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About Our Animals

Coggeshall Farm Museum is part of a small network of organizations that helps to ensure the sustainability of critically endangered rare breeds.

The American Livestock Breed Conservancy standard for “critically endangered” is fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and a global population below 2,000.

A Brief History of Livestock Breeding

Before the 18th century, farmers generally bred animals based on desirable traits, not by bloodline. As a result, people chose their best quality breeding stock based on what was available, hoping to get the best overall, multi-purpose animal.

This resulted in “native types” as opposed to “breeds,” as we now recognize them. In the mid-18th century, people began breeding based on bloodline to “improve” a breed by magnifying a specific desirable trait. In some cases, cows were bred to their own offspring to get an animal that specializes in milk production or another trait.

Most tenant or small-scale farmers could not afford a pure breed, so the mixed/all-purpose native types remained common into the early 19th century. In the 20th century, that changed rapidly. New technology and changes in farming techniques made specialized breeds more desirable and available. Higher production rates of specialized breeds translated into greater profits.

Thus, it no longer was seen as desirable to have an “all purpose” animal. Many “native” or “landrace” types were became extinct or threatened.

For more information on heritage breeds, visit our friends at the SVF Foundation.

Our Livestock

sheep runningSheep: Gulf Coast Native

Our Gulf Coast Native sheep descended from sheep brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. They were developed in isolation by natural selection and not “improved” by selective breeding. Although popular for hundreds of years, they were usurped in the 19th century by sheep bred primarily for meat. They have a natural genetic resistance to parasites; as a result, some breeders are now trying to cross Gulf Coast sheep with meat breeds to get the best of both. Gulf Coast Sheep are remain critically endangered.




SpanishGoatsGoats: Spanish (and Nubian)

Like our sheep, Coggeshall's goats are also descended from Spanish settlers, who brought goats to the Americas in the 1600s. These colonists raised their goats to the Caribbean and up the East coast, and other settled in Mexico and then moved upwards into Texas and California. For this reason, while all of their genetics can be traced back to the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish goats as we know them in the United States are likely a mix of East and West coast strains.

Spanish goats are a hardy breed that are well adapted to many climates. They were also known as "scrub," "briar," and "bush" goats due to their fondness for otherwise undesirable forage. Historically, they were used for their milk, meat, hide, and hair. Unlike cows and sheep, goats were not heavily bred during the start of commercial farming in the 19th century. During the 1920s and 30s, Spanish goats were soon recognized as profitable ot only for their dairy, but their hair, as angora was becoming an increasingly popular fiber.

Our goat Abigail (in the foreground), is likely a mixture of Spanish and Nubian. 

turkeyTurkeys: Narragansett

Narragansett turkeys descend from wild turkeys and domestic turkeys brought by European colonists in the 1600s. The domestic turkeys may have descended from turkeys brought from Mexico to Europe by the Spanish. Narragansetts were not recognized as a “breed” until 1874. 









roosterChickens: Mixed

We are crossing varieties to mimic the appearance of an average 1790s chicken, since the original type no longer exists. Our stock includes Dominiques, which are ancestors of the barred rock (watch list), English Game Fowl (critical), Colored Dorking/red dorking (threatened), and Speckled Sussex (recovering).





Importance of Rare Breeds

Modern farming requires high-yield, specialized animals to meet the current  high demand for meat and milk. Before the Industrail REvolution, however, animals and plants were much more genetically diverse and varied. Today, we have bred specific animals for specific purposes: Holstein cows for milk, Cornish Cross chickens for meat, and so on. Because of this specialized breeding, some diversity has been lost.

Consider this: If you took all the Holsteins in the world that were genetically identical and combined them, only 13 Holsteins would exist. This could be dangerous. Like the Potato Famine, lack of diversity presents a threat to the species — theirs and ours.