But other animals are going their way precisely because they are no longer preferred table fare. The Livestock Conservancy, a North Carolina organization that advocates for the preservation of rare and vanishing breeds, keeps an official list of nearly 200 domesticated birds and mammals which today are at risk of vanishing. The group is trying to generate interest in these breeds, among both consumers and farmers, to keep the animals from going extinct.
"We sometimes say, 'You need to eat them to save them — just don't eat them all,' " says Ryan Walker, the marketing and communications manager of the conservancy.
The Red Wattle, a pig with exceptionally juicy flesh, and the Randall Lineback, a cow that produces beautiful rose-red veal, are two success stories — breeds that were close to oblivion but that foodie ranchers have revived.
But others haven't been so lucky. And it may be because lately no one has wanted to eat them.
There are fewer than 200 Choctaw hogs left, for example. This pig was prized by theNative American Choctaw tribe as a meat source. But displacement of the tribe led to the breed's downfall. Today, Choctaw hogs live on just a few farms in a single county in Oklahoma. The animals are still extremely vulnerable to inbreeding and, Walker says, to natural disasters. "They could potentially get wiped out by one tornado," he says.
The key to saving critically endangered breeds is finding people to breed and grow the populations. Walker says his organization, without land to rear its own animals, helps rare breeds by coordinating meetings between farmers who own the animals.
Today, in spite of the efforts of numerous ranchers and organizations focused on preserving rare breeds, some are going extinct. Almost one livestock breed has vanished every month around the world for at least the past six years, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture supports a program for preserving heritage livestock breeds. The idea is to keep alive unique genetic traits that could someday come in handy for breeders who are trying to create hardier, or tastier, animals. In the American West, Walker says, demand is growing for drought tolerant cattle that can withstand the unusually dry conditions that may become the new normal going into the future. While many rare breeds are kept alive on small farms, the USDA has preserved some cryogenically—mainly via samples of frozen semen."