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The Livestock Conservancy works in a variety of areas to support its mission of genetic conservation of heritage breeds. Here is a snapshot of a few of our current projects!

Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em Challenge: Wool sold to the wool pool in the Northeast in 2016 brought between $0.60 – $0.85 per pound. During the same period, raw wool sold directly to consumers through specialty markets, such as Etsy, sold for remarkably higher prices, from $8 – $40 per pound. Interest in fiber arts is high, and this represents a valuable market opportunity for heritage breed wool.

Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em is a challenge campaign for the promotion of rare breed wools to engage both producers and consumers. Educational blogs, videos, and tip sheets help breeders build their capacity in order to develop and meet a demand for heritage breed fibers. Milestones, prizes, and an online community encourage fiber artists to use fiber from sheep breeds on the Conservation Priority List.

Sheep breeders benefit as they improve their wool quality and marketing practices, leading to greater farm revenues. Fiber artists benefit from more information about the form and function of many diverse wool types, and connections to local sources, expanding the palette of fibers from which to work. Endangered sheep breeds benefit from increased use of their products and awareness of consumers.

Classroom Heritage Chicken Hatching Project (Chicks in the Classroom) Several years ago, The Livestock Conservancy was approached by Ginger Cunningham of our local Cooperative Extension to help with an embryology program conducted by a 4-H School Enrichment Project. Previously the program acquired eggs from a local commercial hatchery, but our good friends at Extension believed that perhaps it would be more interesting for the students and teachers if they used Heritage breed eggs. That’s when Ginger came to the Conservancy.

Learn more about Chicks in the Classroom

10-Year Livestock Census: The goal of this project is to complete a ten-year population census update for heritage (and commercial) livestock breeds. The Livestock Conservancy was the first organization to conduct a national census of heritage breeds; this has been an invaluable tool in sustaining a science-based focus for our conservation work. The current census will assess both endangered and non-endangered breeds to produce an overall picture of the diversity of livestock breeds in the United States. The resulting census data from this project will drive national and international conservation objectives.

Master Breeder Program: This program is based on the fundamental premise that the existence and continuity of “old-time” (Master) breeders’ knowledge is critical to conservation. Master Breeders are historians who help bridge production knowledge from this generation to the next. They are a critical resource for conservation. This project includes doing in-the-field interviews with recognized Master Breeders, documenting and teaching of their methods, and publishing the findings.

Saving Endangered Hog Breeds Project: The Livestock Conservancy is working with a number of partners and universities to make Heritage Pork production an economically-viable enterprise for small- and mid-scale farmers, to increase endangered breed swine populations so that they are numerically and genetically secure, and to develop models for pastured, heritage swine production that can be applied nationally. This three-year project is in its first year.

Tamworth Pigs

Heritage Breed Outreach Initiative: Many people do not realize that many of America’s historic breeds are threatened with extinction, and The Livestock Conservancy is leading the quest to educate the public and change perceptions and understandings of agriculture. The Heritage Breed Outreach Initiative brings The Livestock Conservancy’s expertise and services to those people around the country who are eager to learn more about raising and conserving heritage breeds.

Discovery Project: According to The Livestock Conservancy’s Technical Advisor, world-renowned conservationist and professor Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, the window for rediscovering “lost” breeds and strains is closing. Many breeds were parked on islands or thrived in harsh environments – and they were essentially forgotten or only known to a few people. With the loss of old-time breeders and the continuing threat of urban sprawl, these breeds and their histories may disappear forever. The Livestock Conservancy is working with its partners to “re-discover” lost breeds and investigate rumored unique or isolated populations.

Ongoing: In addition to these projects, The Livestock Conservancy staff works tirelessly to support conservation in a variety of other ways: through publications, marketing materials, presentations, answering emails and phone questions, workshops, field-work, farm visits, flock evaluations, and much more – The Livestock Conservancy keeps conservation at the forefront of its mission!

Are you interested in in helping with one of these projects or providing funding to expand a project? Please contact us!

Past Projects

With over 35 years in the conservation business, the Livestock Conservancy has done a lot of work! Here is a small glimpse of some of our past projects.

American Milking Devon Project: The American Milking Devon is an iconic American breed that helped build colonial America. Devon cattle crossed the Atlantic with colonists from England in the 1600s. Here they served as oxen to clear trees and stones from farms, provided milk for the first children born in the new land, and were served as beef at home and in taverns for early travelers. Working together, The Livestock Conservancy and the American Milking Devon Cattle Association compiled a detailed genetic analysis of the herdbook and DNA to fully evaluate the status and breed structure of Milking Devon cattle for better conservation management. Northeastern farms raising Milking Devons were recruited to measure production traits. Surveys were conducted to document feeding and management practices that impact these traits and milk samples were evaluated for fatty acid nutritional profile. Continued selection of cattle for milk, beef and draft attributes help maintain a genetically resilient breed.

Heritage Turkey Recovery Project: In 1997 The Livestock Conservancy took a census of Heritage Turkeys and found that there were only 1,335 breeding birds in the whole United States. Between 1997 and 2002, the Conservancy began to get the word out. A specialty newsletter (“The Snood News”) was begun, and a project with Virginia Tech was initiated to compare the immune systems of Heritage Turkeys and industrial strains. Through promotion and marketing, the popularity of Heritage Turkeys grew. By 2003, the breeding population had more than doubled, numbering 4,275. The Heritage Turkey market continued to gain momentum, and more people wanted to raise the birds. As a result, the Livestock Conservancy initiated an educational program on how to care for Heritage Turkeys, and how to select quality breeding stock. By 2007, the population exceeded 10,000 breeder birds. The work is not done, but the 17 naturally mating varieties no longer teeter on the brink of extinction.

Narragansett turkeys

Marsh Tacky Discovery and Documentation:  The Marsh Tacky project was the culmination of a successful 4-year project to describe, document, and conserve an endangered horse breed previously thought to be extinct. The breed is from the lowlands of South Carolina and is of Spanish descent. The project included the initial discovery of the breed, documentation of the breed, networking with breeders throughout the Southeast, and re-establishing breeding and promotional plans to support the breed. Today, the breed is growing in popularity and has become the official South Carolina State Heritage Horse.

Java Chicken Recovery Project: Through careful selection and breeding, The Livestock Conservancy worked with a pilot group of breeders to bring back the production characteristics of the Java chicken. In its first year alone, the project increased the number of Java chickens in the United States by 10%, but more quality breeding stock is needed. The Livestock Conservancy also worked with breeders and producers to develop economic models for successfully raising and marketing heritage chicken breeds, which benefits all farmers raising heritage chickens.

Buckeye Recovery Project: The Livestock Conservancy developed a production and selection program for chickens which has set the gold-standard for expansion and selection of rare chicken breeds. The project included hatching chicks, working with breeders to selectively breed chicks, and continuing selection over multiple years to increase productivity traits. As a result of this project, the Buckeye gained popularity and moved from the Critical to the Threatened category on the Conservation Priority List.

Buckeye chicken

Wilbur-Cruce Rescue: A ranch strain of Colonial Spanish horse known as the Wilbur Cruce was rescued before the land was turned to a land conservation program. Dr. Phil Sponenberg, the Livestock Conservancy technical advisor, developed a conservation plan, and placed small breeding groups with breed stewards.

Wilbur Cruce Horse

Heritage Definitions Project:  The term Heritage has been loosely used by farmers, consumers, marketers, and the public to describe traditional or historic breeds. To better codify this term for the marketplace, the Livestock Conservancy has taken steps to define Heritage for all species. Currently, the Livestock Conservancy has defined Heritage for turkeys, chickens, and cattle. Additional Heritage definitions are being developed

Watusi Cattle


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