The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds

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The need to preserve farm animal diversity is increasingly urgent, says the author of this definitive book on endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. Farmyard animals may hold critical keys for our survival, Jan Dohner warns, and with each extinction, genetic traits of potentially vital importance to our agricultural future or to medical progress are forever lost.
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Editorial Reviews

[A]n exhaustively researched resource...A comprehensive work, it supplies information not in other sources or in one volume.
Lyle G. McNeal
A valuable contribution to the argument that rare breeds of farm animals are as important to preserve as wild species.
Library Journal
Why save the old, endangered breeds of livestock and poultry? Most would agree that maintaining genetic diversity is crucial, but there are other reasons as well. A librarian and researcher who raises rare Dominique and Delaware chickens, Dohner makes her case in this unique new reference. The encyclopedia discusses the merits of breed conservation and profiles nearly 200 individual breeds of livestock (goats, sheep, swine, cattle, horses, and other equines) and poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese). The specific breeds chosen are based on national priority lists, the historic importance of the breed, or its conservation success. The breed profiles are preceded by detailed sections on the natural history, domestication, and husbandry of that livestock species. The profiles are not arranged alphabetically but in historical and geographical context within the chapters on general animal groups (cows, swine, etc.), so it is necessary to use the index for quick lookups of particular breeds. Dohner has researched her subject thoroughly, drawing from a wide variety of published resources as well as her contacts with breed organizations in the United States, Canada, and Britain. She excels at drawing out relevant and interesting breed histories, physical descriptions, and, if known, a breed's current status (vulnerable, rare, critical, etc.). There are approximately 250 illustrations, including a 32-page section of color plates. While historic breeds like the Texas Longhorn, Clydesdale, and Rhode Island Red are immediately recognizable, many more are not. How many readers have seen or even heard of the Clun Forest sheep, American Cream draft horse, Dutch Belted cow, or Silver Appleyard duck? This encyclopedia may be a little pricey for libraries on modest budgets but should be well worth the money based on likely interest and use. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. William H. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300088809
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Series: Yale Agrarian Studies Series
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 8.45 (w) x 11.32 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds

By Janet Vorwald Dohner


Copyright © 2001 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-08880-9

Chapter One

Rare on the Farm

When the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another Heaven and another Earth must pass before such a one can be again. -William Beebe, naturalist

Change has come so completely and so pervasively to agriculture in the past half-century that it is now hard to imagine the relationship between humans and their animals as it existed in the first half of the twentieth century and for thousands of years past. In order to survive, people once bound their lives intimately with their animals. Food, clothing, transportation-all were provided by animals.

In different geographic areas, farmers developed and raised livestock suited to their ecosystem, husbandry practices, needs, and culture. Hundreds of native types of livestock flourished, each uniquely appropriate to its people and place. Migrations, trade, and warfare introduced new varieties of livestock that were incorporated into the farming systems if they functioned or met needs. With the advent of increased scientific understanding of breeding and genetics in the nineteenth century, farmers began to select which traits to develop with greater ability. Livestock and poultry raisers enjoyed a wealth of variety from which to pick and choose. Not only were there a great number of breeds, but for each breed there existed a great pool of independent breeders who raised their animals on their own farms based on their needs and choices. The genetic diversity was enormous (fig. 1).

Circumstances changed when the Industrial Revolution drew increasing populations to the cities. These townspeople needed large amounts of food that could be raised cheaply and transported to market. Urban dwellers' demands spurred the development of new breeds. In time, the show ring and the promotion efforts of breed societies stimulated breed improvements but also fads or fashions without regard to merit.

In the twentieth century, the pursuit of economical rates of high production came to dominate livestock raising. Standardization or uniformity accompanied the emphasis on high rates of production. Specialists or crossbreed producers replaced adaptable, multipurpose animals. Traditional or native stock was widely crossbred to more popular or productive breeds. The livestock environments became more highly controlled and managed.

Farmers cannot be blamed for adapting to the changes in agriculture, for they need to make a living on a very low profit margin. These methods of production have also supplied consumers with abundant, inexpensive food. Yet the cost of this food is often supported by massive quantities of cheap water and energy or government financial price supports, subsidies, or protections. High rates of production are also supported by various technologies and sophisticated veterinary science.

In the United States, Canada, and Great Britain only a small percentage of the human population remains on the farm or has contact with the raising of livestock. For thousands of years, most adults and children had to know how to work with their draft animals and care for their food animals. This contact between people and their livestock was intimate and constant. Humans also experienced a sense of partnership in working with their animals. Today a lack of knowledge about agriculture and misconceptions about farm animals abound. The average person has not only lost contact with agriculture but, more dangerously, become convinced that much of the business of raising livestock is somehow politically incorrect (fig. 2).

Today four out of five dairy cows in North America and Europe are the familiar black-and-white Holstein-Friesians. Many people probably believe that all dairy cows are black and white. Moreover, owing to the wonders of artificial insemination, many Holstein-Friesians share the same bloodlines. It may seem hard to believe that just eighty years ago there were three hundred breeds of cattle in Europe and North America.

The farmyard pig has today been transformed into a grain-fed, fast-growing meat producer. Just three breeds or their crossbred offspring supply the majority of the market. They are increasingly raised in huge indoor complexes on contract to one of a handful of processors. In the past, swine were the original recyclers, consuming crop waste.

Almost all eggs and poultry meat today come from a few hybrid chicken strains, and essentially one type of turkey is raised commercially. Owing to the enormous development of desirable breast meat, turkeys are no longer able even to mate naturally. A limited number of company-owned strains of these specialized hybrids supply 95 percent of the North American and European poultry food source, whereas fifty years ago thousands of individual hatcheries in North America each raised many breeds of poultry.

This new system, where most meat, egg, and dairy products come from a few highly specialized, uniform, commercial breeds or hybrids, has increasingly pushed out the traditional breeds. In the United States alone, about a hundred breeds of livestock exist in only relatively small numbers, are in decline, or are teetering on the edge of extinction. The situation is similar in Canada and Britain. In Europe, about half of the livestock breeds that existed in 1900 are extinct, and one-third of the remaining breeds are threatened. Although the problem is most severe in developed nations, native breeds in the developing world are now being pressured by imported stock. In 1998, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's Department of Animal Genetic Resources estimated that seventeen hundred of the world's four or five thousand breeds are at risk of loss.

If these seemingly old-fashioned breeds are less productive or competitive than modern crossbred animals, why is it important to save them?

Most important, if this variety of livestock is lost, so, too, will be lost innumerable genetic traits. As Edward O. Wilson, author of The Diversity of Life, has written, "We should judge every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity" (Wilson 1992). Just as our awareness of the importance of preserving biodiversity in nature has become apparent, so the need to preserve genetic diversity in domestic livestock is becoming critical. These old-fashioned breeds contain different genetic potentials developed over hundreds, even thousands, of years that are not present in many currently popular breeds.

Following domestication in Asia, Africa, or Europe, livestock animals evolved separately for many reasons. Geographical or political boundaries often created divisions among stock. Natural selection worked on these animals just as it did their wild counterparts, favoring individuals that met the challenges of geography, climate, disease, parasites, food seasonality or supply, and competition from members of their own kind. Humans also placed artificial selection demands on their animals, choosing the traits they favored, for example, those that provided food, fleece, or work. Humans also bred animals for religious purposes and made choices based on purely physical preferences, such as an animal's color or shape. Naturally occurring mutations increased their possible choices. Native breeds or types fit themselves into specific ecological niches and production systems. All of these choices and selections created a vast genetic potential. These traits served humankind very well for hundreds of years. Many experts believe that these traits could be vital to our agricultural future worldwide.

The practices and requirements of agriculture are not constant, and genetic diversity is essential to further selection, improvement, and adaptation. The current intensive production systems may give way to more extensive choices pressured by economic, societal, or biological demands. The costs associated with indoor housing or confinement, such as electrical power and heat, automated machinery, environmental concerns over water pollution, the price of grain and other feed, or chemical fertilizers could prove uneconomical in the future. Farmers who now usually specialize in producing one product may need to return to diversified farming to protect their income.

Alternative systems such as outdoor production, grass-based or organic farming, and sustainable agriculture are all experiencing an increase in attention and practice. Producers are looking for less environmentally damaging means of controlling animal and plant pests, which properly managed livestock or poultry can help combat. Agricultural lands are also being reduced through urban sprawl, forcing livestock onto less favorable land. Livestock traditionally grazed land unsuitable to crop cultivation and converted inedible forages into human food. This ability may again become vital. Even changing weather patterns could affect agriculture in the future.

The modern, highly productive breeds often do not function well when removed from today's intensive systems of production. The older breeds were often designed and proven for these very alternative systems. These breeds often carry such traits as hardiness, longevity, small size, a docile nature, good mothering qualities, foraging abilities, or the ability to produce on poorer quality foodstuffs. Often the commercial potential of lesser known breeds has not even been explored in the traditional or modern systems.

Animal welfare, animal rights, and consumer concerns over pure and healthy foods are also on the rise. The battery cage housing of egg-layers is being regulated or even prohibited in some European countries. Organic foods are growing in popularity, as is the demand for more flavorful, high-quality foods in contrast to the bland choices often found in supermarkets. Gourmet and specialty markets are increasing.

The threat of disease has grown tremendously as the animal food stock has become concentrated in the hands of a few producers, such as in the poultry industry. It is clearly impossible to predict what future resistance or tolerance will become necessary. The less popular breeds have not been adequately studied to determine what special or unique qualities they might possess.

These old farmyard animals may even hold critical keys for human survival. To take one example, for four hundred years, Ossabaw Island hogs have thrived on an island o. the coast of Georgia. Marvelously adapted to their harsh home, all Ossabaw swine are diabetic, yet none of them require insulin to survive. Nonetheless, Ossabaw Island hogs are seriously threatened and are not being protected. As in the wild world, humanity does not truly know what it may lose with each extinction.

Livestock animals should also be preserved for reasons other than economic, biological, ecological, agricultural, or scientific possibilities. These animals are more than a collection of genes. To quote Edward O. Wilson again, the loss of diversity "endangers not just the body but the spirit" (Wilson 1992). Together, humans and animals share a long history of interdependency. To survive, domesticated animals actually chose to throw their fate in with humans. The history and lives of many of the most endangered breeds are woven throughout thousands of years of human civilization. They are an integral part of our history, culture, and aesthetics.

Chapter Two

Humans and Animals

I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men. -Henry David Thoreau

People have kept wild animals as pets far back into prehistory. Among aboriginal peoples of today, women often rescue orphaned young animals and nurture them like human babies, and children have them as playmates. They are treated kindly and indulged until they become uncontrollable or dangerous. Religion was also closely connected with animals both as powerful totems or hoped for prey. The images of animals are seen in the earliest prehistoric records on caves and rocks. In addition, some nomadic peoples came to follow the rhythms of migratory herding animals such as the reindeer.

The dates of actual domestication are being continually pushed back by discoveries both in the past world of archaeology and in the inner world of DNA. Because there are no direct historical records, evidence of domestication must be sought in other ways. The presence of bones from hunted animals is usually found at archaeological sites, while the predominance of bones of the same age implies that these animals were raised for food. The study of animal teeth also yields data on age of death and what types of food the animal ate. Agricultural historians can also search for the changes in animal skeletons brought about by carrying burdens. Eventually changes can be seen in the skeletons brought about by selective breeding by human beings over many, many years. More recently, techniques of genetic analysis have allowed scientists to determine when the mitochrondrial DNA of the captive population began to diverge from the wild founder animals.

The long-held Western view of domestication reflected humanity's arrogant belief in people's superiority and dominance over nature. In this viewpoint, humans imposed domestication upon animals. If this were actually true, then people should have been able to domesticate any animal they chose. Curiously, after thousands of years, only six mammal species comprise the overwhelming bulk of domesticated animals: dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, and equines, both ass and horse. The house cat could possibly be included, but many exist in a semiwild state beyond humans' breeding control. Domesticated poultry include the jungle fowl, the turkey, two species of ducks, and geese. These few species out of the thousands present on earth cannot be a testament to humanity's ability to domesticate.

Domestication is more than captivity or taming, such as is practiced with Asian elephants, but the control of breeding over a long period of time so much so that the animals are significantly changed in both behavior and appearance. A few other species have been partially domesticated or domesticated in relatively small numbers, including camels, llamas, alpacas, reindeer, rabbits, guinea pigs, laboratory rodents, pigeons, guinea fowl, goldfish, and silkworms. Juliet Clutton-Brock (1987) has described these animals, including cats, more accurately as "exploited captives" that are employed by people.

Many attempts have been made, sometimes over sustained periods of time, to domesticate other animals, among them the zebra, addax, oryx, eland, ibex, chamois, other antelopes and gazelles, bison, muskox, deer, elk, bighorn, cheetah, ratites such as ostriches and emus, peccaries, and small fur-bearing mammals such as mink and ermine.


Excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds by Janet Vorwald Dohner Copyright © 2001 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations and Symbols
1 Rare on the Farm 2
2 Humans and Animals 8
3 Goats 20
4 Sheep 64
5 Swine 160
6 Cattle 200
7 Equines 294
8 Poultry 402
9 Preserving a Future 476
App. 1: Selected Organizations and Journals 487
App. 2: Where to See Rare and Historical Breeds 490
Bibliography 493
Index 497
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