Heritage Breeds: 5 Things You Need to Know

Header image of four heritage breed animals and a farmer with the heritage fire logo

What are “Heritage Breeds”?

The term “heritage” is defined as the cultural, historic, or natural assets and traditions that have been passed down from previous generations. In agriculture, it refers to the thousands of livestock breeds of centuries past. 

Over 10,000 years ago, family farms were the main source of food for the human population. Due to limited resources, animals were bred to live in near-perfect harmony with their environment.  

For example, the Belted Galloway cattle thrive in cold and damp climates, such as in the Midwest. On the other hand, the Southwest and its dry nature is the home of the Texas Longhorn.

Nowadays, adaptation to local conditions has been replaced by industrialized agriculture practices. This approach requires high input, standardized, and confined settings of only a few specialty breeds. As a result, heritage breeds, and their rich genetic diversity, are now critically endangered.  

Industrialized farming, of course, is a necessity in our modern world to supply the increased food demand. So, why should we care about preserving the breeds that our ancestors raised? 

Graphic of a Belted Galloway Cattle with their homeland of Scotland listed

Why Should I Care?

Global estimates are that 190 livestock breeds have become extinct in just the past 15 years. Not only does this threaten the legacy of our ancestors and family farms, but it also impacts future generations. 

The genetic diversity of heritage breeds helps to ensure the resilience and sustainability of the food system. Additionally, heritage breeds are often raised using traditional, sustainable practices, which can have a positive impact on the environment.

What’s the Cost?

Fortunately, American farmers are stepping forward to rescue and maintain these historic animals.  

Take the Dominique breed for example. Also known as “everybody’s grandma’s chicken”. Only four flocks remained in 1970 due to large-scale modern operations. However, because of the combined community efforts, the Dominique breed was saved.  

Indeed, for hundreds of years, people have been protecting heritage breeds from extinction – but that task is not easy. The practice requires extra care, money, time, and capacity. Your support is needed. Fortunately, the enjoyable act of consuming heritage breeds is a great way to contribute. 

Dominique chicken with the heritage fire logo

Taste the Difference

There’s more than one reason why we’re passionate about connecting farmers and chefs nationwide. Known for its rich, robust flavor, chefs have long discovered the unique characteristics of heritage pork, chicken, turkey, cattle, and more. In fact, the meat tends to be more flavorful, juicy, and nutritious than commercial breeds, which are often bred for leanness and uniformity. Heritage hogs, for example, are known to offer distinct marbling, flavor-packed bacon, and creamy fat.

The Healthy Choice

In the case of the hog, adequate marbling means less need for oils, butter, shortenings, and unnatural fat. Additionally, most heritage breeds are raised on farms with plenty of room to flourish and without antibiotics or steroids. Happy animals equate to healthier proteins!

Hungry for more?

See (and taste) for yourself. Join the nationwide feast at Heritage Fire and meet the local chefs, farmers, and patrons who are passionate about our history. Experience the techniques of open-fire cooking and shake the hands of the generous farmers. On top of it all, have an unforgettable, delicious evening while you contribute to our mission of sustainability and culinary awakening. 

Check out the nine Heritage Heroes of 2022.

Follow along on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter to see what’s in store for this year’s Heritage Fire Tour! 

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