Breeds You Need
Hundreds of varieties of livestock are suitable to raise on a hobby farm, such as st. Croix hair sheep, berkshire hogs and American Aberdeen Cattle.
Berkshires, St. Croix Sheep, Amer. Aberdeens
St. Croix Hair Sheep
Hair sheep breeds in the Caribbean islands developed from stock that early European explorers left behind on their ventures to the New World in the 1500s. Small stock such as sheep, pigs and goats were left to naturalize and provide food for later explorers. The livestock evolved to become landrace breeds well suited to their new environments. One sheep breed was called the Virgin Island White, even though not all of the sheep were white.
In 1975, Warren Foote, a professor at Utah State University, imported 22 bred Virgin Island White ewes and three rams to study from the island of
St. Croix. The professor selected the sheep on physical attributes he considered desirable: above-average body size and conformation, lack of horns and a white hair coat to reflect the Middle Eastern sun.
The United States wanted to give the sheep as a gift to the Shah of Iran and needed research proving the sheep would be suitable for that climate. The Shah was deposed before the sheep were sent, so their trip ended in the U.S.
University personnel realized the Virgin Island sheep had useful characteristics: seasonal breeding, multiple lambs, easy births, excellent mothering abilities, good flocking instincts and — what has come to be a most notable trait — the strongest parasite-resistance of any sheep breed in the U.S. Soon, experimental flocks popped up at several other colleges and field stations. Foote founded a breed
registry in the early 1980s naming the breed the St. Croix Hair Sheep. After the registry was formed, managers and owners of private and public flocks started keeping detailed records of breeding and pedigrees for their St. Croix Hair Sheep.
Funding cutbacks, staff turnovers and changes in research focus saw many university St. Croix flocks dispersed from 1998 to 2006. Most of the St. Croix went to private flocks, and the owners continued the recordkeeping of the registry.
In 2013, the St. Croix registry split into two. One group wanted to register only pure-white St. Croix, while the other group sought to register purebred
St. Croix, even if they had color caused by the genetic characteristics that always existed in the sheep since before importation. Both groups concur that no horned St. Croix is eligible for registration, and scur growths on the heads are discouraged.
In 2019, St. Croix Hair Sheep moved from Threatened status to Watch status on The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. People looking for purebred and crossbred sheep are noticing the useful qualities of the St. Croix sheep. Small farms continue to enjoy St. Croix for their ease of care.
Larger flocks focused on meat production are also starting to look at using St. Croix-influenced ewes and rams in their breeding flocks. When St. Croix are crossed with a heavier, faster growing breed of sheep, the offspring generally take on the market characteristics of the other breed but maintain the excellent maternal traits and a good degree of the parasite-resistance of the St. Croix. For more information, contact St. Croix Hair Sheep Breeders Inc.: www.stcroixsheep.org.
Three hundred years ago — so legend has it — the Berkshire hog was discovered by Oliver Cromwell’s army, while in winter quarters at Reading, the county seat of the shire of Berks in England. After the campaign, veterans carried the news of the wonderful hogs of Berks — larger than any other swine of that time and producing hams and bacon of rare quality and flavor — to the outside world. This is said to have been the beginning of the fame of the Reading Fair as a marketplace for pork products.
The excellent carcass quality of the Berkshire hog — whole, well marbled, consistently sweet, tender, juicy and palatable — made it a favorite with the upper class of English farmers. For years, the royal family kept a large Berkshire herd at Windsor Castle.
According to the best available records, the first Berkshires were brought to the U.S. in 1823. They were quickly absorbed into the general hog population because of the marked improvement they created when crossed with common stock.
In 1875, a group of U.S. Berkshire breeders and importers met in Springfield, Illinois, to establish a way of keeping the Berkshire breed pure. They felt the Berkshire should stay pure for improvement of swine already present in the U.S. rather than letting it become only a portion of the common hogs of the day.
On Feb. 25 of the same year, the American Berkshire Association was founded, becoming the first swine registry to be established in the world, heralded by breeders in this country and in England. In fact, the first hog ever recorded was the boar named Ace of Spades, bred by none other than Queen Victoria.
Because most of the leading herds in the U.S. at that time were using some breeding animals imported from England, the association agreed that only hogs directly imported from established English herds — or hogs tracing directly back to such imported animals — would be accepted for registration. The breed today is descended from those animals or from breeding animals later imported. The most recent importation of English Berkshires to the U.S. was in 2005.
Berkshire characteristics have been established and purified over a very long period of time. Breeders around the world have been working at the task of maintaining and improving Berkshires as far back as any record goes. The American Berkshire Association (www.americanberkshire.com) — now located in
West Lafayette, Indiana — maintains the records and registry, protecting pedigree integrity and promoting the importance of purebred animals.
American Aberdeen Cattle
American Aberdeen cattle are best known for their easy-keeping, docile nature and moderate frame size. An ideal fit for ranches of any size or youth projects, Aberdeens are particularly well suited to grass-fed beef operations — whether for family beef or directto-market businesses. Aberdeen beef has excellent taste, texture and tenderness when properly finished on grass or grain.
The breed traces its roots back to 1929 when championship Angus cattle were selected and brought to New South Wales, Australia. The breeders at the Trangie Research Centre identified the bestof-the-best genetics and selectively bred them to maintain high quality and moderate size. The result was a pure line of black, polled (free of horns) and efficient cattle that thrive in harsh environments with minimal supplementation.
Cattle producers choose Aberdeen cattle foremost to reduce calving problems, improve livestock disposition, and to increase beef quality, pounds and value of beef raised per acre, as well as farm profitability.
The average Aberdeen cow will weigh between
900 and 1,000 pounds when mature and offer an exceptional rib eye per 100 pounds of body weight — which translates to high-yielding, high-quality and high-value carcasses. By comparison, the average registered Angus cow weighs close to 1,500 pounds.
A 1,500-pound cow eats about 45 pounds of grass or hay every day. A 1,000-pound cow eats about 33 pounds of grass or hay each day. So whether you are trying to reduce your hay costs or increase the number of cattle you can have on your farm, Aberdeens have an advantage.
When evaluated on a per-acre unit of production, university studies from Texas to North Dakota have shown smaller cattle, primarily Aberdeens, have a 10 percent profit potential advantage over larger cattle. At the ranch level, efficiency is the value of beef produced per acre, less operating costs — which isn’t the same as maximum individual weaning weights.
The American Aberdeen Association (www.american aberdeen.com) is headquartered in Parker, Colorado, but the cattle can be found across the U.S. and beyond. Registered Aberdeen cattle can be full-bloods or percentage (crossbred). All full-bloods are certified through DNA analysis.