Wait a second, you thought Seed Savers Exchange was only saving seeds? When you visit Heritage Farm at Seed Savers Exchange, the cutest thing you’ll see may also be the oldest thing we preserve. The ancestors of our herds of Ancient White Park cattle date back to the pre-Christian era where they roamed the British isles, and descriptions of their distinct white coats and U-shaped horns crop up periodically in historical documents. Their island-based origin isolated this breed from other breeds, therefore making them much more genetically distinct and valuable. But how did they get to Seed Savers Exchange, you ask? Well, it’s kind of a complicated story.
The breed of Ancient White Park cattle we preserve came to North America from England during World War II for safekeeping from the threat of a Nazi invasion. A few cattle were sent to the Toronto Zoo, and the calves born there were moved to the Bronx Zoo. But lack of space dictated that they be moved to the King Ranch in Texas. From Texas they were moved to Polk City, Iowa and finally here to Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa in 1988.
Since settling here, the Ancient White Park herds have contributed to the breed being upgraded by the Livestock Conservancy from ‘critical’ to ‘threatened’ in 2012. They were also the inspiration behind a set of paintings done by artist Valerie Miller of Steel Cow Studios in Waukon, IA. Two of the cattle born this month, one from each of our two herds, are pictured here.
The farm currently has over eighty animals across two herds: A and B. They are separated into two distinct groups to maintain genetic diversity and to better document lineages and desirable traits. Rather than breeding the cattle with the intention of producing larger animals that bring more money at market, our goal is to breed them to maintain their distinct coloring with black around their eyes, ears, noses, and hooves. Still, the cows can range in size from 1000-1200lbs when mature, and the bulls between 1500-1800lbs. Some cows are born with the recessive black-coat trait, while others have a white coat with more of a reddish coloring around the eyes, ears, noses, and hooves.
This spring, the Seed Savers Exchange family expects about twenty new additions to each herd. To learn more about this amazing, ancient breed, visit the Livestock Conservancy’s website or B Bar Ranch’s website. Feel free to stop by Seed Savers Exchange where you can go on a tour of our grounds and see these beautiful animals up close (but be careful, the moms and dads can be protective of their little ones). Or check out this video to see the cattle in action!
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.