LAWRENCE ALDERSON has been a business management consultant and an internationally recognised authority on animal genetic resources and genetic conservation for more than 45 years

THIS PAGE:

 
-   Consultancy services
 -   New developments;
new concepts, new breeds, new business, diversification
 -   Breeds of special importance; locally-adapted, distinctive
 -   Breeds at Risk; rare, loss of diversity, geographically concentrated


 

I have worked both as a Director of Countrywide Livestock Ltd (CLL) and as a private consultant and I have wide and varied experience, including: 
~ leading EEC projects (European pig and ruminant studies)
~ conducting a review of the Danish conservation programme for AnGR                                  
~ chairing a panel reviewing endangered breeds for FAO 
~ developing technical and scientific programmes for RBST
~ conducting global surveys of livestock breeds for RBI
~ providing supervisory financial management of large estates in the Midlands and South of England.

CLL offers a wide range of services, but focuses primarily on programmes relating to animal breeding and genetics.


NEW DEVELOPMENTS                                                                                                


New concepts
The rapid pace of change seen in the British countryside during the past fifty years shows no sign of abating. The mid-twentieth century changes of mechanisation and rural depopulation in the context of maximising production, are matched by the current changes of agri-environmental schemes and production of biomass. However, we soon may see global food shortages turn the whole hierarchy of priorities on its head again - note how quickly the set-aside policy was revoked. In such circumstances there is a need not only for clear analysis of problems, but also for blue sky thinking. Are novel enterprises required? Are the breeds currently in popular demand adequate for purpose? How will global warming change policy and priorities? Recent policy statements from FAO and elsewhere place a heavy burden of blame for carbon emissions on the shoulders of livestock, but a study I carried out (published in RASE Journal and on website) demonstrates that non-intensive livestock grazing systems are net sequestrators of carbon.  

New business
It will be necessary to diversify outside the currently accepted range of farm enterprises in the future. This is not a new phenomenon. CLL has advocated  diversification for many years and offered it as a routine option for hard-pressed farmers. Thirty years ago farm parks and similar leisure/education centres appeared on British farms. Pony trekking realised the value of equine experience. Farm shops provided an alternative retail outlet to retain more profits inside the farm gate. That process continues. For example, vineyards were a common sight in Britain during the Roman occupation, and once again with global warming British wine is raising its profile. We work in association with viniculturists to provide specialist consultancy on vineyard creation, development and management.

Almost half the purchasers of agricultural land in Britain are lifestyle buyers, and a further smaller segment are corporate and institutional buyers. We provide livestock experience, combined with knowledge of management accounting, to support the injection of fresh ideas introduced by new entrants to the industry.  

New breeds

The current trend is away from foreign breeds towards native breeds with local adaptation that can exploit their natural environment to best advantage. The sustainability of intensive systems of production has been questioned, and the quality of products from extensively reared local breeds has been highlighted. As a result, native British cattle breeds in particular have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the last few years.

However, there are doubts whether the world can be fed from non-intensive production, and it may be necessary to combine native adaptability with high performance. This can be achieved by selection within breed, but may be accomplished more rapidly by the creation of new breeds. This route has been followed with considerable success in all species. The Luing in Scotland, Santa Gertrudis in Texas and Bonsmara in South Africa are good cattle examples.

The British Milksheep provides a similar example in sheep (go to 'British Milksheep' page) where genetic resources found in native breeds were blended into a new robust high-performance population.

Future developments: The next fifty years will see land use and food production subjected to a variety of pressures. They will push and pull in different directions, and the resulting landscape will be unfamiliar to us. A growing global human population and changing consumer demands in the developing world will create a rapidly expanding market for livestock products. At the same time the growing population and the shrinking area of crop land will create an imbalance that is likely to be solved by devoting a high proportion of cultivatable land to the production of crops for direct human consumption. The outcome will be a reduced number of monogastric livestock, which will be more dependant on a diet of by-products, and a reduced number of grazing livestock which will be grazed on extensive (non-cultivated) land. A growing demand and a reduced number of animals will lead to increased prices for livestock products, and maybe they will become affordable only by the wealthy.  

BREEDS OF SPECIAL IMPORTANCE                                                                           

Minority
Many native minority breeds have distinctive characteristics and qualities of local adaptation which give them a potential advantage in niche markets. Supermarkets also are showing interest as they realise the value of regional products.

Distinctive
Distinctiveness is becoming a strong marketing factor. It can be demonstrated by quality products in the shop or DNA profiles in the laboratory. It is achieved through genetic 'purity' (monitored by breed assignment procedures - see 'Current Work' on Animal Breeding & Genetics page) and enhanced by between-breed diversity. Programmes to characterise the distinctiveness of minority breeds include linear assessment and DNA profiles.

Local
The local adaptation of native breeds, especially in extensive systems of management, is an important factor in the production of quality foods. The use of native breed genetics on extensive grazing yields meat that is not only full of flavour, but also low in 'food miles', good for human health, kind to the environment, and enhances animal welfare.


BREEDS AT RISK                                                                                                        

FAO currently is developing new guidelines for the in vivo conservation of AnGR and the issues discussed at the London Seminar (February 2010) have been an important part of the process, especially with regard to Chapter 2 (Identification of Breeds at Risk).

Numerical scarcity
Small numbers of breeding females (rarity) has been the standard measure for measuring the endangered status of a breed. Unfortunately, various important organisations have used different criteria. It is difficult to reconcile the categorisations used by FAO, RBI, EAAP and RBST with each other. There is an urgent need for harmonisation (see paper on 'Criteria for the Recognition and Prioritisation of Breeds'; go to 'Papers and Articles' page) and a concerted effort by FAO, ERFP and RBI following the London Seminar of February 2010 is likely to result in a consensual protocol. 

We continue to question the use of the number of breeding females as the most appropriate measure. The 3-year rolling average of the number of female replacements is a better indicator of the status and health of a breed.

Genetic erosion
Any breed programme which requires strong selection for a single trait inevitably incurs significant loss of diversity. The National Scrapie Plan (NSP) is a prime example. The driving force behind NSP was not a wish to eliminate scrapie, but rather the fear that BSE might have infected sheep. Its purpose was to make the national flock homozygous for ARR, the most scrapie-resistant allele. Some breeds applied the NSP with vigour; others with greater caution, following advice that they might inadvertently be losing other valuable characteristics. The results below show the huge change (loss of diversity) effected in four years in breeds where strong selection was exercised, compared with the relatively stable situation in other breeds.

ARR allele %

 

 

 

ARQ allele %

 

 

 

Breed

2002

2006

change

Breed

2002

2006

change

Strong selection:

 

 

 

Strong selection:

 

 

 

Beltex

28.7

56.0

27.3

Beltex

44.4

23.6

-20.8

Hampshire Down

54.7

75.3

20.6

Hampshire Down

45.2

24.7

-20.6

Llanwenog

51.4

74.8

23.4

Llanwenog

46.8

24.6

-22.2

Light selection:

 

 

 

Light selection:

 

 

 

Cotswold

60.3

67.3

7.0

Cotswold

37.8

32.5

-5.3

Romney

61.5

69.1

7.6

Romney

28.8

24.9

-3.9

Whitefaced Woodland

37.1

41.7

4.6

Whitefaced Woodland

34.1

31.8

-2.2


Similar situations arise in any breed subjected to strong single-trait selection, and CLL provides advice to manage genetic diversity within selection procedures.

Geographic concentration
RBST has used the geographic concentration of a breed as a measure of vulnerability since 1975, but the critical level and full significance of that vulnerability was exposed in the FMD outbreak of 2001 in the UK. Fortunately, the work of RBST in the previous thirty years, in spreading endangered breeds more widely throughout the British Isles, prevented any possibility of breed extinction, but nevertheless breeds such as Belted Galloway cattle, British Milksheep and British Lop pigs, which were concentrated in local areas, lost a high proportion of their pedigree stock. 

CLL conducted a study to refine the criteria to measure geographical concentration. Currently, more than a dozen breeds can be classified as 'at risk', and sheep breeds in South-West England (e.g. Devon & Cornwall Longwool, Devon Closewool, Exmoor Horn, Whiteface Dartmoor, Devon & Cornwall Longwool) and North-West England (e.g. Herdwick, Rough Fell) are particularly vulnerable. Analyses show that a breed such as the Exmoor Horn, which is not numerically endangered, is critically endangered geographically as 75% of its population falls within a radius of 13.4 km from the focal point of the breed.


Publishing
Historically CLL had a publishing department which made available valuable books that would not have been published otherwise. These include titles such as 'The Exmoor Pony; its origins and characteristics', 'The International Caspian Stud Book', 'The Combined Flock Book' and 'The Origins of Spotted Sheep'. This department has been closed.