The mission of The Livestock Conservancy is to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction.
Today, 1 in 5 of the world’s livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Why is this statistic from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization alarming? Because biodiversity creates an important safety net for the future of our food system.
Like all ecological systems, agriculture depends on genetic diversity to adapt to an ever-changing environment. When the majority of our food comes from a handful of livestock breeds, this food source is at risk. Once lost, genetic diversity is gone forever. Yet, traditional, historic breeds retain essential attributes and genetics necessary for agriculture to adapt to an unknown future and unknown needs. Conserving them is crucial for our nation’s food security.
Since 1977, The Livestock Conservancy’s mission has been conservation of agricultural biodiversity. As America’s leading organization working to protect heritage breeds, our small staff and large network of partners safeguard a resource developed over hundreds of years including donkeys, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. And we’ve never lost a breed to extinction.
More than 150 at-risk livestock and poultry breeds appear on our Conservation Priority List (CPL). These animals are raised by thousands of heritage breed stewards on farms across America. They turn to us for information, help selecting stock, breeding advice, marketing help, microgrants, and emergency rescues. From hard science to hard work, The Livestock Conservancy’s approach to conservation has become a model for heritage breed conservation world-wide.
Rare breeds of livestock and poultry are part of our national and cultural heritage and represent a unique piece of the earth’s bio-diversity. We have inherited a rich variety of livestock breeds. For the sake of future generations, we must work together to safeguard these treasures.
Heritage breed conservation may seem like a fancy term, but in reality it’s all about small farmers making smart choices and raising the right breeds in the right systems – serving as a link in the chain between past and future.
What We do
The Livestock Conservancy works as a catalyst to sustain rare breeds and reintegrates the animals back into agriculture and food systems. In the past decade, seven breeds have graduated from the conservation list. Check out the What We Do section of our website to learn more about our current and past projects!
The Conservancy’s mission is pretty straightforward – our mission is the genetic conservation and promotion of heritage breeds. However, implementing this mission involves a variety of projects and activities and the help of numerous partners, supporters, and members.
The most common question we get from people that are unfamiliar with our organization is – do you own animals? As much we’d love to be around rare breeds all day, the Conservancy does NOT own animals, but it DOES serve a critical role in rare breed conservation.
The Livestock Conservancy works as a catalyst to sustain rare breeds and reintegrates the animals back into agriculture and food systems. In the past decade, seven breeds have graduated from the conservation list. Check out Our Projects to learn more about our current and past projects!
For over 40 years The Livestock Conservancy has accomplished conservation through our Discover, Secure and Sustain process. Each step has specific tasks that must be done, and specific pitfalls that must be avoided if conservation is to succeed.
Discover means finding rare breeds and unknown herds, out there, in the fields and woods and barns where they have quietly survived for generations. Important populations can be discovered many different ways, sometimes they are noticed on a farm using other more recognizable rare breeds, and very frequently they are discovered when someone mentions the old guy down the road with some interesting animals. Discovery is most essential for landraces and feral populations.
It takes research to figure out if newly discovered animals might in fact “be something.” The place and the history of both the people and the animals set the context. Gaps in the history may be discovered that change the context. If the animals meet the biological definition for a breed or a strain, the next step is to get a good close look at the animals. Does the herd or flock reflect the history of origin? Is there a consistency of breed type across all the animals? A census occurs at this stage, too, and the breed characteristics are documented.
Secure. It takes science, politics, collaboration, and a hefty portion of luck to secure a breed. The goal is to prevent further genetic erosion by setting up a plan that encourages breeders to conserve all of the genetic diversity found within the breed. This begins by figuring out the structure of the breed population. How each herd or flock relates to the others? How are the animals related to each other? DNA analysis can sometimes help at this stage, though much is learned from oral and written histories. Breeding strategies are devised that maintain bloodlines but protect against the loss of health that occurs with inbreeding. Securing a population requires that people work together. To be successful the breeders absolutely must work together to save the animals in the environmental and cultural context closest to that in which they evolved. Breed associations, registries, promotion and marketing, all come out of this human collaboration.
Sustain. This is the stage where a breed can really take off. The breed has been secured genetically, and has been stabilized with regard to population structure and genetic variation. With smart thinking, patience, and respectful cooperation, breeds can grow into valued components of our agricultural and food systems. During this step new people become interested in the breed, and they need education on husbandry, breeding, and genetic resource management to sustain the breed for the future. They need information about the process of converting living animals to human food, and how to connect with customers. New and experienced breeders alike also seek help in thinking through all of the stages that a breeder goes through in a lifetime of breeding. These include frequently overlooked topics such as herd reduction or liquidation, disaster planning, and so on. Planning for these contingencies ensures that the breed doesn’t slip back into the perilous slide toward extinction.