One of the cool things about being a rare breeds enthusiast is that it immediately gains me entry into a community of like-minded folks. Rare breeds are often misunderstood; assumed to be some exotic form of livestock, they are actually a common form with uncommon heritage (we’re talking ducks here, for instance, that started as mallards and have been selected to be something special). A rare breeds enthusiast knows that other rare breeds enthusiasts already get this!
I often consider my introduction to rare breeds to be when I interned on a farm and offered to raise ducks for the farm manager. He handed me a catalog and the book A Rare Breeds Album of American Livestock and told me to come back later to get his recommendations. Recently, however, I was reminded that my introduction to rare breeds of livestock began many years before that. When I was about twelve, my parents bought a quarter of beef from a friend who was raising Highland cattle. I think we must have visited the herd, or at least seen pictures, because I knew they were shaggy!
Both my introduction to rare breed cattle and rare breed ducks was a utilitarian one, being focused on meat production. Since then I’ve gotten involved with draft ponies and came to the Fell because it was considered both drafty and rare. Draft work is utilitarian in a different way. Recently I’ve been looking at Suffolk Punch Horses as we ponder increasing our ‘horsepower’ in our logging operation. Yesterday I received a lovely postcard from Judith Bean-Calhoun who’d received it from her sister-in-law visiting Suffolk. I’ve read several times that there are more Suffolks in this country than in their native home.
One of the pleasures of the postcard is to see how the Suffolk Punch breed is similar and/or different in their native land versus in this country. (In pony circles it doesn’t take long for the difference between an American Shetland and a British Shetland to come up.) I recently watched ‘Highland Cattle Encounters,’ a DVD of images and video compiled by an enthusiast in Scotland. Highlights included a bull using a wire fence as a scratching post and a cow who wanted to lie down in the showring!
In 2004 I attended the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The national show for Highland Cattle was being held there, and we almost came home with a heifer! After realizing that there was some video distortion on the Highland DVD, I’ve decided there isn’t much difference between Highlands here and in Scotland. The Suffolks on the postcard from England look a little leaner and taller than the ones I’ve seen here but that could just be the camera angle. I raise Silver Appleyard ducks, another British breed, for meat, and most of the people in England that I’ve talked to about Appleyards are raising the bantam variety. Like the bantams, the large variety of Silver Appleyards have great plumage. They are also good layers and have good-sized carcasses.
My friend Judith is a real blessing in my life. She grew up in England but has lived in this country for decades, so she can ‘interpret’ cultural differences with uncommon wisdom. I especially appreciate surprises she sends my way that connect England and America and rare breeds that we share. The postcard is one example. Thanks, Judith!
(c) Jenifer Morrissey 2011