Rare Breed Conservation

Keyshill Rare Breed Sheep Conservation

Rare breeds have become rare because they are not regarded as commercially viable, taking longer to reach maturity than those breeds now most widely used in commercial sheep rearing. They also produce fewer lambs, a flock averaging 1.5 lambs per ewe (ie some producing one and some two lambs) rather than the two or occasionally three lambs that modern commercial ewes produce. However, modern sheep rearing is an intensive production system which requires supplementary feeding and high veterinary product use to finish the lambs quickly and maintain them in good health.

So what determines whether a breed is ‘rare’? Inevitably, the whole rare breed thing is quite complicated and the Rare Breed Survival Trust website is the best place to start reading about this in more detail. The Trust produces a watch list annually which tracks the success or otherwise of conservation activities for sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and equine (horses and ponies).

The breeds are placed into appropriate categories based on species and the total number of registered breeding females in the United Kingdom. However there are other factors that affect a breed's position on the watchlist such as geographical concentration.

No Description Number of registered breeding ewes in the UK
1 Critical Less than 300
2 Endangered 300 - 500
3 Vulnerable 500 - 900
4 At Risk 900 - 1500
5 Minority 1500 - 3000
6 Other British breeds - more than 3000
There are breeds native to the UK that are not classed as rare. These breeds are listed in Category 6 other native breeds. So far 16 breeds now in Category 6 were previously in categories 1-5 and have successfully progressed into Category 6. This clearly illustrates the successful work being carried out by charities, breed societies and  those individuals who produce flocks or herds commercially.
It might seem strange to eat something that is classified as rare. However, they have only become rare by falling out of general farming production. It is not possible to keep a healthy population simply as pets. These animals were bred for specific purposes and they should be used for such to have any chance of bringing them back into mainstream agriculture.