Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jurrasic Farm

I can't decide if this is creepy, cool, or both:
Located on a 45-acre estate in Newport, SVF is the only organization in the country dedicated to conserving rare heritage livestock breeds by freezing their semen and embryos, a technique called cryopreservation. Chip, now SVF’s unofficial mascot, was the proof that the foundation had mastered the process. In early 2004, as a six-day-old embryo, he was flushed from his mother’s womb and spent the next several months frozen. Thawed and transplanted into a surrogate Nubian doe, a common breed, he was born on May 7, 2004, a perfectly normal fainting goat.

Fainting goats apparently do what the name says... that is, faint when they see a predator. Seems like there should be some obvious flaws in that survival tactic*, but whatever. So preserving bizarre goat species seems like a pretty laudable goal, right?
Chip will never end up on a kebab skewer, but a glance at his stocky wrestler’s build shows that he carries plenty of meat. His squat stature means that, unlike other goat breeds, he can’t leap tall fences, making him suited to small, diversified family farms near urban areas where goat meat is popular.

“These animals lend themselves well to the locavore movement,” Mr. Borden said. “They don’t need a lot of attention. They do well on small pastures, and require no grain.”

Ah, right. They're preserving his breed because he might be tasty... and profitable. Also? Farm APOCALYPSE:
For all their efficiency and high output, modern livestock breeds have become a weak, inbred bunch, Dr. Saperstein said. Fifty years ago there were a half-dozen popular dairy breeds in this country. But today, according to Lindsey Worden of Holstein Association USA, an organization representing farmers and breeders, the country’s 8.6 million Holstein cows make up 93 percent of America’s dairy herd. Fewer than 20 champion bulls are responsible for half the genes in today’s Holsteins.
....
“Heritage breeds have not been continuously ‘improved’ by humans,” Mr. Borden said. “They have been shaped by natural survival-of-the-fittest forces and can get along without human intervention. Typically, rare varieties exhibit good birthing and mothering abilities. They can thrive on native grasses and other natural forage, and many know how to avoid predators.”

So everyone got that? In our post-apocalyptic future, head to Newport and, in between looting mansions, get some goat embryos! Though seriously, they make some good points... it can't be a good thing to have your food supply concentrated in so few breeds with so little genetic diversity.

It's a little unsettling to be saving species because we might want to eat them later, but I guess that's not far from how traditionally humans and livestock have intertwined. As weird as it is, the surest path to preservation probably is to become part of our diet.

*according to the caption on the photo above, it's a genetic disorder, not a survival technique.

photo of fainting goats by flickr user wallyg used under a Creative Commons license