New stamps trace lineage to Chatham’s Livestock Conservatory

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A Chatham County-based organization went to Washington last week to celebrate a rare victory.

The Livestock Conservancy of Pittsboro joined with the U.S. Postal Service to mark the release of a sheet of 20 stamps showing endangered breeds of American farm animals on May 17.

It was a rare win for the North Carolina organization because the Postal Service receives more than 30,000 suggestions for new stamps every year.

Less than 100 typically win approval.

So the “first-day of issue” ceremony on the front lawn of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, represented the end of what Livestock Conservancy officials said was a struggle of at least six years to win approval for stamps that highlight 10 of the rarest and threatened American breeds.

Washington’s Potomac River manor was the ideal spot to highlight the danger to these animals, said Douglas Bradburn, president of Mount Vernon.

That’s because the first American president was also a devoted farmer and agricultural innovator, according to Bradburn.

Dr. Alison Martin, executive director of the Livestock Conservancy, and Jeanette Beranger, a senior program manager there, said Mount Vernon continues programs to preserve historic breeds of animals and welcomed their group and postal officials as the site for the outdoor ceremony.

It was the first such public stamp ceremony the Postal Service has staged in more than a year and it attracted scores of stamp and livestock collectors.

In remarks at the ceremony, the conservancy officials credited one of their members from New England with starting their campaign for the stamps.

The Livestock Conservancy has been located in Pittsboro since the 1980s. It has a staff of six based there, but only private individuals, not organizations, can nominate a subject for stamps

“One of our members, a Kerry cattle breeder named Jodi Jess, nominated the topic of Heritage Breeds about five years ago,” Beranger said. “And it was eventually picked and the decision was made to make a series of 10 stamps, and not just one stamp.”

Jess had walked into her post office in Ashburn, Massachusetts, to discover officials posting the list of new stamps. She asked then: “How do you get stamps?”

With that, she started the campaign. She soon found the Conservancy and its members were natural allies for stamps featuring what the conservancy calls “Heritage Breeds.”

The process from start to finish for creating a new stamp can last five years and it is all kept very secret until the new stamps are announced each November for the following year. And once the idea of the stamps had passed initial muster, conservancy officials were told they had to keep the Postal Service’s stamp plans secret as well.

The Postal Service announced the ceremony on April 16, saying they pay “homage to the priceless genetic diversity of heritage breeds … showcasing these unusual and culturally valuable animals.”

The conservancy lists about 150 breeds as potentially threatened. It enlisted the help of a Virginia Technology professor and scientific advisor to the conservancy to help narrow the list to 10 American breeds, which are featured on sheets of 20 “Forever” stamps.

One of the animals is a Mammoth Jackstock, a mule that Washington admired for its sturdy work on his Virginia plantation.

Washington was called “the father of the American mule” because of his advocacy of the animal, Bradburn noted. He had 63 of them at Mount Vernon, the official said.

Daniel Shippey, an actor appeared at the ceremony as Washington. He told the audience that one of Washington’s lesser-known accomplishments was signing legislation creating the country’s postal system.

Other featured animals are the Mulefoot hog, Wyandotte chicken, Milking Devon cow, Narragansett turkey, Cotton Patch goose, San Clemente Island goat, American Cream Draft horse, Cayuga duck and Barbados Blackbelly sheep.

Many of the animals were on display at the estate during the ceremony.

Beranger said a photographer was chosen to do the artwork and the Conservancy’s Scientific Advisor, Dr. Phil Sponenberg, was asked to choose which animals made the final cut. He focused in on breeds that are from North America.

“Once the announcement of the new stamps was made last fall by USPS, they reached out to our office to work on a launch event for the new stamps,” according to Beranger.

Mount Vernon was chosen because one of the stamps had the Mammoth Jackstock on it. This was a breed that was created and championed by George Washington. Mount Vernon is also well known for its collection of Heritage Breeds which includes the Milking Devon cow which is also depicted on a new stamp.

“We all thought it would be the perfect spot and it sure proved to be just that,” said Beranger, who was the master of ceremonies for the event. “We worked to bring live representatives of all the breeds on the stamps to the event.”

Speakers included Douglas Bradburn, president and CEO of Mount Vernon, Steven Monteith, executive vice president of the USPS, and Eliza Aliazarov, the photographer. Martin, the Conservancy’s executive director, closed the ceremony with her remarks.

The Heritage Breeds stamps are available for purchase at most post offices in Chatham County.

Bill McAllister is the Washington Correspondent for Linn’s Stamp News. He has covered the U.S. Postal Service since the 1970s when he was a national reporter for The Washington Post. He became a stamp collector and newspaper reporter while living in Pittsboro.

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