The long history of farming in Great Britain and an often competitive farming industry has led to the creation of a vast array of native breeds. The British breeds we have today are the result of centuries of domestication and selection by farmers and smallholders in a wide range of climatic, topographical and economic environments and circumstances. Indeed there is likely to be a breed specifically suited to your own circumstances. Many breeds are ideally suited to a small scale domestic environment where the highest productivity or prolificacy is unnecessary but attributes such as unique qualities for niche markets and low maintenance attributes are more valuable. Furthermore, British breeds have long been exported to the wider world and have thus proven to be reliable and adaptable to different environments and climates. Making British breeds a worthwhile consideration for any farmer, smallholder or hobbyist.
So why keep a British breed?
In Great Britain:
- A local provenance. There is likely to be a breed local to your area and suited to your environment.
- A native breed may be connected in some way to your family history.
- Breeds have been specifically developed in the British climate.
- A great variety to choose from, a breed for every need.
- British breeds have been selected for a wide range of farming intensities. Some breeds are dependent on human care yet are very productive others are independent in nature but have more natural levels of productivity. Meaning there is a great range of breeds to suit both commercial and domestic circumstances.
- Large variation in mothering instincts, brought about by a diverse range of environments and management methods that breeds have been bred in.
- Temperament and habit. There are breeds that are calm and docile in nature and there are others that are boisterous, wild or independent in habit.
- A diverse range of wool qualities and colours that cannot be matched by any other country.
- Some breeds have been selected and have evolved to some degree for low maintenance, extensive rearing. Many can be utilised on poor and exposed grazing that is usually unsuitable for other agricultural uses. Many of these breeds have very limited production costs.
- Commercial production. Many native breeds have at some time been utilised commercially for the production of meat, wool, fur or eggs. Today, many sheep and cattle are still viable options for commercial production of meat or specialist dairy produce. Several native sheep breeds are commonly used for the production of prime lamb while native dairy breeds are still used for the production of high quality dairy produce such as ice creams and cheeses.
- Many native breeds can be kept free-range on a small scale by homeowners wishing to grow their own produce. There are also many breeds that perform well when kept intensively where space is limited.
- Some rare breeds have been successfully utilised in the production of high value produce for the restaurant trade.
British breeds are used for traditional local foods, such as the Ayrshire Dunlop cheese, using milk from Ayrshire cows, Swaledale ewe’s milk cheese and Cumberland sausages traditionally made from the now extinct Cumberland pig breed but which can also be made from Gloucestershire Old Spots among others.
- Exhibiting. Many breeds of livestock are commonly exhibited and some poultry and rabbit breeds were exclusively created for exhibition purposes.
- Native breeds bred in large numbers do not suffer from issues arising from in-breeding and a small population that may occur with introduced breeds.
- Many British breeds are easy to source.
- There is an abundance of published advice available regarding each breed and most breed societies now have a website.