By C.R. Couch, D. P. Sponenberg, T. Coucher, A. Martin and J. Beranger
Critical … Threatened… Watch… Recovering… Graduation!
The Livestock Conservancy determines its conservation priorities based upon a breed’s annual number of registrations in the United States and its estimated global population size. This Conservation Priority List helps the Conservancy to target conservation efforts for more than 150 endangered livestock breeds.
A breed is no longer in need of continuous monitoring if annual registrations exceed 5,000, or if global numbers are greater than 25,000. Having a breed hit these benchmarks is always an occasion for celebration, because it means that the dedication and hard work of breeders have paid huge dividends.
This year, Highland cattle became numerous enough to graduate from the Conservation Priority List! In numbers, this means that there are more than 1,000 annual registrations in the United States and more than 25,000 animals globally. These cattle, native to the Scottish highlands, are especially popular in the northern tier of the United States and in Scandinavian countries. Their dramatic shaggy coats and long horns make them a true conversation starter for agritourism operations. This breed has become an international resource for beef production in marginal landscapes. Another important use is conservation grazing. Highland cattle have always had a great reputation for being rugged producers of high-quality beef and they have now found a secure niche as productive partners in effective range management throughout the globe. The breed has benefited greatly from effective promotion and registration by the breed associations.
Florida Cracker cattle moved up in numbers from the Critical list to the Threatened category, thanks to careful management by the breed association and an appreciation of their long history by the state of Florida. Florida Cracker cattle are descended from Spanish cattle that were brought to the Americas in the 16th century. These hardy animals are small, long-lived and are well-adapted to the hot climates of the Deep South.
Belted Galloway cattle originated in southwestern Scotland and have distinctive wide white mid-sections, or “belts,” that contrast with their furry black bodies. Their coat is well-suited for the animals’ survival in cooler climates, and these hardy animals produce excellent beef. “Belties” are relatively popular as an addition to mixed herds, but registrations of purebreds have fallen, and this breed moved down on the 2019 Conservation Priority List from Recovering to Watch. Only about 1,600 cattle were registered in the United States in 2017. Global population figures also support the move to the Watch category.
St. Croix sheep moved up from the Threatened category to Watch. To make the move to the Watch category, the breed must have more 1,000 annual registrations in the United States and an estimated global population of more than 5,000. This breed of Caribbean sheep grows a hairy coat that they can shed each year, rather than a wooly one that needs to be shorn. They are also fairly small in stature. These traits make them quite heat tolerant, although they can thrive in many climates.
Hereford hogs are on the move, stepping up to the Recovering category from the Watch list. The Recovering category contains breeds that have exceeded the Watch list in numbers but remain in need of monitoring. The Recovering category requires a global population size of greater than 10,000 animals. Hereford hogs are beautiful red and white animals, named for the similarly colored Hereford cattle. They do well in pastured settings as well as in confinement. The show ring has influenced this breed, so we will be keeping an eye on traditional bloodlines of Hereford hogs to ensure the continued contribution of these valuable genetics.
New to the Conservation Priority List this year is the Highland Pony. With fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and a global population of less than 2,000 ponies, this native of Scotland has been placed into The Livestock Conservancy’s Critical category. The breed is also considered Vulnerable in the United Kingdom by Rare Breeds Survival Trust. At least eight bloodlines can be found in the United States, making our population of Highland ponies important for global conservation of the breed.
Every animal needs a job, whether for sport, fiber, meat, milk—or even conservation grazing! Giving breeds a purpose, and careful management and promotion by active, engaged breed associations, are the keys to successful conservation efforts for rare and endangered livestock.
Horses: Highland Pony
Cattle: Belted Galloway