LAWRENCE ALDERSON was one of the earliest advocates of the conservation of animal genetic resources

THIS PAGE:

  -  Cattle; native beef breeds, bull assessment, Vaynol cattle, Shetland cattle
  -  Equines; rare native breeds
  -  Pigs; genetic diversity in Europe, Saddleback pigs
  -  Sheep; inheritance of colour, Hebridean sheep
  -  Conservation; criteria for prioritisation, status of European breeds; grading-up and inbreeding; reproductive technologies
  -  Disease; foot-and-mouth disease

The focal role of Lawrence Alderson in the development of the movement for the conservation of animal genetic resources was recognised in the keynote paper in the special edition of the FAO publication AGRI 41 in 2007: "Yet the first milestone [in conserving farm animal genetic resources] was laid in 1973, when Lawrence Alderson started the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the UK". He has made a powerful contribution to the development of the associated philosophy and methodology, and his experience has been captured in many papers and articles prepared since the early 1970s.

Extracts from these papers and articles are shown below. Contact me to obtain full text.

Other papers can be seen in published journals. Papers of interest include 'Grazing Livestock and GHG in the UK' (published in RASE Journal 169, 2008 shows that non-intensive grazing has value in combating global warming) and 'Breeds at risk: Definition and measurement of the factors which determine endangerment' (published in Livestock Science, 2008). 

CATTLE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The Resurgence of Native British Breeds of Beef Cattle (2000, revised 2007; c.2550 words) 
Native breeds of beef cattle in Britain have been superseded continually by imported breeds since the 1960s, but a changing market in the 1990s began to restore traditional values. The distinctive qualities of native breeds became more relevant, and the White Park is a prime example of their importance. This paper makes a critical evaluation of several studies of White Park cattle that have been carried out, namely productivity in non-intensive systems of management, assessment of type and function by linear measurements, quality of product (meat), and value in crossing programmes. It concludes that breeds such as the White Park yield significant added value as a result of their native adaptability and the high quality of their beef, and that they benefit from a market driven by consumers rather than supermarkets. The use of different linear measurements is proposed, and the effective use of White Park bulls in crossing programmes is demonstrated.

Bull assessment and prediction of genetic merit (2005; c.2000 words)                                         
 
The birth of a bull calf presents an immediate problem for most breeders of pedigree cattle. New breeders and owners often have an automatic desire to keep him entire, even though they may have been advised repeatedly that the market for breeding bulls is limited, and that the market for below average animals is negligible. Long-established breeders will ponder on the merits of the calf, and search through their experience for clues to his quality. The evaluation will be ongoing as the calf grows, and will reach a watershed when he approaches the age for inspection and approval by officials of the breed society. A final decision must then be taken regarding his suitability before further fees are incurred. Some decisions prove fortunate, and others disastrous, but in many cases there is a huge element of luck involved. A method for the early recognition of genetic merit in potential beef sires has been developed and applied.

Vaynol cattle: lessons to be learned from a very small population (2005; c.1800 words)

Throughout their history Vaynol cattle have enjoyed the dubious status of a critically endangered breed. There have never been more than 33 breeding cows and heifers, and in 1919 the number fell to only seven. The herd was established as a semi-feral breeding unit in Vaynol Park in North Wales in 1872, having been transferred from Kilmory in Scotland. They remained at Vaynol until 1980 when the estate was sold. The cattle then began an itinerant chapter in their history, moving from one location to another without finding a suitable long-term home. They finally found a secure base in Yorkshire, but their earlier troubles provide valuable lessons for the conservation of relict populations. 

Shetland Cattle; an Islands breed abroad (2007; c.2000 words)   
It has been accepted by several authors that the small fine-boned cattle native to the Shetland Islands are closely related to some Scandinavian breeds, but research supported by RBST did not confirm this hypothesis. Only a small number of breeds were included in the study, but the closest relationship of the Shetland was to the Dexter and Belted Galloway. Unfortunately, a wider study at Edinburgh did not include Shetlands, but a Scandinavian meta-analysis of genetic distance studies placed the Shetland well outside the Scandinavian group of breeds. What is not in doubt is that the Shetland is a superbly efficient breed that deserves wider recognition. It has resisted a catalogue of threats to its security during the past two centuries, and is finely adapted to a difficult environment on its native islands. It has found a place in niche markets, and particularly in conservation grazing, by virtue of its adaptability and productivity. 

EQUINES                                                                                                                           

Rare Breeds of Horses and Ponies (2000; c.2600 words)
    
A survey of domestic livestock in the British Isles in 1998 revealed the presence of 46 horse and pony breeds. Many of these were recent arrivals, and several existed only as insignificant populations, but they indicated an underlying desire within the equine industry to seek out new genetic material.
The motivation may have been speculation, or a genuine attempt to introduce new characteristics.
The introduction of new types was associated closely with changes in the marketplace. Mechanisation displaced animal power rapidly after the Second World War, and since that time horse and pony breeds have been seeking new roles. For a time heavy horses found partial respite with short-haul brewery deliveries, and some pony breeds in remoter areas continued to provide draught power on small farms. However, these were short-term functions and increasingly the reduced population of each breed found refuge in the showring. The standards laid down for judging horses and ponies in the showring did not always coincide with the functional qualities of working animals in a breed, and a change in type became evident. Size and height in particular often assumed greater importance than traditional type. Subsequently, the development of the leisure industry provided a potential new lease of life for equine breeds during the last three or four decades of the twentieth century. Most native breeds were forced to acknowledge the reality of this market in order to survive, but it demanded yet further changes in type and priority was placed on different characteristics. Speed and elegance replaced strength and native adaptability as prime selection criteria. It put long-established breeds into direct competition with new types specially developed as sport horses.

PIGS                                                                                                                                

Diversity in European Pigs (2004; c.2850 words)
In 1998 an EU-funded project, PigBioDiv1, sought to measure and characterise the genetic variation within the domestic pig population of Europe. The increasing awareness of the importance of the maintenance of animal genetic resources (AnGR) justified a critical evaluation of breeds in order to identify key populations and assist their conservation as part of a process to enable agriculture and food industries to meet future changes in the market place. The project developed guidelines and indicators for improving principles and methodology for the conservation of porcine AnGR.

Diversity is the criterion which underlies the Convention on Biological Diversity, and which drives many of the policies and programmes for the conservation of AnGR. Without diversity our breeds would lack the ability to evolve and adapt, and the purpose of this paper is to relate the findings of the project to practical uses for endangered pig breeds in Britain.
                                                                                                               Wild boar x Tamworth gilt Ó CLL

The Saddleback Family of Pig Breeds (2007; c.2400 words)

The earliest references to belted pigs are found in Italy with the Cinta senese first noted in the 14th century, but there is no evidence this was the origin of the colour pattern in Britain. In both eastern and southern counties of England there were old-fashioned, parti-coloured pigs that provided the foundation for the emergence of belted breeds. There are illustrations of pigs with a white belt in Britain in the 18th century, but it was fixed first in a breed when a society was founded for the Wessex pig in 1918. The Wessex was a hardy, fecund breed, and influenced many other 'saddleback' breeds, including the Hampshire in the USA, the Presticke in Poland and the Angler Sattelschwein in Germany. Australia now is home to the main population of Wessex pigs.                                                                                                              Old English pig from 19C after Low              


SHEEP                                                                                                                               

Colour Inheritance in Sheep (2006; c.2250 words)           
Have you ever wondered why a black calf suddenly appears in a herd of pristine White Park cattle, red or moorit lambs in a flock of uniformly black Hebrideans, or black flecks in the red coat of some Tamworth pigs? Such annoying aberrations, which may be most inconvenient and upset your breeding plans, are not the outcome of a witch's spell, and maybe not even the result of illicit introgression by a marauding male, but more probably the logical outcome of the genetic make-up of your animals. The coat colour of the wild ancestors of our farm livestock was determined primarily by the importance of camouflage for survival, and necessarily in most cases was dull and unspectacular. Domestication largely removed the threat of predation, and thus permitted the expression of a wider range of colours. In some cases it is likely that unusual colours like palomino, blue heads and white belts may have been preferred by owners of livestock, and hence we see a wide variety of colours in modern breeds, especially in poultry, horses and sheep. Pre-Mendel farmers (including Bakewell and the Colling brothers) bred their livestock without the benefit of a knowledge of genetics but even then could fix distinctive colour patterns such as the White Park's black points or the Hereford's white face. Now that the inheritance of colour is more clearly understood, breeding programmes can accommodate the desire to produce specific colours, and can explain black White Parks, white Hebrideans, spotted Tamworths, and even the case of two white sheep producing a lamb with Soay colour and markings. Sheep exhibit a great variety of colours and patterns and the article traces the genetic control of this variation. 

A review of Hebridean sheep (2007; c.2200 words)
Since RBST was founded in the early 1970s, it has successfully protected the interests of Britain's native endangered breeds. Some remain relatively vulnerable, but others have thriven and achieved a level of security which justifies the vision and objectives of the creators of RBST. The Hebridean is one of the 'success stories'. From a scattering of parkland flocks in the early 1970s, this small, black, short-tailed, polycerate breed now has secured a recognised place in the livestock industry valued not only for its widespread use in conservation grazing, but also as an efficient producer of finished lamb.


CONSERVATION                                                                                                                


Criteria for the recognition and prioritisation of breeds of special genetic importance (2003, revised 2007; c.3200 words)
The State of the World survey of animal genetic resources (SoWAnGR) highlighted the necessity to reconcile the The varying systems applied by different organisations for the identification and categorisation of endangered breeds of livestock is a cause of considerable confusion, and detracts from the efficiency of breed conservation required by the State of the World survey of animal genetic resources (SoWAnGR). Currently, many of these systems are irreconcilable, and this paper highlights the necessity for harmonisation. A methodology has been developed which coincides with criteria applied by FAO, and which utilises three criteria, namely low genetic diversity, geographical concentration, and numerical scarcity. The system embodies simplicity, accuracy and effectiveness, based on global data, and will enable more effective interpretation of SoWAnGR reports.

The Impact of Reproductive Technologies on the Conservation of Animal Genetic Resources (1999; c.2100 words)


Artificial insemination and embryo transfer have become accepted procedures within programmes of livestock selection and change. They have been utilised to assist programmes for genetic conservation in many countries, and have played a significant role in the preservation of some endangered breeds. At the same time, they have permitted preferred breeding animals to exert a disproportionate influence within their breed, and have enabled exotic breeds to rapidly displace native breeds. They have accelerated change in many breeds by increasing selection differential, and in some cases have resulted in a significant change in the character of a breed. Newer reproductive technologies, such as OPU, IVF, sexing of semen and cloning, will allow greater intensification and escalation of this process.

The dangers inherent in this process recognise that change need not necessarily be beneficial. Even if it is acceptable in the short-term, it may be detrimental in the long-term unless it is carefully controlled and closely monitored. It is important that the relative advantages and disadvantages of reproductive technologies are evaluated for each breed development programme.

 

The Status of Endangered Native Breeds in UK and Europe (2000; c.2850 words)              

The livestock industry is a rapidly changing scene, characterised both by breed substitution and by introgression of native breeds. The speed with which breeders can respond to immediate market requirements has been accelerating, and the increasing influence of industrial breeding companies, usually with global activity, is making the response interval even shorter. The advantages are obvious, but the dangers often are not articulated until too late. Markets also change, and a totally effective response to a current market may prejudice the effectiveness of the response to a subsequent market. This has been evident in the change during the last few years from widespread acceptance of selection programmes to maximise production per animal to the recognition that sustainable systems should be based more on functional soundness and efficiency of production. The importance of conserving genetic variability is integral to this process, and surveys of animal genetic resources have developed to monitor the endangered status of minority breeds. 

Maintaining Genetic Integrity: the effects of grading-up and inbreeding (2002; c.2100 words)
The global livestock industry in temperate regions has become increasingly dominated by a small array of popular breeds or hybrids. The Holstein has not only replaced many other dairy breeds, but most of those that remain have been infused with Holstein genes. Poultry breeding, in the hands of a few commercial companies, relies on just four hybrid strains. The genetic diversity of farm animal genetic resources is being eroded, and the work of previous generations is being undone at an alarming rate. Much of the work with farm livestock in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was devoted to developing, fixing and improving distinct breeds. It was a continuous process that culminated in a range of breeds, many of which were finely adapted to their local environment, and we should seek to protect the integrity of established breeds. There has always been temptation to 'improve' a breed by introducing genetic variants from other breeds, and it is evident that many breeds have been subjected to illicit introgression or to grading-up programmes. It is often assumed that inbreeding is a problem and is used as justification for introgression, but that is open to dispute and the question that should be asked is whether inbreeding should be regarded as a problem.

DISEASE                                                                                                                           

Foot-and-Mouth Disease in the United Kingdom 2001; its cause, course, control and consequences (July 2001; c.5000 words)
The epidemic of Pan-Asian 'O' type FMD in 2001 was the first major outbreak in UK for 34 years. The cause of the outbreak has not been determined, but it spread rapidly through many areas. Discrepancies between official and unofficial statistics impeded a clear understanding of the development of the disease, but probably more than 10 million animals were slaughtered. Control measures relied on mass slaughter, but the slow initial response allowed the disease to become widespread. Expert opinion criticised the control measures and advocated the use of vaccination, and the legality of the control measures was challenged. The cost of the outbreak was estimated in the region of £20 billion, and the impact on the livestock industry in UK was severe. The reduction in numbers of livestock coincided with Government policy and may be permanent, and the damage to animal genetic resources has been significant.