How do you save critically endangered breeds? You eat them.

Back from an unexpected hiatus due to a death in the family. It is my sincere hope that we will be back to our usual schedule bringing you lots of farm related tidbits. Again, apologies for the lack of blogging.

Now that might sound like some kind of weird joke, but we could not be more serious. After all we are a farm that specializes in the conservation of rare heritage breeds in the form of Randall Linebacks, Mulefoot Hogs, Guinea Hogs, and Dorking chickens.

To give you an idea of how endangered some of our animals are, let us look at the Randall Linebacks who number 500 which is shockingly small when you think about the 9 million Holsteins in the US. Faced with those numbers, most people wonder why we would have ANY of our Randall Linebacks culled for their dinner plates. Why are we not keeping every single one of them to continue our breeding program?

One of the answers is an easy one. We cannot have 20-30 bulls on our property. Same goes for boars. We have two roosters for our flock of 20 girls. Too many boys leads to chaos. Continuing with the cattle theme, the chance of having a bull vs a cow is 1.06 to one. That means there is a slightly higher likelihood that for every calf born, it will be male. In the farming world being male is kind of a curse… it means you can be head honcho or you get castrated. Admittedly, they still live a good and much longer life than most males, but there is only one future that awaits them. It is hard enough getting the chosen bulls far enough away from the girls so that we do not have break outs and unplanned pregnancies.

The more complicated answer has every thing to do with our breeds’ histories. They are good all round animals. However, they do not get to weight in 6 months. They need space or they go nuts. They are not HUGE animals when fully grown. They fell out of favor for the more common Big Ag breeds because they need more time to reach their level of perfection. Mulefoots and Guinea Hogs are known for their gorgeously marbled meat that is bright red which goes against the “fat is bad” era. Dorkings might have been the food of Romans, but Big Ag want birds that grow to weight in 3 months rather than 9. For Randall Linebacks, unless you want Rose Veal, you need to let them grow for upwards of 1-2 years. Anyone who is farming for a quick turnaround will not use these breeds even if their meat is superior and they are better suited for outdoor environments.

That is why it is so important that small farms help bring these breeds back. Now you can go into a farm-to-table restaurant and look at a menu and see Berkshire Pork. These days there is a greater chance that will mean some thing to the hungry patron BECAUSE so many places are trying to serve heritage food. Often there will be a little footnote with the name of the farm which is fantastic. The next time they go to another restaurant, they can ask the chef what kind of pork it is and from where it was sourced. The chef takes note of the trend and begins looking for farms that sell not only Berkshires, but other varieties of heritage breeds. The farms start getting more calls asking for their meat which means they need to increase their breeding programs to accommodate the new demand. The numbers of the breed increase. They may even decide that since they are having so much success with one heritage breed that they will take on more thus protecting and conserving others.

That is our current mindset. We started with one type of heritage animal and have branched out into three. If our farm manager has his way eventually there will be rabbits and ducks too. Those are a lot of animals and every single one of them is valuable not only for their breed, but for what they can do for their breed. Consumers are starting to get very savvy about what they are eating and are demanding a higher level of excellence regarding what they consume. That is great for us since we believe our meat IS superior to what is on offer at the grocery store.

A fine example of how this has worked is Joe Henderson, owner of Chapel Hill Farm in Berryville, VA. He began breeding Randall Linebacks when they found safe haven at his farm while on the travels of their savior, Cynthia Creech. She sold him a couple dozen head and he began stringently breeding and building their numbers. He realized that in order for any critically endangered breed to survive it had to have purpose. Being pretty, cute, and all round good animal was not going to cut it. He said, “And this animal’s job is [being] 520 lbs of meat to some of the greatest chefs in the world and ending up on your plate.” To do that he was incredibly picky about who he sold his animals to and made sure that the chefs were going to use the WHOLE animal rather than only parts. (For more about his herd: To Save This Endangered Breed, Eat It) He believes that there needs to be more satellite herds to feed the different markets of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The more people who come in contact with the meat, especially in trend oriented cities, the greater future demand.

The Randall Linebacks are a good example of what is already happening with one specific breed and what we are hoping to have happen for the rest of our breeds. Up until recently most people in our area had never heard of a Randall Lineback, Mulefoot, or Dorking. Now people are coming to the farm to see the animals and talking to other people about them. We have guests from all over the world who have stopped by and tried our meat. Most of them are incredibly disappointed they cannot find it back home, but have found other farms who carry other breeds. The restaurants that carry our meat are some of the best in the area! The trickle down effect is AMAZING.

So again, why do we eat our animals? Because we need to make sure that people know their breed names and want to purchase their meat. That will help them regain their former popularity and save them from extinction. Like most of us in this post-2008 world, they need a job and we are giving them one. After all, we do not want them to go the way of the dodo.