As a result of The Livestock Conservancy’s work, the last few years have seen many breeds become much more secure. Unfortunately, some breeds have also fallen in their relative levels of security. Most breeds remain in their previous level despite an upward trend in the census for many breeds. Their static classification is only because they have not yet bumped up against the numbers required to graduate to the next category.
- Some changes to the list are more in the sense of definition than anything else. “Red Devon” replaces “Devon (beef)” because this is more consistent with the label that is used by the breed association. In a similar vein, footnotes have been adjusted for Colonial Spanish horses to reflect the changes in situations for some of the various strains of this breed. Likewise, the “Belgian horse” footnote now reflects that this includes the Brabant (European) type of this breed alongside the American offshoot. Until about 1940 the Brabant and American Belgian were essentially the same horse. After World War II the European breeders began to produce a thickerbodied horse with feathered legs. At the same time, the American Belgian breeders were favoring a tall, lighter, clean-legged horse.
- The Irish Draught horse moves down from Watch to Threatened. This is due to falling registration numbers both in the Irish homeland of the breed as well as here in the United States. This breed faces the unique challenge that crossbred foals bring more financial return than purebred ones, so that purebred breeding stock recruitment is declining. Creative measures are needed to counter this trend for what has been a historically important source of sport horses.
- The American Mammoth Jack moves from Threatened to Critical. This breed faces a host of challenges, among them that its purpose is to produce males for crossbreeding so numbers are always on the low side. Renewed interest in the breed and documentation of breeding stock are positive indicators for the future security of this breed.
- Tamworth swine move from Threatened to Watch. This is due to rising registration numbers, but many breeders express caution that the old traditional type of this breed is slowly succumbing to a more modern industrial-and-show-type that may well not be as pure and distinctive as the original hog so highly valued for grazing.
- Sheep breeds have seen the Leicester Longwool move from Critical to Threatened, although this breed still faces international challenges in overall numbers and genetic diversity. The breed is also being monitored because the breed population structure has tended to lose bloodlines over the decades. Poultry present a number of challenges for conservation and for assessing census data. Among the challenges are breed definition, the role of varieties within breeds, and the relative purity of the various flocks within a breed (see “‘Breeds’ – Livestock and Poultry,” Livestock Conservancy News, Summer 2013). The breed standards maintained by the American Poultry Association (APA) are key to definitions of breed and variety; however, breeding philosophies vary between exhibitors, producers, hatcheries, and advocates such as breed clubs and the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPPA). These all serve conservation well, but the differences in philosophy need to be bridged in a constructive way that advances endangered breeds.
Turkey numbers are perplexing for a number of reasons. The initial years following the Livestock Conservancy’s promotion of Heritage Turkeys for special occasions sparked an increase in the numbers of breeding birds, and indeed likely saved some varieties from extinction. Since that early success, though, numbers have generally stabilized and are changing minimally from year to year. This means there are still real threats to the survival of some turkey varieties.
Turkeys, as all poultry, present an interesting challenge in definitions and approaches to deciding on populations of conservation interest. The approaches are all flawed, because the varieties of turkeys are generally based on feather color, and this is controlled by so few genes that it is possible to quickly regenerate a color variety that has been lost. Buried under that superficial level, though, are several old, distinct and interesting populations that are tough to define and then to target. Among these are old strains of varieties, such as Wishard Bronze turkeys, that have a long history of isolation and would be considered distinct breeds in any other species. How to construct a net that catches that sort of population while avoiding a distinct identity for recently crossed ones has so far eluded success.
- A practical solution has been to individually list the varieties that are recognized by the APA, as a nod to their long-standing acceptance as distinct varieties. In addition, this captures the Royal Palm and the Beltsville Small White, both of which are distinct from the other varieties by being markedly smaller. This reflects genetic differences. Most other color varieties (except the Midget White) are of similar final size, and as breeders delve into new genetic combinations the array of distinct and identifiable color varieties has increased dramatically. While these are each useful and interesting, listing them all would imply larger genetic differences among them than likely exist.
- Two of the APA varieties of turkeys have slipped a category, with Black and Royal Palm both dropping from Watch to Threatened. Moving in the opposite direction, from Threatened to Watch is the Narragansett. While stability may imply success, all turkeys are in a fairly precarious state, especially given the need for sizeable populations to make progress in selection for productivity.
- Ducks have fewer problems with definitions of breeds, but the last year has seen several breeds move in one direction or another. Ducks, in general, have seen gains across the board with no associated losses in status or numbers, and hopefully this trend continues. Ducks that have gained ground include Ancona and Welsh Harlequin, both making the big leap from Critical to Watch. Cayuga made the smaller jump from Threatened to Watch. A more modest move from Critical to Threatened was accomplished by Magpie, Saxony, and Silver Appleyard. The Dutch Hookbill, a more recent import, has satisfied the criteria for an initial listing. This breed is Critical due to its limited occurrence both here and in Europe.
- Geese likewise saw only gains and not losses. The American Buff moves from Critical to Watch, and the Pilgrim and Pomeranian move from Critical to Threatened. In a minor name change, “Toulouse (Dewlap)” replaces “Toulouse (non-industrial).” This reflects the fact that it is the heavy exhibition bird that is most of interest in this breed.
- Chicken breeds present the most challenges in organization and classification, not least because there are so many of them! Chickens as a whole have become increasingly popular for both production and as pets, and this has led to heightened demand for a number of breeds. Two breeds have managed to graduate from the list altogether: Orpingtons with nearly 16,000 breeding birds, and Wyandottes with over 21,000 breeding birds. These dual-purpose breeds benefit from the popularity of small flocks. Their easygoing nature, particularly for Orpingtons, make them favorites. While not a full graduation, both the Brahma and Cochin managed to join the ranks of Recovering breeds due to greater numbers.
- To offset the graduations are a few breeds that have been added to the list. Some of these reflect a recent trend of importation of new breeds into the United States from a host of countries. In most cases, these are not yet recognized by the APA. Listing them may seem at variance with the strategy outlined for turkeys, but when non-APA breeds are old, established breeds in their home countries, The Livestock Conservancy has opted to incorporate them into our Priority List. As a result, the Icelandic and Spitzhauben chickens join the list as Threatened.
- Other more established breeds have moved around in various ways. The positive moves include several breeds that moved from Threatened to Watch: Andalusian, Buckeye, Buttercup, Delaware, Dorking, Java, Langshan, and Phoenix. The Buckeye, especially, has benefitted from a targeted program of breed recovery, management, and bird selection that is now being used across other breeds in hopes of achieving similar success in recapturing historically productive types.
- Jumping all the way from Critical to Watch are the Chantecler and Sumatra. Making the less dramatic jump from Critical to Threatened is the Russian Orloff.
- Losing ground by moving from Recovering to Watch is the Rhode Island Red. This move acknowledges the complexity of chicken breeds, because this breed includes many birds that are not bred to the standard. Equally, many birds promoted as being this breed are likely not purebred. The task of sorting through these issues is important for this useful breed, and will serve as a model for other similar breeds in the future. Moving from Watch to Threatened are the Aseel, Houdan, Old English Game, Rhode Island White, and Sebright. Making more troubling moves to Critical are the La Fleche (from Watch), and Malay (from Threatened).
The CPL changes year to year, and this year has seen more than a few changes. Most of these have been within poultry breeds. This reflects the recent census that has shed light on the plight of many of these breeds. The short life-span and changing demand for these birds makes census a challenge, and that in turn makes the setting of priorities a difficult exercise. In the coming year we hope that additional breeders will weigh in and provide their own census figures to make sure the breeds are accurately placed on the Conservation Priority List.
2016 Status Changes
Sheep: Leicester Longwool
Ducks: Ancona, Welsh Harlequin, Cayuga, Magpie, Saxony, Silver Appleyard
Geese: American Buff, Pilgrim, Pomeranian
Chickens: Brahma, Cochin, Andalusian, Buckeye, Buttercup, Delaware, Dorking,
Java, Langshan, Phoenix, Chantecler, Sumatra, Russian Orloff
Horses: Irish Draught
Donkeys: American Mammoth Jackstock
Turkeys: Black, Royal Palm
Chickens: Rhode Island Red, Aseel, Houdan, Old English Game, Rhode Island White, Sebright, La Fleche, Malay
Ducks: Dutch Hookbill
Chickens: Spitzhauben, Icelandic
Chickens: Orpington, Wyandotte