The Book For: Everything You Need to Know About Heritage Breeds

As part of our first post in Plowing Through,'s book-review blog, Assistant Editor Cory Hershberger looks at The Livestock Conservancy's new book.

by Cory Hershberger

Plowing Through: An Introduction to Heritage Breeds (

First Glance
Title: An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry
Author: The Livestock Conservancy (D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, Jeannette Beranger and Alison Martin)
Publisher: Storey Publishing, 2014
Cover Price: $19.95
Page Count: 240 pages
Target Audience: Farmers interested in or already practicing breed conservation husbandry; animal enthusiasts with a passing interest in breeds, genetics and husbandry


As a hobby farmer and/or homesteader, you’re constantly hungry for information: new tricks to battle insect pests in the garden, creative recipes to show off your farm’s fresh bounty and even marketing advice to help your farmers’ market booth stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of it all at your fingertips, both online and in print, but saying this flood of agricultural tips, tricks, facts and figures is overwhelming is a massive understatement.

That’s where this blog comes in! I’m here to point out the best books on the market for hobby farmers and homesteaders in a variety of subjects: gardening, husbandry, equipment repair and maintenance, home remodeling, crafting, cooking—no agricultural subject is too small or too specific. Together, we’ll doggedly plow through the field of farming books and find the best ones to suit your needs.

Our First Pick
One book that should be high up the wish list of any livestock owner concerned with breed restoration and maintenance is The Livestock Conservancy’s An Introduction to Heritage Breeds (Storey Publishing, 2014). This slim volume breaks down the importance of heritage breeds and why they matter in clear and concise verbiage, complete with snapshots of dozens of poultry, cattle, ruminant and equine breeds, each with its own beautiful illustration that pictures the breed’s appearance standards.

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Above and beyond serving as a reference for the hundreds of livestock breeds cataloged by The Livestock Conservancy, the book elaborates on actually caring for, breeding and maintaining heritage-breed bloodlines, including an overview of various projects that interested farmers can undertake and featuring a breakdown of how raising animals for production can actually help bring a breed back from the brink of extinction.

An Animal for Everyone
The section on choosing breeds based on farm setting and climate is also particularly valuable; the desire to accommodate varying worldwide climates is part of the reason that separate breeds exist in the first place. Maybe the most valuable chapter of all is the primer on the art and science of breeding—it equips you with the basic tools you need to understand how genetic lineage works, using clear, concise language without dumbing the subject matter down.

Another important aspect of the book is the fact that the authors aren’t guilting you into raising rare livestock; they acknowledge the challenges that accompany caring for and raising an endangered breeds and explore the myriad benefits that stem from a commitment to maintaining biodiversity. If you feel intimidated by the whole process, the book does an excellent job at helping you make animal-purchasing decisions.

Basically, if you’re already a caretaker of heritage-breed livestock, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds will strongly reaffirm your decision (and maybe spur you to add to your flock/herd/menagerie), and if you’re considering taking the plunge into conservation husbandry, you won’t be able to put this book down without deciding to take up the mantle in some form or another.

The Final Word: If you’ve ever even thought about raising rare livestock breeds, this is the jumping-off point for you. It’ll inform and prepare you without overwhelming you.

Rating: 4.5 Eggs

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