Livestock Conservancy works to conserve heritage sheep breeds
The Livestock Conservancy, a national nonprofit dedicated to conserving rare breeds and continuing biodiversity in agriculture, teamed up with the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) during the Sept. 8 Let’s Grow webinar to discuss the conservation and comeback of several heritage breed sheep in the U.S.
“Heritage breed sheep are one of the more numerous species we work with, and there are quite a few rare breeds in the U.S. that have been outcompeted by faster growing, finer-wool breeds,” notes Jeannette Beranger, senior program manager at the Livestock Conservancy. “We try to not only conserve these breeds, but give them a purpose and help people get excited about them.”
Heritage sheep breeds
Beranger explains the Livestock Conservancy works with several heritage breeds of sheep, which have been placed on the Conservation Priority List and classified as endangered, threatened, watched, studied and recovered.
“The first category of heritage breeds we work with are the British longwools. These include Costwold, Leicester, Lincoln and the newly added Teeswater, which was introduced to our priority list this past year,” Beranger says.
The next two categories she discusses are the British white breeds, including Clun Forest, Dorset Horn, Oxford, Shropshire and Southdown and the British colored breeds, including Black Welsh Mountain, Jacob and Shetland.
“There are a lot of British breeds on our list, so we work very closely with our British counterparts at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust,” Beranger says. “We have a great collaborative relationship with them because we share a lot of breeds and genetics.”
“We also have quite a few American breeds of Spanish decent, including Florida Cracker, Gulf Coast, Navajo Churro and Santa Cruz. These breeds aren’t very well known outside of where they were developed, but they are often very hardy and well-adapted to extreme climates,” she adds, noting Gulf Coast and Florida Cracker sheep, which reside in the deep south, are extremely heat and parasite resistant, while the Navajo Churro breed is well adapted to dry, arid climates.
Other American breeds Beranger lists are Hog Island, American Karakul, Romeldale/CVM, St. Croix, Barbados Blackbelly and Wiltshire Horn.
Conserving heritage breeds
In an effort to conserve these heritage breeds, the Livestock Conservancy works year-round conducting DNA testing, documenting information, educating consumers and overcoming marketing challenges.
“The Livestock Conservancy conducts a lot of consensus of the breeds,” Beranger notes. “In fact, we have a volunteer who works with us year-round, and her only job is to call up breed associations throughout the year to see how many animals of each breed exist.”
“We also maintain herd books for Hog Island, Santa Cruz and Wiltshire horn,” she adds. “Additionally, we do a lot of DNA analysis, documenting stories and breed qualities and hosting educational workshops.”
Beranger notes marketing and promotion is a huge focus for the Livestock Conservancy.
“One of the most important programs we have worked on is our Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em initiative,” Beranger explains. “This program recognizes fiber artists who are using wool from breeds on the Conservation Priority List, while connecting shepherds of heritage breeds with consumers.”
“Basically, fiber artists are given a passport and each time they buy wool and complete a project from our rare breed fiber providers, they receive a stamp in their passport,” she explains. “The artists earn prizes for completing projects, and we have nearly 2,000 fiber artists currently participating in the program.”
In the short two and a half years the program has been around, Beranger notes the heritage sheep breeders who are involved have seen significant increases in the interest of their sheep and sales of their products.
“We are so pleased with this program and the remarkable changes it has made to this unique industry,” she states. “We are working on ways to expand the program as well as coming up with other ideas to help our breeders be more successful.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.