Needed Conservation of Domestic Waterfowl Breeds
by Darold R.J. Stenson of Walla Walla, WA
I found myself feeling a little apprehensive and very concerned after reading, “Taking Stock of Waterfowl: The Results of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Domestic Duck and Goose Census”, and a Rare Breeds article by Marjorie E. F. Bender, the Man. Ed. Coordinator for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, on how the conservation of domestic waterfowl should have a higher priority with all of us.
I was truly shocked to read that the majority of the domestic ducks and geese that I was familiar with have severe population problems! There are six breeds of ducks and four breeds of geese that have numbers so low that they have been designated to be critically endangered. In addition to this disgusting revolution, there are ten more breeds that fall into the Rare and Watch categories.
The American Livestock Conservancy gives their Critical Rating to breeds containing fewer that 2,000 in numbers, Rare Rating, to be less that 5,000 and Watch Rating, less that 10,000. The population numbers could be somewhat misleading because they were derived from a census that was taken at commercial hatcheries that maintain breeding flocks that provide the bulk of hatchlings that are sent out all over North America. So I hopefully believe that populations in smaller hatcheries and in private farm flocks were not counted accurately. But even with these potential additional numbers, the possible lack of genetic diversity in our breeding flocks could have devastating negative consequences because genetic diversity within the breed is essential for maintaining a breed’s health and productivity over the period of time.
Don Bixby, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s executive director states, “Farm animals and birds are a unique component of the earth’s genetic diversity.” However, because they were considered common and are still relatively inexpensive, they are often overlooked in favor of more exotic breeds. The majority of aviculturists in North America are guilty of this. Because most farm poultry have few relatives left in the wild, we have no other links back to their historical ancestors. When a breed becomes extinct, its’ genetics, that which makes it unique within its’ family, will be forever lost! According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy; the Ancona, Aylesbury, Magpie, Saxony, Silver Appleyard, and Welsh Harlequin duck populations are at a critical point. The American Buff, Pilgrim, Pomeranian, and Roman breeds of geese are also critically endangered. Listed as rare, are the Buff and Cayuga ducks and the Sebastopol goose. On the Watch list are the Campbell, Rouan, Runner, and Swedish ducks along with the African, Chinese, and Toulouse geese.
Most of these domestic breeds are so ingrained in American farming lore that I would have never thought that their populations could be in so much trouble! The only breeds mentioned that are doing well are the Embden goose and the Mallard, Muscovy, and Pekin ducks.
However, I do not believe that all is totally bleak for our domestic waterfowl. The American farmer is amazing in his productivity! Every farmer, large or small, every aviculturist, public or private, and even backyard hobbyists can make a difference. Simply start buying, breeding, or raising our domestic waterfowl breeds. They are still fairly easy to acquire and usually they are quite inexpensive to acquire. Purchase your waterfowl from hatcheries to create a demand for the birds and to provide these hatcheries with an economic justification to produce these birds. If you are unable to raise these waterfowl, buy your duck and goose dinners from farmers and breeders that are raising them! You provide your family with a very healthy meal and you give the producer income and incentive to continue raising these so called “common domestic waterfowl breeds.”
For more information on this survey and the status of our domestic waterfowl breeds, write to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, P.O. Box 477, Pittsboro, N.C., 27312 or call 919-542-5704. They also have similar surveys for asses, cattle, chickens, goats, horses, pigs, pigeons, sheep and turkeys. As stewards of our earth, everyone who can should add some of our endangered domestic waterfowl breeds to our farm’s avian populations. It would be a terrible and everlasting shame for a single one of these breeds to be lost for our posterity due to our neglect!