Why Livestock Conservancy is an important leader for heritage breeds

kids with sheep

Have you ever wondered why Conner Prairie has heritage breeds?

Rare breeds of livestock and poultry are part of our national and cultural heritage. Sure, we want to exhibit animals that are historically accurate at Conner Prairie, but we also work to protect these rare breeds of animals because they represent a unique piece of the earth’s biodiversity. For the sake of future generations, we must work together to safeguard these agricultural treasures.

That’s why Conner Prairie is a member of The Livestock Conservancy, a nonprofit organization focused on the preservation and education of these rare breeds of livestock. Founded in 1977, through the efforts of livestock breed enthusiasts concerned about the disappearance of many of the US’s heritage livestock breeds, the Conservancy became the pioneer preservation organization in the United States for the conservation of agricultural biodiversity. They continue to be a leading organization in that field.

A passion for Livestock Conservancy

When I first became aware of The Livestock Conservancy and starting working with heritage breeds back in the early 1990s, it was still known as the American Minor Breeds Conservancy and focused broadly on preserving and promoting rare and minor breeds of livestock. I now have the privilege of serving as a board member of The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) and see how our mission is now more direct and active to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction.

To put the TLC mission into context, in 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that we lose an average of two domestic animal breeds each week. In the past 15 years alone, the FAO has identified the extinction of 300 out of 6,000 breeds worldwide, with another 1,350 in danger of extinction.

Today, one in five of the world’s livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Worldwide, about one domesticated livestock breed is lost to extinction every month.

Stopping extinction one breed at a time

These statistics are both alarming and important to address. Biodiversity creates an important safety net for the future of our food system. Like all ecosystems, 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 genetic necessity for agriculture to adapt to an unknown future and unknown needs. Conserving them is crucial for our nation’s food security.

The Livestock Conservancy is the leading organization working to stop the extinction of these breeds in the United States – ensuring the future of our agricultural food system. It has initiated programs that have saved multiple breeds from extinction, and does this by working closely with its 3,000 members and similar organizations in other countries, including Rare Breeds Canada.

Heritage Breeds Week

That’s why I hope you have marked your calendar for International Heritage Breeds Week and will be visiting Conner Prairie to learn more about our heritage breeds.

Animal Encounters - Arapawa goats

Learn more about our heritage breeds and how we highlight these extraordinary animals.

One of Conner Prairie’s heritage breeds will be featured each day with a fun celebration and learning day for all of the animals highlighted throughout the week. Follow the hashtags #ConnerPrairie for our local initiatives or #IHBW or #HeritageBreedsWeek to learn more about the global efforts to save heritage breeds.

Heritage breed conservation may seem like a fancy term, but in reality, it’s all about educational places like Conner Prairie and small farmers who are making smart choices and raising the right breeds in the right systems – serving as a link in the chain between past and future.

About the Author

Norman Burns is the President and CEO of Conner Prairie. Burns has more than 36 years of experience in various leadership capacities at historical institutions. Burns is active in the museum field nationally. He serves as chair and council member for the American Association of State and Local History.