Thinking about starting a farm with heritage breeds? If you are new to this topic, you may enjoy An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry by The Livestock Conservancy.
This excellent beginner’s resource starts with the basics—defining breeds in general and heritage breeds in particular. It discusses the plight and importance of rare breeds, as well as the necessity to maintain genetic diversity within these breeds despite their falling numbers.
After a look at how different farming systems call for vastly different breeds, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds moves on to considerations of importance to new farmers, helping them honestly assess what species of livestock will best fit their needs and circumstances. Factors to weigh include:
- Handling ease.
- Noise and odor level.
- Shelter and space requirements.
- Zoning restrictions.
- Daily food and water requirements.
- Predator control.
- Processing and transportation.
- Potential markets.
- Breed associations and other resources.
Next comes information on getting started with heritage breeds:
- Choosing a breed.
- Providing for the basic needs of your livestock.
- Setting realistic goals for your project.
- Setting up a system of animal identification and record-keeping.
- Planning to market your livestock or livestock products.
Maintaining a heritage breed requires close attention to the principles of genetics and selection, particularly when the breed is teetering on the brink of extinction. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds provides an overview of this process in nontechnical terms. It also demonstrates that rare breeds can be maintained and promoted through breeding projects with very different emphases:
- Performance and exhibition.
- Production only.
- Production and breed conservation combined.
- Rescue of rare breeds or bloodlines.
The book closes with a look at how breed associations can either help or hurt a rare breed.
While An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is not a comprehensive guide to breeds, it does provide numerous breed snapshots, distilling the most essential facts about the distinctive characteristics of many breeds.
If you are serious about working with heritage breeds, you will quickly outgrow this resource. We recommend supplementing it with resources specific to your chosen species, including a guide to care, a guide to breeding and genetics, and a breed encyclopedia. If you can find any works written entirely about your breed, make it a point to add those to your bookshelf, as well.
An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is exactly what the title suggests—an introduction, concise and clear enough for a reader with no prior experience with animals.
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of cattle breeds, including some heritage breeds.
Horse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of horse and donkey breeds, including some heritage breeds.
Scrub cattle run wild across Florida, just waiting to be rounded up and driven to market—a market hungry for beef in the days just after the Civil War.
If you love inspiring your children with books based on real history, give Brave the Wild Trail by Milly Howard a try. They will get a great introduction to Florida Cracker cattle, Marsh Tacky horses, and even catch dogs. They will learn about the perils of cattle driving, ranging from a ludicrous attempt to milk a wild cow to the deadly danger of robbers.
But there is much more than history and adventure to make this story worth reading. This is also a tale of changed hearts and true friendship.
Great story for younger readers!
The Roots of Cattle Driving
Learn more about the background of the events in this book.
What horse-loving child hasn’t devoured one of Marguerite Henry’s books? Henry wrote with enthusiasm and feeling, making her stories timeless masterpieces that are sure to touch the heart.
While she has written many books that we could heartily recommend for readers of all ages, we have whittled down the list to ten of our absolute favorites. Looking for some summer reading? Try these.
A schoolmaster accepts a fine colt in payment of a debt, only to end up with the colt’s runty little brother. Little does Justin Morgan know that the runt will someday more than prove his worth! This book tells the story of the Morgan breed, embellished enough to capture a child’s imagination, but still close enough to fact to be of interest to the adult horse lover.
Even grownups can dream! At long last, Dr. Sandy Price gets to visit Chincoteague on Pony Penning Day, and she brings back some ponies of her own. One of the ponies has a filly, Twilight. Dr. Price knows that Twilight has what it takes to make a great performance horse—but will horse trainers take the splashy pinto pony seriously?
One might think that a fox would be terrified by a fox hunt, but not Cinnabar. Cinnabar has a reputation for punctuality that he is bound and determined to maintain. But can he outwit George Washington himself?
Hans is captivated by the famous and beautiful Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School at Vienna. However, actually attending the riding school seems like an unattainable goal for a poor baker’s son. Young readers will not only root for Hans as he learns the discipline he needs to live his dream, but will learn quite a bit about Lipizzaners and the amazing feats they perform.
6. Black Gold
The true story of how two dreams converged when a boy who longed to be a jockey laid eyes on an underestimated horse with spirit. Henry retells the bittersweet tale of Black Gold with sympathy and compassion.
Paul and Maureen Beebe are anxiously awaiting the birth of Misty’s foal, but it seems to be arriving rather late. When a devastating storm hits, the Beebes must evacuate, leaving Misty to her own resources…in the family kitchen. Stormy is based on the true story of the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. While some of the details have been altered to make a cohesive Misty series centered around Paul and Maureen, Misty really did weather the storm in a kitchen.
The perfect first book on horse breeds for a young reader! The Album of Horses offers an engaging presentation of 24 of America’s favorite horse breeds, from the Clydesdale to the Shetland to the mule. The descriptions are written in story form and beautifully illustrated by Wesley Dennis. Read our full review.
Brighty lives a peaceful life in the Grand Canyon with his prospector friend—until one day the prospector is murdered, leaving the brave burro with a mystery to solve. Suspense and narrow escapes are around every corner, right up to a thrilling climax in a snowbound cabin.
The classic story of the most famous Chincoteague pony of all! Paul Beebe joins in on Pony Penning Day to capture the elusive Phantom and unexpectedly discovers the foal at her side. A must-read for every horse lover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tends to dismiss Henry’s story of the wrecked Spanish ship, but there is interesting historical and genetic evidence to support it.
A great read for every child who has questions about Henry’s books. Learn more about favorite characters and the true stories behind the stories. Along the way, you will find out more about Marguerite Henry, her approach to writing, and her thoughts on horses and horsekeeping.
Taking on a reading challenge is a fun way to broaden your reading selection and therefore your knowledge base.
Homestead on the Range is happy to announce our first annual reading challenge. We would like to challenge to you commit to finishing 12 books before the end of the year (about one a month).
The theme for our first reading challenge is the Chisholm Trail, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of this cattle trail. The categories for this challenge reflect a variety of cattle-, horse-, and history-related topics.
To complete the challenge, you must read at least one book from each category:
- A book about Kansas in the 1800s.
- A book about horse or cattle breeds.
- A book about Western horsemanship.
- A book about cattle care written in the 1800s.
- A book about the Spanish conquistadors.
- A book about an event or time period foundational to the Chisholm Trail.
- A book about the modern cattle industry.
- A book about working cattle with dogs.
- A book about livestock behavior or handling.
- A book about a place or places relevant to the Chisholm Trail.
- A book about mustangs.
- A book about an event that ended the Chisholm Trail.
A few guidelines:
- Books in electronic format count.
- Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
- You can read the books in any order.
- Books cannot be counted twice, even if they fit into more than one category.
If you need help, subscribe to On the Range, our free country living newsletter. The last issue of every month will contain a hint for one of the categories.
Let us know what you’re reading! We’d love to hear from you!
The Homestead Bookshelf
Looking for a good book? Start here.
January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.
- Plan a garden.
- Discover community-supported agriculture.
- Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
- Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
- Define sustainable agriculture.
- Preserve Kansas heritage.
- Evaluate the interstate highway system.
- Find out how compost gardening works.
- Examine your horse’s conformation.
- Read about the peopling of the plains.
Hard to believe that November is already just around the corner! Take some time on those chilly fall evenings to learn from nature and pull inspiration from innovative farmers and gardeners. And while you’re sitting at the table with family this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks for the simple things.
- Learn lessons from the bison.
- Discover that you can farm.
- Eat your egg yolks.
- Explore the world of horse and donkey breeds.
- Witness the life of the tree in the trail.
- Pull ideas from the All New Square Foot Gardening method.
- Search for the roots of cattle driving.
- Try out 10 time-saving tips for the farm.
- Weigh in on the ongoing GMO debate.
- Give thanks for the simple things.
Even when the afternoons are too hot for outdoor work, you can still make the most of the time with research and planning. Spend some time studying business, marketing, nutrition, animal health, and more.
- Consider new ways to direct market your beef.
- Find out how reproduction and animal health are related.
- Discover 96 horse breeds of North America.
- Build a sustainable business.
- Learn what kobe beef is.
- Ponder the relationship between the railroads and the homesteaders.
- Enjoy the wonderful art of drawing horses.
- Practice body condition scoring.
- Read about the Kansas climate.
- Study the roles and natural sources of vitamins.
The Welsh Pony probably comes from ancient Celtic stock, as it was already found roaming across Wales at the time of the Roman invasion. It was always a strong, hardy little pony, and it must have received approval from the Roman conquerors, since it was sometimes used to pull chariots in the arenas.
After the Romans departed, however, the Welsh Pony was largely left to its own devices. It ran wild in the mountains, where it competed with domestic sheep for pasture and earned itself a reputation for being a nuisance.
In the early 1500s, King Henry VIII decided to put some effort into improving the heavy horses still used in war. He ordered that all horses under 15 hands high be killed, leaving only larger horses to breed. His edict resulted in the death of many Welsh Ponies, but he could not exterminate the breed. Hunting ponies in the mountains of Wales was too arduous a task to be undertaken for sport, and many Welshmen did not consider it a duty, either.
By the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the drawbacks of breeding large horses exclusively had become apparent. Not all land could support heavy horses, and many pastures were gradually being ruined. The queen rescinded her father’s edict in 1566. Welsh farmers gladly went back to keeping ponies.
The turn of the 18th century marked a new prosperity for the Welsh Pony, as it proved its versatility. Larger ponies were crossed with draft horses to produce a strong, stocky type that was big enough to plow a field but small enough to make a comfortable saddle horse. This type became known as the Welsh Cob, while the original version was known as the Welsh Mountain Pony. An intermediate type also emerged, now called the Welsh Pony of Cob Type.
Toward the end of the 1800s, a fourth and final type of Welsh Pony evolved as a refined riding pony. This type was influenced by Hackneys and a small Thoroughbred. After the 1930s, it was bred specifically as a children’s pony. This variety is simply known as the Welsh Pony.
Welsh Ponies of all types were introduced to America starting in the 1880s. The breed proved to be extremely popular until the time of the Great Depression, and again after the economy recovered.
Today, the Welsh Pony can still be found across the United States, although other breeds have surpassed it in popularity. There are over 34,000 purebreds in this country.
Welsh Ponies come in all sizes, making them extremely versatile. They are suitable for children, but some can carry small adults, as well. They can participate in everything from jumping to dressage to endurance riding, and they can even perform well in Western pleasure. They also make good harness horses.
Crossbred Welsh Ponies share the versatility of their purebred Welsh parent.
Part of the Welsh Pony’s popularity is due to its superb temperament. It is good-natured, and it loves people. It can stay calm under pressure, but it is still spirited and independent. Its wild background has given it a degree of wisdom that makes it both reliable and trainable.
The Welsh Pony is a social animal, and will be happiest if kept with other horses.
Overall, the Welsh Pony is tough and sound. Its main requirements are daily exercise and a diet that is not too rich. The Welsh Cob does have feathering on its legs that must be groomed carefully to prevent infection.
One genetic defect found in some Welsh Ponies is cerebellar abiotrophy, a condition in which neurons in the horse’s brain die off, causing incoordination and head tremors.
- Temperament suitable for beginners.
- Disease resistance.
- Feed efficiency.
- Ease of foaling.
- Comfortable gait.
- Excellent stamina.
- Jumping ability.
- Unusual ability to pass on its good traits to crossbred offspring.
- Relative scarcity of larger ponies compared to smaller varieties.
- Grooming requirements of Welsh Cob.
Horse racing was long a popular pastime among the royalty in Europe, but in no country did the sport of kings influence the culture as it did in England. Britain was home to horse races as early as the Middle Ages. When King Henry VIII took the throne and founded the royal racing stables, however, the sport became serious business.
The second major event of note in the history of horse racing was the advent of the Thoroughbred in the 1700s. The mothers of this breed were mares in the royal stables, but the fathers hailed from the Middle East. Probably about 160 different stallions were bought or stolen from foreign countries, representing the Barb, the Arabian, and the Turkoman breeds. Three were particularly influential:
- The Byerley Turk.
- The Darley Arabian.
- The Godolphin Arabian.
All of the Oriental horses were light and spirited, while the mares to which they were bred were slow, but sturdy. The result was a horse with the heart and stamina to carry a rider to the finish line.
No sooner had the Thoroughbred come into existence than it found its way to America. The first import was Bulle Rock, brought to Virginia in 1730. Only 15 years later, Governor Samuel Ogle of Maryland established organized horse racing in America. Racing had once been a casual affair, owners matching their Quarter Horses in short sprints down the street. Now it was the sport of the wealthy.
Although the Thoroughbred was first and foremost a racehorse, in America it found additional purposes. It was often an essential ingredient in any other breed that needed to be created, contributing speed and courage to the mix. Also, American cavalry officers prized their Thoroughbred mounts. Officers on both sides of the Civil War rode Thoroughbreds. For example, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Cincinnati was a descendant of the record-breaking racehorse Lexington, while General Robert E. Lee’s Traveller was probably about 3/4 Thoroughbred. Even after the Civil War, many sires in the United States Army Remount Service were Thoroughbreds.
By the early 1900s, American Thoroughbreds had proven themselves so well that the British decided to eliminate the competition. They closed their studbooks and racetracks to foreigners, a decision that was not repealed until 1949.
Meanwhile, the Thoroughbred as a whole only increased in popularity worldwide. Racing became an industry, with most of the profits coming from the incredible fees charged for the services of top stallions. The demand (and therefore the prices) for good breeding Thoroughbreds reached an all-time high in the mid-1980s thanks to interest from Europe and the Middle East. This was followed by another boom in the early 2000s, with the record price for a Thoroughbred at auction being set in 2006—$16 million for a colt yet unnamed and unraced at the time of the sale.
Horse investments took a major hit when the economy soured in 2008. While some breeders breathed a sigh of relief since prices were coming down to earth, the recession created a major shakeup, with thousands of excess Thoroughbreds being shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.
With horror stories about horse slaughter and racetrack injuries hitting the media on a regular basis, it’s little wonder that horse racing is a controversial sport. Nevertheless, the Thoroughbred has a strong presence around the world, with 1.3 million representatives in America alone.
There are two types of Thoroughbred today. The slim, muscular type is a recent development and is typically the type seen on the racetrack today. Unfortunately, this type has many soundness problems that preclude it from starting in more than a handful of races in its lifetime. Retirees will probably need to be ridden lightly to avoid further injury. Recreation and possibly trail riding are the best roles for these horses.
The sturdier old-fashioned type, although increasingly hard to find, is still the epitome of an athlete. It is an excellent choice for polo, dressage, jumping, eventing, and hunting. It can even excel at the Western sport of barrel racing. This type of Thoroughbred is also suitable for mounted police work.
Thoroughbred crosses are preferred for many horse sports due to their stamina and will to win.
The Thoroughbred has a large heart and amazing spirit, but it is a rather delicately balanced creature. It bonds strongly with one person and will give itself fully to that person alone. Its determination to please carries it through tense and painful situations, sometimes at the cost of its life. However, it is also rather flighty and tends to overreact to the unknown.
Retired racehorses need special care. They have been trained to meet the requirements of the racing world, and many concepts of recreational riding are completely new to them (for example, a tug on the reins may be mistaken for the cue to gallop faster). Furthermore, they have often been subjected to enormous stress during their careers. It takes time to retrain them, and until they are fully retrained they can be extremely dangerous. Their confidence must be rebuilt through consistency and by presenting them with a clear path to earn the approval they crave.
Unfortunately, the Thoroughbred has been subjected to many questionable breeding practices, including inbreeding, short-term breeding goals, and using horses with soundness problems as breeding stock. Bone defects, metabolic problems, abnormally small hearts, and reproductive loss syndrome are the result.
Retired racehorses have additional problems caused by their living conditions and trauma on the track:
- Living in a dusty stable may have caused inflammatory airway disease.
- An unnatural diet may have resulted in stomach ulcers.
- Performance-enhancing drugs may affect the horse’s mood for a considerable time after retirement.
- Overexercise may have induced pulmonary hemorrhages.
- Strain and accidents may have injured countless nerves, tendons, and bones.
Some racehorses can be rehabilitated, but it is best to have a vet assess the horse before adoption.
- Affordability of retired racehorses.
- Athletic ability.
- Tremendous speed over long distances.
- Comfortably smooth gait.
- Expense of younger horses.
- Need for expert care due to health and temperament challenges.
- Susceptibility to adverse weather conditions.
- High feed requirements.
- Soundness problems.
- Low fertility.