By Tom VanDusen
AgriNews Staff Writer
Fresh from its annual general meeting held early in April at Milton, Rare Breeds Canada has released its revised Rare Breeds Priority List for livestock featuring many familiar faces.
The breeds are rated under "critical", "endangered", "vulnerable", "at risk" and "recovering" categories. The revised list for poultry will be released shortly, said Tom Hutchinson who helps staff the RBC national office at Trent University.
On the updated critical livestock list are such breeds as Kerry cattle, the Bashkir Curly pony, the English Large Black pig, and the Border Cheviot sheep.
"Some things have changed, but much has remained the same," Hutchinson reported in the RBC's current Genesis newsletter, explaining it's the first official priority list update in two years. Data has improved thanks to Canadian Livestock Records Corporation files on purebred registrations dating back to 1917, and to increased cooperation from breed societies.
The RBC's focus remains on the low numbers of Canadian heritage breeds dating back to 1750, Hutchinson emphasized: "We are especially concerned about those few breeds which originated in Canada such as the Chantecler chicken, the Canadienne cow, Canadian horse, Lacombe pig, the Newfoundland pony and Newfoundland sheep."
To provide perspective, the RBC newsletter also features the most recent lists from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the U. K. and from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Evaluated according to heritage and numbers, the priority list for the three countries is an "invaluable tool" for focusing on what most needs to be done and how cooperation can help, Hutchinson said.
"It's interesting to note that because of the British origins of many of our Canadian heritage breeds, and similar imports to the U.S., that in all three countries many of the same breeds are now rare or at high risk."
For example, Hutchinson observed, White Park, Kerry and Red Poll cattle are in low numbers in all three countries. Guernseys and Galloways are declining in Canada and the U.S. while the three countries report a strong recovery of Highland cattle. Also on the good news front in this country, the fabled Canadian horse is on the upswing as are Berkshire pigs and Shetland sheep.
Meanwhile, a group of ponies have become internationally rare, notably the Exmoor, Dale, and Fell breeds, along with Shire, Suffolk Punch, and Clydesdale draught horses, and the Cleveland Bay horse. The status of the Hackey is causing concern in both Canada and the U.S.
"We hope to use this new information in a widespread educational program in Canada so the focus of concern with these breeds will be known extensively and be used as a springboard for their recovery," Hutchinson said. The ultimate goal is to make sure that from now on "no breed will ever again become extinct in Canada."
As part of its campaign, RBC has revitalized its crucial host farm program to spread the workload over several sets of members' shoulders instead of placing the entire load on one member.
For one coordinator, the program was an "onerous, time consuming and difficult job", said RBC chairman Ted Lawrence. The revised concept provides several coordinators, one for each animal group. They are: Brian Krick of Stoney Creek for cattle; Liz Mackenzie of l'Ange Guardien, Que., for horses and ponies; Marnie Cuff of Hanover for swine; Tom Hutchinson of Indian River for sheep; Montana Jones of Cannington for goats; and Dan Price-Jones of Madoc for poultry and waterfowl.
In addition, Lac La Croix specialist Jane Mullen of Grafton will look after animal registrations and records, while Jane Buckley of Ottawa will handle research and statistics.
"The concept is synonymous with RBC and has been with us from our inception," Lawrence, also of l'Ange Guardien, explained. "The concept is simple. However, it requires careful planning and record keeping, transportation of animals, farm evaluations and inspections to ensure a good match between host farmers and animals. This takes time and a tremendous amount of effort."
The model, he said, has been lauded by other organizations in North America and abroad: "We have recently even had requests from U.S. farmers to become hosts for RBC animals."
Under the grassroots program, RBC assembles small breeding groups of threatened animals and enters into contracts with host farmers to breed and care for them. In exchange, they're given offspring to build new host flocks which will eventually be moved on to new farms where the process is repeated.
"It provides farmers with a rare opportunity to make a connection with minority breeds and become their champions. Birthing, rearing and caring for the animals creates an important bond and fosters an understanding about the unique qualities of rare breeds."
Lawrence added that many minority breeds are well suited to small farm holdings and that they must become commercially viable and profitable to build the incentive to keep them.