Livestock breeds provide the world with food, clothing, transportation and many other important materials, including medicines. Without them, many aspects of civilization would break down.
Many older breeds of domestic animals are in decline and some are in serious danger of becoming extinct. Farmers, ranchers and other commercial breeders tend to raise a limited variety of breeds that work best for current market demands. This has steadily reduced the genetic diversity of cattle, sheep, goats, swine, poultry and horses and other equines. Modern breeds have been bred to be uniform and to produce large, consistent offspring, but they are often more expensive to feed, house and care for than rare breeds are.
As the older breeds decline, desirable characteristics are being lost. Many of these characteristics, such as parasite resistance, can be of considerable benefit to commercial herds and flocks. Pure flocks of minor breeds are necessary to preserve a source of desirable traits and to maintain hybrid vigor in more popular breeds. They also provide products that fulfill the needs of small markets, such as hand weavers or health advocates who want low fat meat.
Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site maintains small flocks of Merino and Cotswold sheep, Dominique chickens and Standard Bronze turkeys - all highly endangered breeds. By maintaining these small flocks, we are helping to protect the genetic diversity needed to keep commercial breeds healthy and productive.