Native Breeds Can Help Create a Sustainable Livestock Industry

UK - Native breeds have a role to play in a sustainable livestock industry, according to speakers at a conference organised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust at the University of Nottingham yesterday, 16 April. Senior editor, Jackie Linden, reports.
calendar icon 17 April 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

According to long-time supporter of rare breeds in the UK, Tim Brigstocke of Dr Tim Brigstocke Associates, by 2030, livestock systems in UK agriculture will have differentiated into one of three types. The first of these - accounting for the majority of the volume of animal products - is the high-output type, achieving high levels of technical and environmental efficiency with good welfare and animal health. The other two system types offer good opportunities for native animal breeds; one a low-input, moderate output extensive grazing systems for ruminants and the other based on niche products such as organic products, rare breeds and Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

Speaking at a conference organised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) to mark the 40th anniversary of its founding in 1973, Mr Brigstocke identified some of the challenges currently faced by UK producers. In the absence of a national plan for agriculture, farmers do not know what is expected of them nd have therefore mainly focused on producing at low cost and with higher efficiency despite the general climate of increasing regulation, which has tended to reduce competitiveness.

The result was a growing trend towards high-input, high output systems, which can be dangerous, he said, because such systems are less able to adapt to changing conditions. This resulted in the dominance of the black-and-white Friesian/Holstein dairy breeds and European beef breeds among cattle in the UK, he said.

There are now 235 native breeds of farm livestock and horses in the UK and, since the RBST was founded in 1973, none has become extinct. Indeed, many breeds have recovered in numbers and are no longer under threat. Mr Brigstocke highlighted the resurgence of the Jersey and Dairy Shorthorns among the dairy types and the Aberdeen Angus and Beef Shorthorns among meat breeds. The growing strength of the Angus breeds he attributed to the fact that all the nation's leading retailers now have schemes of Aberdeen Angus-sired beef.

From the sheep world, Mr Brigstocke cited the success of the Lleyn breed from North Wales, which was under threat 30 years ago but numbers have recovered due to its desirable traits of being hardy and easy to manage.

While numbers of some previously rare breeds are recovering, there are some surprises among the list of threatened genotypes including the Large White pig. This serves to illustrate that breeds may move in and out of fashion, said Mr Brigstocke.

Speaking at the same session, the Farm Operation Manager for supermarket chain, Wm Morrisons Supermarkets PLC. explained why his company is investing in British native breeds.

Andrew Loftus explained that Morrisons launched a major new beef supply initiative through its wholly owned abattoir subsidiary, Woodhead Brothers. Since September 2011, the Morrisons Traditional Beef Scheme has been sourcing 350 British native cattle every week - 28,000 per year - in return for a special premium. This amounts to £0.10 per kg over the base price for all native beef breeds and their crosses, while Beef Shorthorns and their crosses receive an additional £0.20 per kg or up to £76 per head.

More recently, Mr Loftus said, Morrisons has started working with RBST to help conserve critically rare Whitebred Shorthorns, at the instigation of HRH Prince of Wales.

Another paper in this session reviewed the available research comparing the performance and meat quality of ruminants kept under extensive and intensive rearing methods. The review, by Jonathan Noades of RBST, revealed the paucity of research carried out on these aspects, particularly for animals on extensive systems, while confirming that differences have been noted between grazed livestock and those kept intensively and fed concentrates.

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