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Papers presented at the Expert Consultation on FAO Programmes for the Preservation of Animal Genetic Resources (continue)


S. Wezyk 1

1 Institute of Animal Husbandry, Cracow, Poland.

1. Introduction

The breeders from Eastern European countries now pay the same attention to the problem of preservation of the vanishing breeds of domestic animals as their professional colleagues from Western countries. There are, however, still different reasons for the process whereby the old, native breeds are disappearing. Whereas in Western countries economic considerations contributed to the elimination of low-producing animal populations, in Eastern European countries this process was exacerbated as a consequence of common acceptance of the principle that “all that is socialistic should be large” - leading to the creation of giant farms. Simultaneously, there has been a tendency in all Eastern European countries to promote the so-called “standard technologies of industrial methods of animal production” and to introduce them arbitrarily without taking into account the ecological and climatic conditions, the appropriate level of technology, feedstuff resources, and so on. Under the pretext of biological and technological progress, large-scale crossbreeding was started, using highly specialised, imported breeds on the local populations of domestic animals which were well-adapted to the very often harsh environmental conditions and marked by very good health and longevity. Under strong pressure from political and administrative authorities, this process proceeded fast with the assistance of artificial insemination which was widespread in all these countries.

Taking into consideration that, except for Poland, agriculture in all Eastern European countries belongs to the State or to co-operatives and is under central administration, there were no formal obstacles to these breeding policies or to other proposals for introducing the programme of “improvement of animal production” with its far-reaching consequences. Finally, many native animal breeds which were very well-adapted to the local environmental conditions were made extinct already in the mid-1970s. The “primitive” animals were replaced by crosses with indeed a higher potential genetic value for production, but without the opportunity to demonstrate this in unfavourable conditions. Consequently, the giant farms with 2–4 thousand dairy cows or several thousand pigs are producing expensive milk or meat and at the same time polluting the surrounding area, with a radius of several kilometres, with faeces and unpleasant odours.

2. Country programmes

2.1 USSR

The Soviet Union provides extreme examples of the disappearance or threat with extinction of many of the very valuable cattle breeds. In the mid-1970s, scientists from the All Union Institutes of Animal Breeding and Genetics in Lenigrad (Katalog, 1976) confirmed the total extinction of dairy cows of Siberian, Pechora and Karelian breed and also beef cattle of Kirgiz breed.

Well-known Grey Ukranian and Estonian cattle and the varieties of Caucasus mountain cattle and Yakut cattle are in considerable danger. These breeds exist at present as very small populations, e.g. in 1976 the number of Yakut cattle was only 300 head, Estonian 500 and Grey Ukranian 650.

The danger of rapid crossing with the imported breeds threatens in the USSR such local breeds as Yaroslavl, Red Gorbatov, Istoben, Tagil, Yurino, Red Tambov, Red Bielorussian, Busheuv and Suksun. It is likely that the remaining cattle population has not yet been divided into breeds, but they are generally named after the area they occupy.

In the USSR, this situation from the mid-1980s did not significantly change. Zebrovski et al. (1984) and Siler et al. (1987) reported almost total extinction of Kazakh, Siberian, Pechora, North Karelian and Buryat cattle.

According to Eisner et al. (1973), a diminishing of the cattle gene pool is a cause for special anxiety because the biological traits of this species change but very slowly under selection, but are utilized for a very long time. These authors accept the large increase of productivity of cattle herds to be right, but recommend also the necessity of preservation of the genetic potential of the primitive breeds.

The vanishing Grey Ukranian cattle, thanks to their long history in severe steppe conditions, is very healthy, resistant and has the ability for adaptation to harsh conditions. The milk from cows of this breed is rich in protein and fat and is very useful for processing. This breed is also distinguished by a very characteristic, but unusual, biological trait, in that as the milk production increases so does the fat content of the milk. In contrast to other breeds, a positive correlation coefficient was found between the two traits (r=0.22) and the heritability of protein content is high (h2=0.76). This breed is also very prolific. On average it is possible (annually) to obtain 99 calves from 100 cows. There is a strongly marked sexual dimorphism; the body weight of a new-borne male is ca 30 kg, and that of a female ca 26 kg. In the 1970s, crossbreeding of these cattle was started with the Brown Swiss in order to create a new dairy breed, the Lebedin, and with the Charolais to obtain a meat-type population (Ivanov and Ivanova, 1978).

A dangerous situation exists also in the breeding of the indigenous sheep, pig and horse breeds.

The number of Karakul sheep (ca 1 million) and of Sokolki sheep is decreasing rapidly. The number of meaty-tallow sheep of the Edilbaev breed is 4.8 million, Hissar 385 000, Jaidara 480, Balbas 30 200, Karabach 86 000, Kuchugury 47 000 (increasing), Kapralin 15 000, Darvaz 15 000 (decreasing), Oparino 10 000 (increasing), Shirvan (relict), Mikhnov 100 (relict), Voloshian 100 (relict), Telengit 3000, and Imeretian (relict).

In the case of the Romanov breed of sheep, owing to selection for improvement of its meatiness (Veres, 1987), the body weight of rams now ranges from 65 to 75 kg, but there are also individuals weighing ca 100 kg. The body weight of ewes varies between 45 and 55 kg, with a high reproductive rate of about 250 lambs per 100 ewes.

In the USSR, seriously endangered with total extinction (or crossbreeding) are meaty-fat pig breeds, e.g. Mirgorod consists of only two boar lines and 34 sow families, North Caucasus (13 boar lines and 30 sow families), Livny (18 boar lines and 30 sow families), Breitov (13 lines, 7 parental boar groups and 23 families), North Siberian (5 boar lines and 10 mother families), Kemerovo (10 boar lines and 20 mother families), Murom (7 boar lines and 16 mother families), Steppe Ukranian (5 boar lines).

The problems of elmination of the native breeds occurs even more sharply in poultry. In fact, state-owned and co-operative big farms, as well as the smallholders, are now utilizing only commercial hybrids, originating from the imported initial lines.

The process of extinction threatened also many breeds of meaty-laying type of hens, i.e. of Poltava, Yerevan, Pantsirev, Kirgiz, Silver Adler, Pervomai, Kuchino Jubilee, White Moskow, Moskow, White Leningrad, Zagorsk, Zeifshan, Samarkand, Naked Neck Yurlov, Livny, White Voronezh, Great Uzbek, Azerbaijan, Armenian, Georgian, Naked Neck and Down Caucasian.

For other species, the turkey breeds (Koskov, North Caucasian and Black Tikhoretsk), goose breeds (Arzamas, Gorki, Kuban, Kholmogory, Romny, Shadrin, Ukranian and Vladimir) and two breeds of duck (Ukranian and Speculum Duck) have been preserved in the Soviet Union.

In 1976, the Government of the Soviet Union accepted the programme of preservation of the disappearing breeds and varieties of domestic animals. For each population a special programme of breeding activity, within the pure breed (closed population), was initiated. These works are carried out in the State and co-operative breeding farms and are financed by Government to a considerable extent.

2.2 Bulgaria

In Bulgaria the Grey Steppe and Iskar cattle originated from the same group as the Ukranian and Hungarian Grey Steppe cattle. All the populations of the primitive type have similar biological and productivity traits. The performance potential of these cattle is related to the economic needs of the area.

Bulgarian Steppe cattle are very well adapted to the environment in which they have been bred for years. The breed is distinguished by strong body conformation and especially strong legs that are well adapted to the long stay on the mountain pastures. Moreover, the breed is very vital and resistant to diseases. In order to improve the productivity, this breed has been recently crossed with other breeds and has therefore become almost extinct.

The Iskar cattle are in a similar situation. Only 10 years after introducing a crossbreeding programme, it was noted that the valuable population with its genetic resistance to very hard rearing conditions in the mountains had almost vanished. In the 1970s, a process of re-purchase of single animals of this breed from the smallholders was started and at present there are two purebred herds reproducing.

The Iskar cows as well as Grey Steppe cows have high fecundity. It is possible to obtain 95–103 calves per year from 100 Iskar cows. The milk production of these cows ranged from 1800 to 2200 kg yearly with 4, 3–4, 5% of fat.

The new breed formed has inherited resistance, vitality, adaptability, strong body conformation and strong legs and hooves from the primitive cattle. But according to Ivanov and Ivanova (1978), the herds of Simmental and Brown Swiss as well as Red Danish, Hereford and Holstein-Friesian cattle, suffered strong depression during the acclimitization period.

These examples confirmed the well-known observation that the transfer of animals to the different environmental conditions may lead to considerable deterioration of the animals' productivity as well as eliminate the manifestation of traits which are genetically determined (Johannson and Rendel, 1984). Acclimatization is a very long process and brings many unpleasant surprises. To alleviate this native breeds could be utilized. An example of the process of creation of the new breeds in Bulgaria is the Grey and Red Bulgarian and Bulgarian Simmental. For this purpose, the Bulgarian Grey Steppe cattle breed was crossed with poorly adapted Alpine, Simmental and Red Danish cattle (Ivanov and Ivanova, 1978).

On the higher massif of the Rodopa mountains, the native Rodopa cattle belonging to the Brachycerus type, have been bred for centuries. These animals are the progenitors of the primitive cattle on the Balkan Peninsula. Their average body weight ranged from 250 to 280 kg and milk production is 2090 kg a year, with 4.49% fat content. The milk yield per 100 kg of cow's body weight is therefore relatively high. The milking capacity calculated in FCM is similar to the productivity of Bulgarian Red but higher than that of Bulgarian Simmental and Grey. Another advantage of these cattle is low body weight, high activity, strong body conformation and strong legs. Thanks to these characteristics, these cattle move about very easily in the mountainous region and are well adapted to the severe climatic conditions. Cows mated with heavy bulls give calves with fast growth rate and early maturity. In this way it is possible to increase meat production and to decrease considerable the costs of production in the mountain region.

In the 1960s crossing the Rodopa cows with Jersey bulls was started. The body weight of the crossbreds ranged from 380 to 400 kg, milk yield from 2800 to 3200 kg with 4.8–4.9% fat content.

The intensive development of poultry production in Bulgaria caused also the extinction of the native breeds of chicken. Still in the early 1950s there were in this country native hens with a performance of 133.5 eggs a year, 57 g of egg weight, 1840 g of adult body weight and sexual maturity at 217 days of life.

As a result of crossbreeding with the Rhode Island Red breed and further intensive selection, a new breed was established in 1976. The Starazagora breed lays 170 eggs a year with 58 g of egg weight and adult hen body weight ranged from 2.2 to 2.4 kg and for cockerels from 3.0 to 3.2 kg.

Measures for the preservation of the turkey breed of the Beltsville type are carried out in Stara Zagora.

2.3 Czechoslovakia

In the hilly and mountainous regions of Czechoslovakia (CSSR) the Red cattle, which entered as a component into the creation of a new breed of Czech Pied, is fast disappearing (Siler et al., 1987). According to Bilek (1926, 1933), Valenta (1930) and Smerha (1955), the Czech Red cattle were very good for draught, milk and meat production. The average body weight of cows was 522.2 kg, milking capacity 2817 kg and 4.1% fat content

Because of late maturity, these cattle were crossed with the Bernese Simmental breed. But the hybrids are not suitable for draught work, have lost longevity and are less well adapted to the environment in the mountain region.

The mountainous pastures in CSSR become deserted because of the decrease, in this region, of the population of local, primitive sheep breeds. These breeds are not subsidized by the State and therefore the breeding as well as the rearing of these sheep are unprofitable.

Small flocks of purebred Czech Gold Spotted hens, Dappled hens, Czech White hens, Black hens and Black and White hens are in the hands of smallholders. The average body weight of cockerels of these breeds ranged from 2.7 to 3.3 kg and hens from 2.0 to 2.6 kg, egg production is about 150 eggs, with egg weight ranging from 50 to 55 g. Moreover, on small farms there are also hens of the Sumavka breed (2.8–3.0 kg cockerels; 2.0–2.5 kg hens; 150–170 egg production, 55 egg weight).

Thanks to the efforts of the Poultry Breeders' Union, the Czech Gees (5.5 kg body weight of gander; 4.5 kg of goose; 15–18 egg production, 130 g egg weight) and Slovakian Danubian geese (7.0 kg body weight of gander; 6.0 kg of goose; 20–24 eggs production; 160 g of egg weight) have been preserved up the present day.

2.4 Hungary

The most developed and spectacular methods of preservation of the vanishing breeds of domestic animals were applied in Hungary. In natural conditions the breeding work has been carried out for many years, and includes purebred Grey Steppe cattle (6 bulls and 187 cows; Bodo, 1985); Racka, Cigaja and Cikta sheep breeds; Mangalica, Bakony and Szalonta pig breeds; the Hungarian Blood hound and White Sheep dogs; the Hungarian Gold Naked Neck and Fizzly Danubian geese; the Brown Lowland turkey; and the Fallow horse.

As part of researches on environment protection in Hungary, research is also carried out with animals belonging to the breeds which are included in the programme of the preservation of the gene reserve. it is aimed at the estimation of the degree of relationship among these individuals and at the development of a special mating system, to prevent inbreeding depression. These researches are carried out in Hungary, as well as abroad, on farms of different size, in zoological gardens and among hobby breeders. The main goal is not only the purchase of the particular animals but also their identification and inclusion in the common breeding programme (Geza, 1975). Generally, all the material can be divided in groups of “organised” and “unorganised” populations.

The first of these consists of initial breeding material and its progeny as well as individuals which were found, purchased and included into the herd. The second incorporates animals which are in the zoological gardens and which can be purchased and are a certain reserve in the programme of breed preservation (Geza, 1975). The efforts aim not only at the creation of a system of the gene pool preservation, but also at the maintenance, in an unchanged state, of the natural circumstances and the shepherd's customs which existed in the past on the “Hortobagy pusta” territory (Bodo, 1985).

2.5 German Democratic Republic

Since 1976, in GDR, a programme of creating a poultry gene reserve has been successfully carried out. Flocks representing all the populations of laying hens which were in production were gathered in the Spreenhagen farm. The programme embraces:

  1. maintenance of the hen lines without checking the breeding value;

  2. utilization of the gene resources for establishing new lines;

  3. checking the general combining ability of the collected breeds.

For economic reason, preservation flocks are composed of small numbers of birds which are selected in such a way, that the effect of genetic drift and natural selection should be insignificant (Tittmann, 1987).

Moreover, hobby breeders maintained small flocks of German Striped Colour, German Striped Blue and Striped Gold breeds of chicken. The average body weight of cockerels of these breeds is 3.5 kg, and of hens ranged from 2.3 to 3.0 kg; egg production is 200–220 eggs with 58 g of egg weight.

Smallholders have maintained the Diephoz geese up to the present day (gander body weight 7 kg, goose 5.5 kg, egg production 30–50 eggs, with 140–150 g of egg weight) and Germany Laying geese (gander 5.5–6.0 kg, goose 5.0–5.5 kg, egg production 50 eggs, with 150–180 g of egg weight), as well as Domestic Steinbass geese which were bred 100 years ago in the hilly and mountainous regions (gander 6.0–7.5 kg, goose 5.0–6.0 kg, egg production 15–20 eggs, 150–160 g of egg weight).

On the GDR territory it is possible, at the smallholders, to find the Pekin duck breed of the German type (drake 3.5 kg, duck 3.0 kg, egg production 60 eggs, egg weight 70–80 g) and also the Saxonic duck (gander 3.5 kg, duck 3.0 kg, egg production 100 eggs, egg weight 80–90 g).

The hobby breeding of different breeds, varieties and types from across the world has resulted in a significant poultry gene pool in the GDR. National poultry exhibitions organized every year, combined with competitions give opportunities for reviewing the great gene resources which are in the hands of hobby breeders.

2.6 Poland

The intensification of milk and beef production led to the restriction in Poland of breeding the Polish Red cattle. At present in the isolated Subcarpatian region, three herds, each of about 80–100 head, are organized for the relicts of this population. Also, a special breeding programme to preserve this breed has been developed.

Similar programmes are also carried out with the disappearing Wrzosowka and Olkuska sheep breeds, which are very fertile, and with the Swiniarka breed which is in fact almost extinct.

There is a gene bank at the Institute of Animal Husbandry in Balice, near Cracow, which is a supplement to preserved herds. In this bank are kept deeply frozen semen doses from 39 bulls of Polish Red cattle (average 320 doses per bull), 5 rams of Swiniarka breed (683 doses), 6 rams of Olkuska breed (1628 doses), and also 51 embryos of the Polish Red cattle, 69 of Swiniarka and 34 of Olkuska sheep (Wierzbowski, 1987; Zukowski and Reklewski, 1987).

The programme of preservation of the declining and indigenous breeds of domestic animals in Poland also includes the pig breeds Pulawska and Zlotnicka (Rozycki and Doroszuk, 1982) and the Polish Small Horse, the so-called “Konik” or “Tarpan” (Jezierski, 1987) and the horse of the Hucul breed (Brzeski and Jackowski, 1987).

The work of recreating the forest horse “Tarpan” is carried out in the Experimental Station of the Polish Academy of Science in Popielno, located on the peninsula of the largest Polish lake, Sniardwy (Mazury). The peninsula, 10 km long, 3.5 km broad (1620 ha) is covered with mixed forest with many grassy clearings and is separated from the mainland by wire-fencing. In a separate part of this forest reservation there are at present 13 herds of horses (Koniks). The horses live and reproduce themselves in the natural environment without human interference. During 7 generations, several families have been obtained in this way.

Generally in the three reservations - Popielno, Zwierzyniec and Bialowieza - 7 stallions and 23 mares are being kept at present, whereas on five state farms there are 25 stallions and 75 mares. In 1964, 9 Koniks were sold to Great Britain and in 1970, 3 stallions and 3 mares to Finland.

As in other countries, the intensification of poultry production has also brought to Poland the almost total extinction of old, native breeds of hens and geese. In 1974, the Institute of Animal Husbandry in Cracow organized on the State farm, Szczytno, a farm for preserving flocks, and gathered for the purpose five strains of the Rhode Island Red breed and one each Greenleg and Yellow leg partridges, Sussex, Polbar and Leghorn. Each population consists of 50 cockerels and 500 hens randomly mated. Parents are chosen so that only one cockerel and one daughter progeny originate from each sire and dam of the previous generation. Every three years half of the cocks and hens are individually marked, reproduced, and the progeny from individually identified pairs of parents are individually recorded. The results are used to estimate population statistics and genetic parameters (Wezyk, 1988; Cywa-Benko, 1989). A similar programme is carried out in the Dworzyska farm belong to the Poultry Research Centre in Poznan for the preservation of the indigenous geese and duck breeds (Mazanowski, 1984).

All the programmes of preservation to guard against extinction of the disappearing native breeds of domestic animals is financed in Poland by the Ministry of Agriculture from the special “fund for biological and technological progress”, but the scientific investigations which are carried out on these populations are sponsored by the Office of Science and Progress.

3. Postscript

It may be that introducing re-privatization of agriculture in the Eastern European countries could contribute significantly to increasing interest in the old breeds, which may be better adapted to the local conditions than the breeds imported from abroad.


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Bodo, I. (1985). Hungarian activities on the conservation of domestic animal genetic resources. Animal Genetic Resources Information 5: 16–22.

Brzeski, E., Jackowski, M. (1987). Prospects of utilizing Hucul horses in agriculture, sport and recreation. FAO Animal Production & Health Paper No. 66. pp. 281–283.

Cywa-Benko, K. (1989). Kstaltowanie sie rownowagi generycznej i produkcyjnosci w zachowawczych i rezerwowych populacjach kur niesnych. Doctor thesis. Institute of Animal Husbandry, Cracow.

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Geza, F. (1975). Az 1974 evi kornyezetvedelmi kutatasi eredmenyek. Budapest. Mezogazdasagies Elelmezesygy i Ministericum 431 teme: 193–203.

Ivanov, P., Ivanova, E. (1978). Problem zachowania zasobow genowych ras bydla. Miedz. Czasopismo Rolnicze. 2: 80–84.

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Rozycki, M., Doroszuk, K. (1982). Method of preservation the old Polish pig breed “Pulawska”. Proc. of Int. Conf. on Gene Reserve. Debrecen, Hungary.

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Zukowski, K., Reklewski, Z. (1987). Polish cattle - breeding, breed preservation and utilisation. FAO Animal Production & Health Paper No. 66. pp. 235–243.


L.L. Setshwaelo 1

1 Animal Production and Range Research Unit, Private Bag 0033, Gaborone, Botswana.


The need and urgency for conservation of natural resources in Africa has been discussed extensively in several forums at both national and international levels. However, due to external pressure on African governments as regards wildlife conservation, today more progress has been made in developing sound and rational national policies for conservation, management and utilization of wildlife resources than any other natural resource in these countries. Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce conservation of the indigenous livestock resources through legislation, governments are not taking any comprehensive measures to conserve at least those genetic resources already in danger of extinction. Experience with repeated droughts that have afflicted the continent in the past have taught livestock breeders and producers in Africa to appreciate the value of the indigenous animals in their production environment. This has resulted in change of attitudes and, consequently, re-examination of national livestock breeding objectives and strategies.

In the majority of African countries, where economic conditions are not favourable and financial resources limiting, opportunities to alter the livestock production environment to suit the high-potential temperate breeds are very minimal. The need therefore to continuously improve the indigenous types to raise their production potential can never be over-emphasized. However, livestock improvement and conservation programmes have not always received priority in government development budgets. This has resulted in lack of continuity in past programmes due to budget cuts and shortage of funds. Very rarely have conservation projects been initiated by governments purely for preserving genetic variability when no utility can be envisaged in a foreseeable future. Almost all breeding work in national programmes involves those breeds already known to have some production potential and specific roles to play in the food production system. Current programmes executed by government institutions are mainly aimed at conserving, multiplying and improving through selection programmes only those breeds with recognized potential.

Operational problems, such as lack of adequate facilities and finance, limit the amount of progress that can be achieved in livestock breeding programmes. When implementing conservation and improvement projects, sampling of the genotypes is often limited by resources available, hence very little emphasis is put on the importance of capturing and maintaining all the genetic variability within the breed or types. Very often, the size of the population maintained is too small to allow any meaningful selection to be done or to maintain a random-bred population without major set-backs due to cumulative effects of drift. Several of these programmes, mostly for cattle and few for sheep and goats, are presently operating in a number of African countries. The individual country projects are reported below.

2. Country projects

2.1 Botswana

There is at present no specific government policy on conservation of indigenous livestock genetic resources. However, with information acquired from past work on breed evaluation, which indicated the high potential of the indigenous livestock breeds, efforts are now being made to promote and improve through selection the indigenous breeds of cattle, sheep and goats specifically as a resource for the poor, small farmer in the traditional system. This will also enable the breeds to produce competitively against introduced commercial breeds and their crosses in order to ensure their own survival in the meat industry. The main objective of the programme is to improve the meat production efficiency through selection and to provide a source of purebred Tswana animals to those farmers who may require them. The Agricultural Research Department is responsible for the execution of the programme which is wholly financed by government through the recurrent budget.

A herd of 400 Tswana cows was assembled in 1987 with purchases from traditional farmers who have done minimal crossbreeding in their herds. Although there was no set sampling strategy, efforts were made to achieve as much genetic variability as possible within the selection population, by making purchases from all agricultural regions where Tswana cattle could still be found. Flocks of 300 breeding females each of Tswana sheep (one) and goats (two) were also assembled in 1987 using the same strategy.

2.2 Zimbabwe

In the 1940s, the then government of Rhodesia established herds of the local Mashona, Tuli and n'kone cattle with the aim of conserving and also improving these breeds. A special selection programme was then initiated in 1954 for the n'kone cattle with the objective of improving their milk production. However, when no progress was made in this direction, the objectives of the selection programme were changed for beef production (Brownlee, 1977). This selection work was continued up to 1977 and results have been reported by Tawonezvi et al. (1986). Although no other breed improvement work has been reported for the other two, purebred herds of all three breeds are still being maintained on government experimental stations and some of college farms. There is not yet any definite government policy as regards the future of these breeds on the experimental stations. However, popularity of the breeds in the country has increased over the years, and there are now breed societies for all three.

2.3 Zambia

Herds of the indigenous cattle breeds of Angoni, Barotse and Tonga have been established in a government research station with the objectives of conserving, characterizing and improving their production potential through selection. Breeding cow herds of 200 each, of the above breeds, have been assembled for this purpose, work on evaluation is now going on even though the selection has not yet been started (Kaluba, 1989, personal communication).

2.4 South Africa

Whilst very little interest had been expressed for indigenous livestock breeds in the country, efforts were already being made as far back as 1932 to collect and conserve the Nguni cattle in one of the wildlife parks, Natal Parks. Through the recommendation of a committee appointed in 1950 to look at the status of the indigenous cattle in South Africa, another conservation project for the then endangered Nguni cattle was initiated in what became known as the Bartlow Combine project. To date, a total herd of 1000 breeding cows is being maintained in government breeding stations in South Africa and Namibia for improvement, multiplication and distribution of the breed (Ramsay, 1986). Recently, the breed has received a lot of recognition from farmers and a breeders' society was constituted in 1986.

In a joint venture between the governments of South Africa and Swaziland, another breeding station has been established to study and improve the Nguni cattle for the benefit of fanners in both countries. The project is financed mainly by the South African government whilst the Swaziland government has provided the farm.

Programmes for other indigenous cattle breeds have also been initiated in government breeding stations, although the population numbers are quite low for some of the breeds, about 250 at the most, for any meaningful selection to be done.

2.5 Swaziland

Genetic erosion of the Nguni breed of cattle in Swaziland was recognized as far back as 1943. However, despite the government's efforts to maintain a purebred herd of cattle at Mpisi ranch, no measures were taken to conserve this breed, the crossbreeding experiments conducted at the ranch caused further losses. By 1950, it was estimated that only 20% of the Swazi national herd was free of exotic blood. D.E. Faulkner, in his report The Cattle of The Swazi (1950), recommended to the authorities specific breeding policies to conserve and improve these already disappearing cattle. No further action was taken by government. A private effort was made by the family of Mr and Mrs Ted Reilly to conserve these cattle which they saw as a unique genotype and a national heritage for the Swaziland people. The first 20 animals were acquired in 1976, and the herd has now been expanded to 1000 through further purchases from fanners in traditional areas (Reilly, 1989, personal communication). Although the government did recognize and encourage the Reilly's efforts, no financial assistance was offered except for the donation of the remnants of the Mpisi herd. In the initial years, the family financed what was then a purely preservation project from their own resources. A loan was later secured from a commercial bank with the understanding that the Nguni herd would be economically viable to be able to pay back the money. Therefore, from that period onwards, the herd had to be maintained on a commercial basis in order to generate funds. Today, the Nguni herd is paying for the maintenance of the Mkhaya farm, where it is maintained with many wildlife species which have also been introduced for conservation purposes. In 1981, Mkhaya farm was declared a nature reserve under full protection of the Swaziland National Trust Commission Act. Although private, the farm is now recognized by government as a holding ground for endangered species. Mkhaya was opened to the public in 1988 and visitors are charged a small entrance fee.

The Reilly's efforts in the Mkhaya project are definitely a unique and commendable example of public-spirited effort that can be followed in conservation of livestock genetic resources in Africa.

2.6 Morocco

Several programmes for improvement of indigenous breeds of sheep have been established by national governments in Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia, with the main objective of conserving and continuously improving these breeds through selection programmes to enhance overall productivity in meat production. Long term selection and breed evaluation programmes are executed by several government research institutes, universities and some private organizations.

Having recognized the potential of the D'man sheep breed in meat production, the government of Morocco established about 10 breeding stations since 1971 for conservation, characterization and genetic improvement through selection for production characteristics (Mason, 1980). Genetic progress through selection for prolificacy has been reported (Lahlou-Kassi, 1987). With the help of the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program, USA Agency for International Development since 1982, further research work is being done on the genetics of D'man sheep for prolificacy.

2.7 Algeria

In Algeria, where the D'Man breed is also present in large numbers, the government has established an experimental flock at Abadia (Mason, 1980).

2.8 Egypt

Several projects have been established by government and other institutions, such as the Desert Research Institute, to evaluate and improve through selection, the indigenous breeds of sheep and goats to increase meat production efficiency. Selection flocks of the Barki, Ossimi and Rahmani sheep are maintained in several stations for this purpose. Progress on some of this work has been reported by Aboul-Naga and El-Serafy (1988).

A small flock of the Zaraibi goats has been established in one government station mainly for conservation purposes. Only a few of these goats can still be found in Egypt, kept by some families for aesthetic reasons (Aboul-Naga, 1985).

2.9 Libya

A nucleus flock of the indigenous Barbary sheep, consisting of 2000 breeding ewes, was established in 1978 by the government for improvement through management and selection for meat characteristics. The flock was closed to outside introductions in 1982 and results on genetic progress were reported by Lightfoot (1988).

2.10 Ethiopia

This country has the largest resource of livestock genetic material in Africa. However, a lot of work still needs to be done in identifying and characterizing all the genotypes. The government Institute of Agricultural Research in 1975 started a programme of collecting and characterizing the three major sheep breeds in Ethiopia, the Adali, Horro and Somali Blackhead. Flocks of these sheep were established in experimental stations through purchases from farmers. Selection on the Adali and Somali Blackhead flocks was initiated at the Melka Werer Station and results from this selection work have been reported (Kebede, 1981).

A herd of the Fogera cattle has also been assembled by the University farm for selection to improve milk production.

2.11 Sudan

Attempts of live conservation of the Butana and Kenana cattle in the Sudan date as far back as 1940 (Osman, 1985). Small cow herds of these breeds and the Baggara (approximately 250 animals) were assembled in government experimental stations for selection to improve their milk and meat production. Although the government stations did succeed in preserving samples these breeds, no progress was made in selection programmes due to small population numbers. Presently, it is estimated that only three million cattle of the Kenana type are available. A live conservation and improvement plan was outlined by Cunningham (1987) for a proposed project to be funded by FAO (Osman, 1984). Although no programme is planned yet for the Butana cattle, the government farms will most likely continue to maintain the Butana populations they have. Some nucleus herds of both the Butana and Kenana have been established on the university farms (Universities of Khartoum and Gezire Farm).

The University of Khartoum also maintains a flock of 500 Sudan desert sheep in which evaluation of the breed is being done (Lambourne, 1985).

2.12 Republic of Guinea

A lot of research on the trypanotolerant livestock breeds of West Africa has generated substantial public awareness and interest in the value of these breeds in production systems within the region. The result has been a slow but deliberate increase in numbers of trypanotolerant cattle, which a decade ago were listed as threatened (Trail and D'leteren, 1989). With financial assistance from FAO and UNDP, a Center for Selection, Multiplication and Improvement of N'Dama cattle was set up in Guinea (which has one third of the total population). A herd of 300 breeding females was assembled, with the objectives of improving the breed's adaptability and meat production and multiplying it to provide other countries within the region with the improved N'Dama (Devillard, 1984).

2.13 Republic of Benin

The Lagone breed has been listed as one of the endangered trypanotolerant breeds of West Africa, with an estimated population size of 40 000 (Adeniji, 1984, 1985). With financial aid from the African Development Bank, the government started a conservation project at Samiondji ranch with the aim of multiplying and improving the meat production potential of the breed.

2.14 Senegal

A flock of indigenous Djallonke sheep and N'Dama cattle were established at Kolda Centre De Récherches Zootechniques (ILCA, 1982). The main objective of the programme was to characterize these trypanotolerant breeds for their meat production potential. Results from this work has already been reported.

2.15 Cameroon

The Government Institute of Animal Research (IRZ) has embarked on a programme of collecting local breeds of sheep and goats for the purpose of identifying the genotypes, characterization, multiplication and selection for prolificacy and meat production (Cameroon IRZ Annual Report, 1984–1985). Collection of the animals was started in 1983 from randomly selected villages. So far, only small numbers have been collected and work is going on to describe and differentiate these types.

2.16 Niger

The programme for improvement of Azaouak cattle for milk, meat and draught power was initiated in 1931 at the Toukounous Station, and this work is still being continued. Another large centre was established at Dakoro for multiplication of the Bororo cattle which constitute 25% of the total cattle population.

2.17 Gambia

A large regional centre for work on the trypanotolerant N'Dama cattle was established in the Gambia, financed by the African Development Bank, European Community and ODA. Trail and D'leteren (1989) suggested a comprehensive plan for improvement and conservation of the N'Dama cattle which could be considered for implementation at regional level.

3. Conclusions

This report is by no means exhaustive of livestock conservation and improvement projects in Africa, some projects may not have been reported here because information was not available to the author at the time of writing.

It is evident from the above account that the majority of indigenous livestock conservation projects in Africa are guided by socio-economic considerations under the present production systems. In view of this, many livestock breeds in Africa have become extinct and a lot are still threatened. However, no efforts are being made by national governments, because they do not see any immediate economic benefits to be achieved form conserving those genetic resources. There are no clear national policy guidelines as regards overall management of livestock resources, hence no commitment by governments to conserve these resources. Except for the Reilly project in Swaziland, the majority of the projects reported here are executed by government agencies with only a few by the universities and other private institutions. It is, however, not clear from most of the reports as to whether the projects are financed by the national governments or outside financiers. This has serious implications for the future continuation and maintenance of the programmes.


Aboul-Naga, A.M. (1985). Review of sheep and goats in Egypt. Proceedings, OAU Expert Committee Meeting on Animal Genetic Resources in Africa. Published by OAU/STRC/IBAR.

Aboul-Naga, A.M. and El-Serafy, A.M. (1988). Past experiences of sheep improvement in Egypt and future directions. Proceedings, Workshop on Increasing Small Ruminant Productivity in Semi-Arid Areas (ed. E.F. Thomson & F.S. Thomson). Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Adeniji, K.O. (1984). Recommendations for specific breeds and species for conservation by management and preferred techniques. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 44/1.

Adeniji, K.O. (1985). Review of endangered cattle breeds of Africa. Proceedings, OAU Expert Committee Meeting on Animal Genetic Resources in Africa. Published by OAU/STRC/IBAR.

Brownlee, J.W.I. (1977). The n'kone cattle of Rhodesia. Rhodesia Agric. J. 14: 1–9.

Cameroon Institute of Animal Research, Annual Report 1984–1985.

Cunningham, E.P. (1987). Conservation of the Kenana breed in Sudan. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 66.

Devillard, J. (1984). An example of a national project on management of animal genetic resources (N'Dama cattle breed): A center at Boke for selection, multiplication and improvement of N'Dama cattle in the Republic of Guinea. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 44/1.

ILCA (1982). Evaluation of the productivities of Djalionke sheep and N'Dama cattle at the Centre de Récherches Zootechniques, Kolda, Senegal. ILCA Research Report No. 3.

Kebede, B. (1981). Ethiopia: Country report on animal genetic resources and their conservation. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 24.

Lahlou-Kassi, A. (1985). Review of Moroccan sheep breeds. Proceedings, OAU Expert Committee Meeting on Animal Genetic Resources in Africa. Published by OAU/STRC/IBAR.

Lambourne, L.J. (1985). Research in goat productivity in tropical Africa. Proceedings, Workshop on Goat Production and Research in the Tropics (ed. J.W. Copland).

Lightfoot, R.J. (1988). Selection for lamb growth in Libyan Barbary sheep. Proceedings, Workshop on Increasing Small Ruminant Productivity in Semi-Arid Areas (ed. E.F. Thomson & F.S. Thomson). Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Mason, I.L. (1980). Prolific tropical sheep. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 17.

Osman A.H. (1984). Sudanese indigenous cattle breeds and the strategy for their conservation and improvement. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 44/1.

Osman, A.H. (1985). Review of Butana and Kenana breeds. Proceedings, OAU Expert Committee on Animal genetic Resources in Africa. Published by OAU/STRC/IBAR.

Ramsay, K.A. (1986). The Nguni and its future in Southern Africa. Proceedings, Southern African Commission for the Conservation and Utilization of the Soils.

Tawonezvi, H.P.R., Brownlee, J.W.I. and Ward, H.K. (1986). Studies on growth of the n'kone cattle. 2. Estimation of genetic improvement in body mass. Zimbabwe J. Agric. Res. 24: 31–35.

Trail, J.C.M. and D'leteren, G.D.M. (1989). Trypanotolerance and the value of conserving livestock genetic resources. Genome 31 (in press).


R.D. Crawford 1

1 University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

1. Introduction

Conservation of poultry breeds continues to receive minor attention in the growing world literature on conservation of animal genetic resources. There are several technical publications pertaining directly to poultry, a few inventories have been prepared, and some genetic stocks are currently held in conserve. But much more activity is needed to protect rapidly dwindling poultry genetic resources throughout the world. Industrialization of the poultry industry is advancing; there is a near monopoly of industrial stocks in developed countries, and these same stocks are rapidly replacing indigenous poultry in developing countries. Meanwhile, consumption of poultry products continues to increase; chicken consumption has surpassed beef in the United States; Yamada (1988) estimates that poultry meat currently accounts for 25% of the total world meat supply. Because of industrial monopoly, and because the genetic base for industrial poultry appears to be very narrow, it has been argued that the need for conservation is greater in poultry species than it is in domestic mammals (Crawford, 1984a, 1984b, 1990).

There are scattered notations in the technical literature to indicate that some poultry stocks are actively being conserved in a few countries - Poland, Romania, Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Iceland, Spain, France and Canada. The international registry published at three-year intervals by Somes (1988) includes some stocks being conserved purposely. Unfortunately, these conserves do not all have much long-term security. For instance, the very large and important collection of chicken stocks held at Parafield Poultry Research Centre in Australia has now been dispersed (personal communication). There appears never to have been direct poultry conservation action in developing countries (Mukherjee, 1990).

Except for the report by Wezyk and Kasznica (1982), there is almost nothing in the technical literature describing procedures utilized and results obtained during purposeful conservation of poultry stocks. The intent in this report is to describe the procedures which have been used by the author during the past 25 years at the University of Saskatchewan in maintaining a collection of poultry genetic resources, and to estimate the effects of these procedures. Three conservation protocols will be described:

  1. Non-pedigreed natural mating in floor flocks.

  2. Pedigreed random mating in caged flocks.

  3. Storage of tissue cultures and DNA.

The University of Saskatchewan collection of poultry genetic resources was begun in 1965 and it continues to the present. It emphasizes lines of middle-level production poultry and synthetic lines holding single gene mutations. Stocks have been added to the collection when opportune. The collection currently comprises 17 middle-level lines (11 chicken, 1 turkey, 1guinea fowl, 1 domestic duck, 1 muscovy duck and 2 goose), and 13 mutant lines. In addition to its conservation role, it is utilized extensively in teaching and in research which provide financial support.

2. Conservation protocols

2.1 Non-pedigreed natural mating in floor flocks

Eleven pure lines of middle-level production chickens have been maintained successfully for many years (Table 1). The oldest in the collection have been kept for 24 generations; two recent additions have been kept for nine and four generations. The ‘Araucana’ line is a synthetic established in 1966. All of the others had been held as closed flocks prior to collection, but flock size and selection history are poorly known. Number of founders (Table 1) refers to actual numbers of males and females used to generate the first conservation generation. They reflect stock availability and housing facilities at time of collection, and purpose of acquisition; most were obtained for research purposes initially, and only the last three listed were acquired primarily for conservation. Nearly all of them are one-of-a-kind lines that are not kept anywhere else.

Table 1: Middle-level production chicken lines maintained at University of Saskatchewan.

BreedAcquisition 1Founders
Barred Plymouth Rock1965 U4 m + 39 f
Fayoumi1965 U15 m + 35 f
Brown Leghorn1965 C12 m + 16 f
‘Araucana’1966 C1 m + 6 f
Light Sussex1967 C10 m + 21 f
White Jersey Giant1967 C5 m + 10 f
Hungarian Yellow1971 U7m + 9f
White Wyandotte1972 C6m + 10 f
White Leghorn1974 U20 m + 60 f
New Hampshire1980 C20 m + 60 f
Rhode Island Red1985 U20 m + 50 f

1 C = commercial origin; U = university/research origin

These eleven lines have been maintained for all or most of their conservation history using non-pedigreed natural mating in floor flocks. The intent has been to approximate random breeding and to avoid all selection pressures.

About 200 chicks per line are hatched each yearly generation. They are brooded and reared under routine procedures. To reduce costs, half of the males are discarded at random at 15 weeks of age; it has not been possible to arrange for vent-sexing at day-old. Breeding stock is placed in adult quarters at 21 weeks of age. Females are chosen at random, rejecting only those with very gross defects. Numbers retained have been 50–60 females in one pen per breed, which has necessarily been a function of available pen space. About 25 males per breed are also chosen at random; 5–6 are kept with the female flock and the others are held in a bachelor flock in a separate pen. The adults are given routine care and management. Expected mortality is 1% per month, so that when reproduction begins at 11 months of age there should be 45–55 females alive per breed and there will still be an excess of needed males.

Hatching eggs are obtained beginning when the adult flock is 11 months of age. A major objective is to ensure that many males are used as sires. From those available, 15–18 males are randomly chosen and identified with colored leg bands as three groups of 5–6. Beginning several weeks before the breeding season and continuing throughout, these three groups of males are placed with the females each week in rotation; that is, red band males enter the female flock on Monday, white band males replace them on Wednesday, blue band males replace the white bands on Friday, red band males rejoin the female flock on Monday, etc. Hatching eggs are accumulated for one week and then placed in artificial incubators. A setting of eggs is made each week until sufficient progeny have been generated. It is important to ensure that the maximum numbers of sires and dams provide progeny for the next generation. Two hundred chicks are needed. Hence, about 100 are retained from the first hatch, and about 100 from the second. Additional weekly hatching is needed for lines having poor reproductive performance; in some cases a series of six consecutive weekly hatches has been required to generate the needed 200 chicks. Chicks for retention are taken at random from the hatching trays, avoiding only those with gross defects; they are identified individually although their pedigree is not known. The entire cycle is then repeated.

Valiant attempts have been made throughout to ensure uniformity of environment and husbandry procedures, but with only a modicum of success. Housing conditions have changed many times, from derelict buildings and free range to modern confinement facilities; brooding and rearing are now conducted in a new building with elaborate environmental controls, but adults are kept in a renovated swine farrowing barn that is only moderately adequate. There have been many changes in technical and husbandry personnel. And there have been occasional major problems with disease.

At no time in the history of these lines has it been feasible to measure production performance adequately because of chronic shortages of funds, staff, and facilities. It would have been desirable to include an established random-bred control strain (Gowe and Fairfull, 1990) in the collection to monitor genetic and environmental trends, but that has not been feasible either.

However, information and data on yearly reproduction of stocks have been maintained throughout, wherein technical procedures have remained constant, incubation facilities have been excellent, and there has been continuity of personnel. Yearly measures of fertility and hatchability of fertile eggs permit an assessment of reproductive fitness of the conservation stocks. They also provide an indirect measure of egg production performance, since it is generally recognized that rate of egg production and hatching success are positively correlated. Fertility and hatchability of four of the conservation lines are shown graphically in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Fertility and hatchability of Fayoumi and White Jersey Giant conservation flocks. Solid line = per cent fertility; broken line = per cent hatch of fertile eggs.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Fertility and hatchability of Brown Leghorn and White Leghorn conservation flocks. Solid line = per cent fertility; broken line = per cent hatch of fertile eggs; arrow = change to pedigreed random breeding of caged flock.

Fertility has remained remarkably high. There is no indication of permanent change over advancing generations. Other lines in the collection likewise have maintained their fertilizing ability.

Hatchability of fertile eggs has also remained essentially unchanged, although it is more subject to random fluctuations. A separate analysis of data (not detailed here) indicates that embryo mortality occurs both early and late as anticipated, and there has been no major change in the frequency of embryo deaths at either stage over advancing generations.

Two of the lines have passed through ‘bottlenecks’ because of epidemic disease. In 1970 the Barred Plymouth Rock breeding stock was reduced to several males and two females during a massive outbreak of Marek's disease. A sample of the line had been placed at another university in the previous year, and it was possible to rebuild the parent flock from that sample. In 1986 the White Wyandotte breeding stock declined to seven males and 20 females because of Mycoplasma infection. The flock was rebuilt from those survivors.

Only two of the lines give consistently poor reproductive performance - ‘Araucana’ and Hungarian Yellow. Both were started from very few founders, and both were reproduced over the next 10–12 generations using only about five sires and 15 dams. Since then the flocks have been held at the usual 15–18 males and 50–60 females. There are no indications that their performance has either worsened or improved since increasing population size.

The evidence is that reproductive performance of these lines has remained unchanged over many generations of non-pedigreed natural mating in floor flocks, using about 15 sires and about 50 dams per generation. The numbers of effective parents suggested in the literature for genetic safekeeping are considerably larger. Sheldon (1984) indicated that a minimum of 200 male and 200 female parents per generation should be used for important or unique breeds, and 50 males and 50 females for a less important breed or a strain of an important breed. Gowe and Fairfull (1990) have reviewed in detail the theory and practice of breeding control strains for genetic research. They suggest that there be about 250–400 effective parents for stability and minimum drift in a control strain that is used in a long-term selection study. They used 80 sires and 240 dams in maintaining the Agriculture Canada chicken egg stock control strains, and similar numbers were used in breeding the meat stock controls.

It should be emphasized that the protocol used here for chickens includes annual reproduction. Reproductive fitness declines markedly in two-year old chickens. Polkinghorne (personal communication) tried reproducing the Parafield stocks using second-year birds but found that declines in male fertility, female egg production, and livability of both sexes prohibited the practice. The author has maintained the sex-linked paroxysm mutant by breeding heterozygous males as two-year olds to young females, but the poor results from delayed reproduction probably do not justify other savings. An attempt to reproduce the naturally-mating Bronze turkey line from second-year birds was disastrous; the toms had become too heavy and geriatric to complete the mating act. In contrast, the guinea fowl and muscovy duck lines being conserved are very amenable to second-year reproduction, and the goose stocks retain good reproductive abilities until at least five years of age.

2.2 Pedigreed random mating in caged flocks

Gowe and Fairfull (1990) have shown that the pedigreed random mating system is much more effective in reducing inbreeding and genetic drift than is the non-pedigreed natural mating system, and hence it should be preferred in breeding a conservation stock. A new housing facility with individual cages for males and females became available in 1986. The four conservation lines considered to be most valuable - White Leghorn, Brown Leghorn, Barred Plymouth Rock, Light Sussex - were moved to the cage facility that year. The New Hampshire line was transferred to cages in 1988. The breeding system for these five lines was changed immediately to pedigreed random mating.

Each line is allotted a row of 100 cages. Twenty cages are for males, representing 20 sire families. In addition, 20 males are kept as reserves in a bachelor floor flock, these being full-brothers or half-brothers of the caged males. Eighty cages are for females; sixty of them are used for breeders, representing 60 dam families; twenty of them are for reserves, representing one daughter from each of the sire families. The birds are caged at 21 weeks of age and reproduction begins when they are about 11 months old.

All breeding is by pedigreed artificial insemination with random assignment of mates, except that matings of full-sibs and half-sibs are avoided. Each male is mated to three females. Pedigreed artificial inseminations are made twice each week through the breeding season. Four consecutive weekly hatches of pedigreed chicks are generated. About six progeny per dam are retained to form the next generation, to ensure that each sire contributes a son and each dam contributes a daughter.

When breeding stock is chosen at five months of age, one son of each of the 20 sires is caged and one son is placed in the reserve floor pen; one daughter of each of the 60 dams is caged, and 20 of their full-sisters or half-sisters fill the reserve cages. The selection scheme has been very successful, but occasional substitutions for missing families are needed and these are made at random.

Reproductive performance of White Leghorns and Brown Leghorns over four generations of this procedure are illustrated in Figure 2. Performance is expected to be poorer than under a non-pedigreed natural mating system for two reasons:

Overall, the results obtained under pedigreed random mating are compatible with those obtained earlier under non-pedigreed natural mating. The apparent decline in hatchability is believed to be an environmental effect involving hatchery operation since it occurred simultaneously in all flocks under both mating systems (Figures 1 and 2). The presumed advantage of the pedigreed system is its superior control over inbreeding and genetic drift, but that cannot be verified yet.

An unexpected finding with the pedigreed system has been the discovery of aberrant reproductive function in the Light Sussex line. That line had a long history of satisfactory reproduction under non-pedigreed natural mating. When pedigreed breeding in cages was started, it became evident that about 60% of the females were very prolific but the other 40% produced no eggs at all. Reproductive tracts of the 1988 population females were examined by Dr F.E. Robinson, University of Alberta, who found a high incidence of grossly abnormal ovaries. Further studies of this peculiarity are in progress.

2.3 Storage of tissue cultures and DNA

The possibility of using new biotechnology techniques for preservation of poultry genetic resources holds great interest. A major advantage would be avoidance of the need to maintain living populations of birds which is costly in both practical and genetic terms. Bakst (1990) has reviewed current technologies for storage and preservation of avian cells. Freeze-preservation of chicken and turkey semen can be accomplished readily, although there is very heavy selection pressure for freezing ability of semen from individual males. Embryos can now be cultured ex ovo, but freeze-storage of them has had only preliminary study. There are few barriers to successful freeze-storage of somatic cells.

A very large harvesting of somatic cells and DNA has been made from the 1988 generation of all 11 conservation chicken lines. This work was performed by graduate trainee, R.D. Bergen, under the supervision of Dr S.M. Schmutz, University of Saskatchewan. All of the breeding stocks were sacrificed at the end of the breeding season in spring 1989. Ovarian tissue was taken from all females for a cooperative project with the University of Alberta, and concurrently a blood sample was obtained via brachial vein from each female for extraction of DNA. Numbers of blood samples ranged from 53–82 per breed. In addition, pericardial sac tissue was taken from all Light Sussex females to establish fibroblast tissue cultures. Subsequently, pericardial sac tissue was also collected from several males of each breed for tissue culture.

The blood samples were frozen temporarily and then subjected to DNA extraction (samples were lysed and incubated with proteinase K, extracted three times with phenol and three times with chloroform, and then dialyzed). DNA has been extracted from 10–20 samples per breed and returned to freeze-storage; DNA extraction from remaining blood samples is in progress.

Duplicate samples of pericardial sac tissue were placed in culture media. About 90% of them grew satisfactorily. They were then subcultured, and then frozen in liquid nitrogen. Duplicate cultures from 90 birds are now in storage in facilities at the University Saskatchewan. For added security, some of these will be placed in permanent storage elsewhere.

It will depend on future advances in biotechnology whether these reserves of DNA and tissue cultures have any usefulness in conserving poultry genetic resources. Until then, it is necessary to continue maintaining the living flocks.


Bakst, M.R. (1990). Preservation of avian cells (Chapt. 4). In Poultry Breeding and Genetics (ed. R.D. Crawford). Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam.

Crawford, R.D. (1984a). Assessment and conservation of animal genetic resources in Canada. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 64: 235–251.

Crawford, R.D. (1984b). Domestic fowl (Chapt 42). Turkey (Chapt. 47). In Evolution of Domesticated Animals (ed. I.L. Mason). Longman, London.

Crawford, R.D. (1990). Poultry genetic resources: evolution, diversity and conservation (Chapt 2). In Poultry Breeding and Genetics (ed. R.D. Crawford). Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam.

Gowe, R.S. and Fairfull, R.W. (1990). Genetic controls in selection (Chapt 38). In Poultry Breeding and Genetics (ed. R.D. Crawford). Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam.

Mukherjee, T.K. (1990). Breeding and selection programs in developing countries. In Poultry Breeding and Genetics (ed. R.D. Crawford). Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam.

Sheldon, B.L. (1984). Evaluation and conservation of native strains of chicken in the Sabrao region. Animal Genetic Resources Information 3: 15–18.

Somes, R.G., Jr. (1988). International registry of poultry genetic stocks. Storrs Agric. Exp. Sta. Bull. 476.

Wezyk, S. and Kasznica, E. (1982). Methods of preservations of the old breeds in Poland. Proc. International Conf. Gene Reserves. 6–9 Sept 1982, Debrecen, Hungary.

Yamada, Y. (1988). The contribution of poultry science to society. World's Poultry Sci. J. 44: 172–178.


The Global Animal Genetic Data Bank

D. Simon1

1 Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics, Hannover School of Veterinary Medicine, Bünteweg 17p, D-3000 Hannover 71

1. Introduction

The basis of conservation programs is knowledge on breeds and information on genetic varieties, which are endangered or could be so in the near future. This information has to be reliable and it has to be updated at meaningful intervals in order to keep track of changes in criteria relevant for the survival of the breed.

Accumulation of information in a data bank means data collection and storage in a systematic order which allows quick and easy access, to perform comparisons and retrievals for any combination of criteria.

1.1 Objectives

For a Data Bank on Animal Genetic Resources we have the following objectives. To know:

The list of objectives and relevant questions can be long, maybe too long and too specific in order to get the answers properly and in due time; there can be a conflict between the objectives of a data bank and the practicability of data collection for it.

2. Development of the Global Data Bank on Animal Genetic Resources

It was one of the recommendations of the FAO/UNEP Technical Consultation on Animal Genetic Resources Conservation and Management, Rome, 1980, to establish such data banks (FAO, 1981). Actions were initiated both by FAO and other organisations in different regions.

FAO developed descriptor lists and gave recommendations for creating data banks (FAO, 1986a,b,c). National data banks for animal genetic resources started to operate in India and China, each covering an enormous number of autochthonous breeds.

In Europe, the Genetic Commission of the European Association of Animal Production (EAAP) set up a working party on Animal Genetic Resources, that organized two surveys on breed resources in 1983 and 1985 in Europe (Maijala et al., 1984; Maijala, 1987). The questionnaire forms for these surveys were improved and modified according to the experience from working with them. The last survey resulted in information on 553 breeds.

In 1987, the EAAP Genetics Commission approved the following recommendations of the working party:

Although EAAP was not able to give financial support, the Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics, Hannover, volunteered to set up the data bank and was enabled to do so by a grant of the German Research Foundation.

In 1988 FAO and EAAP made an agreement, that identical questionnaire forms should be used both in developed and in developing countries, and that the information should be combined in the data bank in Hannover, which in future should serve as Global Animal Genetic Data Bank. The working party was expanded to a combined EAAP-FAO Working Party. The questionnaire was again adapted; now it covers buffalos as a sixth species and considers also the management conditions and the natural environment typical for the breed.

As a first step towards including breeds from outside Europe information from the National Data Banks in India and China will be transfered to Hannover. For this purpose, two software specialists from India and China stayed in Hannover in the summer of 1989 for four weeks to get acquainted with details of computer programs and the kind of records needed as transfer information.

The combined information from Europe, India and China will add up to 838 breeds of buffalo, cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and horses. Additional information is available from India and China for several breeds of camels, yaks, asses and poultry.

As a next step information on breeds represented in the Regional Gene Banks will be transferred to the Global Data Bank. Since each of these Regional Gene Banks will cover indigenous breeds from several countries, a broad input from developing countries is expected.

3. Present concept of data bank

The data bank was installed on a Personal Computer with a 30 MB hard disc which should be sufficient for the next few years. The data bank system dBase III+ is used with several additional programs to enter the data and for information retrievals.

The quality of the accumulated information depends on the quality of input data. The working party therefore took great care in the creation of questionnaire forms. At present they are characterized as follows:

-   Six species for the start, i.e. buffalos, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses. Others may follow, when the channels for data collection are established.

-   The same questionnaire forms can be used for all six species.

-   Information on all breeds and genetic varieties is asked for, since the status of an endangered breed is not clearly defined.

-   The questionnaire includes only seven pages; it is restricted to main items which can characterize the breed (s. Table 1). In addition it asks for the address of specialists, who know more about the breed, in case more information is required.

-   Because of different environmental conditions in various countries and of different measurements of traits, the production potential of a breed is evaluated not in terms of absolute production figures but by relative deviations in traits from the potential of a so called “standard breed” in the same country. For each species recommendations are given for standard breeds.

-   Repeated surveys are regarded necessary in order to become aware of changes, which are important for the survival of the breed. If information on a breed is available from a previous survey, a printout is prepared to allow a check on the correctness of the stored information and to facilitate the new survey.

-   Normally the information is transferred to the Global Data Bank by means of the filled in questionnaire forms. However if local centers prefer to run their own data bank, they can be supplied with software for the data input on a PC and after that the transfer can be performed by a floppy disc.

-   Before the data are entered into the data bank every breed record is checked for completeness and for possible errors by a person with experience in animal breeding. If necessary the colleague who filled in the information will be addressed in order to clarify the situation.

In the appendix an example is given of a filled-in questionnaire.

Table 1: Main items asked in the questionnaire forms.

A.General information (page 1)
 -Country and species (buffalos, cattle, goats, sheep, horses, or pigs)
 -Breed or population (local and international name)
 -Main organization concerned with the breed
 -Preparation of replies (name, organization, time)
B.Origin and development of breed (page 2)
 -Origin (from which breeds, from which country, herdbook since when), immigration to the breed (breed, country, time, percentage of matings)
 -Breeding population numbers 1986 (males, females; males in A.I., herd size, changes in numbers)
 -Average age of mature animals used for breeding (o, o)
C.Breed description (page 3)
 -Colour (unicoloured, colour combinations, special signs)
 -Horns (number, shape)
 -Appearance (adult weight, withers height)
 -Genetic peculiarities (chromosome abberrations, marker genes)
D.Qualification of breed (page 4)
 -Present main use (ranking of eight alternatives)
 -Other important uses
 -Special qualifications (with references)
E.Management conditions (page 5)
 -Type, housing period, feeding
 -Specific natural environment
F.Performance records (page 5 and 6)
 -Name of standard breed for comparisons within country
 -Approximate production level of standard breed in main traits
 -relative comparisons with standard breed in specific traits
 -Validity of comparisons (production conditions)
G.Additional information (page 7)
 -Estimate of genetic distance to other breeds
 -Storage of DNA in a gene-library
 -Programs to conserve live animals of the breed
 -Additional information to be obtained where

4. Use of data bank

The purpose of the data bank is to give answers to specific questions in the context of proper use of a breed and of its conservation.

4.1 Utilization of a breed (or of animal genetic material)

4.2 Preservation of breeds

The status of a breed - for it to be endangered - depends mainly on the effective population size Ne and this again on the number of male breeding animals (Falconer, 1960). Thus the knowledge of the number of males is the main factor to characterize a breed as an endangered breed. In this context stored information is valuable in several aspects:

-   The information ‘decline of the number of males’ can be used to prepare a list of breeds which probably will become endangered. This list can draw the attention of people without prior knowledge of the breed, to its genetic potential and to the danger of loosing it (DGfZ, 1979).

-   The information on semen and embryos stored for conservation, and the number of males represented by them, is necessary to decide whether something should be done in this respect. The same holds for the information ‘programs for conservation of live animals’.

-   The information ‘same breed exists in different countries’ can be used to combine the resources from different locations in order to increase the effective population size and to use limited funds for conservation in a more efficent way.

-   The information ‘similarity among breeds, breed history, genetic distance to other breeds’ can help to decide, whether a given breed is a unique genetic group and deserves to be preserved as it is, or whether it would be justified, to combine the resources of similar genetic background into one population (Simon and Schulte-Coerne, 1979).

Typical for the information retrieval from the computerized data bank is the possibility to compare entries on different traits, breeds, countries and surveys simultaneously and for this reason give answers to relative complex questions.

5. Future prospects

As mentioned above, the next steps will be the integration of breed information from the Animal Genetic Data Banks in India and China, and from the Regional Animal Gene Banks in South America, Africa, India and China. This means that in these centres the available information will be recorded according to the questionnaire forms of the Global Bank.

The existence of the questionnaire of the Global Bank should not interfere with the initiative of local or regional centres to collect more information on breeds and to cover additional species. The value of such local initiatives is fully recognized.

What is asked for by the Global Animal Genetic Bank is regarded as a core information, which should be obtainable in many countries and under non-optimal conditions; it is the result of a compromise of the two objectives: to have complete information on breeds and to keep people motivated to supply it. This core information should be made available from local centres to the Global Data Bank. Nevertheless, the questionnaire forms will have to be modified and adapted in due time according to new needs and possibilities.

One additional topic deserves attention, to answer the question of who is entitled to use the information of the data bank: FAO, EAAP, national governments, research institutions, private persons? The compiled information is the result of efforts and initiatives of colleagues, animal breeders, scientists and others in many countries, who often sacrificed their spare time for the project of animal genetic resources. So we should reflect on regulations for the use of accumulated data.

In conclusion we may say that - as a result of combined efforts - we have a concept and a framework for the Global Animal Genetic Data Bank, and we also have some contents. The prospects of filling the gaps are good if we succeed to motivate our colleagues in the various countries to supply the information necessary.


DGfZ (1979). Stellungnahme zur Bildung von Genreserven in der Tierzüchtung. Züchtungskunde, 51: 329–331.

Falconer, D:S. (1960). Introduction to quantitative genetics. The Ronald Press Company, New York.

FAO (1981). Animal Genetic Resources Conservation and Management. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 24: 388 pp.

FAO (1986a). Animal Genetic Resources Data Banks. 1. Computer Systems study for regional data banks. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 59/1: 18 pp.

FAO (1986b). 2. Descriptor lists for cattle, buffalo, pigs, sheep and goats. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 59/ 2: 150 pp.

FAO (1986c). 3. Descriptor lists for poultry. Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 59/3: 111 pp.

Maijala, K. (in collaboration with D.L. Simon and D. Steane) (1987). Surveying animal breed resources in Europe. Research in Cattle Production Danish Status and Perspectives. Copenhagen: 208–218.

Maijala, K., Cherekaev, A.V., Devillard, J.M., Reklewski, Z., Rognoni, G., Simon, D.L. & Steane, D. (1984). Conservation of animal genetic resources in Europe. Final report of an E.A.A.P. working party, Livest. Prod. Sci. 11: 3–22.

Paterson, A.H., Lander, E.S. Hewitt, J.D., Peterson, S., Lincoln, E. and Tanksley, S.D. (1988). Resolution of quantitative traits into Mendelian factors by using a complete linkage map of restriction fragment length polymorphisms. Nature, 335: 721–726.

Simon, D and Schulte-Coerne, H. (1979). Verlust genetischer Alternativen in der Tierzucht - notwendige Konsequenzen. Züchtungskunde, 51: 332–342.

Smith, C, Meuwissen, T.H.E. and Gibson, J.P. (1987). On the use of transgenes in livestock improvement. Animal Breeding Abstract, 55: 1–10.


EAAP/FAO - Information on livestock populations (Databank on Animal Genetic Resources)

A.General information 
1CountryGermany, Fed. Rep. 
2Species:11=Buffalo, 12=Cattle, 13=Goats, 14=Sheep    
  21=Horses, 31=Pigs 12 
3Breed or population 
3.1local nameHinterwälder 
3.2international name
(see Mason's Dictionary)
4Main location of breed 
4.1region with countryHochschwarzwald 
5.1Main organisation concerned with the breed;
normally Breed Society; (name, address):
Zuchterverband Fleckvieh und Wäldervieh, 7820 Titisee-Neustadt
 If not 5.1 (Breed Society), please complete:    
5.2University/state institution/others     
6Preparation of replies
Information for this questionnaire was given
6.1on page 1 to 3 by 
 Name:Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher 
 OrganisationTierzüchter, Bonn 
6.2on page 4 to 7 by 
 Name:see above 
6.3Date of preparation:March (month) 1989 (year) 
Global Animal Genetic Data Bank (FAO/EAAP)
Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics
Hannover School of Veterinary Medicine
Bünteweg 17p
D-3000 Hannover 71 - FRG

B.Origin and development of breed 
1Origin Year    
1.1Breed was mainly established out of the following local breeds 
 Autochthon breedaround 180 0 
1.2Breed was mainly imported      
 and fromcountry-       
1.3Breed is known by its local name since 1865 
1.4Herdbook established (please mark “x”)X  1889 
2Immigration has taken place in the last years:
for cattle, buffalo, and horses since 1950, for
sheep and goats since 1960, and for pigs since 1970.
(code: 1=5%, 2=5–20%, 3=>20%, estimated % of matings)
 1from breedVorderwäldercountryFRGin 1972 
 1from breedVorderwäldercountryFRGin 1972 
  from breed country in      
  from breed country in      
3Breeding population numbers in 1986 Nos    
3.1Females (numbers being bred)3.1.1 total 2300    
  3.1.2 registered in herdbook 259    
3.2Per cent females being bred pure (mated to males of own breed) 95    
3.3Number of males total in service 45    
3.4Out of the above males, the number in Al-service 5    
3.5Changes in numbers of females:
(1=increasing, 2=stable, 3=decreasing)
 until 19863 since 19862  
3.6Average herd size (females) 1986total8  
 in private herds8in other herds-  
4Average age of animals used for breeding (months) 
5Storage of semen and embryosNumber of males, sires and dams represented
5.1semenX in case of storagemales12  
5.2embryos  please mark “x”sires dams 
5.3Additional information on storage can be obtained by
 Zuchtverband für Fleokvieh und Wäldervieh, 7820 Titisee - Neustadt

CBreed description (please mark with “x”)
1Coat colourblackgreyblueredbrownyellowwhiteblond
1.1predominantly uncoloured        
1.2colour combinations as follows   X XX 

1.3special colour characteristics
(e.g. spotted, saddle, white head, etc)
 White head, spotted around the eyes
2Skin colour                                                                                       
3Horns 420   
  male X    
3.1typical number of horns (please mark with “x”)       
  female X    
3.2knobs only (spurs) (please mark with “x”)       
3.3remarkable horn shape (or size)
 which ? Lyra-formed horns
4Hair and/or wool? (only sheep and goats)       
4.1hair (please mark with “x”)     X 
4.2wool (1=fine, 2=medium/crossbred, 3=coarse/carpet, 4=mixed)  (code)   

5Adult size and weight (metric measurements)     
5.1wither height (cm)males130 females118   
5.2live weight (kg)males700females420   

6Other specific visible traits, i.e. fat tail, hump, etc
 please describe 
7Genetic peculiarities 
7.1chromosome aberrations 
7.2typical markergenegene-frequency
 and/or major genes 
7.4additional information on genetic peculiarities can be obtained by the following institution or person:

DQualification of breed
1Present main use  please indicate 1st, 2nd and 3rd rankings according to present importance
1.2tractive power 
1.6vegetation management3
1.7sport, hobby 
1.8other (state below) 
2Are there other uses which are of importance - please specify    
3Breed has special qualification other than stated above) in the following fields (please mark with “x”)    
3.1quality of product for human consumption   
3.2resistance against specific pathogenic agent X 
 specifyno IBR/IPV - infections    
3.3adaptability to climate   
3.4fertility (e.g. twinning, long breeding season)   
3.5adaptability to marginal land (e.g. mountain, marsh, wetland, semi desert)  X 
 specifyvery good legs to graze on steep mountains    
3.7experimental results in the above fields have been published     
3.7.1bynonefor field 32*
 in (reference)     
3.7.2by for field 35*
 in (reference)none    
3.8Additional information on the above qualifications can be obtained from the following institution or persons:      
 Zuchtverband für Jieckvieh und Wäddervieh, Titisee - Neustadt    
  for field32 35*
 and from     
  for field     *

* please fill in the field number (3.1 to 3.6) for which additional information can be obtained

EManagement conditions     
1Type2 2 Housing period3 3 Feeding of adults2
 1 = stationary 1 = no housing  1 = total grazing 
 2 = transhumant 2 = up to 2 months  2 = grazing + fodder 
 3 = nomadic 3 = 2 to 6 months  3 = mixed 
   4 = over 6 months  4 = concentrate 
   5 = total housing  5 = total concentrate 

4Special conditions, i.e. lack of water supply,
FSummary performance record
1Standard breed for comparisons with country
 The performance of breed (B) in specific traits is to be compared with the performance of a standard breed (SB), same trait, same measurement; preferably one of the following most frequent breeds should be used as standard breed:
 CattleH. Friesians, Simmental, Jersey, Hereford, Charolais
 GoatsMalta, Saanen, Toggenburg, Alpine
 SheepBorder-Leicester, Merino, Suffolk, Texel, Scottish Blackface,
  East Friesian, Finnsheep
 HorsesArab, Thoroughbred, Halbred, Fjord, Percheron, Quarter Horse
 PigsLandrace, Large White, Pietrain, Duroc
 If none of the above breeds is present in the country, the most popular breed should be used as standard breed.
1.1Name of standard breed chosenSimmental
1.2Approximate production of standard breed within country

1.2.1milk yield per yearkg5000  
1.2.2fat per cent%4.01  
1.2.3daily gain (malesg1200  
1.2.4litter sizen   
1.2.5lean meat%   

Summary performance record (continued)
2 Relative comparisons
 The absolute production level of breed B in comparison to the standard breed                          is
 (code)1 = very much lower(-   51 to - 100%) 
  2 = much lower(-   16 to -   50%) 
  3 = lower(-     6 to -   15%) 
  4 = about equal(-     5 to +     5%) 
  5 = higher(+     6 to +   15%) 
  6 = much higher(+   16 to +   50%) 
  7 = very much higher(+   51 to + 100%) 
  8 = more than 100 per cent higher(+ 101 to + 200%) 
  9 = more than 200 per cent higher(>200%) 
 in the following traits (please enter codes in table):

traitbuffalo + cattlesheep + goatspigshorses
2.01milk yield 2milk yield  daily gain  pulling power  
2.02% fat 4% fat  feed conversion ratio  fertility  
2.03% protein 4% protein  muscularity  handling ease  
2.04pulling power  daily gain  % lean  daily gain  
2.05milkability 4muscularity  meat quality  age at sexual maturity  
2.06daily gain 2carcass leanness  litter size  speed in gallop  
2.07muscularity 3litter size  mortality  speed in trotters  
2.08calving rate 4length of mating season  handling ease  adaptability:
(in dressage)
2.09calving ease 5lambing interval  farrowing interval  (in jumping)  
2.10calf mortality 2age at sexual maturity  age at sexual maturity  (in military)  
2.11calving interval 3wool or fiber yield  liveweight at slaughter     
2.12handling ease 4wool or fiber thickness        
2.13age at sexual maturity 5         
2.14  6         

3Validity of comparisons
 The production conditions for Breed B (the one in question)
3.1are about equal with the conditions for standard breed SB in above trait number(s) (please enter trait numbers
3.2are probably not as good as for the standard breed SB in above trait number(s) (please enter trait number
3.3are probably better than for the standard breed SB in above trait number(s) (please enter trait number
GAdditional information on the breed
1Genetic distance
 Estimates of genetic distance to the following other breeds are available:
1.1(Breed)1.2(in country)
1.1.1 1.2.1 
1.1.2 1.2.2 
1.1.3 1.2.3 
1.1.4 1.2.4 
 Additional information on genetic distance can be obtained by
  and by
2Storage of genetic material in a “gene-library”
  please mark “x” if genetic material of the breed such as DNA-sequences was entered in a gene library
 Additional information on this kind of storage can be obtained by:
  and by
3Activities to conserve live animals of the breed
3.1The following specific programs exist to live animal conservation (please indicate number of males and females, location, sponsor, etc), excluding individual breeders who are part of an overall program:
 Förderverein Hinterwäldervich e. V. Schonau. (Premium for matings and calvings
3.2Additional information on conservation of live animals of the breed can be obtained from:
3.2.1Zuchtverband für Fleckveih und Wäldervieh, D-7820 Titisee - Neustadt (Tel. 07651/1037)
  and from

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