Coronavirus: Fears over set-back for rare livestock conservation

Farmers have been told to keep registering rare breeds despite the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on summer shows and sales
Farmers have been told to keep registering rare breeds despite the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on summer shows and sales

A charity has warned of a possible set-back for the conservation of rare livestock if animal registrations are overlooked this year as a result of the pandemic.

Concerns have been raised that some keepers will overlook registrations as shows and events continue to be cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

Summer is usually a popular time for registering native animals with breed societies, as some breeds need to be registered to qualify for livestock showing classes.

According to the charity Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), registration of animals was 'crucial' for rare breed conservation.

RBST chief executive, Christopher Price said: "Every registration helps to give us a more accurate picture of the status of each rare breed, allowing us to analyse trends such as increases or decreases in numbers, and geographic distribution.

"These analyses inform our conservation objectives, decisions on the capture of genetic material, programmes to prevent inbreeding, and support for keepers’ commercial avenues."

Mr Price said some breeds must be registered within a certain timeframe so a delay can mean missing the boat.

Registered animals are recorded in the relevant flock book, herd book or stud book, and some receive certificates.

Progeny of unregistered animals cannot be registered, so one missed registration can interrupt a bloodline that has survived for generations.

Mr Price said: “For everyone involved with rare breeds, a longer term ambition should be that consumers come to value the proof of authenticity of buying produce from registered rare breed animals.

"Now that more and more producers are selling meat and wool directly to consumers, we have an opportunity to highlight that registration demonstrates an animal truly has the breed’s unique qualities.”

Many breeds allow online registration through the Grassroots system, and once registered those animals can be flagged as ‘available for sale’. Paper application can also be sent direct to the relevant breed society.

Grassroots is soon to launch a new-look online registry and a linked mobile app for both Apple and Android phones to make it easier to manage pedigree records, from grazing groups and birth information to shearing dates and applying for registration.

Other breeds allow online registration through the Cloudlines platform, which allows for the recording of pedigree data from all breeds of livestock, including poultry.

The platform has additional capabilities including interactive pedigree maps, the generation of genetic information regarding breed populations, stud-selector tool and automated exports of data to population analysis platforms.

Marcus Bates, chief executive of the British Pig Association said Herdbook registration and pedigree breeding were the 'foundations' of rare breed conservation.

"Without pedigree breeders diligently registering their pigs many of our native breeds would now be extinct."

He noted that the Lincolnshire Curly Coat was the last British pig breed to be lost in the 1970’s.

"Since then a small group of dedicated breeders have ensured that no more of our wonderful native pig breeds have been lost," Mr Bates added.

"When you herdbook register your pigs you are joining one of the longest running and most successful conservation projects and ensuring that our native breeds are passed on to the next generation.”