Heritage Breed Conservation

Heritage breeds have a strong place in our hearts, and we encourage all homesteaders to visit the Livestock Conservancy’s website to learn about which poultry or livestock breeds need help in maintaining their existence.  Then, in a true homesteading fashion, raise these farm animals in the manner which best meets their needs.


The Arapawa goat is a breed of domestic goat whose ancestors arrived with European explorers or colonists in New Zealand, possibly as early as the 1600’s. The breed was originally only found on the rugged island of Arapawa, which is situated at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. The origin of the goat population on this island has often been associated with the expeditions of Captain James Cook. Historical records indicate that goats were released by Cook on the island in 1777. According to local lore the present goats are directly descended from those original goats brought by the British explorers. The goats are thought to be descended from “Old English,” a common goat breed in Britain in the 18th century. This breed is a likely candidate to have been brought by British colonists as it is an all-purpose family goat suitable to meet the challenges of founding new colonies.

The Arapawa goat population thrived on the island without major threat for over 200 years, until the 1970s. At that time, the New Zealand Forest Service came to the conclusion that the goats were too damaging to the native forest and therefore had to be removed. In reaction to the news, Arapawa Island residents Betty and Walt Rowe stepped in with friends and volunteers and created a sanctuary in 1987. They began conservation work with 40 goats returned to domestication. It is largely through their efforts that the breed gained international attention and survives today. The Arapawa goat remains one of the rarest breeds.  As of 2011 there are approximately 150-200 domesticated goats in the United States, and this is thought to represent about half of the global population.  Dedicated breeders are also working with the breed in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Documenting the origins of the herd of goats released on Arapawa Island almost 250 years ago is important in understanding the genetic resource represented in the goats. In 2007 The Livestock Conservancy, through its Technical Advisor Dr. Phil Sponenberg, teamed up with the University of Cordoba and several Arapawa goat breeders to perform DNA analysis of the breed. The study found that the Arapawa goats are clearly distinct from other breeds. They are not Spanish as some scientists speculated, and the Old English connection may yet prove true. What is certain is that the hardiness and self-sustaining abilities of the goats make them a unique genetic resource.

Arapawas are considered medium-sized goats, with does weighing from 60-80 pound and bucks weighing up to 125 pounds. They have long hair and are predominantly black, brown, and white in varying combinations with many having badger stripes on their faces. Does typically give birth to twins with little to no birthing difficulties and possess excellent mothering skills from the start. The Arapawa is a non-aggressive breed, which, if handled early in life, makes an excellent family goat.


The Chinese have been selectively breeding domestic swine in this region for over 5000 years. The Meishan is one of the oldest, if not the oldest domesticated breed of pigs in the world. Taihu pigs are prized in China and Japan for their succulent marbled meat and superior lard and fat quality. The Meishan is considered a medium sized lard carcass hog. Meishans were bred for hyper productivity and prolificacy and to thrive in smaller areas and on rougher diets than other pig breeds. In conjunction with these traits, Meishans have been bred to be extremely quiet, docile and sedentary making them easier to manage than larger or more active breeds. Meishan litters by their third litter are typically in the 14-16 piglets range with litters occasionally hitting 20 or more. A sow in the USDA research herd once farrowed 28.

Meishan pigs are part of the Taihu group of Chinese pigs (so named for the lake in that area). Originally there were three sub-types known as the “small”, “middle”, and “large.” Of the three types, only the small and middle remain today. The two types are managed as separate breeds on conservation farms in China. In the U.S., only the middle type exists.

Meishans were first imported into the U.S. in 1989 after ten years of negotiations with China. They were brought in as part of a joint study between the USDA, Iowa State and the University of Illinois. Only 99 Meishan pigs were imported and they were equally divided (both by sex and genetic profile) between the three participating research facilities. This marked the third, final, and largest exportation of Meishans allowed by China in modern times. Other exportations were significantly smaller and those went to France and England. Meishans were imported specifically to be studied for their hyper productivity. In addition to their large litters they also enter puberty at approximately 90 days which is significantly faster than most domestic hog breeds. Sows typically have 16-18 teats (and sometimes in excess of 20) allowing them to easily raise large litters of piglets. They are excellent mothers and in study herds had higher weaning to farrowing ratios than conventional breeds. Meishan piglets are interestingly born with more highly developed digestive systems than conventional swine. This is believed to make the piglets more resistant to digestive diseases of piglets and allows for earlier weaning of piglets.

Unlike most pig breeds, Meishans thrive on a diet higher in fiber and roughage. They are known to be an extremely docile and sedentary breed. They are thought to have a lower environmental impact on pastures as compared to other heritage and commercial breeds of swine.


The pig is one of the oldest established animals in husbandry, having been domesticated some 8,000 years ago in Asia, from where it was brought to Europe. The Mangalitsa pig, (Mangalitza in German & Mangalica in Hungarian) is one of the oldest European breeds. Breeding started started in the 1830s in the Austro-Hungarian Empire after Archduke Joseph Anton Johann received some Sumadija pigs from a Serbian prince, and crossed them with Bakony and Szalonta pigs. The resulting Mangalitsa “curly-hair hog” was initially reserved for the Habsburg Royalty, but became so popular because of its great taste that by the end of the 19th century it was the main breed in Europe.

Many of the pigs were herded from Burgenland (part of Hungary until 1921 – now an Austrian province) to the slaughter houses in Vienna, just like the cattle were herded to the slaughter houses in the Midwest. Fattened to 250-300 kg (550 to 650 lbs), most of the meat was used for speck and lard, but the now famous “Stelze” (pork shank) was introduced at that time as well.

But with changing conditions in animal husbandry after World War II, when tastes changed in Western Europe, and Hungarian Agriculture was collectivised, the breed rapidly declined and was replaced with leaner  and more rapidly growing breeds. By the end of the 1970s Mangalitsa pigs in Austria could only be found in National Parks and Zoos, and less than 200 breeding sows remained in Hungary.

The breed did not get officially recognized until 1927.


Once commonplace on farms in the southeastern United States., the Cotton Patch is a breed of goose that gets its name from the job it performed. These geese were used to weed cotton and corn fields up until the 1950s. Cotton Patch geese are remembered in the rural south for helping many farmers and their families survive the Great Depression by providing a regular source of meat, eggs, and grease.

The breed’s beginnings are not clear but it is thought to have descended from European stock brought to the U.S. during the colonial period. Cotton Patch geese possess many qualities in common with other sex-linked European breeds such as the Shetland, West of England, and Normandy geese. However, these breeds are recent importations to North America, and have not played a role in the development of the Cotton Patch goose. The Cotton Patch goose is the remaining relic of a little known American breed of goose with parent stock that probably shares common ancestors with these other sex-linked geese. Cotton Patch differ from other sex-linked goose breeds by having pink or orange-pink bills, light weight bodies, and the ability to fly.

The Cotton Patch is a “sleek” goose that resembles Greylag geese from which all European geese descend. The breed is a light- to medium-sized goose. They are a landrace breed, and there is some variability between strains. Their smaller size allows them to tolerate hot weather better than heavier breeds of geese. The Cotton Patch is an “upright” goose with tail in line with back and wings, giving it a clean wedge profile. The Cotton Patch’s body is more elongated and less rounded than breeds such as Shetland or Pilgrim goose. The paunch is minimal and when present has a single lobe.

The Cotton Patch’s head is rounded and the beak is dished. One strain more closely resembles the Pilgrim goose and has a beak that is slightly “roman”. The ganders in this strain tend to have as many gray feathers as Pilgrim ganders, but these feathers are all dove gray – unlike the Pilgrim in which they can be slate gray.

Cotton Patch geese have the ability to fly well beyond their first year, easily clearing 5-6 foot fences without a running start. Although this may seem like a fault to some, this ability often allows the birds to escape predators. As would be expected from their history, they are excellent foragers, and goose breeders should continue to select for this trait. Cotton Patch geese are very rare, and in need of serious conservation breeders.


The Royal Palm is a strikingly attractive and small-sized turkey variety. The first birds in America to have the Palm color pattern appeared in a mixed flock of Black, Bronze, Narragansett, and Wild turkeys on the farm of Enoch Carson of Lake Worth, Florida in the 1920s. Further selection has been made since then to stabilize the consistency of color and other characteristics. As an anonymous breeder wrote to Feathered World magazine in 1931, “Turkeys of this type of coloration do crop up by chance where different color varieties are crossed . . . but it takes years to perfect their markings.” The Royal Palm was recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1971. It is similar to a European variety called the Pied, Crollwitz, or Black-laced White, which has been known since the 1700s.

Royal Palm turkeys are white with a sharply contrasting, metallic black edging on the feathers. The saddle is black which provides a sharp contrast against the white base color of body plumage. The tail is pure white, with each feather having a band of black and an edge of white. The coverts are white with a band of black, and the wings are white with a narrow edge of black across each feather. The breast is white with the exposed portion of each feather ending in a band of black to form a contrast of black and white similar to the scales of a fish. The turkeys have red to bluish white heads, a light horn beak, light brown eyes, red to bluish white throat and wattles, and deep pink shanks and toes. The beard is black.

Royal Palms are active, thrifty turkeys, excellent foragers, and good flyers. Standard weights are 16 pounds for young toms and 10 pounds for young hens. The Royal Palm has not been purposefully selected for either growth rate or muscling, being used primarily as an exhibition variety.

The Royal Palm lacks the commercial potential of the other varieties, but it has a role to play on small farms, for home production of meat or where its ability to control insect pests would be of value.


If you know us, you will know that Project: Homestead is a new project and we are currently in the growing stages of careful livestock selection for not only conservation but consumption and to educate sustainable agriculture.  Our stock are young, especially when it comes to the endangered breeds.  Our choice of breeds are based off The Livestock Conservancy's conservation priority list (CPL). From that list we determine which breeds would work in harmony with a small sustainable homestead.