Category: Breeds


Highland Cattle: A Regal Heritage Breed

As previously announced, our annual Eighth Cattle Share is in full swing! Following America’s most popular breed, the Angus, Larry and Madonna Sorrell present the truly regal choice of England: Highland beef.

Highland cow
A Highland Cow grazing at Lazy S. Farms

The Highland is the oldest registered breed of cattle, officially recognized in 1884. The Queen of England maintains her own Highland herd at Balmoral Castle, which satisfies her cravings for a royal burger. Highland cattle have lived for centuries in the rugged, remote, Scottish Highlands – qualifying them as a true heritage breed. Cold weather and snow have little effect on this breed, allowing them to be raised as far north as Alaska and Scandinavia.  These extremely harsh conditions propelled the process of natural selection, allowing only the fittest and most adaptable animals to survive and carry on the legacy of the breed. Originally, the Highland breed was comprised of two distinctly different herds; today, however, these strains have evolved into one, hearty Highland lineage. Despite their long horns, long hair, and unusual appearance, the Highland is considered to be a docile and calm animal. They are extremely intelligent, which makes them quite easy to train.

Highland cattle are approximately 2/3 the weight of Angus cattle, so their meat yield is slightly lower. They mature slowly and are typically taken for slaughter later  in life than other breeds, making their meat  tender, lean, well marbled, and flavorful.  This hard-to-find beef is dry-aged three weeks before we ship it, reducing each cut’s weight, but enhancing the savory flavor of this delectable beef.

Larry and Madonna Sorell have been farmers since 1970, when they purchased 200 acres of land in Cloud County, Kansas. Larry Sorell continues a family tradition that was passed down from his grandfather to his father and then, to him. Today, the farm is a bit smaller, but the Sorrells still maintain true biodiversity amongst their livestock. Madonna fondly recalls Larry returning home with a surprise in his truck – once a few lambs, another time a beautiful horse. The couple raises numerous heritage breeds, including a handful of Highland cattle, Katahdin lambs, and several pig varieties, which can be found on our storefront.

 

Heritage Chickens: A Year-Round Treat

Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch is widely regarded as the premium provider of heritage turkeys, and Heritage Foods USA relies on the genetic integrity of Frank Reese’s birds each and every holiday season. But did you know that the Reeses also produce genetically pure, delicious chickens year-round? These heritage breed Jersey Giant and Barred Rock chickens come from a long lineage, akin to those your grandparents may have eaten growing up prior to the industrial era.

The Jersey Giant chicken was developed between 1870 and 1890 by John and Thomas Black near the town of Jobstown, New Jersey. These typically mellow chickens are impressive in size, reaching 10-13lbs at maturity, making them the largest purebred chicken breed in existence. The commercial standard developed for poultry includes a rugged gigantic frame, with an angular shape, single comb and black shanks. Reese chose to raise Jersey Giants to illustrate the diversity of heritage chicken breeds. The Jersey Giant is a slow growing bird: it takes 24-28 weeks to reach market weight, as compared to the Plymouth’s 16-18 weeks. With such a long growth period, these chickens often fall short in the eyes of the commercial industry to more rapidly growing birds. Currently, there are fewer than 5,000 Jersey Giants in the U.S.; however, with its large size and silky, rich meat, this is the perfect chicken for roasting. Dress it simply to taste its natural flavors.

Cooked Jersey Giant
A Jersey Giant Chicken, cooked low and slow

The Barred Rock, a variety of the Plymouth Rock (or simply “Rock”), originated in the United States and was admitted to the APA Standard in 1874.  They possess a long, broad back, a moderately deep, full breast, and yellow skin. Developed in New England in the middle of the 19th century, the Barred Rock was first exhibited as a breed in 1869. This breed is considered a dual-purpose fowl, meaning that it is valued both for its meat and for the hens’ egg-laying ability. The breed gained popularity very rapidly due to its hardiness, docility, broodiness, and excellent production of both eggs and meat. In fact, until World War II, the Barred Rock was the most extensively kept and bred breed in the United States.

As with all heritage products, Heritage chickens are humanely raised on open pastures, providing them with a healthy lifestyle and lots of exercise. This method of raising livestock yields a larger muscle-mass, and for this reason, heritage fowl require a cooking low and slow cooking technique.

 

 

Eighth Cattle Share

For the fourth year in a row, Heritage Foods USA is taking part in a uniquely sustainable model of meat consumption: the Eighth Cattle Share. Though Heritage supports eating sustainably year-round, this nose-to-tail project allows our customers to purchase an entire eighth of a steer – including all of the cuts – leaving minimal waste in its path. By using the entire cow, small cattle farmers need not worry about selling individual cuts, lifting the heavy burden that comes along with the traditional model of selling cut-by-cut. However, this opportunity also provides our customers with special cuts of heritage cattle breeds at one low price.

Eighth Cattle Angus
Good Farms Pure Black Angus Cattle



Heritage Foods USA considers this project to be one of our most important of the year. For our initial eighth cattle share, we’re teaming up with Craig and Amy Good of Good Farms. Located on the northern edge of the Kansas Flint Hills, this area is the last vestige of the Tall Grass Prairie – a fertile strip of grasslands that supported untold numbers of cattle in our country’s formative years. Grass is arguably the best feed for cows, and the mix of Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, and Sideoats Grama is responsible for producing the tastiest grass fed, American-bred Angus cattle in existence.

Though Pure Black Angus genetics are the most commonly used in America today, a 100% Angus herd like Craig Good’s is rare and hard to find. Good Farms has become one of the most reputable sources of pure-bred livestock in the country, and we applaud The Goods for caring so much about the quality and integrity of their cattle.

Heritage offers three ways to support this year’s eighth cattle share project, all of which will fit in a standard-sized freezer. Our largest package, the True Eighth, features sixty pounds of ground beef, brisket, short ribs, and three different cuts of steak. For those with a smaller apetite, The All Star Cuts package offers the same prime cuts with significantly less ground beef.

Still, for some, buying in bulk can be a pretty big commitment. Want to support the Eighth Cattle Share project and the small farmers it benefits? Buying ground beef helps these farmers significantly during the butchering process, because virtually any left over parts of the steer can be ground. For this reason, Heritage Foods offers three different ground beef packages, in varying quantities. What better way to prepare for the summer grilling season than by stocking your fridge with the best Angus beef that money can buy?

Stay tuned for additional eighth cattle share packages from Highland, Simmental and Belgian Blue breeds of cattle throughout the summer.

An Intro to Heritage Pork Breeds

The core of Heritage Foods USA’s mission is to preserve rare heritage breeds. We work hard to support family farms that raise their animals on natural diets and without the aid of antibiotics, which are common on industrial farms.

Red Wattle Pig
A Red Wattle pig raised by Larry Sorell at Lazy S. Farms

 

Heritage pork is sourced from  Certified Humane Red Wattle or Six-Spotted Berkshire stock. Some of our farmers, however, also raise other rare breeds – Duroc, Old Spot, Large Black, and Tamworth – which are available for purchase by request, or as porterhouse chops and cured hams.

Sorell_Sow_BreedBerkshire
A Berkshire sow with one of her piglets

Berkshire meat is elegant, luscious and smooth. The streaks of fat that run through Berkshire meat produces a round, buttery flavor that melts on the tongue. The firm and substantial texture of Berkshire meat was so cherished by the British monarchy that they exported the breed as far as Japan, where it is called Korobuta.

As seen above, the Red Wattle is the only pig left in the world that still has a wattle hanging from its jowl. Red Wattle meat is charmingly inconsistent; its expressive porky flavor is concentrated and even a little racy. Originating in the South Pacific, the Red Wattle pig populated the backyards of New Orleans during the 18th and 19th centuries where it was bred to stand up to the strong and flavorful Creole cuisine. These gentle red hogs are renowned  foragers: when allowed to roam, their meat develops earthy, herbaceous traces of the vegetation within their locale.

One of Craig Good's Duroc hogs
One of Craig Good’s Duroc hogs

Duroc meat is clean and crisp. Its taste and texture are polished and easy on the palate. Duroc pork is a standard – not too fatty, not too lean, not too strong – but is certainly more flavorful than its factory farmed cousins. In fact, Duroc genetics were used in the foundation of the pig industry, which gained momentum in the 20th century.

Tamworth meat is robust and gutsy, and is the leanest of the heritage pork breeds- making it an excellent source of bacon and jowl. Its balanced flavor is the pork equivalent of a red beer. Despite its presence on the Threatened species list, the Tamworth is a hearty, strong, resilient animal – making it an excellent candidate for the growing urban farm movement around the United States.

A Gloucestershire Old Spot sow from Craig Good's farm
A Gloucestershire Old Spot sow from Craig Good’s farm

 

Large Black and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Along with the Red Wattle, they are the rarest pig breeds that Heritage Foods sells.

Originating in the Berkley Vale of Gloucestershire during the 1800s, the GOS was bred to lounge around in the orchards of England, where its sole responsibility was to clean up fallen fruit.  The breed became rare after World War II, when the shift to intensive pig production reduced interest in grazing pigs. Due to its supreme laziness, GOS meat is very delicate – even its fat is edible and milky. Old Spots carry a distinct layer of backfat and marbling within their meat, making them the bacon pig of choice for many.

The Large Black is a favorite of farmers who appreciate the breed’s intellect and docility. Its strength, hardiness, and ability  to forage make it a valuable asset for pasture-based farming. The breed is native to southwestern England and gained popularity in the 1800’s as farmers began to see that the animal could easily turn poor-quality feed into large quantities of high-quality meat. The Large Black’s physical characteristics – its dark skin and large ears – make it stand out in terms of appearance and efficiency: its dark skin protects it from sunburn during long hours of grazing, and its long ears shield its eyes from dirt while foraging. Large Blacks are also known for their lean consistency; however, they lack the excess back fat found in the GOS.

Heritage Lamb is a Hit!

 

Ewes in DWP

Spring is here, and so is lamb season. Lamb is closely associated with Easter feasts, but did you know that the lengthening of days matches up with a lamb’s natural mating patterns?

Unfortunately, rare and heritage lamb breeds lack the industrial-sized methods of production which yield mass-produced, individual lamb cuts found in grocery stores. To avoid waste, Heritage Foods USA has moved into the half lamb game. Purchasing half lamb from our farmers is the best, most cost-efficient way to enjoy these gastronomical masterpieces.

This year, we were fortunate enough to acquire four rare breeds from four family farms, spanning from Vermont to Montana.

Tunis – Sandstone Ridge Farm, Wisconsin:

Sandstone Ridge Tunis
Tunis Lamb from Sandstone Ridge

Having originated in North Africa, the Tunis is especially heat-tolerant and was the most popular breed of sheep in the Southern United States until the Civil War, when nearly all Tunis flocks were wiped out. Slowly but surely, through the efforts of farms like Sandstone Ridge, this breed is being brought back. The Tunis is an excellent grazer and produces meat that is flavorful, yet delicate.

When James and Lisa Twomey found their “piece of heaven” in La Farge, Wisconsin, the land was overgrown with weeds and shrubs. They decided sheep were the best animal to help them manage their pastures and settled on the Tunis, one of the oldest breeds the world. The Twomeys aren’t the only fans of the Tunis—both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson raised flocks of this personable, good-natured breed.

Dorset Horn – Tamarack Sheep Farm, Vermont:

Dorset Horned Sheep
Dorset Horned Sheep from Tamarack Sheep Farm

Nestled in the pastoral valleys of Central Vermont, Ben Machin and Grace Bowmer are continuing a family tradition by raising sheep from the same genetic line as the flock started by Ben’s great-grandfather. Tamarack Sheep Farm is committed to the preservation and continuation of heritage lamb breeds and is excited to work with Heritage Foods for the first time, offering their Tunis-Dorset Horn lambs for Easter.

Ben and Grace love these breeds, not just because of their history, but also because they possess qualities beneficial for both farmer and customer. The Tunis is a sweet-natured sheep with a docile personality. As a breed known for heavy milking, the Dorset Horn ewe makes a particularly good mother, raising sturdy lambs with good appetites. Crossing these breeds ensures vigorous lambs that produce excellent quality meat.

With fewer than 1,000 registered in existence in The U.S. and less than 5,000 globally, the Dorset Horned lamb is on the ALBC’s Threatened list. Thought to have descended from an ancient breed native to southwestern England, Dorset Horned sheep boast a milky, almost airy meat that is incredibly tender and delicately flavored.

Katahdin – Clover Creek Farm, Tennessee: 

Katahdin Lamb

The Katahdin is a meat breed, not a wool breed. As a result, it tastes delicious. The Katahdin sheep is the product of innovative thinking on behalf of a farmer named Michael Piel. In the 1950’s, Piel brought three sheep from St. Croix to his farm in Maine. He crossed these “African Hair Sheep,” as they were known, with his own flock of “Down” breeds (more typical wooly meat sheep found in New England), producing a lamb he called “Katahdin” after the highest mountain in Maine. The Katahdin does not need to be sheared and produces a well-muscled, lean but meaty carcass.

It is for these reasons that Chris Wilson has been raising Katahdin sheep on her farm in Tennessee for more than 18 years. Following the motto “farming in harmony with nature,” Chris raises Animal Welfare Approved sheep using rotational grazing methods. In 1999 Chris was named Conservation Farmer of the Year. The Katahdin lamb has delicious, succulent meat with nutty, full flavor.

 

 

Icelandic – Willow Spring Ranch, Montana:

Icelandic Lamb
Gremlin and Tiramisu, two of the Icelandic Lambs from Willow Spring Ranch

Brought across the North Atlantic Ocean by the Vikings, Icelandic sheep were able to survive the harsh conditions thanks to their double- coated fleece and natural inclination to forage on pasture. Katy and Richard Harjes choose to raise Icelandics on their ranch in Montana for these reasons.

Founded in 2009 by Katy and Richard Harjes, Willow Spring Ranch is grass-fed certified by the American Grass-fed Association. The Harjes use organic, humane practices and raise their Icelandic lambs on a 100% grass diet, as soon as they are weaned.

Icelandic sheep are a true triple-threat, known for their creamy milk, luxurious wool, and fine-grained, clean-tasting meat. In fact, Icelandic meat is mild enough that it has been known to convert self-proclaimed “lamb-a-phobes.”

This year’s heritage lamb project was a huge success. Eighty lambs were sold in total, thirty-eight of which were purchased within the first week. In fact, we sold all of our Tunis sheep within the first week! As always, we’d like to thank those who were able to participate in our project and helped in making it a huge success. Your support allows our farmers to continue breeding and raising new lambs, and ensures the preservation of heritage breeds for years to come.

I Am a Pig.

Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig
Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig from Lazy S Farms

There are about 900 million of my kind in the world. Wherever I have ever existed, humans have done well. My domestic brethren are fertile year round and offer a reliable source of food. I was the primary source of meat for middle Stone Age peoples. Cro-Magnons drew pictures of my kind on the walls of Altamira over 30,000 years ago.

I am closer in intelligence and trainability to a dog than any other livestock. My snout is a sensitive tool for exploring and smelling. My kind are meant to scavenge and forage. I love to root. In the past, I prepared land for crops and I cleared forested land. I am industrious. I helped humans build resistance to diseases like influenza, flu and pertussis.

Lard from my back fed Roman armies and was a principle source of protein for troops in The Revolutionary War. My lard makes soap, candles, and is used for cooking. It has been said that my bacon is the olive oil of the Americas. I was brought here by Vikings, Columbus, Cortes, and de Soto. Just like the humans, I settled in Jamestown. The Pilgrims brought me to Massachusetts. I came to your shores from China, Russia, Africa and the Pacific. I used to roam free on city streets keeping them clean. Cincinnati is known as Porkopolis and Chicago as the Hog Butcher to the World.

Today, factory farms have violated the sacred relationship we have developed with you over millennia. Of the 90 million of my kind in the U.S., almost every one is raised in crowded barns, removing any chance for our curiosity and intelligence to flourish. This has made us meaner to you and each other. I am fed food that is unfit for consumption.

Today most of my kind have weak genetics. We are pushed to grow too fast and yield unnaturally lean meat. Because of these living conditions, we develop new diseases and I now need medicine in my food. By stupidly relying on only two genetics, my rich diversity is risking extinction. You decrease the chance that my kind can ever again become the strong, proud animal it once was.

But there is hope. Hope flickers on family farms that dot the surroundings of your farmers markets and in places like Kansas and Missouri where rare and heritage breed associations honor us. Companies like Heritage Foods USA actively maintain our strongest claim to a secure future. All Pigs vote for Heritage Foods USA, its farmers, and its processors. Won’t you?

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