An opportunity to learn about maintaining animal breeds

The face of the typical family farm has changed significantly over the last century.

Submitted by Kathy Stevenson, Director


The face of the typical family farm has changed significantly over the last century. The small mixed farms that dotted the prairie landscape even 50 years ago are becoming less and less common. And disappearing along with them are the heritage breeds of livestock. There are currently 1,500 breeds at risk of extinction. In the past five years alone, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct. (Food and Agriculture Organization, Farm animal biodiversity. (2006). Agriculture 21. Retrieved Oct 24, 2012.)

In 2010 a group of concerned individuals in central Alberta formed a non-profit society called Canadian Heritage Breeds (CHB). Their goal is to encourage the preservation and growth of the historic breeds of livestock and to help people recognize their value and relevance in today’s marketplace.

The hardy, historical breeds still have an important role to play in agriculture. Domestic animals and poultry evolved through natural and human selection and became tailor-made to fit a wide range of different climates, conditions, diets and farmer’s expectations. They are multi-purpose animals that require minimal infrastructure and many have even developed specific adaptations that make them especially well-suited to smaller farms and acreages. Heritage breeds can allow farmers to customize and serve specific customer needs, filling a niche in the market place.

One way to provide support and encouragement to those interested in rare breed conservation is by offering educational workshops and seminars and hosting events. Past CHB seminars have focused on themes such as Goat Milking, Egg Incubation, and Flock Health.  The next seminar is scheduled to take place on August 23 and 24 in Ponoka. The instructor, Jim Adkins, is a poultry specialist, judge and founder of the Sustainable Poultry Network based in North Carolina. Jim travels all over the U.S. and other countries helping people find success and profit in raising and breeding Heritage poultry, so this is an exciting opportunity for new or seasoned poultry-breeders. In November, CHB is proud to be hosting the Canadian National Poultry Show in Red Deer.

The CHB mandate is “Conservation through education”. These kinds of learning opportunities are fundamental to the long term survival of heritage breeds. Turning a profit can be more of a challenge for farmers choosing to work with rare varieties of poultry and animals, but education, promotion and innovative thinking are all effective strategies for success. With the help of organizations such as Canadian Heritage Breeds, these important genetic resources will be available to innovative farmers of today, and will remain in existence for future generations of Canadians.