In the mid-1970s, a diverse group of farmers, environmentalists, historians, and scientists shared a concern for the fate of America’s traditional livestock breeds. In March 1977, the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (AMBC) was chartered in Vermont by founding directors Leland J. Simpson, David Warden, Ridgway Shinn, James R. Nolfi, and Kristina Bielenberg. They recognized the significance of the genetic erosion that was occurring with livestock both in North America and internationally. They visualized an organization that would educate the public, conduct research on breed populations, and provide technical advice and support to animal breeders and farmers.
By the summer of 1977, there were 58 dues-paying members. One notable member was Phillip Sponenberg, a student at Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Today, nearly 35 continuous years later, Dr. Sponenberg is still serving the The Livestock Conservancy mission through his current role as Technical Advisor to the The Livestock Conservancy staff. During those early days, Secretary Kristina Bielenberg wrote that the organization was “literally run out of a shoebox with dues barely covering the cost of the newsletter.” There was concern about whether the organization was on the cutting edge of a new American agriculture or was championing a cause long before its time. Ridgeway Shinn volunteered to act as first executive director, and the “shoebox” office moved to Hardwick, Massachusetts.
A definitive second phase of development began in 1985 when Libby Hensen was hired as the first professional staff member. Bylaws changes were made to expand Board membership in order to attract individuals from other areas of the country, and the question was raised if moving the office away from New England might garner more national appeal. In summer of 1985, with the help of Board member Cary Fowler, free office space was obtained and the office was moved to Pittsboro, North Carolina. AMBC continued to grow and gain national status primarily because of its mission – the conservation of rare breeds.
In 1988, Donald Bixby became Executive Director. Under his leadership, in 1993 the name of the organization was changed in order to reflect a “broadening interest in conservation, not just of the rarest breeds, but also for more numerous breeds, which were losing genetic breadth.” Along with this new name, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), came the creation of the hallmark logo that is still used today. In 2002, Charles “Chuck” Basset became Executive Director. During his 10 year tenure, he helped strengthen the organization by developing a highly professional staff, increasing membership to just under 3,000 members, and by implementing programs and rescue projects consistent with the mission of the organization.
In 2013, ALBC shortened its name to The Livestock Conservancy to help in its marketing efforts. Today, The Livestock Conservancy is the largest nonprofit membership organization in the United States working to conserve rare breeds and genetic diversity in livestock and poultry. The organization is reaching new heights and continuing to successfully carry out its mission.