In this day and age of specialization, modern livestock have been selectively bred to be super efficient for one purpose. For example Merino sheep are bred to produce wool in abundance or Suffolk sheep that are bred to come to market weight quickly (for meat). Many breeds of chickens no longer will set on their eggs. They have been selectively bred to produce eggs and nothing more! (They have lost their instinctive “broodiness.”) Most of our modern farm livestock fall into this specialization category. And in the process they have lost some of their other valuable traits such as mothering ability, ability to forage, disease and parasite resistance. Thus, these modern breeds are not suitable for survival purposes. In TEOTWAWKI we need breeds that can survive without the vet, pharmacy, and feed store! From The Oklahoma State University Animal Breeds web page comes this quote:
“While the Holstein clearly has an advantage over other breeds in the production of whole milk, this advantage is based on feeding high levels of cereal grains and pricing that favors low milk-solids content. A drastic change in either of these factors could result in a decrease in the advantage of the Holstein. Another example might be an increased need for natural resistance to diseases or parasites should a current antibiotic or other treatment become unavailable or ineffective. An example of this type might be the natural resistance of some breeds of sheep to internal parasites. Should anthelmintics become restricted or uneconomical then a breed such as the critically endangered Gulf Coast Native, with the parasite resistance it has developed through natural selection, could be of critical importance in the sheep industry.”
The survivalist would be better off with “heirloom” livestock breeds that are considered to be dual purpose. Most of the dual purpose breeds are raised on small family farms. They are often rare breeds. Dual purpose sheep are know for producing a lamb with a high quality carcass as well as a high quality fleece. (Though usually the fleece has specialty qualities that make it much more valuable to handspinner niche market rather than commercial producers.) Dual produce cattle are those that are good milkers, excellent mothers, and their calves have rapid growth. Do a Scroogle search on “dual purpose sheep” or “dual purpose cattle” to see the wide variety of animals available. An excellent web site to learn about endangered dual purpose breeds is The American Livestock Conservancy.
The survivalist would be best served to select heritage breeds that match the climate and terrain of their retreat. The Rawles Ranch is well-watered and most of the pastures can be downright swampy. The American mustang, although an extremely hardy and disease resistant breed of horse is not suitable for our soggy soil. The Mustang developed in the southwest and is much more suitable for survivalists in drier areas. A better breed for us is the horse breed developed in the wet Welsh mountains such as the Welsh Cob. Likewise our sheep breed needs to be suited to wetter pastures. The Navajo Churro won’t do, but the Welsh Mountain Sheep do fine here.
Survivalists might also consider triple purpose breeds. These are breeds that produce meat, milk, and fiber. They may also be used for transportation. Nomadic tribes have built their culture around some of these animals. Some of the more unusual are the reindeer, the camel, and the yak. The reindeer, though it does not produce fiber, are used for milk, meat, transportation, and hides. The camel not only provides transportation, milk, meat, hides, but it also grows a wooly coat each winter which it sheds. The fiber can readily be felted. Or the itchy “guard hairs” can be removed to produce a luxury yarn. Of the aforementioned animals, the Tibetan Yak is the easiest to acquire and the easiest to handle and fence. They can be raised identically to cattle with the added benefit of producing milk extremely high in butterfat, calves with low fat carcasses, and incredibly soft underdown that sheds every spring.
A triple purpose breed of horse is the “Bashkir”, or Bashkirshy of the Volga and the Urals. They have been known to produce 3 to 6 gallons of milk a day. Some of the Bashkir may have a curly coat which may grow from 4-6″. It is shed each Spring and can be spun, woven or felted. (American Bashkir Curly Breed though it took the name “Bashkir” seems to be an unrelated breed. American Bashkir Curly Breed does have a curly coat but not the milk production.)
Icelandic sheep are the quintessential triple purpose breed. They are valued in Iceland for their milk production, their fiber, and their ability to raise twins lambs to market weight in 4 to 5 months on grass alone.
Because of prolonged drought in some parts of the U.S. causing high hay costs, livestock prices are at an all time low in certain parts of the U.S. If you can afford the hay, now might be the time to purchase livestock. Heirloom varieties are normally extremely expensive and the top breeders will still be holding out for top dollar and butchering rather than lower their prices. But, many small hobby farmers love their heirloom livestock like pets. They tend to keep way too many lambs/calves each year because they are all so cute. Now it is time to buy hay again…and yikes the hay prices are awful! These hobby farmers would rather sell their animals way under value to you than send them to market.
If you are not prepared to purchased animals now, keep in mind for next year that Fall is always a good time for buyers to get lower prices. By the way, I’m not recommending heirloom livestock raising as a way to make extra income! I do it because I enjoy working with animals, and I enjoy the thrill that the baby animals give my nieces and nephews when they come visit us. And, needless to say, I like being self sufficient–having “backup protein” on the hoof.
Survivalists who love animals, like me, and marvel at mankind’s ability to selectively breed so many varieties will enjoy visiting The Oklahoma State University Animal Breeds web page.