Founded in 1986, Colonial Williamsburg’s Rare Breeds program helps promote genetic diversity in livestock that research shows thrived in 18th-century colonial British America. Cared for by the Coach & Livestock department, horses, oxen, sheep, and fowl contribute to the living history museum in many of the same ways they would have contributed to the colonial capital: as workhorses and oxen pulling carts, wagons, and carriages; and providing wool, eggs, milk, and manure for trades throughout the city. While these animals complement our living history by day, portraying another aspect of daily life in colonial Virginia, they are cared for with the latest in modern technology, medicine, and facilities.
The Coach & Livestock team acquires, husbands, and preserves these rare breeds that were common in the 18th century but now are threatened or endangered. Rare is specifically defined as having fewer than 1,000 animals registered annually in North America. The Foundation's menagerie of animals contributes to the preservation of breeds including the Leicester Longwool sheep, Cleveland Bay horses, and America Milking Red Devons, which have fewer than 200 animals registered annually in North America.