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Why Heirloom? Why Not?

June 29, 2012

I’ve shared with readers about our rabbits, chickens, even tomatoes and have a tag for rare livestock.

But it dawned on me today talking with a friend I’ve never fully gone into why we use these breeds. I’ve touched on crossbreeding with them, and the need for preservation of them.

You see, the Dominique chicken hasn’t substantially changed. We did. A century ago she was the bird of choice on American farms producing eggs and meat, as well as valued for foraging abilities. People moved away from the farms but still wanted eggs. Agriculture changed. There were fewer people available to work, and more automation meant more productivity over a certain amount of land. This was needed for a growing population. The Dominique, and many like them, fell into the category of outdated. She was the wrong color and size for modern agriculture systems.

The Leghorn rose to prominent stature as the queen of the egg layers. She was smaller, less broody (willing to sit her own eggs) and more feed efficient. Then the market began changing again. Consumers want choices – outdoor, free range, the way things used to be. Thankfully, the Dominique was kept alive in conservation projects and today excels in the conditions she was bred for – small farms and outdoor systems!

I love the rare breeds. I love the colors, the personalities, the functional characteristics that make them special. I love something different, without having an exotic animal and the legal hassles that involves. I have no problem with someone keeping those if they can do so properly, but my “habitat” isn’t conducive to many animals, but is a habitat for rare breeds.

I’ve shared some pictures of time on the farm growing up. Growing up with Charolais and Brown Swiss in a world dominated by Angus and Holsteins meant being different – and that’s ok!

Fast forward and when there has been room both common breeds and rare breeds have shared space on the farm. We’ve had Barbados Blackbelly sheep and Hampshires – Redcap chickens and Plymouth Rocks. There’s an appreciation for these breeds that are different. They’ve survived. Some would be listed as endangered if they were a mouse or a deer – but if there’s only 2,ooo Buckeye chickens left no one knows or cares.

There is a special nature to these animals that still provide the genetics that may be needed for outdoor situations, and also food options. Some have won taste tests with chefs and food experts – the Dominique was ranked #2 in rare and common chickens, and the Midget White turkey was #1.

Friends in the wine world as well as steak, cheese and other foods speak of special tastes that can vary by region. Preservation of these breeds is important from a food and a genetic standpoint. It allows food choices, something else that we’re passionate about.It allows consumers a choice of something different.

We don’t condemn those who buy at the local grocery store or the farmers that supply it. That, too, is a choice for people that buy there. It’s a choice to buy from us, or to shop at farmers markets or to buy at gourmet food places online. All are food choices.

I like the rare breeds, and will keep what we like. There is out there customers who also appreciate food choices and the ability to have something different. We can’t compete on volume, or on lowest price or on many other things but we CAN compete on food choices. In that aspect our beautiful and functional breeds are, truly, our partners.

Pair of Buckeye chickens at SlowMoneyFarm

From our Giant chinchilla rabbits to the Buckeyes and Dark Cornish, from the Muscovy ducks to the turkeys we’re a little different. You can see that in our blogs. You can taste it in the rabbit and chicken. You can, I hope, sense it in our words.

Food choices and rare breeds go hand in hand. Beauty and function. Options. Something different. The reasons are many. Rare breeds rock! They have a history, and they have a place in today’s world.

We’re a small operation – growing but small. We have the time to put forth in these wonderful creatures that we share our world with.

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