So I talked about getting some new animals for the homestead, but we have a bit of a conundrum here. See, I like the idea of heritage breed animals... the more endangered, the better. I am not one of those greenie weenies that puts animals as more important than humans, or that thinks that anything and everything is excused if done in the name of "the environment". However, I do think that the forced breeding of modern livestock in order to ensure that every animal produces a consistant end product, is wrong.
What good is a chicken that reaches full weight in 7 weeks, but in that time, it is now not able to walk because it grew so fast and its breasts are disproportionately large? It is not good for foraging for bugs and greens. It is not good for pest control. It was developed solely for the meat industry and its existence ignores all of the tangents and side-effects of the traditional role of the chicken. Pigs, cows, turkeys, etc. So many breeds have been bred for specific purposes that they have lost their original capabilities and intents.
Heritage breed chickens tend to be dual-purpose birds. Bred for both meat and egg production. They do not produce eggs as well as commercial egg layers, and they do not grow as fast as commercial meat birds. But they can forage in the yard and control the pest population from eating your garden, and they can subsist on less grain/feed than other breeds.
Heritage hogs are able to forage and subsist majorily on pasture as well. They are able to roam the pasture and fields without becoming sunburnt. They do not nip and bite each others tails or ears the way pigs do when kept in a pen and not allowed to roam.
Each breen has their heritage breeds that are basically on or near the endangered list. These heritage breeds are important for us to remember where the modern small homesteads animals came from. Those of us looking for only one or two animals could go for one of the modern breeds.
Of course, I seem to make this sound as if heritage breeds are perfect. Part of the problem is that farmers and breeders are able to charge a lot more for these animals. Where you are most likely able to get a cross-breed goat or sheep for $50-$100 (if not less if you have an auction near you), you are most likely not going to be able to get a heritage breed for less than $200 at the minimum.
Another major problem with heritage breed animals... Availability. If you are looking at a breed that endangered, they are not going to be available around every corner. You may have to travel hours or even days if you are set on getting a specific breed that no one around you has. Whereas cross-breeds and commercial breeds are often available at a moments notice. Not only are the farmers not necessarily close to you, but with a small breeding population, there are less litters/kids/etc. each year. Where a goat or sheep may throw twins twice a year if you really push them, that is still only four kids a year. A swine may give a litter of 4-6-8, but still, that is not a lot to try to repopulate farms around the country.
Heck, when you are starting out, does it really matter what breed you get until you are sure you want to raise that type of animal. If you are getting birds, do you want to be responsible for letting them out in the morning and putting them back in at night, making sure that they have enough food and water. If you are looking at dairy goats, do you have the motivation to be up and out to make sure that they have food and water and shelter. Once or twice a day do you want to go out to milk them. Make sure they freshen and get bred properly.
These are questions that each individual and each farm and homestead must make for themselves. But if you are in the market for some new animals, why don't you take a look at some heritage breeds?