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Colonial Williamsburg's Rare Breeds Program complements Living History Interpretation

Colonial Williamsburg's Rare Breeds program was begun in 1986 to preserve genetic diversity in livestock. Some of the selected breeds represent animals that could have been present in Williamsburg during the 18th century according to historical research. The program complements Colonial Williamsburg's living history interpretation by portraying another aspect of daily life in colonial Virginia.

Rare is defined as having fewer than 1,000 animals registered annually in North America. The breeds in the foundation's program – the Leicester Longwool sheep, American Cream Draft horses and America Milking Red Devons – have fewer than 200 animals registered annually in North America.

Animals in the Rare Breeds program

  • Leicester Longwool Sheep

    Leicester Longwool Sheep

    A long, healthy, lustrous coat which falls in ringlets, ease of feeding, valuable meat supply and quick maturation are the sheep's breed traits. Leicester (pronounced "lester") Longwools originated in Britain and were used as a pioneer breed. Their use extended to America, Australia, New Zealand and other colonies settled by the Crown. Today they are quite rare in Britain and North America, but they can still be imported from Australia. Their wool is sold to hand spinners, weavers, felters and dollmakers for hair and beards. The original herd of Colonial Williamsburg's Leicester Longwool sheep came from Tasmania, but now the sheep are bred here.

  • American Cream Draft Horses

    American Cream Draft Horses

    The only modern breed in the program also is the rarest – just over 500 still exist in North America. American Cream Draft horses are the only breed of draft horse originating from the United States and are now bred here. Breed characteristics include a medium cream-colored coat, pink skin, amber eyes, long, white mane and tail and white markings. These horses mature late at five years old and have an excellent temperament. Mares stand from 15 to 16 hands and weigh 1,500 to 1,600 pounds. Males stand 16 to 16.3 hands and weigh 1,800 pounds and up. American Creams pull wagons and carriages throughout Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area.

  • Canadian Horses

    Canadian Horses

    Colonial Williamsburg's most recent addition to the Rare Breeds program, Canadian horses were developed from horses sent from France to Quebec between 1665 and 1670. They stand 14 to 16 hands. Mares weigh 900 to 1,300 pounds and males weigh 1,000 to 1,400 pounds. Canadians were used for farm work, transport, riding and racing. Canadian horses are solid and well-muscled with a well-arched neck set high on a long, sloping shoulder. Canadians are primarily black or reddish brown with full manes and tails. They are energetic without being nervous and are adaptable for a variety of riding and driving disciplines. Originally imported from Canada, Canadian horses now are bred in Colonial Williamsburg.

  • American Milking Red Devons

    American Milking Red Devons

    Diversity is the trademark of this breed. Their milk contains a high butterfat content – prized in the 18th century for butter and cheese production. They also give quality meat, are very intelligent and are good work animals that are easy to feed and fatten well with minimum supplements. Their milk is used in the Historic Area Foodways program. Descended from the Red Devon breed native to Devonshire, England, American Milking Devons now are bred here.

  • Oxen

    Milking Shorthorn and Randall Oxen

    Trucks, tractors and bulldozers of the 18th century; oxen are cattle trained to work. In Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, guests will see Milking Shorthorns, Randalls, and a Devon/Lineback cross. Milking Shorthorns originated in England, can be red or white, and are used for milk, meat, and work. Randalls were bred in a closed herd by a Vermont family of the same name for 80 years. They are also called linebacks, due to the white line that runs down their backs. The breeds are rare, classified as a watch breed and a critical breed, respectively. Oxen Emmitt, Rusty, Red, Duke, Dan and Bart can be found working in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area and at Great Hopes Plantation.

  • Dorking Chicken

    Dorking Chickens

    This silver or dark poultry breed is distinguished by its five toes. They are large, broad-breasted poultry with an abundance of hackle feathers and are well suited to the outdoors due to the ability to forage.

    Dominique Chickens

    The Dominique chicken is one of the first breeds of chickens developed in the United States. They are small to medium in size with a very hardy constitution. Their heavy plumage protects the poultry from low winter temperatures.

    Hamburg Chickens

    Common characteristics of Hamburg chickens include the ability to forage widely and produce large quantities of eggs. Small in stature, Hamburg chickens are known for their slender legs, neat, red combs and symmetrical form. Colonial Williamsburg breeds the silver spangled variety of the Hamburg chicken.

    English Game Fowl

    These chickens were originally bred for cock fighting. Distinguished by their strength, agility and aggression, English game fowl never became popular as utility fowl after cock fighting was banned. However, English game fowl produce high quality meat and eggs. Eggs from the poultry in the Rare Breeds program are used in the Historic Area Foodways program.

The Rare Breeds program is recognized by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) for "its outstanding historical, agricultural interpretation. Colonial Williamsburg is a pioneer in the field of not only showing the animals, but in conservancy and breeding."

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