Homesteading has become the heart of the do-it-yourself movement. In this era of sustainability, homesteaders take their lifestyle to varying extents. Some choose to live life completely off grid and exactly as our forefathers, while others opt for a lifestyle with modern technology mixed with a sustainable lifestyle. Think iPhones, beer brewing and square-foot gardening.
Regardless of the depth of involvement, the use of heritage animals is an integral part of the homestead community.
What makes these animals so special? They're the Adam and Eve of present-day livestock.
Genetically modified organisms, more commonly called GMOs, riddle grocery store shelves. If you try to find corn that hasn't been modified or treated with a product from Monsanto, you're going to have to buy local from a farmer you trust. As an average consumer, we're used to worrying about the state of our produce, and, sure, we try to buy grass-fed meat, but that doesn't mean the meat is coming from a heritage breed.
Heritage animals pre-date the GMO livestock that most of us eat — even though most of us aren't intentionally picking non-heritage meat. Unless you know the farmer, it's almost impossible to guarantee your meat is from a heritage animal because the USDA hasn't actually acknowledged "heritage" as a label.
Heritage breeds were carefully bread to encourage genetic traits that best fit for a lifestyle of survival. Basically, these animals had to survive harsh conditions and live for a long time. Remember the game Oregon Trail? How many times did you have to buy more oxen when you played Oregon Trail in school? Well, those were heritage breeds made for a hard life.
Modern-day livestock is made to grow quickly and thrive on growth hormones. They're also inbred, which means they're more prone to sickness, which is a prime reason that heritage livestock is so important.
In fact, according to the GRACE Communications Foundation, an organization focused on increasing public awareness of environmental issues, "83% of dairy cows are Holsteins ... and 60% of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds." Because modern society has bred these specialized, fast-growing animals for food production, there are 1,500 different breeds of heritage livestock in danger of extinction.
Heritage animals enhance the genetic diversity of livestock. Should something happen to any of our sensitive genetically modified livestock, we need to be able to fall back on our slow growing, but hardy, heritage animals.
Whether you're looking to expand your homestead or just fill your belly, heritage animals are the most sustainable choice you can make. These animals are meant for normal, outdoor weather without any sort of growth hormones. That means they grow at a much slower rate but your homestead will be able to support the animal instead of being forced to buy food loaded with the growth hormones needed for their inbred genes.
These breeds are the perfect fit for a homestead, plus you'll also be helping to conserve a global resource. As you go through the process of choosing your herd, keep in mind you'll still have to adjust your land and buy equipment to fit the needs of the animals. Cattle, for instance, need more than just a fence. Happy cows require a clean and healthy environment, and odds are good your homestead is perfect for them.
Photo by Skitterphotos.
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