Thumbs up to waterfowl registry
By Geoff Chase
In the UK it is recognised that there are in excess of 160 native breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and horses, around 100 of which are at risk. In the case of poultry, including waterfowl, there are probably many more which should be recognised.
There are many good reasons for having a registry scheme for domestic breeds of livestock. There has long been a register of large species of domestic animal, which is legally binding. Cattle identification and traceability are recognised as important for disease control and also for maintaining consumer confidence in farm produce. There are standards and rules for identifying and controlling cattle movement to prevent and trace the spread of disease.
Of direct relevance to the preservation of rare breeds is the fact that disease and consequent culling by officials that results in the slaughter of a flock could wipe out valuable genetic resources of a breed which will, by definition, be held by a relatively small number of breeders.
It is also obviously necessary to have some idea of numbers in order to know whether a breed is actually rare.
A legally binding equivalent system to livestock for poultry does not exist and would obviously be impractical to administer. Breeders of livestock in general and poultry in particular tend to be suspicious of officialdom and reluctant to have their names on a list. However, there is a serious risk of losing valuable breeding stock, so it would obviously be a good move if rare breeds had some measure of exemption from culling. Recent Avian ’flu outbreaks have raised the likelihood of such events.
Breeds At Risk register
In common with other organisations across the world, the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee (FAnGR), which gives advice to the government on the conservation and sustainable use of farm animal genetic resources, developed biodiversity indicators to identify native breeds at risk. As a result, FAnGR produced a Breeds at Risk register, which gives a measure of protection for animals representing these breeds. Unfortunately, poultry have been removed from the list, so, in the event of a disease outbreak, there can be no derogation from slaughter.
It should be noted that the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) Watchlist still covers poultry which are of concern and it seeks to promote the maintenance of these breeds.
The criteria for inclusion on the RBST Watchlist are that the breed is documented as originating within the UK, that it has been present within the country for 40 years plus six generations (where a generation is two years for poultry), and not more than 20% of the genetic contributions come from animals born outside the UK (other than those imported for an approved conservation project) in any generation for the last 40 years plus six generations.
An imported breed may be considered for inclusion on the Watchlist on the grounds that the UK has become the main breeding centre for it or the original population that is seriously endangered or extinct, or it has
undergone significant breed development within the UK to distinguish it from the breed in its country of origin. Evidence for this might be significant differences in show standards.
An RBST Poultry Working Group, consisting of representatives from the Poultry Club of Great Britain, the Rare Poultry Society, the Turkey Club, the Goose Club, the British Waterfowl Association and the Domestic Waterfowl club, has been meeting for a number of years to consider issues regarding rare breeds of poultry. A number of new breeds have been added to the existing RBST Watchlist as a result.
The Poultry Working Group has also been trying to address the matter of enabling derogation from slaughter for threatened rare breeds and the need for adequate recording of stock.
A true representation of the breed
The problem is that FAnGR is not convinced that there is any way in which birds can be confirmed as representing the breed without a satisfactory registration system. In order that derogation can occur, FAnGR needs to be convinced that it is possible to ensure that a given flock is a true representative of the breed.
Four levels of breed identification are visualised by the Poultry Working Group. Firstly, breed clubs. Being a member of a breed club could count as evidence that the breeder is genuine and, if a breeder’s flock was threatened with slaughter, the club could confirm that the stock was genuine and significant. Since there are few clubs representing individual waterfowl breeds, this would include the British Waterfowl Association and the Domestic Waterfowl Club. It is unlikely that this level of identification would satisfy FAnGR.
The next level would be registrars, who would hold details of breeders and could confirm the credentials of the flock, but not make them generally available.
If more detail was required, it might be that individual breeders’ addresses would have to be available. The most detailed level would be a register of individual birds, which is unlikely to be practical, although it is hard to imagine exemption for birds which are not identifiable in some way.
Far from straightforward
The registrar scheme is what the Poultry Working Group has been trying to establish, but it has not been particularly straightforward. The word from registrars is that breeders do not wish to come forward and a number of registrars have become disillusioned. Maybe it will take a complete cull of valuable breeding stock for such a system to be recognised as important.
It is likely that not all keepers and breeders of rare breed poultry exhibit them at shows, but it is a good way of comparing birds with others to check whether they are good representatives of the breed, to get to know other breeders and to become known by others.
The message is that if you think you have valuable stock from a rare breed point of view and wish to avoid the risk of slaughter under disease control measures, you should at least belong to a club and ensure that they have a record of the breeds you keep. The club should have contact details of the registrars of the breed(s). It is intended that the contact information for the individual breeders is only held by the registrar and is not made available to any other body. It would also be necessary to have some means of permanently identifying individual birds, which might be by wing tags, but more usually by closed rings, which are available from the Poultry Club of Great Britain. Breeders should, of course, keep records of ring or tag numbers for their own individual birds.
There has long been a register of large species of domestic animal which is legally binding, but there is no equivalent for poultry/waterfowl
The setting up of a registry system would necessitate some means of permanently identifying individual birds, such as by closed leg rings
The Poultry Working Group has been trying to address enabling derogation from slaughter for threatened rare breeds, such as the Abacot Ranger
A legally binding registry system for poultry does not currently exist