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Endangered domestic waterfowl.

Six breeds of domestic ducks and four breeds of domestic geese exist in such low numbers as to be considered critically endangered, according to a report of research on domestic waterfowl conducted by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). An additional 13 breeds are below levels considered healthy and secure. Only one breed of duck and one breed of goose have secure futures.

The Pekin duck and the Emben goose have healthy populations because they are widely used for commercial production. Changes in farms, farming practices and consumer tastes have caused other breeds to fall on hard times. The Chinese goose, for example, was once widely used to manage weeds in orchards before the advent of herbicides. The Campbell duck is a prolific egg producer, laying more than 300 eggs annually, a number that competes with the laying capacity of the White Leghorn chicken. Additionally, the Campbell actively seeks its own food, helping to keep grubs and insects in check.

Three breeds that are native to the United States are critically endangered: there are only 395 American Buff geese, 664 Pilgrim geese, and 1,013 Cayuga ducks.

Fifty-five hatcheries participated in the survey, 23 of which bred all of their own stock. "The hatcheries that maintain breeding stock supply stock to other hatcheries for resale in addition to selling to their own customers," says program coordinator Marjorie Bender, who conducted the research. "That's not bad on the surface. But on closer inspection we learned that one hatchery supplies stock for half of the hatcheries that resell. That means there may be less genetic diversity than one might think. Genetic diversity within the breed is essential for maintaining its health and productivity over time."

"Farm animals are a unique component of the earth's genetic diversity," says Don Bixby, ALBC's Executive Director. "However, because they are common they are overlooked in favor of exotic wild animals. When a rare breed of duck becomes extinct, its genetics and all that makes it unique among ducks are lost forever." According to ALBC, farm animals have few wild relatives and most are extinct. Rare livestock breeds are therefore the only links back to their historic ancestors.

To help save these breeds, ALBC is making sure the public is aware of the breeds' plight. "Everyone can help conserve rare breeds," says Bender, "and knowledge is the first step." Consumers are encouraged to purchase ducks and geese from local producers. ALBC is developing breed information which is available free of charge for those interested in raising waterfowl. Experienced breeders are encouraged to establish flocks of the rarer breeds in an effort to increase their populations.

Endangered species definitions

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has developed categories to help describe the degree to which breeds are endangered and to help set priorities for conservation action. The categories are based on the population of breeding animals and the number of primary breeding flocks. A primary breeding flock is defined as 50 or more birds and assumes an appropriate sex ratio for the species that are kept at a single site as a breeding unit. The categories are defined as:

* Critical: Fewer than 500 breeding birds; five or fewer primary breeding flocks.

* Rare: Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds; seven or fewer primary breeding flocks.

* Watch: Fewer than 5,000 breeding birds; 10 or fewer primary breeding flocks.

* Study: Breeds that are of genetic interest but lack historical or genetic documentation or definition.

* Recovering: Breeds which were once listed in one of the other categories and have exceeded.

* Watch category numbers but are still in need of monitoring.

For more information contact: ALBC, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312; ph. (919) 542-5704;
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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