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The Mulefoot Pig - Private Conservation Efforts

 Private Conservation Efforts


Local indigenous and adapted stocks are disappearing by dilution and replacement. Farmers and livestock breeders throughout the world are aware of the problem. Often they are also aware that something of great local value is being lost but that as individuals they cannot swim against the tide even if they would like to see more pride in, and use made of, their own local stocks.

There are many examples of individual farmers or groups of farmers who have continued to maintain and breed the last herd of a particular type or breed of livestock because they believed that they had something to offer. In many cases such farmers have ensured the survival of that breed until its value has been recognized.

The American Mulefoot Hog was widespread in the central region of the USA in the first half of this century. They were a hardy outdoor breed with the normal cloven hooves of a pig fused into a single toe (syndactyl). They were also reputed to be resistant to a number of pig diseases prevalent at the time. By the 1960's vaccines and treatments were available for most pig diseases and the numbers of Mulefoot Hogs declined. By 1985 only one herd remained belonging to a Mr R.M. Holliday in Missouri, USA. He continued to maintain the breed because he believed it had a unique characteristic of hardiness, and because of his own family tradition. Both his father and grandfather had reared this breed of pig on the small river islands in that part of the Mississippi river from which they would harvest the young pigs. Today, as new resistant strains of once controllable diseases begin to emerge there is some renewed interest in the American Mulefoot Hogs to re-evaluate the disease resistance claims. There is also interest in examining the foot structure of the breed to see if it might prevent lameness in commercial pigs reared on concrete floors or slats. However, if it hadn't been for the determination of this one farmer to keep this breed going, these new research opportunities would not be available.

In each of these and many other possible examples the value placed by individual farmers on their breeds has enabled unfashionable or temporarily uneconomic breeds to survive untill their potential value could be recognized. This highlights how important it is to seek information about breeds from farmers and to use farmers as a central part of conservation strategy.

The most powerful and stable from of live animals conservation programmes currently in operation are those which involve large numbers of small privately owned units. This system has two advantages; firstly it tends to result in the maintenance of very high effective population size (Ne) due to there being a large number of relatively small units each with at least one male; and secondly, it requires a very large number of decisions for significant changes to occur. Thus selection pressures are likely to be ineffective because they are not generally uniform between units, and in order for the programme to fail completely many individuals must withdraw their support.

The use of individual private flocks and herds co-ordinated by organizations committed to rare breed conservation, offers a powerful and cost effective means of rare breed conservation. It makes use of the skills and knowledge of farmers familiar with breeds, and keeps those breeds interacting and developing in the same environment to which they are adapted. Financial assistance, advice and practical help can be given to farmers in a number of ways through cultural, historical or agricultural organizations (Henson, 1989).

Programmes have been designed to use local farmers in vegetable and landrace crop plant conservation programmes in different parts of the world (Altieri, 1989; Fowler, 1990). These ideas of farmers as custodians of genetic resources at a village level can be used equally well for farmers involved in livestock programmes and through production linked subsidies the income of farmers involved in these programmes could be equal to those involved with replacement breeds. Conservation programmes should hold the same cultural and social value and the same sense of pride and responsibility as breed replacement and improvement programmes. They should be used as control herds to monitor the advantages of the imported stocks. As control herds they should have parallel opportunities to improve husbandry where this can be sustained in the long term economy of the country.

Such conservation projects can be co-ordinated through independent organizations where this is appropriate, or through universities or state agricultural agencies. It may be internationally, regionally or state funded through internal agencies or aid agencies. Ideally however, each aid project designed to replace or upgrade indigenous stocks with exotics should have a budget component to establish a control programme to conserve the indigenous strain in the same conditions.

A similar project involving the co-operating of farmers through agricultural extension workers exists in Botswana. The farmers form co-operatives in order to share dipping facilities for the control of ticks and other ecto-parasites. They also work together to market their meat to the meat company, and they share the use of stud males of both sheep and goats. In one such cooperative outside the capital, Gaborone, a group of about 100 farmers have decided they do not wish to use imported Dorpa rams or Boer goats to cross with their stock but would prefer to use only local Tswana animals which are resistant to heartwater and more tolerant of heavy tick burdens. They are also interested in improving their stock and are therefore willing to work with the local research scientists to measure the production of their animals, use selected males and keep good records in exchange for chemicals to control ecto-parasites. This is an excellent example of how village based farmers can form the very inexpensive core of a conservation/improvement programme that would be prohibitively expensive if it were to be established as a project on a special conservation or research farm.

Probably the single most important feature of all these village and farmer based projects are the co-ordinators. In order for any conservation project of this type to be successful the co-ordinator must be enthusiastic about the project and must be familiar with the breed. He or she must have respect for the farmers and be in regular contact with them. In situations where women are the principal carers for the livestock the co-ordinators should also be a women. The co-ordinator must understand and be able to explain the conservation theory and practice and must be involved in the collection of data and in making information about the progress of the project available to the participating farmers. He or she should be involved in the distribution of financial support if it exists and must be honourable and trusted by the farmers. Working in a village situation requires the mutual respect and trust of both scientists and farmers. It is most important that a conservation project co-ordinator cares that the project will succeed.

Co-ordinating Organizations

There are a number of different ways of co-ordinating farmer breeders, but co-ordination of some kind is essential if conservation programmes are going to be successful for any length of time.

Breed Associations

Breed associations are groups of individual farmers who maintain and produce the same pure breed. They act as a pedigree registration and certification service to their members and as a commercially based breed promotion and marketing service. In normal circumstances they seek to ‘improve’ their stock by encouraging selective breeding. The combination of the two factors of breed improvement and breed promotion do, therefore, appear to be in direct opposition to the concept of the conservation of genetic variation. However, provided every breed has an active association and efforts are made to keep breeds separate they do act in combination to conserve overall variation

Breed associations for minor breeds are able to keep breeders in touch with each other; keep and make available pedigree information essential to prevent serious inbreeding; and help to promote the breed. Active associations are very important in ensuring that a breed can survive, but they are dependent upon member contributions, and in the case of small associations are normally member run. It, therefore, often happens that a very rare breed that really needs a breed association cannot sustain one. In this situation, network organizations like the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) in the UK, the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (AMBC) in the USA and EMBRAPA in Brazil, have been very effective in providing assistance with basic secretarial, communication and registration services until members are able to sustain their own breed organizations (Henson, 1987).

Reference and full text can be located at:

The American Mulefoot Hog Association and Registry  
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