livestock species according to the United Nations. Yet, global demand for livestock products is expected to increase 70% by 2050.

“The Livestock Conservancy works year-round with academic institutions and scientific partners to document, research and maintain the genetic diversity contained in these breeds,” Brummer added. “We provide Microgrants annually for heritage breed farmers and breed organizations to further their work with breeds on the Conservation Priority List. We develop educational materials, including webinars, blogs and podcasts to provide pertinent information to individual producers. And promotional materials to help encourage more people to raise these breeds and enjoy their meat, milk, eggs, fiber and animal companionship throughout the year.”

Throughout the weeklong observance, The Livestock Conservancy and its sister organizations in other nations shine a spotlight on heritage breeds. Additionally, many Conservancy members, historical farms, museums and participating zoos hold educational outreach efforts and special events to highlight endangered agricultural breeds.