Humans have been domesticating animals for about 12,000 years. Because of domestic animals, our species was able to shift from a nomadic, hunting and gathering way of life to a settled lifestyle, based on permanent communities. Early European settlers brought various types of livestock to their new communities in North America. Many of them were from multi-purpose breeds: Working animals that were also useful for their milk, meat, and hides.
Several breeds were further refined over the next two centuries, producing distinctly American versions of the original European livestock.
As machines took over the work from animals and large commercial farms and ranches supplanted most of the family farms in North America and the older breeds were replaced by more specialized breeds. The older breeds are now threatened because agriculture has changed. Modern food production favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment. Many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened with extinction.
Over the last 15 years has there been a concerted effort to preserve those older American breeds. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, founded in 1977, is the only organization in the U.S. working to conserve rare breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. The Buttonwood Park Zoo is proud to be assisting in this preservation and conservation project.