Pilot story and photos by Andrea Barkan
Brookings residents Marian and Erik Van Beever were looking for livestock. What they found was a cause.
In researching farm animals to graze their land off Rainbow Rock Road, the Van Beevers stumbled upon the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's Web site.
"We had no idea that there was a problem with breeds going extinct," Marian said.
The decision to raise endangered livestock was simple for them.
"We thought if we're going to have critters we might as well help in the conservancy of (endangered) ones," she said.
Their flock of about 25 waterfowl includes Chinese, Pomeranian and Shetland geese and Ancona and Indian runner ducks.
They also have three Navajo-Churro sheep, listed as "rare" by the conservancy.
All these animals are on the conservancy's lists at various stages of endangerment, from "critical" to "study."
Erik and Marian think others would opt to conserve disappearing livestock breeds if they knew the situation.
According to the conservancy, all breeds on their endangered lists are threatened because agriculture has changed.
"Modern food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment," officials wrote on the conservancy's Web site.
"Many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened with extinction," officials said.
"All the old genetic stock is being lost," Erik said.
The idea behind what Erik, Marian and the conservancy are doing is to protect genetic diversity by raising and breeding the animals.
The Van Beevers said the cost of endangered species can be about the same as mass-produced breeds or it can be more, depending on the breeder's prices and the quality of stock.
Loss of genetic diversity spans all types of livestock animals; breeds of goats, horses, pigs, cattle, poultry and sheep are all on the conservancy's Web site.
The Van Beevers enjoy the their animals' differences. The colors in the coats of their Navajo-Churro sheep vary between shades of cream and brown.
Their Chinese geese have long, thin necks and are more talkative than others.
Their ducks lay the tastiest eggs they can get anywhere.
Also, "They are a boon to most gardeners because of their love of bugs," Marian said.
And even though the Van Beevers aren't necessarily raising their animals for consumption, Erik pointed out that meat of rare breeds is often far better than mass produced animals.
Restaurants around the nation seek out rarer breeds because their meat is leaner and tastier, he said."That is a main incentive the quality of the meat," Erik said.
It might seem counterintuitive to raise a rare livestock animal in the spirit of conservation and then kill it for dinner, but breeding that animal before it dies is really the most important conservation effort.
"You're preserving them for the genetic stock, but they're still a livestock animal," Erik said. "They're meant to be eaten."
The Van Beevers invite anyone who wants to learn more about how they could help preserve rare livestock to call them.
Erik and Marian plan to breed their own animals in spring. They could also direct people to other breeders.
"If they just want to come out and look at them, that's great too," Marian said.
There are restrictions on the type and number of livestock allowed within city limits. Contact the city planning department for details.
For information, call the Van Beevers at (541) 469-4709 or visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Web site: http://www.albc-usa.org.