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Breeds history worth wait

by Clive Dalton

Clive DaltonI used to teach animal genetics when pig and poultry breeding was being taken over by world-wide commercial companies that produced new model “hybrids” every year, to keep their customers hooked into their product. Old self-replenishing breeds started disappearing and we were brainwashed to believe that if some disaster happened, new genetic variation could easily be created by genetic engineering. Yeah Right!

Thank goodness not everyone was conned, and it’s thanks to the small mainly “hobby” breeders that kept the old breeds going (if for no other reason than they liked their looks), that we still have these valuable farm animal genetic resources.

Book coverThe Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand is one of a number of organisations around the world that has worked hard to preserve “Heritage” breeds of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and rabbits. Their main aim is to conserve genetic diversity for future generations, in a world where we are losing species, and not just breeds at an alarming rate.

It’s been a hard road for the dedicated authors and Society members, and this book is a wonderful record of their work. It’s been a massive effort for the authors to get all the information together, and all involved need to be congratulated for their dedication. Getting the photos alone must have been a great challenge, and are such a valuable part of the book for anyone wanting to see what this wonderful range of animals looks like.

The story of New Zealand’s early livestock history is well documented, as is how so many populations of farm animals ended up on isolated islands and land-locked areas to claim their own identity.

The book is a great record of what preservation actions have been taken since 1988, as before that many were culled as “feral pests”. Separate chapters give full details of these cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, and rabbits.

There is always great debate about what a “breed” is, and the book does a great job in covering this territory, and the need to conserve little populations that are still classed as “farmed” and those that could be better defined as “feral”.

The book points out that New Zealand with its island isolation and disease-free status could be used as a valuable “gene bank” for international farm animal genetic resources. I have pushed this idea over the years to government bureaucrats, mainly because of the risk of food and mouth disease to our economy, but with no response. No doubt we’ll get action after a crisis and not before.

This is a wonderful book that has been worth waiting for. It’s an essential buy for anyone interested in livestock breeds and breeding anywhere in the world, and especially in the preservation in the genetic resources we are fortunate to have in New Zealand. The Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand deserves great support.

It was sad that Beverley McCulloch did not live to see the book between covers. It’s a great tribute to her and all those in the Society who have laboured long and hard, and taken many personal physical risks to retrieve feral animals to keep the old breeds going.

It is well priced for a beautifully laid out book, and the Society’s four-legged members will certainly benefit from the royalties.

This above review was written for the Waikato Times, 14 October 2010, by Dr Clive Dalton, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
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