Why do we keep rare breeds, and what does it mean for an animal to be ‘pedigree’? We keep rare breeds for a number of reasons – firstly they are beautiful and there’s nothing like spending time with and observing your animals to ensure better welfare. Secondly, it’s critical to keep the traditional breeds from extinction. Thirdly, they thrive in natural rearing conditions, and possibly most important of all, their meat is incomparably better with far more taste and texture than the quick growing commercial breeds. A pedigree animal is one that has been registered with the relevant breed society, and whose lineage can therefore be traced, ensuring purity of breed, enabling informed decisions for the breeding of future generations. The Rare Breed Survival Trust say that registration “really is a vital part of saving [rare breeds] from extinction”. The livestock we keep are part of a long history of farming in Britain, with genetics that can be traced back in many cases to the origin of the breed. It only takes one generation for that branch of the family tree to be lost, so if these animals are not registered, the available gene pool is narrowed.
Why kill rare breeds for meat? The answers are many and various: there are always far more males than are needed and only the best specimens (of either sex) should be kept for breeding; ensuring rare breeds have a firm footing in the food chain and not purely as exhibition animals is the best way to ensure their long term survival; rare breeds become rare because they are not being eaten and therefore not being bred. In most cases the hardy characteristics of rare breeds means that they are easier to keep in an outdoor, natural environment than those animals bred for size or other more commercial traits.