Good moooooorning, my faithful readers. Mama Lynn here again.
I am pleased to announce that just a few days after my last blog I gave birth to a happy and healthy 90 pound baby boy, “Laird” (our young men are being named with an Irish theme this year, and each baby is given a name that starts with the same letter as the mother!). Each of us has now had her baby, and we have eight beautiful calves frolicking in the pasture, four boys and four girls.
In the barn, we have eight little lambs who are getting so big, and still a few more on the way! Three of the sheep are still expecting, so we continue to hope for safe deliveries and healthy babies. As all the lambs are born and the weather warms up, they will soon be moooved to outdoor pastures. If you missed the chance to see them during our Lattes with Lambs event, they’ll be outside before too long!
Visitors often ask what happens to all the babies we have here on the farm. Some of this year’s little ones will stay here, either for future breeding programs or as demonstration animals at the Colonial Farm site. But there just isn’t enough space for all of the babies we have, so many of them will go on to other homes. This happens after they wean – the lambs usually naturally wean themselves by June. Our calves take a bit longer to wean, and so we will be separated from them by a fence in October. This is called “fence-line weaning” and allows us to see our babies (and our babies to see us!) so it is less stressful for everyone.
Heritage Breed Animals
You might be wondering why we would have so many babies every year if we are just going to sell them. Why does the farm think it’s so important to continue to breed? I wondered that myself, so I stole Miss Polly’s iPhone and did some research on heritage breed livestock.
We cows and the sheep are heritage breeds, and you
can find us listed as “critical” on the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. That means that, as breeds, the American Milking Devon cattle and Hog Island sheep are in danger of going extinct – to be defined as critical means there are less than 200 new registered animals every year in the US and less than 2000 estimated in the world. We Milking Devons were even the inspiration for the creation of the Livestock Conservancy! (You can learn more about the history of the Milking Devon cow and the Hog Island sheep at the Conservancy’s website!)
But why is it so important to preserve these heritage breeds? Well, we are often uniquely adapted to survive in the environment where we were originally bred. We often are better at foraging compared to commercial breeds, as opposed to eating commercial feed, so we have less of a negative environmental footprint. Speaking of footprints, we also tend to be smaller than commercial breeds, so our feet cause less soil compaction!
From the Farmer’s Mouth
I took advantage of Miss Polly’s iPhone and used it to contact a few of the farmers who have purchased our lambs or calves. I was curious about why they are choosing heritage breeds instead of commercial breeds, and they were happy to tell me!
David Hansen from the Peninsula Pork Company (all the way out in Wisconsin!) is purchasing his first Devon calves this year, and said he chooses heritage breeds because:
“Many heritage animals offer a quality level not normally found in general production animals. They may not produce the quantities of meat or milk that contemporary breeds can but they make up for it in flavor, hardiness and by being thrifty on feed.”
Richard Larson from Old Gjerpen Farm in Virginia had this to say about heritage breeds:
“For conservation of rare breeds to be successful, breeders must be able to sell their “product” at a price that generates a profit.”
And his reason for choosing Milking Devons specifically:
“We primarily raise the Milking Devon to sell breeding stock (heifers). It has been a strong market. While we do not milk our cows, most of our buyers are families that want to have a “family milking cow.” We sell our steers, whole or half, again to families that want high quality grass-fed beef. A strong market for us in large part because the Milking Devon has very favorable tasting meat, thus generating repeat sales.”
They both bring up a wonderful point about flavor, food, and biodiversity – while at first it might seem counter-intuitive to eat animals that we are trying to preserve, one of the best ways to save a breed is by creating a market for it. If people realize that Milking Devon beef tastes better than beef from a traditional commercial breed (like an Angus), they will want to purchase Devon beef, and farmers will have an incentive to breed more Milking Devons. For more about flavors, food, and biodiversity, read about the Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste project – they are compiling a list of unique food breeds of animals and plants that are at risk of going extinct, and they’ve recognized the American Milking Devon as an endangered breed that has a higher distinctive “taste quality.”
Though my interest obviously lies with the cattle, for my readers’ sakes I also reached out to people who have purchased our Hog Island sheep, or products from them.
Joel Davis, managing editor at the Maryland Independent (), purchased a trio of Hog Island lambs from us last year and has been documenting his journey through a series of articles at the newspaper (be sure to read his latest article, about his adventures in bottle-feeding). His sheep were purchased to be used for fiber and meat, and when asked about his reasons for choosing heritage breeds over commercial he said:
“My wife and I share concerns about the sustainability of factory farming, including genetic bottlenecks and susceptibility to disease from using a limited number of animal breeds. Preserving heritage bloodlines ensures options are available in the event of a catastrophe.”
And finally, Alison Pacuska, owner of The Spinning Loft, sells fleece from our Hog Island sheep at her online fiber and spinning supply store.
She gave me some insight into the characteristics of the Hog Island wool (as you can imagine, as a cow I am very far from a wool expert!):
“It’s believed to have come from Hampshire, a down breed, and merino, a fine wool, before it went feral. We don’t know for sure of course but for a down breed it’s remarkable soft, and exhibits lovely crimp. It’s also got that down characteristic of felt resistance. It’s not impossible, but it is hard to felt it! It’s really warm, has a great warm cream color and has some nice colors.”
Alison also mentioned the importance of preserving heritage breeds:
“I have worked with a lot of different wools and each one deserves to be used and promoted. While that may be said for the mass market breeds as well, it’s never a good thing to put all your eggs in one basket. Genetic diversity is critical to preserving ecosystems and protecting the earth and humanity.”
As you can see, the purchasers of our calves and lambs support and believe in the same mission as the Accokeek Foundation: one of promoting and preserving these heritage breeds for their history and sustainability. We animals are proud to do our part!
I’ve very much enjoyed teaching you, dear readers, about the animals here at the Foundation. Do come to visit me (and the rest of the herd!) and watch the little ones grow through the spring and summer.
This year’s calves have all been sold, but if you are interested in purchasing a Hog Island lamb we are still accepting deposits for the 2015 season. For more information please contact Polly Festa, Livestock Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.