British rare breeds we must save

Forty years ago, some far-sighted farmers realised that traditional British farm animals were dying out and a precious gene pool was shrinking.

Livestock farming in Britain looked very different 75 years ago. Animals were leaner and woollier, more agile and independent, and often more picturesque—elegant longhorn cattle grazed water meadows in Constable-esque scenes, Gloucester old spot pigs rootled around in apple orchards. there were marked regional differences, from Red Devon to Welsh Black cattle and exmoor Horn, Bluefaced Leicester and shetland sheep.

Bulky Holstein cattle and muscular texel sheep had yet to spread from the Netherlands over english pasture, and dreary health warnings about eating red meat hadn’t permeated the public consciousness.

However, when the drive for greater productivity began after the second World War, 26 British farm breeds became extinct, including the attractively marked Somerset sheeted cattle, several types of geese and the Lincolnshire curly-coated pig.

In the 1930s, two-thirds of all milking cattle were Dairy shorthorns —now there are only about 90 breeding females left of the original pure genetics.

The meat of the new arrivals from Continental Europe earned higher EU ratings for low fat and big muscle content, fulfilling supermarket criteria that didn’t favour traditional British breeds. The old natives were becoming museum pieces.

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Here’s our list of beautiful British breeds we simply must save:


Boreray (fewer than 300)

Leicester Longwool and North Ronaldsay (fewer than 500)

Castlemilk Moorit, Devon & Cornwall Longwool, Hill Radnor, Teeswater, Whitefaced Woodland (fewer than 900)

Balwen, Cotswold, Lincoln Longwool, Manx Loaghtan, Norfolk Horn, Oxford Down, Portland, Soay, Wensleydale, Whiteface Dartmoor (fewer than 1,500)

Border Leicester, Dorset Down, Dorset Horn, Greyface Dartmoor (fewer than 3,000)

british rare breeds

Manx Loaghtan sheep



Chillingham Wild, Dairy Shorthorn (below), Northern Dairy Shorthorn (original population), Whitebred Shorthorn, Vaynol (fewer than 150)

Native Aberdeen Angus (fewer than 250)

Lincoln Red (fewer than 450)

Gloucester, Irish Moiled, Shetland (fewer than 750)

Traditional Hereford, White Park (fewer than 1,500)

british rare breeds

Dairy shorthorn cow



British Lop, Large Black (below), Middle White (fewer than 300) Berkshire, Tamworth, Welsh (fewer than 500)

British Saddleback, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Large White, Oxford Sandy and Black (fewer than 1,000)

british rare breeds

Large Black pig



Cleveland Bay, Eriskay, Hackney, Suffolk (fewer than 300)

Dales, Exmoor (below) (fewer than 500)

Clydesdale, Dartmoor (fewer than 900)

Fell, Highland, Shire (fewer than 1,500)

british rare breeds

Exmoor pony


*All figures correct at the time of publication: November 13, 2013.