Heritage Breeds are, quite simply, historic breeds of animals such as those our ancestors of the past few centuries would have raised and enjoyed. They are not genetically altered or “manufactured.” In many cases, they are endangered breeds, on the verge of extinction.
When launching our farm program (which you can read about in our Journal), we decided on heritage breeds because:
1. We want to save endangered species and are interested in having breeds that were around during my favorite year for re-enactments and Living History, 1756.
2. They can manage for themselves, are more hardy than modern breeds, don’t need to be pampered, and are used to fending for themselves.
3. They have more flavor and taste like meat used to taste when our ancestors sat down for a meal.
Besides, they are prettier, more docile, and much more intelligent than today’s genetically altered breeds.
So in a nutshell, they are the only animals suitable for our philosophy of how we raise farm animals and the meat products we wish to sell.
As you read about each of the breeds we choose to raise (by following the submenu below), you will read about their natural hardiness, about how their natural habits actually help develop the farmland, about how much better they are for food products, and much more about these wonderful animals we call friends.
Registered Scottish Highland Cattle
Among the most picturesque and beautiful-looking of all cattle breeds, Scotch Highland Cattle are distinguished by their unique shaggy coats of wavy hair and striking set of elegant horns. Highlanders are admirably balanced in shape and form. They are immediately recognizable grazing on any hillside or pasture. Straight above and below, short of leg and deep of frame, varied in color…they are a source of admiration to all who see them.
History of the Ancient Highland Breed
Highland Cattle roamed the remote hilly regions and western Coastal Islands of Scotland, subsisting on brush and browse. Records go back as far as the twelfth century! There is archaeological evidence of them from the sixth century. Highlands are the oldest known breed of cattle.
Because Highland Cattle originated in the severe, harsh climate of Scotland, where only the fittest survived, they have evolved into the hearty breed we know today with characteristics that have remained remarkably uniform since the dawn of recorded history.
The first herd registration book began in 1884. Recognizing the unique qualities of the breed, Western U.S. ranchers imported them to improve the bloodlines of the herd. In the Northeastern U.S., Scottish Highlanders have played an important role in the growth and success of the cattle industry. Picturesque Highland Cattle can be seen grazing throughout the Eastern U.S. as well as in the rest of North America.
Thrifty and Adaptable
A “frugal” breed, Highlanders require a minimum of management and care.
Highland cattle are famous for their lifelong resistance to the disease and sickness that beset other breeds. Wavy forelocks and long lashes protect their eyes from insects. Pink eye and other fly borne ailments are rare. Through hundreds of years of adaptation to rough climates and minimal subsistence their genetic advantages have emerged to make them the hardy, healthy “breed of choice” for today’s competitive marketplace.
Temperament and Behavior
Highlanders are known for their gentle disposition, being calm, even tempered, and easy to work with. They do not stress easily. Even the bulls are easy-going, unthreatening, and unruffled. Many can be handled even before being trained to halter. Spooky individuals do occur but are rare. Mothers are very protective of their newborn and care should be exercised around them during calving time. However, most Highland Cattle are extremely reliable and can be handled by novices to the breed. They are especially suited for 4H projects and for owners who want friendly contact with their animals.
Highland cattle are highly productive. They have an almost 100% success rate in conception, live births, and weaning. Highland cows are superior mothers. Conception, gestation, labor and delivery are accomplished without trouble, and they rarely require special care or help at calving time. Calves grow rapidly and make up for their small birth size and weight the first year. Highland calves do not wander from their mothers; they may be found at their sides even as yearlings. The strong protective nature of the cow minimizes predator losses that can even extend to sheep that are pastured in the same field. Productivity of the Highland cow is outstanding. As heifers they are able to conceive as early as 21 months and calve at 30, although they are usually bred as three-year olds. Highland Cattle are long-lived, with many cows producing healthy calves into their late teens!!
Beef Like No Other
Today’s market demands leaner beef with less cholesterol. The bottom line for any breeder is the amount and quality of beef produced…and Highland Cattle never fail in fulfilling this goal. Their carcasses bring premium prices at any market. The Highland’s long hair (rather than a thick layer of outer fat) provides enough protection to produce lean, flavorful, marbled meat with little outside waste. Highland beef is so good that Britain’s Royal Family (keeping a large fold at Balmoral Castle in Scotland) ships the beef ahead for the table wherever they travel.
Cross-breeding With Highland Cattle
Crossing to other beef breeds produces superior animals that retain many of the Highland’s excellent characteristics. Because they enhance existing herds and perform so well, Highland bulls are in demand for crossbreeding with Herefords, Angus, Shorthorn or Charolas as well as some dairy breeds. Their offspring are most rugged; grow and gain faster. Yearling heifers mated to a Highland bull and calved, as a two-year-old will have little or no trouble calving. Highland crossbred calves have sold at top market prices consistently.
Mature bulls weigh 1,800 pounds in breeding condition.
Mature cows weigh 1,100 pounds in breeding condition.
Steers will finish at about 1,000 pounds. This weight can be attained with heavy feeding as a long yearling but most breeders prefer to grow their steers on pasture and finish them at two years.
The above is based on information provided courtesy of the Northwest Highland Cattle Association.
About Tamworth Hogs
In keeping with our goal of using “heritage” breeds, we are acquiring and raising Tamworth Hogs. These old breeds are very rare and indeed are on the endagered list, meaning they are at risk of extinction, and are well worth preserving. As with all of our livestock we give our hogs names as we feel closer to them that way and they each have their own personality.
Tamworth hogs range from golden red to dark red, and it is thought that the red pigmentation is what prevents them getting sunburned. They have a long snout, upright ears, and a long, lean, and deep-sided appearance (rather than the roundedness of today’s industrially-farmed pigs), and generally have a smooth hair coat without swirls or black spots.
Originally raised in Ireland and known as the “Irish Grazer”, these hogs were imported to a farm in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England in the early 19th century. Their more distant origins are unknown, but they are thought to be a direct and true descendant of an Old English breed, as various physical traits are thought to come from wild boar. They were exported to to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand about 50 years later, by farmers who used them for everything from moving rocks and clearing pastures to hauling carts to selling live to providing great meat. Their numbers dropped dramatically with the rise of “industrial” pigs, but the breed is slowly coming back one piglet at a time.
Tamworths are hardy and adaptable, generally disease resistant, and do not need sheltering even in harsh weather (they have been known to make their own “shelters” when necessary). As with our heritage Highland Cattle, our Tamworth Hogs are favored for their ability to forage for food in less than ideal settings for most pigs. They compliment the cattle by grazing for their food, rather than relying largely on humans to provide for them. These hogs are helped by additional grains, however, which we give them regularly.
Temperament and Behavior
Tamworths are typically known for having good mothering instincts, especially in suckling piglets. While they do not always yield the same number of offspring at one time as modern pigs, they may breed longer. We have learned through experience that they need just the right place for birthing. Their size puts the newborns at risk of being smothered or crushed.
Said to be intelligent and occasionally cunning, these hogs quickly learn to respect the electric wires we use, along with our stone fences, to carve out the multiple, manageable rotational pastures and enclosures for our expecting sows and their new families.
These hogs yield high-quality lean meat, without fat marbling common in many breeds. Their meat is known for excellent bacon, for which it was bred in Tamworth, but as “the other white meat” it also cooks up tender and moist like a good steak.
Our hogs and all of our livestock are raised on open pasture. The Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Turkeys, Hogs etc all gets lots of fresh air, sunshine, a wide diet of what nature provides.
Manures from the different animals provide other animals with vitamins and minerals, the interna; parasites that effect Cattle as an example, are dead ended by the hogs. The fowl eat the fly larve out of the manure and thereby reduce the number of flyÂ’s and negate the need for chemical sprays
This is natures way of animals helping other animals.
These medium-sized hogs. Boars may weigh from 535 to 800 pounds and sows from 450 to 650 pounds.
About Bourbon Red Turkeys
The Bourbon Red, also known as the Bourbon Butternut or Kentucky Red, is one of eight “Heritage” or standard breeds that were originally included in the American Poultry Association (APA) Standard (not the Broad-breasted Bronze and now the Large White industrially raised today); the other seven are the Bronze, White Holland, Beltsville White, Narragansett, Blue Slaate, Black, and Royal Palm. The Bourbon Red is the most numerous of the rare varieties.
Bourbon Red turkeys are primarily brownish to dark red with white in the flight and tail feathers. The tail has soft red bars crossing the main feathers near the end. Toms’ body feathers may be edged in black. The neck and breast feathers are chestnut mahogany, and the undercolor feathers are light buff to almost white. This mix of buffs and reds make the birds quite handsome.
The beak is light at the tip and dark at the base. The throat wattle is red and is changeable to bluish white, and the beard is black. The shanks and toes are pink.
Some breeders enjoying showing these birds at competition, and some have won distinctive recognition.
The Bourbon Red turkey is thought to have been developed from the Tuscarora Red turkey. The Tuscarora, or Tuscawara, may have been developed in Pennsylvania by selecting Buffs for darker color, while some sources say the Tuscarora Red was initially developed from the Jersey Buff, an historic variety of turkey known in the mid-Atlantic states. The Tuscarora Reds were taken to Kentucky where their development continued until the deep reddish-brown color of the Bourbon Red was established, as was its improved meat production. This turkey was thus named for Bourbon county, Kentucky. The Bourbon Red variety was recognized by the APA in 1909.
Watch. The Bourbon Red is the most numerous of the rare varieties.
The American Poultry Association (APA) lists the following varieties of turkeys in its Standard of Perfection: Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. The Buff variety was accepted in 1874 but removed this century when it became quite rare. The term “variety” is used purposefully, since the APA considers the turkey to be a breed and the sub-breeds to be varieties. Turkey varieties as genetic units are somewhat similar to the breeds and varieties of other domestic species. Though there are not many varieties, there are fewer differences between them, and, with the exception of the Bronze, they have been poorly documented.
For much of this century, the turkey industry has focused on a single variety, first the Broad-breasted Bronze and now the Large White. The other varieties have been neglected for some time and are rare today. As they were of value in the past, however, they merit conservation today.I hope you have enjoyed.
Until Next Time,
This article was originally written by Craig Floyd of Footsteps Farm. Share with his permission.
I would LOVE to get heritage breeds of cattle, chickens, turkeys and sheep for my 5 acres. The issue and problems I have are: they are all in the EAST or midwest!!! How am I, in Oregon, supposed to transport livestock (except for the chickens and turkeys) here??? The other issue I have (and I have asked this of the Livestock Conservancy as well, with no real results) is: if ‘we’ are trying to encourage and increase these heritage breeds, WHY are they three or four times more expensive than normal breeds, which are already too high????? I understand the rule of “supply and demand” but we are trying to increase these breeds, not keep them low and rare. So, I am looking at regular breeds, and wishing and dreaming that I could feasibly purchase the wonderful heritage breeds I REALLY want to have.
Modern Homesteader says
Hi Carol, There are a lot of sites where you can order and have shipped to you the smaller Heritage Breeds such as chickens, turkeys and such, as far as the larger animals… yes it can be tough to find someone who raises them. As far as the price goes, I am in agreement with you 1000% that the price is way to high for these breeds and it should be cheaper to help them flourish.
Twin Acres Homestead says
Great information, one of my dreams is to have Highland Cattle on our homestead.
Modern Homesteader says
That is great, if you can dream it you can have it… or so they say 🙂
Kay Taylor says
I have wanted to get a few piney woods cattle, they were brought over with the Spaniards and have adapted to the retain of the South (I live in Alabama). They eat bark, weeds and pretty much anything a goat will. They can take the heat, very calm for cattle and have the horns kind of like a Texas long horn but not so big. I only have three acres to put them on so I’m not sure if that would be enough.
Modern Homesteader says
Well you have to really speak to others in your area that have cattle, get the area that you are planning to have them check out to make sure that it is suitable for cattle. With the amount of acreage you have you will need to supplement their feed with good alfalfa hay and other nutrients. Please keep us updated on your progress!1