I like my chicken rare, please

Did you know that you can save animals by eating them?

This is the slogan of the conservationists working to preserve old breeds of livestock and poultry. During the last century, a few breeds of animals were chosen to be the basis of the animal products supply chain in the USA. Certain breeds were chosen for good reasons, such as the high milk production of Holstein cows, or the efficient-feed-to-egg conversion of white leghorn chickens, or the low-fat content in Hampshire pigs.

However, what this meant was that many breeds with other good qualities, such as the ability to forage in semi-wild conditions or disease resistance or long lifespan, were raised by fewer farmers, and gradually slid into extinction.

Conservationists and zoos raised the alarm, and began to save what they could. These breeds we now call heritage breeds.

The Sedgwick County Zoo has one of the larger collections of heritage livestock breeds in the USA. There, in the ?children?s farms? exhibit, one can see White Park cattle, a Cream Draft horse, Arapawa Island goats, American Guinea hogs, a Poitou donkey and Ankole-Watusi cattle with enormous horns.

I also have a miniature version of such a collection at my house. I raise American Guinea hogs, a heritage breed of pig famous for its lard content and ability to forage on rough pastures.

As a member of the American Guinea Hog Association, I get to vote on how the breed registry is run, and what kind of pigs can be called ?American Guinea Hogs.?

Recently, there was a big argument in the association about whether to allow mating between siblings and mating between a mother and her offspring. I know this sounds offensive to most of us. Our species has all sorts of incest taboos. But inbreeding in livestock can enhance some good traits.

The board voted one way on the issue, but then the vote was thrown out due to an incorrect procedure, and members like me were allowed to vote instead. I voted ?yes? to inbreeding, as long as the worst offspring of such matches would be culled (a euphemism for selectively killing some individuals in a herd).

Two weeks ago I was perusing the menu at The Anchor in Wichita. I saw Red Wattle Hog burger on the menu, so I ordered it. Red Wattle hogs are a heritage breed named for the odd fleshy appendages that hang from their necks. These appendages have no known function.

The hogs were feral in Texas for about a century prior to re-domestication in the late 1900s. The individual I tasted was delicious. Internet sources compare the flavor to beef.

I also have Spanish chickens and Sumatra chickens running through my yard. Some years I separate the breeds and produce pure-bred chicks. Other years I simply let them run together and mate. I usually just eat those eggs, rather than hatching them.

As I fry the eggs, I think about the lost potential of the embryos I am about to eat, and the great gamble represented by sexual reproduction. If you buy your eggs in the store, you don?t need to worry about killing chicken embryos. Most of these commercial eggs are laid by virgin hens confined to a cage. The eggs are still haploid.

Karrie Rathbone hatched Golden Sebright chicks in the Tabor College science building this semester. She is willing to hatch more chicks of this heritage breed if you are interested.

I am also looking for good homes for all my animals, as I will be moving to Califor?nia this summer to start a faculty position at Fresno Pacific University. Stop by my house in Canada (Kan.), and make an offer on some heritage critters?Arapawa Island goat, hogs, chickens, geese, ducks.

Andrew Sensenig is assistant professor of biology at Tabor College. You can email him at andrews.tabor.edu.