As we prepare to transition out of our current home and start our farm (finally!!!) we have thought a lot about what animals we will seek out. While we have a lot of respect for heritage breeds that have been preserved for a long period of time, a fancy pedigree is not the only thing we'll consider in our decision-making.
Heritage breeds were named for the location in which they were bred and raised — such as the Scottish Highlander cattle or the Florida Cracker sheep. Geography is an important piece in their heritage and when moved outside of that location (most heritage breeds originated outside of North America) they may not thrive as well.
“I confess I’m not impressed when I meet someone in Alabama effusing about their Scottish Highlander cattle. Why do they have them? Because they’re cute. They’re different. But these animals were selected for centuries to live in cold, rugged mountainous conditions. Alabama is practically abusive to them. This is not the way to preserve heritage genetics. They need to be appropriately climatically sited” (page 195).
In choosing breeds, here's what's at the top of our list: ensuring the animals we raise for nourishment are suited to the climate of our new home. So how do we keep our location in mind when planning our farm?
In this post, I'm raising the key issues we should all sort out when researching which critters we will bring home. By the way, I'm talking about more than just chickens.
Temperature and Climate
This is the most obvious piece of the puzzle. Are the animals and climate compatible? What range of temperature is normal for your geographical area? How cold is too cold, or how hot is too hot, for the animal you want to raise? Can it thrive where you live?
For example, let's consider sheep. The Florida Cracker breed can handle heat very well, while Shetland Sheep with their heavy coats thrive in cold climates similar to Shetland Islands.
If you can arrange shelter or additional heating/cooling to compensate for temperatures outside of the breed's ideal, you can still consider moving animals out of their normal climate. However, do realistically examine the expense and effort involved. It's possible you might conclude it's not the most sustainable way to raise or steward your critters.
Length of Seasons
The length of the growing season and the abundance of food is very important when selecting breeds. Does the animal require lots of pasture, or can it forage rougher or sparse terrain? For example, Tamwoth and Guinea pigs are used to finding their own food, while Tamworth hogs in particular prefer acorns as a diet staple. So if you have a lot of oak trees on your property Tamworth hogs are a great pick.
Hardiness of the Breed
How well can the breed can handle unusual conditions? Are they adjustable to unusual seasons or will they suffer from a hard winter or a too-dry spring? The Russian Orloff chicken, for example, can withstand extreme changes easily, but a few weeks that are too wet or too cold can be fatal to a Cornish chicken.
What other factors would you add? How have you considered your climate and geographical location when choosing animal breeds? What have you learned works best for your area?
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