Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll start this discussion with some definitions from other sources:

Oxford Dictionary: Landrace – A local cultivar or animal breed that has been improved by traditional agricultural methods.

WikipediaLandrace – a local variety of domesticated animal or plant species which has developed over time, by adaptation to the natural and cultural environment in which it lives.

AskDefine: Landrace refers to domesticated animals or plants adapted to the natural and cultural environment in which they live (or originated) and, in some cases, work; they often develop naturally with minimal assistance or guidance from humans (or from humans using traditional rather than modern breeding methods), hence differ somewhat from what is commonly termed a breed, and usually possess more diverse phenotypes and genotypes. They often form the basis of more highly-bred formalised breeds. Sometimes a formalised breed retains the “landrace” name, despite no longer being a true landrace.

Greenfire Farms: Landraces are groups of animals or plants that over time undergo natural and artificial selection to promote the stable production of food. Usually the time period is long, the intervention of man informal, and the animals that result are keenly adapted to local environments. So, for example, the hedemora of Sweden is a chicken that has over the centuries developed an undercoating of downy feathers to combat the extreme cold of that northen clime. Such adaptations in America are rare if for no other reason than America was, in a relative sense, only recently populated with chickens. Adaptation takes time. The longer the time generally the more uniform in appearance landraces will become.

 

Here are some examples of landrace animal breeds:

Ussery03

The Icelandic Chicken.
These birds belong to noted poultry author Harvey Ussery. 

Chickens

  • Hemadora Chicken
  • Icelandic Chicken
  • Marraduna Basques (aka Euskal Oiloa)
  • Swedish Flower Hen

 

Swedish Blue Ducks

Swedish Blue Ducks

Ducks

  • Swedish Blue Duck
  • Swedish Yellow Duck

 

Twente Landrace Geese

Twente Landrace Geese

Geese

  • Twente Landrace Goose

 

Arapawa Goats

Arapawa Goats

Goats

  • Arapawa Goat
  • San Clemente Goat
  • Spanish Goat

 

Gulf Coast Native Sheep

Gulf Coast Native Sheep

Sheep

  • Finnsheep
  • Florida Cracker Sheep
  • Gulf Coast Native Sheep
  • Hog Island Sheep
  • Icelandic Sheep
  • Navajo-Churro Sheep
  • Saint Croix Sheep
  • Santa Cruz Sheep
  • Shetland Sheep
  • Soay Sheep
  • Spælsau sheep
  • Welsh Mountain Sheep

 

Mulefoot Hogs

Mulefoot Hogs

Pigs

  • Choctaw Hog
  • Guinea Hog
  • Mulefoot Hog
  • Ossabaw Island Hog

 

Florida Crackers have some of the most diverse colors and patterns.

Florida Cracker Cattle

Cattle

  • Canadian Lynch Lineback Cattle
  • Chirikof Island Cattle
  • Corriente Cattle
  • Enderby Island Cattle
  • Florida Cracker Cattle
  • Highland Cattle
  • Limia Cattle
  • Maronesa Cattle
  • Pineywoods Cattle
  • Randall Lineback Cattle
  • Texas Longhorn Cattle

 

Benefits of Landraces

Now that we’ve established what a landrace is and reviewed a few examples, let’s discuss the benefits of landrace breeds. Most modern chicken breeds, for example, have been developed by breeders for specific traits (color, size, shape, lack of broodiness, etc.) with a goal in mind… to create a chicken that lays the most eggs possible or to create a chicken that gains weight really fast, etc. But a landrace chicken is a breed that was kind of left to its own devices. The chickens that survived their environment were the ones that passed on their genes. These birds end up being very hardy, disease resistant, pest resistant, and low maintenance. These are fantastic benefits found in almost all landrace breeds, and if these were the only benefits, I think it would be enough for me to recommend landrace breeds over modern breeds. But fortunately that is not all.

To me, the most compelling benefit is that landrace breeds often have a high degree of genetic variability (i.e. more diverse genes in their genetic code). This genetic variability is why these breeds are sometimes not even recognized as breeds. Some animals are taller, some shorter, some chickens have different comb shapes, different feather colors, different patterns. Cattle may have entirely different colors and patterns, goats may have variable horn development, and the variations exist for every species. But these are just the visible, physical traits. There are also a number of unseen, non-visible traits. Some genes will allow for adaptation to cold or hot temperatures, some genes for arid or humid conditions, others for high wind or poor forage or minimal water or early maturity, etc.. Many of these genes still exist in the landrace breeds, and they are just waiting to be expressed. It is like these animals carry with them all the tools and materials to handle any job. Now compare this to modern breeds. They have intentionally lost this genetic variability as they have been bred toward uniformity. These animals are like a bunch of carpenters walking around with only a hammer or a bunch of plumbers walking around with only a wrench. They are ideally suited for a single situation, but if that situation changes, they are at a disadvantage.

I am reminded of how the Angus cattle originated in the cool, humid, rainy counties of Scotland. Their sleek, dark coats are well suited to that environment. But because they have such tasty meat, we now find them all over the world, including in the blazing heat of the American Southwest. A black animal in the hot sun with no shade… that doesn’t seem to be a good environment for these animals. Yes, I know Black Angus can be raised in this environment, but it is not ideally suited for it.

In summary, landraces are often more adaptable to a wider variety of climates and environments, because the genetics are there… they weren’t bred out of the breed. If we have a good breeding program in place, the specific genetics we need can be selected for, and over time, we will end up with a sub-breed that is ideally suited to our specific location and conditions.

And this sounds like a fun project to me!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Svensk_blå_anka.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Twentse_landgans.JPG
  • http://svffoundation.org/images/animals/arapawagoats.jpg
  • http://holidayranch.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/gulf-coast-sheep-delivery-020.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Mx24Hw0mvg4/UnHS0otnUuI/AAAAAAAAA5w/U-WB9wxH-FU/s1600/october2013+121.JPG
  • http://www.cccourthouse.org/content/image/DSC_1103.jpg
  • http://kerrcenterdaytoday.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/026_sm.jpg