By C.R. Couch, D.P. Sponenberg, J. Beranger, A. Martin and T. Coucher
The Livestock Conservancy has made several changes to the Conservation Priority List (CPL) in 2018. Many breeds of livestock, including rabbits, cattle and poultry remained at their previous conservation priority levels.
The greatest number of changes are among horses. The Conservancy completed a comprehensive equine census during preparation for the recent Endangered Equine Summit. With an international decline in horse populations in the last decade, heritage horses and donkeys have been especially hard hit and many breeds are less secure than in previous years. A new national initiative for equine conservation launched this year, the Endangered Equine Alliance, promises positive change for rare equines.
The Dartmoor, Exmoor, and Fell Pony moved from Watch to the Critical category based on global population numbers of less than 2,000 horses per breed. The Mountain Pleasure / Rocky Mountain and Gotland moved from Watch to Threatened. The Mountain and Moorland ponies and other small breeds such as Gotland are strong animals and easy keepers, well suited to work on small acreages. On a positive note, the Shire was moved from Critical to Threatened as the global population estimate is now greater than 2,000. The United States has at least half of the world’s Shire horses, and in addition to their traditional uses, Shire horses are finding popularity as mounts for jousting and Renaissance tournaments.
Wiltshire Horn sheep are few in numbers in the United States, and the global population has fallen below 10,000. They moved from Recovering to the Watch category.
The Romeldale/CVM, on the other hand, moved up to Threatened from the Critical list, likely due to good promotion of the breed. These sheep are productive and appear likely to maintain their upward population trajectory.
Cattle remain unchanged, despite several breeds being very well suited as family cows and for grass-fed beef and dairy operations. One such multi-purpose breed, the Milking Shorthorn, has a new name: Heritage Shorthorn (Native). This new name more accurately reflects the breed’s history in the United States and its value for meat, milk, and draft purposes. Heritage Shorthorns are registered by the American Milking Shorthorn Society where they are designated in the registry as Native.
One new addition to the 2018 CPL is the Meishan pig, now listed under Critical. The Meishan pig comes from an area in China where swine have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. As such, it may be one of the oldest and most unique Heritage breeds in the swine family. There may be at least 2,000 years of genetic separation between Meishan and European pigs. International numbers are relevant to conservation status, and a resource with Huazhong School of Animal Sciences reports that there are only 1,200 verifiable pure (Middle) Meishans left on conservation breeding farms in China. Ninety-nine Meishans were imported into the United States in 1989 and divided among three research facilities for study of their large litter sizes and early maturation. The pigs have since been dispersed, and the current U.S. herd consists of pigs descended from these three bloodlines.
Reporting from individual breed registries has been crucial to this year’s changes to the CPL. Good communication with breed associations and improved international consistency in “counting our critters” should make 2018 a positive year for livestock and poultry breed conservation.
Cattle: Heritage Shorthorn (Native)