The Livestock Conservancy’s mission is “to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction.” We share in this passion and raise heritage breed animals on our farm. Heritage breed animals are animals that existed long before industrial agriculture came to power. Bred over generations and carefully selected for traits that would make them self-sufficient and thrive in their harsh environments, these breeds thrive on pasture-based farms–on our farm here at Perennial Roots.
We believe that these older, historic breeds are not only part of our country’s history, but share a wealth of genetic diversity that would severely impoverish the modern farmer and agriculture if they were to disappear, as so many breeds are today. Breeds like Gulf Coast Native sheep and American Mulefoot hogs are hardy, disease-resistant, excellent foragers, mothers, and are incredibly self-sufficient. We choose breeds that have adapted over generations to our humid southeast Virginia climate, thriving outside with minimal shelter and grass. These incredible heritage breeds are the backbone of our farm and provide fertility to our soil. We could not do what we do without them and are always awed and incredibly grateful for the role they play on our farm.
New Zealand KuneKune Pigs
The name “kunekune” means “fat and round” or “fat fat” in Maori. The breed has a close association with the Maori tribe, although the actual history of how it was brought to New Zealand is not known. Some say that it was brought by boat during the the 1700 or 1800s, while others believe that the pig has lived among the Maori for much longer. It was not until the 1970s that KuneKunes were rediscovered and brought back from near extinction.
Domesticated for centuries, they are prized for their incredibly friendly and genial nature and their disinterest in roaming very far at all. We love them for these traits. These are truly the friendliest pigs you will ever encounter; incredibly calm and sweet, these guys are more than happy to let you cuddle their piglets in exchange for a nice belly rub.
The KuneKunes colors range from deep orange/red to a cream white to black and speckled and spotted and all sorts of colors in between. They have a very short and upturned snout which is an unusual characteristic for a pig, this makes them much more of a grazing pig, preferring to munch on grass, making them far less prone to rooting and overturning soil. These characteristics make the KuneKune perfect for a small homestead and definitely make them perfect for our farm and our rotational grazing system. We rotate them to fresh pasture daily and keep them with our sheep and geese, in a harmonious grazing system that benefits us, our soil and all the animals involved.
KuneKunes are incredibly slow to mature, slower than any other pig we have experienced. They can take well over a year before they are ready for slaughter, but the meat is definitely something worth waiting for. The Maoris prized them for the meat and particularly the fat, and it is not hard to see why. The meat is flavorful, tender and the fat is buttery and delicious. You’ve never tasted pork until you’ve tried some of our KuneKune pork!
American Mulefoot Hogs
The American Mulefoot Hog is named for its most distinctive and fascinating feature: the solid, non-cloven hoof resembling that of a mule. It is listed as a critically rare breed by the Livestock Conservancy and it is our honor to try and help restore this incredible breed so that it’s history and characteristics are not lost.
Mulefoot hogs are solid black, weigh 400-600 pounds and are quite compact. They are good foragers, the sows make excellent mothers and the breed as a whole is incredibly hardy. We’ve read that a normal litter size for Mulefoots are 5-6 piglets, but our sows consistently produce 10-12 piglets per litter. We attribute this to the vitality of their diet, sprouted grains, and biodynamic practices.
Historically they were prized for their lard and hams, the hams were so large that very little loin exists. But we aren’t complaining! Mulefoot meat has consistently won blind taste tests among other heritage breed pigs. We raise Mulefoots for meat and once you try some you’ll see why. A Mulefoot ham is something special. We have customers who claim to not like ham that fall in love with our Mulefoot ham. It is a deep red, with a buttery, melt in your mouth flavor.
Gulf Coast Native Sheep
Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native Sheep were brought by the Spanish to the Americas sometime in the early 1500s. They were kept and used by the Spanish and European settles as well as by the Native Americans across the southern half of the United States. Living in the southeast, Gulf Coast sheep were shaped by natural selection, quickly adapting to the heat and humidity of the south. They lack wool on their faces, bellies, and legs, allowing them to thrive during the humid summer months. They also have an incredible natural resistance to parasites, foot rot and are very hardy and independent. Gulf Coast sheep breed and lamb year round, and can lamb in pasture, completely unassisted. All of these characteristics make this breed the perfect choice for our farm.
We raise Gulf Coast sheep primarily for the lamb, which is incredibly tender and flavorful. The wool is another product of these sheep that we would love to use, but haven’t yet. Since they are adapted to our humid Eastern Shore environment it isn’t necessary to shear them, but it is something we would like to try in the future, so we can utilize as much of this wonderful breed as possible.
Norfolk/Black Spanish Turkeys
Black, Norfolk Black or Black Spanish, these turkeys are a lovely rich black with a metallic green shine on the tips. Descended from the Eastern wild turkeys, this variety is smaller than some of your other heritage breed turkey varieties. A standard weight for toms is right around 23 pounds and 12-15 pounds for hens.
These birds have been with us since year two on the farm and we love them. We rotate them on fresh pasture daily and feel them local, certified organic grain. We raise them primarily for Thanksgiving and the holidays and they have always been a hit with our customers. The meat is flavorful and very juicy! They also have an incredible amount of white meat on them for a heritage breed and the dark meat is particularly flavorful.
Cotton Patch Geese
Cotton Patch Geese derive their name from the job they were bred to perform: weeding cotton and corn fields in the rural south. Their smaller size allows them to tolerate the hot humid weather of the south better than other heavier breeds of geese and these geese were credited with helping many poor southern families survive the great depression, relying on their eggs, meat and fat as a steady supplement when very little food was available.
The Livestock Conservancy lists this breed as critically rare, which is sad because this is an absolutely incredible breed. These geese are compact, so they won’t trample your garden, they can fly and are noisy so they can also act as guard geese for your ducks and other poultry. We keep them with our chickens and ducks. On top of all that, the meat and fat is incredible. There is nothing like potatoes roasted with goose fat. We just love our geese and want to do all we can to promote and encourage awareness about a breed with such incredible history and life.
We keep a variety of heritage breed chickens here on our farm, almost all of the breeds we keep are dual purpose–for both meat and eggs. We sell a gorgeous rainbow assortment of eggs that is very popular with our customers and we do some chicken meat on the side for ourselves only. Some of our favorite breeds of chickens include Salmon Faverolles, Delawares (which originated here on the Delmarva peninsula), Ameraucanas, and Copper Marans. These breeds produce a beautiful assortment of eggs ranging from dark brown to blue to cream colored. We rotate our chickens on fresh pasture daily and supplement them with local, certified organic chicken feed that we also ferment. You truly have not tasted eggs until you have tasted some of our fresh pastured eggs!
We keep a couple varieties of ducks at Perennial Roots, including Indian or Indian Runner ducks and Silver Appleyard ducks. Silver Appleyards are dual purpose ducks–we get big beautiful white eggs from them that we sell and then we do some meat from them for our own use. The Indian Runners we raise for their eggs and for their hilarity. Runners are personable ducks that will leave you laughing with their antics and penchant for finding trouble, i.e. getting stuck in the most absurd places! Runners and Appleyards are both excellent foragers and layers. We especially value their eggs for baking.
Silver Fox Rabbits
The Silver Fox Rabbit is a beautiful multi-purpose rabbit, raised for its meat and fur. The fur resembles the pelt of the silver fox of the Arctic and was bred during the early 1900s as a replacement for fox fur stoles and pelts. They are born solid black or blue and begin to show signs of “silvering” from about four weeks onward. They are an incredibly beautiful rabbit. The does make excellent mothers and have large litters. Silver Fox are one of the only rabbits to dress out at 65% of its live weight. The meat is incredibly tender and one of our favorite winter meals is rabbit and dumplings or a nice warming pot of rabbit stew.