A review of Rare Breeds by Terry Bridge

Reviewed by: molly martin

Rare Breeds:
Unusual Farm Animals from Around the World
by Terry Bridge
Chartwell Books
Paperback: 256 pages
May 1, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0785826460

Rare Breeds: Unusual Farm Animals from Around the World is a thought-provoking, captivating collection highlighting Cattle, Pigs, Goats, Sheep and Horses that may have once been familiar on ranches and farms, or are now beginning to supersede some of the long established critters raised in a particular region for decades and more.

I grew up in an agricultural country, spent part of my childhood living on a dairy, and have always relished the feel of soil in my fingers, have used whinny pooh for years as soil additive for my garden beds. Know the difference between hot manure, as in chicken droppings, warm as in needing to mellow a bit before being applied to the soil, cattle droppings are in this category and cool manure, horse droppings, these can be applied any time and will not burn the cultivars. And can walk barefoot in the pasture and not become hysterical when a hidden cow pie squishes between my toes, it DOES wash off.

Rural Life, County Fairs and oddities of critters tend to interest me, I rushed this book off the shelf quickly. Livestock is animals raised in rural areas to produce items meant for apparel, foodstuff and revenue. Rare breeds are those critters not commonplace to today’s agriculture. The term breeding stock is applied to a group of animals selected for particular traits in hopes to purify, better and improve the egg laying, meat producing, hair quality or whatever the trait desired.

Beginning with cattle, chapter 1, a gorgeous Aberdeen Angus is seen, a tuft of green grass in her mouth gazing into the camera. This particular breed developed during the early 19th century by cross breeding polled and black cattle in the Scottish north east. Breed standards encompass nearly any quality imaginable from temperament, appearance, movement, history of the breed, and use whether as meat producing, or as in the case of Angora goats the amount of valuable hair available per animal.

I found it interesting that The American, a sturdy native to the United States is known for its history as an American bison hybrid. Developed during the 1950s this animal can survive on the poor fodder of the arid American south west. With genetics including Hereford, Shorthorn and Charolais as well as Brahman and bison most American display a slight hump, floppy ears and may have horns. Coloring is varied, ears are down turned.

Ankole Watusi’s are slender African natives bearing very large distinctive horns capable of cooling blood via air passing over the honey comb of blood vessels in the horns thus lowering the body temperatures. With a life span of some 20 years this medium sized animal has gained popularity in Australia, North and South America, and Europe. I have seen some on ranches here in Oklahoma.

From the double muscled Belgian Blue, a large meat producing breed I got to see several years ago at the State Fair, to the French Blonde D’Aquitane to the Swiss Braunvieh to the Italian Chianina cattle having special traits deemed important to a particular culture, society and region on earth have been developed, grown in popularity or have been supplanted by another having traits more prized today.

Today many people are returning to a semi-rural life, on smaller acreages, and are beginning to search out mini sized cattle including the Dexter, the smallest of the European cattle breeds, weighing about 600 pounds it is about a third the size of a Friesian milking cow. I often see specialty mini cattle at our local county fair including small cattle resembling the Dutch Belted, often called Oreo Cookie Cows, or some African mini cattle resembling Brahmans.

Dairy cattle mentioned in this book include Ayershire, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey while beef cattle include Charolais, Salers, Angus and Santa Gertrudis. Featured on the cover of the book is a shaggy Highland from Scotland, often only seen by American children in a zoo, Tulsa, Oklahoma is one zoo having a Highland in the children’s zoo area.

Chapter 2 offers a peek at hogs including American Yorkshire and Chester White another American breed. The Hampshire is a banded animal having erect ears, a black body and white band around the center of the body giving the appearance that this well dressed critter is wearing black pants and white shirt. The Lacombe breed developed from breeding work begun during the late 1940s and produces a large meaty hog having excellent weaning weight record, and huge floppy ears.

I have never seen a Mulefoot, but hope to someday, this swine breed is named for its solid hoof similar to the hoof of a mule. A popular breed during the early 1900s the breed has all but vanished and is today listed as critically rare.

Also listed in this work is the Poland China, the first developed breed of swine in the USA, originating in the Miami Valley of Ohio, The Red Wattle, a large red hog having wattles attached to either side of the neck. The wattles serve no known purpose. An English breed, the Tamworth, get along well with cattle and the Vietnamese Potbelly round out the section devoted to swine. Potbelly pigs begin small, but can attain a good bit of girth and often are kept more or less as pets as are other miniature pigs including Gottinger, Resident of Munich, and Kunekunes.

Chapter 3 devoted to a selection of goats opens with a photo and information of the hardy, milk producing Alpine. Angora goats prized for their lush hair, mohair, were depicted on Turkish banknotes during the late 1930s through early 1950s. Shorn twice a year a single Angora produces 11 – 18 pounds of hair each year. Boers developed in South Africa are a meat goat having high resistance to disease and adapt well to hot, dry arid areas. Golden Guernsey; Kiko; Kinder a cross between Pygmy and Nubian goats; Lamancha, a milk goat; another milk goat, the Nigerian Dwarf are all noted in the work. Pygmy and Nubians are goats often seen in this area. The small sized Pygmy is a favorite of children’s petting zoos. The Toggenburg, the oldest known dairy breed of goats is named for an area in Switzerland where they originated. A medium sized animal the Toggenburg does well in cooler climes.

Chapter 4 presents sheep. The first listed is the Barbados Blackbelly, a line of sheep developed in the Caribbean. Introduced into the US in 1972 the fleece from the Black Welsh Mountain sheep is gaining notice from home spinners and weavers. Bluefaced Leicester, Border Cheviot, Brecknock Hill Cheviot and British Milk, a large beefy animal having demi lustre wool and Ewes presenting a 300 day lactation period these are all around critters for the serious sheet enthusiast. The dual purpose, fleece and meat, Corriedal is the oldest of the cross breeds developed during the late 1860s to early 1900s was first brought to the US in 1914. Cotswold, originating in south central England is a heavily fleeced breed, seen now and then in American zoos, where their shaggy coats catch the eye of passersby.  Our Tulsa zoo has Jacob sheep, these are an English breed noted for their multiple horns. Dorset, East Friesian, Finnsheep, Gulf Coast Native, Icelandic and Hog Island are some of the colorful names of sheep noted in the book.

Chapter 5 relates facts regarding the equine farm population. The Brabant, Belgian Heavy Draft Horse resulted from the heavy soil requiring a horse having excellent pulling power and strong joints enabling it to remove its huge feet from the thick mud of the area in which he lived. The Barbrant has served as the breeding foundation for many of the large draft horse lines.

The Cleveland Bay, Clydesdale, Percheron Shire are all noted in this work devoted to rare agricultural breeds. The Suffolk Punch rounds out the book. Punch is taken from the old word meaning short and hefty, The Punch is chestnut, easy to train, very strong and agile, becoming very rare and are shown, used in ploughing competitions and shown hauling brewery wagons.

This is not a story book per se, it is a very interesting work detailing some of the breeds of critters I have known from childhood and introduces many I have never seen, but would enjoy having opportunity to do so. This book offers some suggestions for setting up a breeding program and suggestions for maintaining some of the present breeds beginning to decline. While a few breeds of animals are being raised extensively many of the older, interesting and just plain fun breeds are all but disappearing.

All in all the book is well written, provides a wealth of information regarding many agricultural animals, is filled with many photos of animals often not seen any more. Humans have long bred critters to improve productivity, the few breeds used today mean many of the rarer, interesting breeds are being ignored. Realizing the importance of maintaining gene pool capability enables enthusiasts who are setting up small breeding programs to conserve for the future farm animals for future generations to know and enjoy.

Reviewed by: molly martin
20+ years classroom teacher
20+ years classroom teacher