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


Chen Yaochun 1

1 Ministry of Agriculture, Beijing, People's Republic of China

1. General situation concerning the resources of livestock and fowl breeds in East Asia.

1.1 China

(a) China has a long history of livestock and fowl with rich gene resources.

According to archaeological studies, the Chinese people had started animal domestication as early as the neolithic age or, say, ten thousand years ago. As a major source of livelihood, animal-raising was well developed about seven or eight thousand years ago. Since the livestock and fowl were raised under complex ecological conditions, and affected by different social economic situations for a rather long period of time, they had been artificially selected and raised for different purposes, so that different livestock and fowl breeds evolved with their own characteristics. Furthermore, some Chinese livestock and fowl breeds have had great influence on the evolution and development of some livestock and fowl breeds in foreign countries.

China is a country with great and rich livestock and fowl resources. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, much attention has been paid to develop animal husbandry and the utilization of livestock and fowl resources. In order to ascertain the current resources of different livestock and fowl, planned investigations and research projects have been organized many times since the 1950s. That on the largest scale and longest time duration was carried out from 1976–1984. For this survey in the whole country, the Ministry of Agriculture and the local governments at all levels allocated large amounts of money. Thousands of scientists, experts and technicians from universities and colleges of agriculture, central and local academies of animal sciences as well as those working at the grass roots, were organized by the administrations of animal husbandry in 29 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities (except Taiwan). After the investigation, much information and data had been collected and sorted out. The resources of livestock and fowl breeds in China have thus been basically ascertained. There are more than 300 domestic livestock and fowl breeds and groups of varieties, including 29 horse breeds, 20 ass breeds, 42 cattle breeds, 18 buffalo breeds, 5 yak breeds, 4 camel breeds, 35 sheep breeds, 37 goat breeds, 64 pig breeds, 72 chicken breeds, 30 duck breeds and 21 goose breeds.

In order to facilitate timely exchange of these livestock and fowl breeds resources at home and abroad, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture organized almost a hundred renowned professors and experts to compile a book of “Breeds of Domestic Animals and Fowls in China”, which has been published in separate volumes, namely: “Horse and Ass Breeds in China”, “Bovine Breeds in China”, “Pig Breeds in China”, “Sheep and Goat Breeds in China” and “Fowl Breeds in China”.

(b) Characteristics of Chinese domesticated animal and fowl resources

The many breeds of Chinese domesticated animals and fowl have various characteristics. For example, Yunnan Zebu is well adapted to the tropical and subtropical climates in the south and resistant to external parasites; Erlunchun horse and Ming pig in the North-east are adapted to cold climate and severe environment in the north; Nanyang cattle and Luxi cattle are good for both meat and draught purposes and can be fed on roughage; Tibet range sheep, Liaoning cashmere goat and Inner Mongolia cashmere goat have good performance in producing cashmere wool; Jinding duck, Shao duck, and Gaoyou duck are excellent in egg production; Jianchang duck and Xupu duck are good for liver production; Chinese fighting cocks are for entertainment purposes. In producing Chinese traditional animal by-products, the domesticated animal and fowl breeds used are: Jinhua pig for ham; Beijing roast duck; Anhui ma chicken for roasting; Chaohu ma duck for pressed salted duck; Tan sheep and Zhongwei goat for fur; Hu sheep and Jining grey goat for lamb and rich fur. There are also the Taihu pig and the small-tailed Han sheep and big-tailed Han sheep, well-known for their high fertility. And also, there are the silky blackbone chicken of pharmaceutical significance; dwarf and miniature breeds, such as mature horses with body height under one metre; Wuzhishan pig and Xiang pig with body height 35–40 cm and weight around 40 kg. The characteristics of several breeds are rare not only in China, but also in rest of the world.

1.2 Japan

Japan has relatively rich and varied livestock and fowl resources among countries of East Asia. The exotic breeds and crossbreds play an important role in animal production. For instance, Japan cattle, were developed and improved after selecting original local breeds for meat purposes and crossing with exotic breeds.

In Japan there are also some endangered livestock and fowl breeds. These livestock are preserved basically as living relics. According to statistics (1983), there were nearly 30 livestock breeds preserved, including 17 chicken breeds, 6 horse breeds, 4 goat breeds, 2 cattle breeds and others.

1.3 DPR of Korea

There are only a small number of livestock and fowl breeds native to the DPR of Korea. They were low in productivity and have been improved by crossing with imported breeds.

1.4 PR of Mongolia

Livestock and fowl breeds native to PR of Mongolia are sheep (Mongolian sheep, Kazakh sheep), goat, cattle (Mongolian cattle), yak, horse (Mongolian horse), Camel (Bactrian camel). Among these livestock, cattle, sheep and horse have been crossed with exotic breeds and improved.

2. The importance of preserving local livestock and fowl breeds

Livestock and fowl breeds are an important part of the biological genetic resources. They are renewable or changeable, and are influenced by the natural ecological environments and by social development. Having been subjected for long historical periods to varied environments, the survivors of the original local animal and fowl breeds have acquired many excellent characteristics. They are not only well adapted to their own local environments, enduring to extensive management and resistant to diseases, but also have acquired the properties of early maturity, high meat and hair production, high milk production, good reproductive performance and meat quality, all of which are of great economic importance. Doubtless, these genetic resources are of great significance both to mankind and nature.

But, we must pay serious attention to the fact that local livestock breeds and varieties are now being improved through cross-breeding and substituted by some “specialized” high yielding breeds. Livestock and fowl breed resources are diminishing drastically at present in the developed countries, causing the reduction or even exhaustion of genetic resources and placing an alarming situation before mankind. We must take emergency measures in a planned way to protect the Indigenous livestock and fowl breeds, especially those resources of great significance. Ill-considered methods of protection or preservation and improper utilization could cause the exhaustion or complete extinction of these resources and unretrievable loss.

3. Ways of protecting livestock and fowl resources in East Asia

In East Asia, China and Japan are the countries that have carried out better and earlier the protection and preservation of livestock and fowl resources than other countries.

3.1 China

In China, the protection and preservation of livestock and fowl resources have been carried out in the following three ways, namely: to protect live animals and fowl, frozen semen and frozen embryos. The protection of live animals and fowl is the main method. It was carried out relatively early and has been used in cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and fowl. Obvious results have been obtained in protecting small-tailed Han sheep and Hu sheep by establishing protected areas and farms. For example, small-tailed Han sheep in the west of Shandong Province are a coarse-wool breed with high fertility. As wool was greatly needed in the 1960s, production of wool in the country was raised by crossing breeds but the fertility was reduced. Later, it was found that high fertility is a particular attribute of the Chinese Han breed of sheep. So the Ministry of Agriculture has paid great attention to the small-tailed Han sheep and allocated some special funds to develop them. The local governments took some protective steps that made the number of small-tailed Han sheep Increase from 30 000 in 1977 to 300 000 in 1988. It has become a breed highly appreciated in production by the people.

Another example is the Langshan chicken well-known in the world for a long time. Once it was on the verge of extinction. Jiangsu Province has taken active measures and established protection breeding farms for this chicken. After more than 20 years of selection and protection, this excellent breed is under good care and preserved.

3.2 Japan

In Japan the major form of animal protection has been to preserve the indigenous livestock breed resources. Three ways of protection are adopted, i.e. protection by the broad mass of people; protection by the local production area of breeds; and at the national level, keeping these animals as a heritage of nature. These breed resources represent basically the endangered livestock.

4. Reduced or endangered animal resources in East Asian countries

4.1 China

In China, with the development of a commodity economy in animal husbandry, the challenge faced by the local breeds has been increased. Large numbers of foreign breeds introduced from abroad for cross-breeding and improvement have caused a reduction in the number of breeds or species, making some of the breeds become endangered livestock (Table 1).

4.2 Japan

In Japan, according to the information given by the preservation committee, only 2 breeds of cattle, 6 breeds of horse, 4 breeds of sheep and 17 breeds of chicken are on the endangered list (Table 2).

5. Suggestions for protecting and preserving the livestock and fowl breed resources

China is an East Asian country with very rich livestock and fowl genetic resources. In Asian and East Asian countries, local breeds have been influenced to some extent by being hybridized with and replaced by foreign breeds. Yet China has a vast area and a rather complicated natural ecological environment. Especially in the south-east and the south-west and the Huang-Huai-Hai regions in China, natural protection regions have formed where a lot of specific animal and fowl breeds have been distributed and protected now, so that many breeds in those regions have been preserved.

China is also a developing country. The economic resources used to protect and preserve effectively the genetic resources of livestock and fowl breeds are not sufficient. Therefore, related international organizations, such as FAO, should co-operate with the Ministry of Agriculture of China to establish several protective regions, sperm banks, and embryo banks for some endangered livestock and fowl populations and species that have become almost extinct or greatly reduced in number. This is also required to carry out studies on the development and utilization of these genetic resources in China.


The data were provided by the Institute of Animal Science, CAAS. I acknowledge my appreciation for their service.

Table 1: Endangered local breeds in China.

BreedNameNumber ('000)
HorsesBaichatieti horse0.4
Yongnin Tibet0.4
Ebian Spotted1.0
Wenling Humped1.0
SheepLanzhou Large Tailed1.0
Henan Large Tailed2.0
Guide Black Fur2.0
Guanzhuang Spotted0.6
Gangzhongnan Spotted1.3
Fuan Spotted0.2
Pingtan Black0.25
Qianshao Spotted1.2
Lanxi Spotted1.5
Chalu Black0.74
Pudong White1.0
ChickenBeijing You3.0
Fighting Cock of China0.2
Emei Black1.6
Dongzhong Dwarf0.05

Table 2: An example of endangered local breeds in Japan.

ChickenLong Feather Fowl39


Arthur da Silva Mariante 1

1 National Research Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (CENARGEN/EMBRAPA), Sain-Parque Rural, C. Postal 10.2372, 70770 Brasilia, Brazil

1. Introduction

In the developed countries, most of them located in the temperate regions, the selection conducted for centuries by breeders and researchers, together with a recent application of modern technologies, created breeds with high production levels. The increasing need for animal products in the developing countries, mostly located in the intertropical zone, is causing a quick substitution of the “local” breeds. Even though these “local” breeds present lower production levels than the exotic ones, they are extremely well adapted to the tropics, where they have been naturally selected for centuries. In many cases, it has been observed that the replacement of the “local” breeds by the exotic ones, has led to very disadvantageous situations, due to the lack of adaptation of the latter to the tropics. In general, well planned crossbreeding programmes are much more appropriate than the upgrading of the “local” breeds with the ones selected for the temperate zones.

The subject of animal preservation is relatively new in South America. However, this quick substitution of the “local” breeds by the exotic ones, less adapted, has just recently awakened the consciousness of breeders and researchers that do not want to witness their complete disappearance.

Unfortunately it is not an easy task to get information about what is being done, in terms of animal preservation, in each one of the South American countries. But we can be sure that most of the preservation being done refers to criollo cattle, as shown in another FAO publication: “Recursos Genéticos Animales in America Latina” published in 1981, where of 13 papers, 8 described criollo cattle, 3 described native species, 1 presented methodology while only 1 presented results of other 2 livestock species: sheep and goats. This paper will show endangered breeds of different species in many South American countries, with special reference to criollo cattle for the reasons stated above.

2. Argentina

2.1 Cattle

2.1.1 The Argentine Criollo Cattle

The Criollo cattle was introduced into Argentina through four different routes:

(a)Northwest:from Peru through Bolivia and Chile;
(b)North:through Paraguay;
(c)East:through Brazil; and
(d)La Plata river:brought directly from the Iberian Peninsula.

For more than four centuries, these cattle have been subjected almost exclusively, to natural selection, resulting in a tremendous genetic variability, which allows them to produce in different environments: from Jujuy (close to the Andes) to the Chaco (semi arid region in Northern Argentina) and to the Humid Pampa area, in the South.

Presently, a 200 cow criollo herd is being evaluated by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) at Leales, Tucumán.

The criollo cows of Argentina are of medium size with mature weights ranging from 400 to 440 kg and the daily milk production varies from 4 to 6 kg. They do not present calving difficulty and have good mothering ability, with a low mortality rate of 3% from birth to weaning. Bulls are much heavier, ranging from 600 to 800 kg. This sexual dimorphism is very interesting, as a relatively small dam can produce heavy male calves.

Production traits of criollo cattle compared to Hereford and Nellore can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1: Production traits of Argentine Criollo, Hereford and Nellore cattle

BreedNo.Calving rate (%)Mortality rate (%)Weaning weight (kg)Gain (kg/ha/year)

Source: Sal Paz (1985)

The Argentine Criollo can not be considered as threatened by extinction anymore. It has emerged out of a period of expansion and has a potential utilization in the beef industry of that country, especially in the Northwestern region. A Breed Association has been formed, which shows the enthusiasm of some breeders.

3. Bolivia

3.1 Cattle

3.1.1 The Criollo Yacumeño

The Criollo Yacumeño is raised in the Espiritu Ranch, located in the Beni region, between 14 and 15 degrees South, close to the Yacuna river. The Beni is a flood plain with a humid tropical climate in the Amazon Basin. There is a marked rainy season (October to April), with a mean annual rainfall of 1800 mm, ranging from 1500 mm to 2500 mm.

The Yacumeño cattle are similar in colour to the Jersey, and all the cows and bulls are dun or red although calves with large white patches are born giving confirmation that this characteristic is a recessive (Wilkins, 1984).

Some production traits of the Yacumeño Criollo cattle can be seen in Tables 2 and 3.

Table 2: Weights of Yacumeño Criollo cattle.

24 months15352601519215
Mature (50 mo.)-435--

Source: Bauer et al (1989).

Table 3: Production traits of Yacumeño Criollo Cattle

Calving rate78.0%
Mortality rate 
 before weaning5.3%
 after weaning9.1%
Carcass Weight 
 males (44.4 mo.)212 kg
 females (60.5 mo.)147 kg

Source: Bauer et al (1989).

3.2 Sheep

Among the 7 million sheep existing in Bolivia, 5 million are of the criollo type, and can be found in the Altiplano. Wool production is very low (800 g/sheep/year), and due to its inferior quality, it is not adequate for sale. However, the criollo sheep of Bolivia serve for subsistence, as they produce the fiber for clothes, and a limited amount of meat (an average of 8 kg of meat/ carcass) for their owners.

4. Brazil

4.1 Cattle

4.1.1 The Caracu

Among the Brazilian Criollo breeds, the Caracu has, by far, the largest population. After a dramatic reduction, mostly due to the importation of zebu cattle from India, in the beginning of this century, the Caracu has greatly increased numerically and in popularity in recent years.

Many positive research results called attention to this breed to such an extent that today many breeders have waiting lists for their bulls. All this interest completely changed the situation of the Caracu, which can not be considered in danger of extinction anymore.

The Caracu cattle breed has been kept as purebred only in some isolated situations:

In a trial evaluating different breeds of bulls bred with Nellore cows for beef production, the Caracu was demonstrated to be superior to the Nellore, Santa Gertrudis, Holste in and Brown Swiss (Razook et al, 1986).

In feedlot trials, Caracu steers showed their superiority to Guzerat, Nellore and Gir.

Male puberty is earlier in the Caracu than in the Gir, Guzerat and Nellore breeds (Valvasori et al, 1985).

The breed is blonde in colour, with a cream coloured variation occurring as a recessive in some populations. Hooves are light coloured and the muzzle and vulva are pigmented light brown. It is larger than any other Criollo breed, and cows of over 700 kg and bulls of over 1200 kg have been shown in cattle shows. It has heavy horns that grow outward, down and forward. It has dual purpose characteristics, and one owner, in a favourable environment, reported a mean yield of some 2300 kg of milk in his 1000 cow herd. (Wilkins, 1986).

4.1.2 The Mocho Nacional

The Mocho Nacional or National Polled breed is phenotypically very similar to the Caracu but, obviously, hornless. Some slight differences in head shape have been suggested.

This breed can be considered as an example of the extinction of a breed. When the conservation programme started, the entire surviving population consisted of three bulls and eight cows, found in the states of Sao Paulo and Parana. Since then, after many semen and embryo collections, the population has increased a little, through embryo transfer, to a total of 25 animals.

It is perhaps fortunate that this breed, that has the minimum number of individuals for successful multiplication suggested by Yamada and Kimura (1984), demonstrably possesses a genetic character that is dominant and useful: it is polled. In a report written after his consultancy to CENARGEN, Wilkins (1986) stated that he could not see any possibility of the multiplication of the Mocho Nacional into a viable population. We do agree with him, but we also believe that the cryopreservation of semen and embryos of this breed is very important, for future utilization. And for this reason, this small herd is kept in an Experimental Station near Brasilia, where semen and embryos have been collected.

4.1.3. The Crioulo Lageano

Also called Franqueiro, the Criollo of Lages breed is found on one private property near Lages in the state of Santa Catarina. This environment can not be called severe, though the area suffers a cold winter. The herd consists of 280 adult females and 20 bulls and is reported to be inbred and to contain some zebu blood.

This breed is descended from animals brought by Spanish Jesuits, and has been selected for more than three centuries on acid and rocky soils, at high altitudes and in the cold winters of Southern Brazil.

Like all unselected Criollo populations, the herd contains black, brown and white cattle and combinations of these colours. The horns are described as long and lyre shaped, curving upward, forward and outward.

This herd is being evaluated under the same conditions as the breed is raised in its original region, that is, native pastures without supplementation. Means of some traits of the Crioulo Lageano are presented in Table 4.

A crossbreeding programme has been established in the state of Santa Catarina, where Crioulo Lageano bulls are used in Nellore and Charolais cows.

This programme is an incomplete diallel in which the only matings excluded were the ones among Crioulo Lageano dams with Nellore and Charolais sires. Even though the results are still partial, the evidence suggests that:

  1. The best performance at weaning (average age of 173 days) was presented by the offspring of Nellore × Charolais (148.0 + 7.98 kg), followed by purebred Crioulo Lageano (136.6 ± 4.70 kg) and by Crioulo Lageano × Charolais (125.0 ± 7.63 kg);

  2. The best milk production was obtained from Crioulo Lageano cows, followed by the Charolais.

Table 4: Production parameters of Crioulo Lageano cattle.

TraitMean weights (kg)
12 months180.0
24 months241.0
36 months307.0
Milk production per dayb5.1

a Weight of mature cows suckling calves.

b Milk production: one milking per day, the calf is separated from the cow for 14 hours.

4.1.4 The Curraleito or Pé-duro Crioulo

The Corral or Hard Hoof Criollo is from the semi-arid Northeast of Brazil, an area of dense thorn scrub. The origin of this breed is the cattle brought to Brazil by the Portuguese settlers, and is a result of its surviving in the hostile environment conditions of that Brazilian region. According to Athanassof (1956), this breed descends directly from the Mirandesa and, particularly, from the Beiroa type which can still be found in Portugal and in the Spanish Province of Leon.

The exceptional rusticity of the Curraleiro, and its capacity to survive on native pastures of adverse regions, where other types of cattle would have little chance to survive, are two characteristics that justify the conservation of this breed. The Curraleiro is endangered by the threat of extinction not only due to its crossbreeding with zebu breeds, but also due to the systematic castration of the bulls, by the breeders who want to upgrade their herds to zebu blood, with the excuse that the Curraleiro is small and late maturing. This explains how the breeders are quickly substituting this breed by others, mostly zebu, which, they say, produce more beef on better quality pastures, though they are not adapted to the poor native pastures of Northeastern Brazil.

A herd which contains 107 females and 43 males is now kept by EMBRAPA on the Octávio Domingues Experimental Station, near Sao Joao do Piauí, in the state of Piauí. Some production parameters were obtained, as can be seen in Table 5.

Table 5: Production parameters of Curraleiro cattle.

Mature weight (kg)337.3 ± 55.0228.6 ± 36.0
Birth weight (kg)19.3 ± 4.017.2 ± 2.4
Fertility rate (%)-72.0
Mortality rate (%)5.05.0

Source: Carvalho et al. (1986)

4.1.5 The Pantaneiro

The Crioulo Pantaneiro or Swamp Criollo comes from the Pantanal or swamp lands of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, on the border with Bolivia, and is also called Tucura or Cuiabano.

Due to the difficulty of access to very many properties in the Pantanal, the present size of population is not known, but it is very unlikely to be large. It is supposed that there are still animals in very small groups scattered among the four million zebus of the zone.

In 1985, a group of cows and bulls was bought by EMBRAPA, and this herd is now kept in Fazenda Nhu-mirim, which belongs to CPAP (Agricultural Research Centre for the Pantanal), 210 km East of Corumbá, state of Mato Grosso do Sul. In 1988, there were reported to be 5 bulls, 40 cows and 15 heifers between 2 and 3 years of age at Fazenda Nhu-mirim.

The production parameters determined for this herd can be seen in Table 6.

Table 6: Production parameters of Pantaneiro cattle.

Mature weight (kg)375.0 ± 7.0298.0 ± 41.0
Birth weight (kg)22.0 ± 3.019.0 ± 3.0
Calving interval,(days)-404.0 ± 72.0
Calving rate (%)-70.0

Source: Mazza et al. (1987).

A trial was initiated in 1986 to compare the performance of zebu cattle with the Pantaneiro, and a herd of 40 Nellore cows on Fazenda Nhum-mirim is being recorded for this purpose. Data include birth weights, weaning weights, post-weaning gain, weight at parturition, and mortality and fertility rates.

4.2 Buffaloes

4.2.1 The Tipo Baio

EMBRAPA-CPATU (Agricultural Research Centre for the Humid Tropics) keeps a herd of Brown-Type buffaloes in the Experimental Station situated in the low Amazon area. The number of animals is very reduced in the Amazon Region, and the herd kept by EMBRAPA has 90 animals. Table 7 shows mean weights at birth and at weaning.

Table 7: Mean weights at birth and at weaning of “Tipo Baio” buffaloes.

Weight (kg)MalesFemales
Birth34.1 ± 4.735.6 ± 2.3
Weaning217.8 ± 22.4193.8 ± 30.6

Source: Marcos et al. (1987a)

This breed is well adapted to the adverse conditions of the Amazon region. Adult mean weights are around 550 kg for females and 750 – 800 kg for males.

4.2.2 The Carabao

The first buffaloes brought to Brazil were the Carabao. They were brought to The Marajó Island by the end of 19th century. Indiscriminate crossbreedings have been reducing this population very quickly. For this reason, EMBRAPA-CPATU (Agricultural Research Centre for the Humid Tropics) decided to keep a herd which contains 110 animals, in the Experimental Station situated in the low Amazon area, preventing its extinction.

Some results of the evaluation of Carabao buffaloes can be seen in Table 8.

Table 8: Mean weights at birth and 12 months of age, and birth rate of Carabao buffaloes.

Weights (kg)  
birth32.1 ± 4.431.5 ± 4.4
12 months233.0 ± 14.6222.2 ± 14.1
Birth rate (%)-96.8

Source: Marcos et al. (1987b)

Adult mean weights are slightly lighter than for Tipo Baio buffaloes: females weigh 480–500 kg while males weigh 700 kg.

4.3 Pigs

With the establishment of an industrial structure, based on well developed exotics and their crosses with “local” breeds, there has been a decrease in the number of pigs of “local” breeds and, consequently, an increase in the number of pigs of the high-yielding exotic breeds.

The smallholders raise animals of the “local” breeds in an extensive system, with low technology levels, but it is well known that, even though these animals present low production levels, their survival rate is extremely high.

EMBRAPA-CENARGEN has started a survey trying to identify nuclei of these “local” breeds, with the help of five other research institutions: EMBRAPA-CNPSA (National Research Center for Pigs and Poultry), UFP, UFSC and UFMG (Federal Universities of Parana”, Santa Catarina and Minas Gerais, respectively), IAPAR (Agricultural Research Institute of Parana).

Some of the already identified “local” breeds are the following: Piau, Moura, Caruncho, Pirapetinga, Nilo and Canastra. This survey has started just recently, and there are no available results about the production potential of these “local” breeds yet.

4.4 Goats and Sheep

4.4.1 Goats and Sheep of the Northeastern Region of Brazil

The conservation of the four “local” breeds of goats (Moxotó, Marota, Canindéand Repartida), and of the two “local” breeds of hairy-wool sheep (Santa Ines and Morada Nova) is being conducted in the Northeastern region of Brazil by EMBRAPA-CNPC (National Research Centre for Goats). The project is divided in many segments distributed among seven states of that Brazilian region, as can be seen in Table 9.

Table 9: Distribution of “local” breeds of goats and sheep in the conservation and evaluation programme, among the Northeastern states of Brazil.

Rio Grande do NorteCanindéEMPARN
SheepAlagoasSanta InesEPEAL
BahiaMorada NovaEPABA
CearáMorada NovaEPACE, UFC
ParaíbaSanta InesEMEPA
PernambucoMorada NovaIPA
PiauíSanta InesUEPAE-Teresina
Rio Grande do NorteMorada NovaEMPARN

Source: Figueiredo et al. (1987b,c)

This programme is financed by the development bank of the Northeastern region, and the goals are to conserve and to multiply the breeds, and later, distribute animals to fanners. The researchers involved in this programme, however, do not believe that this in situ conservation will last long, since the breeders are much more interested in raising the exotic breeds. The cryopreservation is an urgent need and has just started. A small herd of Moxotógoats has been brought to CENARGEN, in Brasilia, where a cryopreservation programme (including storage of frozen semen and embryos), started in April 1989.

According to Figueiredo et al. (1987a), the four local breeds of goats can be described as follows: Moxot6 goat

The Moxotóis the most readily identifyiable local type. It takes its name from the MoxotóValley in the state of Pernambuco. The animals are uniform in colour, size and type. The uniformity in colour is automatic since it is this trait that makes them recognizable or causes them to be unique. Their uniformity in size and type suggests that they are of similar genetic origin and tend to breed true. The animals are medium size relative to some of the smaller indigenous types and the larger exotics. Typical weights for mature females range from 30 to 40 kg. Their colour is light cream, almost white, with black points. Black is found as a stripe or line on the dorsal surface, on the underline and on points such as the feet, legs and face. Most are horned with males having relatively small horns. The ears tend to be medium size and erect. The Repartida goat

The goat known as the Repartida appears to be similar in form and functions to that of the Moxotó. The term Repartida apparently refers to a unique colour pattern consisting of dark forequarters and points (face and legs) with a fawn or cream colour over the rest of the body. The reverse or reciprocal colour pattern, in which the rearquarters are dark, is almost as frequent. Most of the animals are horned with medium-sized erect ears. Body weights and reproductive rates approximate that of the Moxotóbreed. The Canindégoat

The Canindéis also similar to the Moxot6 and Repartida in size, form and function. In this case, the name apparently originates from or has a common origin to that of the city of the same name in the state of Ceará. As with the above types, the Canindéis distinguished largely by its colour. It is usually black with a yellow belly and a small amount of yellow or tan occasionally occurring on the face as eye stripes. The size is similar to the Moxotóand Repartida. It remains to be determined whether these animals are unique in production traits or whether they merely represent colour variation of animals with the same or similar genetic beckground. All of the above types have short fine hair and produce good quality leather. It is assumed that since they have evolved in the region, they are reasonably well adapted to local conditions. The Marota goat

This breed is also known as Curaca, which is derived from a city of the same name in Bahia state. The Marota or Curaca is a solid white goat which appears to differ from the other native types. Some animals have longer, coarse hair. Perhaps this is indicative of genes of the Saanen and/or Angora which are thought to have been introduced into Brazil in earlier years. To the extent that these hypotheses are true, it might be assumed that they produce less desirable skins and are less well adapted to the local or tropical conditions. However, these points remain to be confirmed by more conclusive studies. Under controlled conditions, body weights, milk production and reproductive rates appear to equal or exceed that of the other native types.

The two most important woolless indigenous breeds of sheep in Brazil are the Morada Nova and the Santa Ines. The description of these two breeds were presented by Figueiredo (1981). The Morada Nova Sheep

The name Morada Nova was given to the red variety by Prof. Octavio Domingues, during his visit to Northeast Brazil in June 1927, because he first saw them in Morada Nova county, state of CearáOther names which have been used are Deslanado do Nordeste (= Northeastern woolless), Deslanado vermelho (= Red woolless) and Deslanado branco (= White woolless). At a meeting held by the Ministry of Agriculture in Fortaleza, Cearáin October 1977, it was decided to use the name Morada Nova for both varieties, red and white.

According to Domingues (1954) the red, white and spotted hair sheep are descendant from the Bordaleiro of Portugal which came to Brazil at the time when these virgin areas were being populated. These Bordaleiro sheep are distinguished by their coat, which is a mixture of hair and wool. In the course of time, natural selection favoured the survival of woolless individuals with short, goat-like hair in the midst of others with longer, coarse hair and even with varying degrees of wooliness. The Morada Nova is very similar to the red African breed of Venezuela. The Santa Ines Sheep

The Santa Ines breed results from the crossbreeding between the Morada Nova (red or white) and the Bergamasca breed of Italy. It inherits the roman nose, lop ears and traces of wool from the Bergamasca and its hair coat from the Morada Nova. The White Pele de Boi of Bahia was included with the Santa Ines breed (white variety). The Santa Ines may be red, pied, black or white.

4.4.2 Criollo sheep of the Southern Region of Brazil

Besides the two woolless indigenous breeds of sheep, Brazil has one hairy-wool breed of sheep that inhabits the Southern region: the Crioulo Lanado sheep. The Crioulo Lanado Sheep

The hairy-wool Criollo Sheep from Rio Grande do Sul (the Southernmost state in Brazil) seems to have originated from the “Churra” Spanish sheep, brought by the first settlers to America. It is interesting to mention that similar animals can be found from Peru to Uruguay, which may indicate that they all have the same origin.

Even though this breed produces a very coarse and hairy - wool, considered of inferior quality, it is important to emphasize the superiority of the breed in precocity, fertility and resistance to internal parasites, if compared to more specialized breeds. These positive traits can be interpreted as adaptation of this breed to that environment.

The population of the Criollo sheep in Rio Grande do Sul has been decreasing very quickly, and today only 5 to 6 herds with 30–50 animals in each, can be found. EMBRAPA-CNPO (National Research Centre for Sheep) keeps a herd of Criollo sheep, where besides the in situ conservation, an evaluation programme is being conducted. Some information, collected by Vaz et al. (1987), can be found in Table 10.

Table 10: Production parameters of Crioulo Lanado sheep of Rio Grande do Sul - Brazil.

TraitMean value
Adult weight (kg)34.40
Lamb birth weight (kg)3.16
Lamb weaning weight (kg)16.04
Weight gain (weaning till 1st shearing) (kg)10.00
Greasy fleece weight (kg)1.76
Staple length (cm)22.50
Birth rate (%)87.30
Weaning rate (%)74.70
Mortality (to weaning) (%)14.40

Source: Vaz et al.(1987)

4.5 Horses

4.5.1 The Pantaneiro

The Pantaneiro Criollo horse, that is descendant from animals introduced by the first settlers, of Portuguese origin, adapted to the swampy area of the Pantanal Matogrossense, has also been subject to indiscriminate crossing with other breeds, but to a much lesser degree than in the case of Criollo cattle. However, it has suffered considerable losses in recent years when equine infectious anaemia was introduced into the area. This breed has been playing an important role in the development of that region. No other breed can resist as well as the Pantaneiro horse the adverse conditions of the Pantanal, with its flooded grazing lands. Crossbreeding with Arab and Thoroughbred horses is a common management which is threatening this breed with extinction.

EMBRAPA-CPAP (Agricultural Research Centre for the Pantanal) owns a small herd of these horses at Fazenda Nhu-mirim, and has started a study of body measurements, and the ratios between them. The same Research Centre is undertaking a survey to identify the existing nuclei and the geographic distribution. In a second phase, blood tests will be made (blood typing and karyotypes).

4.5.2 The Lavradeiro

The Lavradeiro Criollo Horse, also known as the Wild Horse of Roraima, consisted of a population of about 1000 animals until 1982, but today they do not exceed 200 due to intensive hunting. The Lavradeiro horse constitutes the only horse population developed in conditions similar to those of the Cerrado (Savanna) of Central Brazil, and represents an extremely valuable potential genetic resource. The Cerrado is a region of about 180 million hectares with 39% of all cattle existing in Brazil and, for this reason, it is easy to imagine the importance that the Lavradeiro horse may represent to the beef cattle industry of that region.

Besides its adaptation to adverse climatic conditions, these animals survive under a very poor diet, and are possibly resistant to external and internal parasites (Beck and Martins, 1986). Even though it has great potential importance, the population of the Lavradeiro horse has been decreasing dramatically in recent years due to predatory hunting and to indiscriminate crossbreeding with horses of breeds which are exotic to that region.

EMBRAPA is trying to establish a nucleus of Lavradeiro horses in the state of Roraima, before it is too late.

4.6 Donkeys

4.6.1 Jumento Nordestino

The disappearance of the Northeastern Criollo donkey is imminent as well, and if this really happens, will cause a serious problem for the human population of that region, since they are accustomed to use the donkeys for transport, draft and field work. Azevedo et al. (1984) showed the seriousness of this subject: the population of these donkeys was around 2 700 000 in 1967, decreased to less than 700 000 in 1982, which corresponds to a reduction of 74% in 15 years. This decrease is mostly due to the slaughter by abatoirs that export the meat to Japan and to some European countries.

The North-eastern donkey is being conserved by EMBRAPA in cooperation with EMPARN (Rio Grande do Norte Agricultural Research Corporation) that keeps a herd in Terras Secas Experimental Station, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

5 Colombia

5.1 Cattle

5.1.1 The Romosinuano

The Romosinuano is a polled criollo breed found in the valley of the Sinu river, located in the Northern humid tropical coastal plains of Colombia, where the annual rainfall is about 1700 mm and the mean temperature is 27.5°C.

This breed has been selected for beef production at the National Agricultural Investigation Centre, Turipana, and is very similar to the Brazilian Mocho Nacional.

The animals have a red coat colour and short hair, with a pigmented skin that may be either red or black. Two of its most valuable characteristics are tameness and high fertility (de Alba, 1987). Tick resistance and heat tolerance should be also mentioned.

Weights of Romosinuano cattle can be seen in Table 11.

Table 11: Weights of Romosinuano cattle.

Weights (kg)MalesFemales
 210 days170156
 240 days220190
 18 Months285-

Source: de Alba (1987)

A Breed Association was formed in 1976 with interested breeders increasing every year.

5.1.2 The San Martinero

The San Martinero is found in the Llanos of Colombia (Eastern lowlands), a zone with a mean annual temperature and rainfall of 23–25°C and 3000–3500 mm, respectively. According to de Alba (1987), some Durham bulls were imported into the area about 100 years ago, but perished very quickly. A few offsprings survived, from which the San Martinero evolved. They have a good record on poor soils and long drought periods, reaching heavier weight for age than zebus or common Llanero cattle under harsh conditions.

The animals present longer hair than the Romosinuano and the coat colour is not exclusively red, but dun and black marks are common. They are taller than other cattle of the Llanos, but horns and ears are similar to other Colombian criollo cattle.

The San Martinero is a beef breed and is very much used in crossing with zebu cattle. Results of crossbreedings with Zebu and Charolais bulls were shown by Gonzalez (1976) (Table 12).

Table 12: Crossbreeding San Martinero dams with Zebu and Charolais bulls for beef production (weights, kg).

Genetic groupBirth weightWeaning weight18-month weight
San Martinero29175222
F1 with Zebu33195213
F1 with Charolais30213260

Source: Gonzalez (1976), cited by Wilkins (1984)

5.1.3 The Costeno con Cuernos

The Costeno con Cuernos is another criollo breed of Colombia and is found in the coastal plains of the Northern region of that country.

A government herd is maintained on 400 hectares in a Station located in Cerete, Cordoba, where the mean annual temperature and rainfall are 27.5°C and 1235 mm, respectively.

This dairy breed has suffered the consequences of conservation schemes followed with few input ideas, and is almost extinct. According to de Alba (1987) it is estimated that in all Colombia only about 571 individuals remain, and the area surrounding the experiment station is wholly interested in beef. As its name implies, this breed is horned with lyre shaped horns. It is a dairy breed with red coat colour. Average weights are 700 kg for bulls and 500 kg for cows.

Even though the Costeno con cuernos is considered as a dairy breed, the cows present a milk let-down problem as shown by Rubio (1976) in Table 13.

Table 13: Milk Production of Costeno con Cuernos cattle.

 Cows milked w/calf at footCows milked without calf at foot
No. of lactations376789
Mean lactation lenght (days)266 ± 4296 ± 26
Mean lactation yield (kg)996 ± 154296 ± 4

Source: Rubio (1976).

5.1.4 The Blanco Orejinegro

The Blanco Orejinegro of Colombia is found in the slopes of the Andes, a region with a mild climate, with mean temperature ranging from 18°C to 24°C and a mean annual rainfall of 1800 mm.

Describing this breed, de Alba (1987) stated that its producing ability is lower than many of the better types of criollos yet it deserves very serious considerations for its resistance and, in some individuals, total immunity to attacks of external parasites (Dermatobia hominis).

The animals have a white coat colour with black ears and muzzle. They possess a very thick hide which may be responsible for their resistance to external parasites. Weights of Blanco Orejinegro and crossbreds are shown in Table 14.

Table 14: Weights of Blanco Orejinegro (BON) and crossbreds in Colombia.

 Birthweight (kg)Weaning weight 1 per day of age (kg)
Genetic groupMalesFemalesMalesFemales
Pure BON2820.780.56
F1 with Zebu36320.830.80
F1 with Charolais33310.850.77

1 weaning occurred at 270 days

Source: Rodrigez et al (1971)

A government herd is maintained at the El Nu Station, Antioquia, where it is also used in crossbreeding with Jersey and Holstein breeds. There is a Breed Association that recognized about 3080 head as pure Blanco Orejinegros (de Alba, 1987).

5.2 Sheep

5.2.1 The Colombian Criollo

The criollo sheep accounts for 70% of the Colombian population of sheep. Very similar to the Spanish Churra sheep, the Colombian criollo present an adult mean weight of 38 kg (Mason, 1981). The wool is utilized in the home textile industry.

5.2.2 The Colombian African

The Colombian African sheep are thought to have been imported during the slave trade period, in the 17th and 18th centuries, from the Western coast of Africa. Even though they are often called criollo, the animals of this breed have a completely different origin from the wool sheep. They may present two different colour varieties: yellow and dark red-to black. Age at first calving is 15–19 months, while the mean calving interval is about 8 months.

6. Uruguay

6.1 Cattle

6.1.1 The Uruguayan Criollo

Presently, Uruguay has just one herd of Criollo cattle, which is maintained by the Uruguayan Army close to the border with Brazil. No evaluation is being made, and it seems that the government is not interested in their preservation.

6.2 Sheep

6.2.1 The Uruguayan Criollo sheep

Very similar to the criollo sheep found in the Southern region of Brazil, the Uruguayan criollo sheep have a unique characteristic: the males have four horns, two being vertical and the other two curled.

The wool industry in Uruguay is very important and well known worldwide for its quality. The improvement of the Uruguayan herd was directly proportional to the importation of animals of exotic breeds, and to the decrease in numbers of the criollo sheep, which have long, thick and low quality wool. Like the Brazilian criollo lanado sheep, the Uruguayan is highly resistant to internal parasites, and have high fertility rates.

7. Venezuela

7.1 Cattle

7.1.1 The Limonero or Venezuelan Milking Criollo

According to Wilkins (1984), the two important herds of criollo cattle in Venezuela have the same origin, although one herd is selected for dairy characteristics and the other for beef. Both herds were formed from the criollo herd that was founded at Maracay in 1954. The Maracay herd was formed from purchases made in Venezuela, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and therefore was partially related to the Turrialba herd in Costa Rica.

A group of cattle with undesirable dairy characteristics was transferred from Maracay to Calabozo in the Central plains of Venezuela in 1966 in order to form a beef herd to use in crossbreeding studies with zebu and European breeds.

The foundation animals came from an area near the Limon river, which gave its name to the breed. The mean annual rainfall and temperature of that region are 920 mm and 27.4°C, respectively.

Similar to most of the criollo breeds, Limonero is red in colour, with pigmented skin and short hair. The cows can be milked in the absence of the calf, and the mean lactation yield is about 1800 kg (Abreu et al, 1976; Muñoz and Deaton, 1981).

A 200 cow herd is being kept at the Carrasquero Station, a centre for artificial insemination and livestock recording programme for 10 neighboring farms with 3000 adult criollo females.

8. Other South-American Countries

8.1 Cattle

Ecuador and Peru have mountain ecotypes of criollo cattle in the Sierra region. The animals are long haired and of smaller size than most of lowland criollos. No research, conservation or improvement are believed to be underway in Peru, while in Ecuador there is a 200 cow herd being maintained on the Tropical Agricultural Experimental Station of Pichilingue, Quevedo.

In Paraguay, the Criollo Chaqueño has been “improved” through crossbreedings with British breeds like Shorthorn, Sussex, Hereford and Devon, and today it is difficult to find pure criollo herds.

The situation in Chile is even worse. It is believed that no pure criollos can be found anymore.

9. Conclusions

In South America, most of the species and/or breeds of the criollo type have disappeared or are in danger of extinction. Until recently, there was almost no interest in their conservation. It seems that, finally, there is a sign of awareness of many South American countries in terms of recognition of the importance of the conservation of animal genetic resources.

The quick substitution of the “local” breeds by the exotic ones, less adapted, has just recently awakened the consciousness of many breeders and researchers that do not want to witness their complete disappearance.

Fortunately, in 1987, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) decided to create seven Regional Animal Gene Banks in the developing countries, two in South America (Argentina and Brazil), and the other five in: Mexico (for Central America and the Caribbean), India, China, Ethiopia and Senegal. Looking for a place to establish the Gene Bank in Brazil, FAO decided to indicate EMBRAPA/CENARGEN, located in Brasilia, due to the work this Centre has already done in this area. It is expected that this Gene Bank will open at the beginning of 1990, receiving semen and embryos from all over the continent, with a duplicate being sent to INTA-Argentina, for safety reasons. With simultaneous efforts by FAO, EMBRAPA and INTA, the chances of organizing a strong Regional Animal Gene Bank for South America are much greater, and consequently the chances of preserving many of the endangered breeds of our continent are also increased.


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Guillermo E. Joandet 1

1 National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), 1033 Buenos Aires, Argentina

1. Introduction

When we talk about “livestock breeds” we really mean “adapted population” to a given environment. In the present context we have to differentiate between those which originated in America and those which originated elsewhere.

Adapted populations of animals were endangered since man hunted or managed them, particularly during this century. Human population has increased so much that in many areas of Latin America not only adapted livestock populations have disappeared, but also wild animal species have become extinct and many others are in real danger of disappearing in the next decades. Some of these species could be domesticated and have important roles in the support of human needs. FAO could not tackle the problem of wild species but there is a need for their preservation and therefore it is necessary to consider them.

This paper is devoted mainly to cattle. However, sheep, goats, poultry and swine, among the introduced species, and camelidae, guinea pigs and capybaras, among the native ones, could be subject to the same considerations.

2. The evolution of cattle conservation

In Latin America, the first reports about the adapted “breeds” were made in the early 1950s. The Venezuelan and Colombian breeds were the first to be described; publications concerning their characteristics are available from 1952 onwards. In general, the populations found in the northern part of South America (Colombia and Venezuela) could be distinguished as breeds. They have phenotypic characteristics that could make them easily differentiable; such is the case of “Blanco Orejinegro”, “Sanmartinero”, “Romosinuano”, “Caracu” (Brazil), etc. In these cases, the colour coat and the presence of horns make these populations look uniform and therefore they may be classified as breeds. There are other populations like the ones in Bolivia and Argentina, which are well adapted to certain environments, but they do not have a uniform colour pattern or a uniform shape and size of horns. However, one could find groups of individuals with similar phenotypic characteristics that belong to different populations; this might be a good point for discussion because some people think they are equally adapted to quite a different environment. The populations were subjected to “improvement” for almost a century with specialized beef or dairy breeds which after three or four generations, showed a pure adaptation. The introduction of highly productive breeds looked promising in the first two or three generations due to heterotic effects. There were scientists in Latin America, like Dr J. de Alba, to name only one, who realized the value of adapted populations in the early 1950s and who started a very important line of thought towards preserving these populations. Several efforts were made in different countries, in official institutions and by private ranchers, in order to preserve the cattle that were endangered. In order to mention some of them, we have to recognize the work of CATIE in Turrialba, Costa Rica; The Agricultural Colombian Institute (ICA), in Colombia; The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with the support of the

British Government, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia; and the National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA), in Argentina.

FAO realized the importance of such efforts and organized, in cooperation with PNUMA, an expert consultation for Latin America in November 1978 in Bogota, Colombia. The papers and conclusions presented at the meeting were published by FAO in 1981. A similar meeting took place, thanks to the efforts of FAO, in different regions of the world and, finally, in 1980, FAO held a technical consultation in Rome on Animal Genetic Resources Conservation and Management. As a result, the programme on germplasm animal conservation started very successfully. This showed a good response by individual countries but, more important, a good conservation scheme was started and, hopefully, gene banks for animals will be established in the near future. These efforts, with the help of FAO, will materialize in gene banks at regional level with duplications that will assure the preservation of these populations.

Simultaneously, the maintenance of adapted populations was increased and some countries, like Brazil, started a strong programme to detect and save groups that were almost extinct. It can be concluded that the efforts made so far have been successful in order to save these populations.

3. Today's management towards improvement

A series of projects were started in order to compare the performance of the Criollo breed with crossbred as well as other purebred populations. In most cases the “purebred Criollo” had a similar performance to some crossbreds resulting from a combination of introduced breeds and yet better than the newly introduced breeds. These comparisons were made under extensive conditions, subject to environmental stress due to either nutritional restrictions, unfavourable climatic conditions and/or the presence of parasitic or organic diseases.

In general, the Criollos had a better reproductive performance and a similar or slightly worse productive performance. The final outcome, when reproductive and production traits are combined, show, in general, that the native (adapted) populations did better. Due to these results, there are people in several places trying to “improve” the adapted population and increase their productivity. There are many examples in modern animal breeding showing that what at a given time was considered an improvement had later to be admitted as a deterioration. Therefore, there is a need for a careful definition of selection goals for the adapted populations.

Unfortunately, with cattle when mistakes are made, it is generally too late to go back to the original situation. It is also true that introducing permanent changes through selection takes a long time and, therefore, precautions should be taken to accumulate evidence indicating whether a wrong direction was taken before it is too late to recover the original population. Selection for higher production might be one of the dangers facing the Criollo population because they might lose adaptability. We might say that under stress conditions those that reproduce best will be the ones that produce the least and vice-versa. Therefore, natural selection has favoured those individuals with limited production capability. If we think of milk production for instance, Criollo cows do have a well-shaped udder of an intermediate to small size. Milk production is not high. Probably high enough to assure a good start for the calf's survival and moderate growth but not too high to prevent the next heat whilst milking. This is a good mechanism to adapt the population to poor environment.

When people try to increase milk production or growth rate through selection of adapted populations, it might lead to a loss of capability for adaptation.

We may be entering a new era. Until now it was necessary to convince producers and administrators that those poor-looking animals were the best for those production systems where they reproduced freely and certainly that they had become adapted throughout four centuries of natural selection. We might be faced now with the problem that because this was a convincing argument, the attempt now is not only to try to utilize the adapted populations but to go a step further making the animals “better”. However, the final outcome might be worse without having that intention. Once again, man can be a menace for the adapted populations. But given this opportunity, with the aim of keeping and making livestock more profitable, there is the possibility that the breeds are not endangered any more numerically, but are harmed in other ways.

There is another situation that could well be harmful to the well-adapted populations. This can occur where human intervention not only is trying to change the mean performance, as in the previous case, but is also changing the variability by introducing non-additive genetic effects (again perhaps without any intention to do so).

There are several examples in which managers of Criollo populations are trying to interchange bulls or semen in order to decrease inbreeding. In the cases where Criollos have well-defined coat colour (like the ones mentioned above), there should not be any problem. Nobody would propose using bulls or semen from Romosinuano in a Blanco-Orejinegro population; but this is not the case for undefined coat colour breeds. As a matter of fact, in these cases there is no variability in colour, and general patterns are fairly similar so that people could think that the population is the same. However, under that assumption they are making “crosses” and the result is the appearance of some degree of heterosis.

We have examples where semen from Romosinuanos in local populations was utilized in Argentina. There is another case where a “composite” population of cows was bred to bulls from Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia and Brazil. In both cases, the cross produced better growing calves and good heifers, but this may be the product of hybrid vigour. Although there is no direct evidence, it is possible that if these populations have been isolated for three or four centuries (particularly in environments with different characteristics) the level of heterosis when crossed with these populations might be even higher than when breeds from Great Britain are crossed. In the latter case, the literature shows levels of heterosis for some traits of 3–5%: these breeds were isolated not as long as the Criollos and developed in similar environments. Therefore, we might suspect the presence of hybrid vigour when Criollo populations are combined. Consequently, the selection of bulls and heifers might be masked by non-additive genetic effects. There is no danger with this from the point of view of adaptability but there could be disappointment when the degree of segregation increases in the following generations, and it could work against the adapted populations or the Criollo breeds. It seems clear that there is a real need for the immediate preservation of all these populations because their management is likely to decrease their adaptability. Therefore, it is important to recommend to FAO the implementation of its gene banks at regional level as soon as possible.

Once implemented, it would be possible to use the population in as many experiments or situations as necessary and still retain the possibility of going back to a starting point whenever needed.


J.J. Lauvergne1

1 Department of Animal Genetics, National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), France, CR INRA, 78 350 Jouey-en-Josas (France)

1. Introduction

The loss of genetic variability is a common feature among breeds of farm animals. In an evolutionary time scale, this loss was usually balanced by the acquisition of new mutations, but during the last few decades, the phenomenon of loss of variability has been greatly accelerated without the opportunity of being balanced by an increase in the generation of new variability.

The main causes of genetic loss are external (for example disappearance of the sheep industry) or internal (for example, the replacement of a traditional breed with a more selected one). Therefore since the end of the 1960s, a series of national and international agencies, especially FAO, have been struggling to preserve a level of genetic variability suitable for future needs in the creation of strains well adapted to the various systems of breeding (FAO and UNEP, 1976, 1984a, b; FAO, 1981; Hodges, 1987).

In sheep, the situation of endangering varies according to the type of the resource. These resources have been classified by Mason (1951, 1957, 1969) followed by Lauvergne (1982, 1987a) into traditional populations, standardized breeds (simple or synthetic) and selected lines.

The endangered situation in each type of population will be now examined and then solutions will be suggested according to the type of the resource.

2. How to identify endangered genetic stocks

2.1 Traditional populations

The traditional populations are those derived from the first steps of breeding after domestication, with breeders acting by decreasing the pressure of natural selection and by offering new mating opportunities to the reproducers without exerting a strong pressure of artificial, directed selection.

In this situation a number of mutations which would have been eliminated in the wild state are kept. It results in a high genetic variability seen particularly in coat colour, but also observed in horn shape, fleece architecture and other visible traits.

The populations of sheep which appeared in the Middle East at and near the place of domestication spread everywhere in the Old World (Europe, Africa and Asia) (Lauvergne, 1979a, b). An early internal loss of genetic originality (Lauvergne, Renien and Audiot, 1987) in the Middle East arose when man discovered that sheep could produce wool - fine unmedulated fibres with continuous growth, suitable for producing fabrics of high quality. This has resulted in a marginalisation of the traditional populations of sheep when subsequent waves of migration of at least partially standardized breeds (woolly and white) were made from the Middle East centre of differentiation.

Therefore, the pure traditional populations may be found as relics in isolated areas, such as islands (North Atlantic islands, Corsica) or in zones isolated by climate and/or relief or distance, for example Turkish coast of the Black Sea, south coast of the Caspian Sea.

The identification of traditional populations is complicated because observations are made of variable external aspects of individuals. This means that the description is only a “genetic profile” which gives frequencies of the various phenotypes, genotypes and/or alleles. Genetic profiling gives a description which allows comparison between traditional populations and may help in measuring genetic erosion.

A method of visible genetic profiling suggested by the work of Löfvenberg and Johansson (1952), Berge (1958), Adalsteinsson (1970), Lauvergne and Adalsteinsson (1976) and Adalsteinsson and Wardum (1978) has been proposed by Lauvergne (1988a) for a survey in the Mediterranean (Lauvergne, 1988b) and has been applied to the following stocks which could be considered as close to traditional populations: Ushant (France: Abbéand Benadjaoud, 1988), Karakachan (Bulgaria: Alexieva ef al., 1988), Icelandic (Iceland: Adalsteinsson, 1988), Corsican (France: Franceschi and Vallerand, 1988) and Landes (France: Benadjaoud, 1988).

These analyses allow a reconstitution of the profiles of the early traditional populations which stocked Western Europe and allow measurement of the degree of genetic erosion of most of the remaining stocks, especially those on the continent.

In places where visible genetic profiling has not been performed it is difficult to identify the traditional populations and therefore to measure the degree of erosion.

2.2 Standardized breeds

The standardized breeds are derived from traditional populations after breeders have chosen given standards of size, head profile and other visible traits.

In the sheep, the process of standardization is rather ancient and was initiated to produce woolly fleeces, preferably white. It probably traces back at least to the Persian Empire (Laurans, 1977). The first stage was evidently a stage of proto-standardization, with an incomplete standardisation of the appearance and without a given written status, flock-book and registration system.

The change towards a modern standardization of sheep breeds is also old and exemplified by the Merino of the King of Spain (Laguna Sanz, 1986). However, a great increase in the number of modern standardized breeds took place in England at the end of the 18th century and these spread to continental Europe, the Americas, South Africa, Central Asia (with the Karakul), Australia and New Zealand and other places.

Lists and catalogues of standardized breeds are made and continuously updated in most sheep-breeding countries. Surveys according to geographical zone have been made (see for example Mason, 1967, for the Mediterranean). World surveys were made by Ryder and Stephenson (1968), Terrill (1970) and Mason (1951, supplemented in 1957, revised in 1969 and 1988). Mason indicated clearly those breeds which may be considered as standardized.

We have seen that the genetic erosion of traditional populations started with the creation of standardized breeds in the Middle East which have spread, with the Middle East acting as a diffusion centre. Mason (1967), among others, pointed out that this makes the study of sheep genetic resources especially complex.

Establishing a scenario of stocking in the past for each country or zone provides some help in solving the problem of mapping the endangered standardized breeds. Such a method was proposed by Lauvergne (1988a) at the Mediterranean symposium of 1986 (Lauvergne, 1988b) and has been applied to Italy (Rubino and Renieri, 1988), France (Bougler et al., 1988) and the Mediterranean (Muzzolini, 1988).

The standardized breeds are unequally organized into breed societies. Different societies put more or less emphasis on selection, improvement and promotion. Several factions have developed in sheep breeding including those emphasizing multiple purpose, wool, milk or meat traits. This results in sometimes tremendous genetic erosion among standardized breeds.

The last stage of standardized breeds is the creation of synthetic breeds by crossing several established breeds and selecting for various traits. These new breeds are intermediate between standardized breeds and selected lines. They are usually not endangered.

2.3 Selected lines

Selected lines represent the latest achievement of selection under the control of man for increasing productivity in the various modern breeding systems. Usually they start from a standardized or synthetic breed and are now widely found in poultry and pig breeding, though not yet to any large extent in sheep. These stocks are not endangered.

3. Sugestions to protect sheep genetic resources

3.1 Traditional populations

3.1.1 Location and identification

As suggested here, there is a large deficiency in the identification of traditional sheep populations. Therefore, intially, the remaining stocks must be identified and described. Using visible genetic profiles would appear to be very practical for this purpose.

3.1.2 Conservation

Having identified the type, size and location of the nuclei of traditional populations, their conservation may require different approaches. If the stock is in immediate danger, an emergency rescue may be necessary. If there is less urgency, the following suggestions are made to attempt to maintain the genetic variability:

  1. keep, without distortion and as long as possible, the breeding system in which the stock is used (provided it does not itself produce loss of genetic diversity, e.g. deliberate, close inbreeding);

  2. organise a network of demonstration farms, inside the network of national and regional natural parks, in which the traditional flocks can be kept more or less with the same breeding patterns as those traditionally used;

  3. use the network of agricultural schools and research institutions locally or internationally to create a series of conservation flocks.

3.2 Standardized breeds

It is necessary to classify and compare these stocks in order to avoid having different names for essentially the same stock and to measure the degree of genetic erosion which stocks have undergone.

3.2.1 Classification of standardized breeds

Several methods of classification have been proposed. Lauvergne (1987a) proposed a method to be used within a country with criteria such as the degree of complexity, degree of exoticism and the degree of genealogic control. In the future these classifications will be made using modern methods of measuring the genetic distance between breeds. Vienne and Damerval (1985) have reviewed these methods which trace back to the 1960s.

Benadjaoud (1987) compared a series of autochtonous French standardized breeds. One approach used was to combine several observations of archaism for size, tail length, ear length and nose profile in an index of archaism, plotted according to a factorial analysis of correspondence. Another more classical approach consists of using gene frequencies and biometrical measurements (Nei, 1972, or Rogers, 1972).

The clusters of points representing different breeds plotted on a three-dimensional diagram allow rapid distinction between families of breeds. This provides a much more objective approach to classification of standardized breeds and therefore a better basis for conceiving conservation programmes.

3.2.2 Updating inventories

A prerequisite of conservation is the continuous updating of the inventory using all types of available genetic information. This is the purpose of an EAAP project (Maijala et al., 1983) and a FAO project (FAO, 1986a, b) which are now a common EAAP/FAO project with a computerized data bank in Hanover (Simon, 1989).

Lauvergne (1987b) made inventories of sheep and goat populations in France using a simplified version of the EAAP questionnaire used in France by Bougler (1985). This version provides a new list of breeds with a new classification of these breeds and provides a new set of genetic information, such as a coat colour genetic formula. In the future, the family - as defined by the analyses of genetic distance - to which every breed belongs, will be mentioned.

A similar approach could use a standardized summary of the data for each country stored in the central computer of the EAAP/FAO programme quoted above and with periodical publication.

3.2.3 Conservation

  1. Using breeders societies: The practical protection of standardized breeds rests on the will of breeders to keep them. This will is sustained by their economic interest.

  2. Using the network of national and regional, natural parks: As for the traditional populations, this means of conservation is based on the dual needs of keeping livestock corresponding with the system of breeding previously used along with showing the type(s) of agriculture the natural park is supposed to exhibit. Some units of this type are the Living Historical Farms network of operating displays of ancient agriculture and breeding in the USA, or the network of “demonstration farms” of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in Great Britain.

  3. Using the schools of agriculture and research institutions: This method is precarious because the funds of keeping breeds are subject to budget reductions. A good example of continuous genetic conservation over a 200 year period is that of the Merino flock at the National Sheep Fold of Rambouillet, France. Research institutions often prefer to use experimental flocks of particular genetic type.

  4. Developing appropriate breeding systems which allow conservation of genetic resources: A good example of this is the use of small ruminants in extensive systems in specialized situations. For example, sheep can be used to keep an open landscape in the Atlantic zone where intensive agriculture is not allowed or in clearing fuel breaks where forest fires are a problem. In these situations one can use old breeds which have no use in intensive breeding systems.

  5. Other approaches: One can also use the facilities of frozen semen and/or embryo banks. This means of preservation has been proposed (FAO and UNEP, 1984b) but has not been well developed. It may be important in the future, but requires precise identification and description of the resources. It also requires a network of facilities to provide the specimens which will be needed.

Another possibility for preservation of genetic traits is to use marker lines, as suggested earlier. One can produce a marker line for one given gene, for a given set of genes or for several alleles in segregation. A series of such lines will only be possible if the identification of mendelian factors in sheep is improved and a standardized nomenclature is set up. The work done by the COGNOSAG will help in this way (COGNOSAG, 1988, 1989).

3.3 Selected lines

These do not require special attention for their preservation at the present time.

4. Conclusions

A short paper such as this can provide only an overview. It will have fulfilled its purpose if it encourages acceptance of new concepts which are simple improvements on previous approaches used by authors studying genetic resources of farm animals.

A new notion to be emphasised is the need for a more precise classification using more and more quantified criteria for comparing stocks within the traditional populations and the standardized breeds. These two groups contain the majority of the endangered stocks.

A new set of methods allowing measurement of the degree of genetic erosion has been tested in continental Europe and in the Mediterranean with the help of scientists of various research institutes (National Institute of Agronomic Research, France; Institute of Animal Production, faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Perugia, Italy; Institute for Zootechny and Cheese of Sassari, Sardinia, Italy; and others) and the support of agencies such as the EEC with its AGRIMED programme (a programme for developing agriculture in the Mediterranean), EAAP, FAO, PHILOETIOS network and CHIEAM/ICAMAS.

It is hoped that in the future it will be possible to develop this research in cooperation with the above-quoted institutions and agencies in order to better identify and keep the still largely unknown genetic variability in sheep.

AGRIMEDAgriculture in the Mediterranean (a development programme of the EEC in the Mediterranean)
CHIEAM/ICAMASInternational Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies
COGNOSAGCommittee on Genetic Nomenclature of Sheep and Goats
EAAPEuropean Association for Animal Production
EECEuropean Economic Community
FAOFood and Agriculture Organization
PHILOETIOSResearch network sponsored by CHIEAM, EAAP, EEC and FAO
UNEPUnited Nations Environment Programme


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