“Heritage” is to livestock as “heirloom” is to produce. Many of the breeds originated between the 17th and 19th centuries and are almost exclusively multi-purpose breeds; often, the breeds were nearly lost when specialized breeds were imported to the regions where they’d developed. Historical interest and small homesteads have led to preservation groups, such as the Livestock Conservancy, who work to ensure these breeds continue to exist.
The multi-purpose attributes of these breeds make them popular on small homesteads. Instead of owning a dairy cow (and getting more milk than necessary for a small homestead), raising a beef cow steer to eat (and getting more meat than needed), and purchasing or renting expensive, specialized equipment for managing a field, a small homesteader can own a heritage breed cow that produces a lower quantity of higher-quality milk, whose calves make good eating, and who can be trained to harness and are built for hauling heavy loads. Poultry produce eggs and meat; hogs perform labor tasks and convert household and farm waste to valuable compost and meat; rabbits rapidly generate compost while putting on meat weight and growing luxurious fur.
In addition to filling multiple roles on the Farm, retaining heritage breeds of livestock – chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, cattle, and hogs – presents opportunities to educate future generations about the breeds and to participate in conservation efforts.
Currently, we are only raising rabbits. Our colony is quite small, consisting of one buck and one doe. Although housed in hutches for the time being, they will eventually be pastured. In the meantime, they are provided with fresh greens daily as well as nutritionally-balanced pellet feed, and they are especially fond of dandelions.
Andy, the buck, is half Rex (a standard meat breed known for its ultra-soft, plush-like fur), quarter Champagne d’Argent (the oldest of the Argent breeds, originally created for their silver fur), and quarter Silver Fox (bred as a multipurpose fur and meat animal, quite likely developed in part from Champagne d’Argent). His coloring is known as “otter” or “gold-tipped black.”
Tex, the doe, is half Rex and half Californian (a standard meat breed known for good size and good mothering instincts). She appears to have some Silver Fox or Argent in her history on her sire’s side, given the silvering that her coat developed when she matured.