Local Farmer Seeks to Preserve America’s Heritage Livestock Breeds

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Farmer Karen Doyle said she provides her livestock with a decent life, as the animals are free to roam around Doyle's 10-acre farm.

Farmer Karen Doyle raises heritage livestock breeds that are now at risk of becoming extinct.

Karen Doyle is the owner of Georgiatown Farm, a 10-acre livestock farm in White Stone, Va. Although most commercial agricultural operations make mass production a top priority, Doyle takes a different approach by raising heritage livestock breeds that are now threatened with extinction in the U.S.

Doyle, a member ofThe Livestock Conservancy, raises numerous heritage breeds, including Red Wattle hogs, Bourbon Red turkeys and Clun Forest sheep.

Fight Against Factory Farming

Doyle said she hopes to conserve endangered livestock breeds and help diversify the food market, which she said is negatively influenced by factory farming.

“Factory farming has destroyed the diversity of animals. They (factory farms) have genetically engineered the animals to grow bigger, longer and faster,” she said.“We’re interested in saving pandas and white tigers and all kinds of exotic creatures, but our American livestock, so much of it has become extinct because of factory farming.”

For more information on factory farming, or intensive pig farming, please check out these photos of typical gestation crates and pig confinement.

Doyle said she focuses on giving her animals  a natural life that counters the deplorable conditions in which factory farm animals are raised. She said her animals, which are free range, are raised without hormones and are allowed to mother their young.  She also said she doesn’t clip her livestock’s teeth, cut their tails or de-beak her chickens.

“I love my animals,” she said. “I give them a decent life that’s natural for them that’s relaxed and they’re not under stress, strain and confinement.”

When the Virginia Free Citizen team visited Doyle in April, she had nine pigs, 16 sheep, 40 laying hens, four roosters, 10 turkeys, and 99 broiler chickens. However, Doyle said the number of animals she cares for is ever changing.

“That’s (the number of animals) always increasing and decreasing as the animals go in transit to become meat on the plate,” she said.

Red Wattle Hog

The Red Wattle hog can easily adapt to diverse climates and are known for their mild temperament.

The Red Wattle hog can easily adapt to diverse climates and are known for their mild temperament.

The Red Wattle hog is a large breed of hog with flesh lobes that hang from both sides of its neck.

Doyle said the hogs, which easily adapt to diverse climates, are a good option for a single farmer because of their mild temperament and foraging capabilities.

The Livestock Conservancy warns that heritage pork breeds are threatened by factory farm production.

“Today, most pigs in North America are kept in large, climate-controlled buildings and fed high-energy grains that have been grown and transported specifically as animal feed,” The Livestock Conservancy website states. “The evolution of pig husbandry has affected the number and type of pig breeds that were raised.”

A boom in the hog market occurred in the 1980s. At this time, Red Wattle crosses were popular.

Because there are poor livestock records for Red Wattle hogs, The Livestock Conservancy claims that the hogs are at risk because of a lack of formal networks providing for the breed’s conservation.

According to The Livestock Conservancy, 42 breeding hogs belonging to six Red Wattle hog breeders were found in 1999.

Doyle also raises Berkshire hogs. Although not a heritage breed, the Berkshire hog was one of the first hog breeds brought to the Americas by early explorers.

Doyle said the pork she produces is naturally red meat, but mass-produced pork has lost its natural color and flavor as factory farms have bred the fat out of pork.

“Pork is not the other white meat,” she said.

Bourbon Red Turkey

redburbonturkey

Bourbon Red turkeys were popular during the 1930s and 1940s but then faded from the market because of the more broad-breasted turkeys that were being produced from factory farming.

The Bourbon Red turkey is a dark red crossbreed with white wings. The breed gained its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, its place of origin.

The American Poultry Association first recognized the Bourbon Red turkey in 1909.

The Livestock Conservancy reports that Bourbon Red turkeys were popular during the 1930s and 1940s but then lost consumers to more broad-breasted turkeys. However, the conservancy explains that a growing niche market  for Bourbon Red turkeys has developed based on the bird’s “biological fitness, survivability and superior flavor.”

The Bourbon Red turkey, a natural forager, is a good poultry breed for sustainable farming and backyard breeding, according to The Livestock Conservancy.

 

Clun Forest Sheep

The Clun Forest Sheep are characterized by their white coat and black face. The breed originates from England's Clun Forest.

The Clun Forest Sheep are characterized by their white wool and black face. The breed originates from England’s Clun Forest.

The Clun Forest sheep originate from England’s Clun Forest. The sheep have white wool with dark faces and legs. In 1974, the North American Clun Forest Association, of which Doyle is a member, was formed.

The Livestock Conservancy explains that the Clun Forest sheep are ideal for grassy farms.

“The breed’s characteristics make it a natural choice for grass-based production, as they are easy keepers and excellent producers,” The Livestock Conservancy’s website states.

Quality Assurance  

Doyle also raises Freedom Ranger chickens. This poultry breed, which is not a heritage breed, was originally developed in France in the 1960s to qualify as a Label Rouge (Red Label) product. The French government grants the Label Rouge for foods as well as non-food and unprocessed agricultural products deemed superior to similar products.

Doyle said Europeans have a very high standard for food quality, which includes a passion for environmental sustainability and the quality of farm animals’ lives.

According to Doyle, her customers share the same desire to purchase high quality  products from non-medicated, non-GMO animals.

“They (Doyle’s customers) taste the difference,” she said.

Kate Miller

About Kate Miller

Kate Miller is a multimedia journalist and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. She received a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a broadcast journalism concentration. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts before attending VCU. This semester, she is reporting on the General Assembly for the VCU Capital News Service.