USPS Honors Heritage Breeds
Ten Livestock Species Get Their Pictures on Stamps
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The next time you mail a letter, you can support heritage breeds by stamping it with one of the Heritage Breed Stamps on sale at the post office and through the website starting May 17th. The 10 breeds honored include the Wyandotte chicken, Narragansett turkey, Cotton Patch goose, and Cayuga duck.
“When you put them on a white envelope, they look like a little framed piece of art,” said graphic designer Zack Bryant, who designed the stamps. “It’s like a goat looking back over to the return address. I’m really excited about it if even a handful of people have a lightbulb go off about heritage breeds.”
CSAC chooses the idea
The idea for the stamps came from Jody Jess of Buckhill Homestead Farm in Massachusetts. Back in 2014, she was chatting with John, a clerk at the Ashburnham post office, as she mailed material to the University of California at Davis, with whom she collaborates on data about her Kerry cattle. She asked, “Who designs stamps, anyway?” He told her about the United States Postal Service Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, https://about.usps.com/who/csac/, and got her the paperwork required to submit an idea.
She wanted to shine some light on heritage breeds and the breeders dedicated to keeping them.
“It’s important that these breeds get recognized,” she said in a recent interview. “Most people don’t know about the heritage livestock that is the foundation of our farms.”
Her friend Emily Aho helped her write the essay required in the application process. John was at the post office counter when she sent the application in.
In 2015, CSAC sent her a letter telling her that the idea had been accepted. At that point, it was out of her hands. They’d take it from there.
Designing the stamps
CSAC approached Journey Group, a design firm in Charlottesville, Virginia, that has designed other stamps. Art Director Greg Breeding asked staff designer Bryant to do some research and come up with initial sketches. A livestock keeper himself, the first thing that came to his mind was Modern Farmer magazine, which featured individual animal photos on its cover before it went fully digital. Aliza Eliazarov took those photos.
“I knew we had to find this person,” he said. “She came to mind immediately. She’s a wonderful woman, photographer, and artist. Had she not wanted to do it, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Ms. Eliazarov had spent 10 years taking photos of livestock, honing her techniques. Her book, On the Farm, includes over 150 photos. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/611731/on-the-farm-by-aliza-eliazarov/.
When the USPS Confidential email from Bryant popped up in her inbox, she thought it might be spam, someone stealing her mail at home in Brooklyn. She was in Nashville photographing the CMA Awards Festival at the time.
“I thought, I must be putting my hat in the ring for selection,” she said. “But they said, No, we are just asking you to do it. I was floored. It was literally my dream come true.”
That began what she described as “a wonderful collaboration.” They had to consider which animals, what the vibe was, what they wanted to communicate in these stamps, whether to have individual breeds or a larger stamp with a group shot.
“We felt this was a better way to celebrate different traits,” Bryant said. “Using the standpoint of retaining those lines, the genetics, shows that the breeds are really important.”
The Livestock Conservancy gets involved
CSAC contacted The Livestock Conservancy to advise them about which breeds to feature on the stamps. Technical Advisor Phil Sponenberg recommended North American breeds from the Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. They settled on the four poultry breeds and the American mammoth Jackstock donkey, San Clemente Island goat, Mulefoot hog, American Cream draft horse, Blackbelly sheep, and Milking Devon cow.
Ms. Jess, who also raises Irish Dexter cows, Gloucestershire Old Spot hogs, Muscovy ducks, and keeps Buff Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and one Buckeye chicken, didn’t expect her breeds to be chosen. Her interest was in getting recognition for the breeds and their breeders.
“It’s about all the breeds,” she said. “I knew my breed wouldn’t be chosen, but I thought it was important to direct attention to the issue. Once the genetics are gone, you don’t get it back. That’s what’s important. You cannot re-create the original.”
Other categories — Old World and New World breeds, African breeds, landraces, popular breeds, all chicken, goat, or horse breeds, mules — could be the subject of future stamps.
“Most people don’t know that there are breeds of chickens,” said Bryant. “These stamps invite people out of their rut.”
“The main focus was to make people aware of all kinds of heritage breeds,” said Ms. Jess.
Taking their pictures
Once the decision was made as to which breeds to include, photographer Eliazarov had to locate the animals and take their pictures. The techniques she had perfected over the years included setting up a temporary studio in the barn, stall, or garage, where she can control the light and isolate the animal against the backdrop.
She allows the animals time to get comfortable, gives them treats so that she can capture each one’s inner Cindy Crawford. They surprise their keepers when they rise to the occasion.
“Every farmer is speechless,” she said. “They will say, ‘She’s usually really shy.’ Some seem to say, ‘Make me famous.’ They work it.”
She has created a set of postcards from the photos for those who want more. They are available on her website. https://alizaeliazarov.com/
“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” she said. “It’s my happy place. There’s nothing I love more than photographing them. Small farmers are the best people in the world. It’s such a gift to travel to their farms, their generosity in sharing their farms, taking a day to share their animals with me. It’s a total honor and gift. I made so many friends. I love every single one of the animals and farmers.”
“She’s almost like a wildlife photographer, waiting for the animal to be ready,” Bryant said. “She catches just the right moment so that the individual personality comes through.”
Buy stamps at the post office and online
How popular the stamps are will influence whether CSAC develops future collections. This is a product like others.
“American consumers need to buy them,” said Bryant.
It took more than six years, but Ms. Jess is glad she suggested heritage breeds.
“I want people to know; these stamps honor all the breeders that do preservation of heritage breeds,” she said. “I know the work and cost that goes into trying to save a breed from extinction. It’s important work for the world’s food. This pandemic shows what one disease/virus can do.” My main focus was on making people aware of all kinds of heritage breeds.”
Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.