Two local farms in Fries that feature rare heritage livestock breeds have been selected to exhibit their animals at the Mother Earth News Fair to be held in Asheville, NC April 11 and 12.
Cynthia and Rick Taylor of Moon Shadow Farm raise Silver Fox rabbits and Buckeye chickens on less than one quarter acre just outside the town of Fries.
Kendy Sawyer and husband Bob Hines of Hinesite Milking Devon Cattle focus on American Milking Devon, breeding, milking, and training these heritage cattle near Old Fries Junction.
The Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville will host more than 200 hands-on workshops that cover organic gardening, food preparation and preservation, natural health, renewable energy, homesteading, small-scale livestock, green building and remodeling, green transportation, and related topics. Local and national experts on sustainable and rural lifestyles will lead the sessions. Over 18,000 people are expected to attend the two day event.
Cynthia Taylor said, “Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by the farmers of earlier times. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. They were carefully selected and bred for survival and self-sufficiency — fertility, foraging, longevity, maternal instinct, ability to mate naturally, and resistance to diseases and parasites. These all continue to be important attributes, especially in our times.”
“Applying to be a part of the Mother Earth News Fair was a bit intimidating,” Kendy Sawyer said. “As a rare breed steward, it’s important to reach out to let people know that a cow like this is available: they produce wonderful milk on grass in family-sized fields, grow beef that is ranked as one of the best tasting and finest textured in the world, and will pull your plow, log, or wagon.”
She continued, “When people learn about livestock from conventional sources, they learn about conventional livestock. Right now, many people are interested in cattle because prices are high. I try to send all my heifers to homes to be bred to purebred Milking Devon bulls and where they will be milked; not to the sale barn. Of course, not every calf is perfect, and those are delicious. I keep in touch with other small breeders, and can often bring people and animals together if I don’t have the right cow for a family. My main goal is to find the next generation of rare breed stewards for these marvelous animals.”
Sawyer added, “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase livestock suited to homesteaders and small holders. Each of these heritage breeds is multipurpose. Unfortunately, they have become very rare because modern industrial agriculture is based on single purpose animals.”
Taylor agreed, “We have inherited a rich variety of livestock breeds. For the sake of future generations, we must work together to safeguard these treasures.”
“These rare animals are not novelties or just for historical displays. Since the ability to succeed in an industrial environment has never been bred into them, most still have good immune systems and ability to thrive on simple feeds, outdoors. This is a definite advantage in today’s world,” Taylor said. Both families are active members of The Livestock Conservancy, an organization which works to protect rare breeds. They breed animals to traditional standards.
Taylor stated, “We are excited to exhibit these great breeds. The Buckeye chickens are multipurpose, growing quickly to produce a good sized fryer in 18 weeks, or maturing to a laying hen that produces up to 200 eggs per year. The best part for us is the taste. This chicken has an excellent flavor you just don’t get from the commercial breeds.”
“Silver Fox rabbits also are multipurpose, raised for both meat and fur. Their fur is very unique silver-tipped black. We are learning to tan hides so we can utilize the furs in crafts and clothing, as farmers before us have done. Our breeding program is working to bring the breeds back to the rare breed standard and preserve these great genetics.”
Sawyer, who volunteers at the Matthews Living History Museum and Heritage Day near Galax and Independence, Virginia, noted, “These breeds were carefully selected and bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to the local environment, and they thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern agriculture. People may wonder how animals as common as cows and chickens can be endangered. However, just as there are endangered wild species such as pandas, tigers, and elephants, there are also endangered livestock and poultry breeds. Specifically, 21% of the world’s 8,000 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction.”
Sawyer concluded, “Milking Devon cattle, Buckeye chickens, and Silver Fox rabbits are far from the only endangered farm animals. There are over 200 breeds including goats, sheep, swine, and horses that are critically endangered. Small-scale farmers are in a position to benefit from the unique attributes of rare breeds, while gaining the satisfaction of preserving this valuable genetic resource for future generations.”