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Domestic Waterfowl Conservation is High Priority
By Marjorie E. F. Bender, M.Ed. Program Coordinator American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) has just completed a census of domestic ducks and geese. The results are very disturbing. Six breeds of ducks and four breeds of geese exist in such low numbers as to be considered critically endangered. An additional thirteen breeds fall into the Rare, Watch and Study categories. (Definitions of the categories are shown in the box below.) This report summarizes our findings, explains the activities ALBC will undertake as follow-up, and suggests ways that concerned farmers and consumers can help.
The purpose of the survey was to identify breeders of domestic waterfowl, breeds being bred, numbers of breeding birds and flocks being maintained, and relative genetic health of the breeds. Fifty-five commercial hatcheries and conservation breeding centers were surveyed this past winter. This spring members of ALBC and members of the International Waterfowl Breeders Association (IWBA) were invited to complete a survey documenting their breeding stock. Thirty-five responded. The Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPPA) is currently surveying its membership and will share the data with ALBC once it is gathered.
Information was collected on standard size, domestic waterfowl only. ALBC's specific mission is to promote and conserve breeds with an agricultural role. We therefore focused on standard varieties as most have an agricultural production history. A few bantam breeds which do not have standard counterparts are the exceptions and are included in the Conservation Priority List. ALBC consulted with two waterfowl experts, David Holderread, owner and manager of Holderreads Waterfowl Farm & Preservation Center, and D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, Ph.D., Technical Coordinator for ALBC and Professor of Veterinary Pathology and Genetics at Virginia Polytechnic & State University, about the agricultural history of each breed.
The census table shows the results of the survey. The population data for each breed are the sum of the breeding populations for all of the varieties of a given breed, as the genetic differences are small among varieties as compared to those between breeds. This approach is consistent with ALBC's work with livestock conservation: breeds are listed on the ALBC Conservation Priority List; strains are not. This is not to say that varieties or strains are unimportant. On the contrary, ALBC encourages conservationists to choose varieties that appeal to them, and to maintain excellence within their flock.
ALBC has developed categories to help describe the degree to which breeds are endangered and to help to 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 fifty or more birds, male and female, 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 follows:
Critical: According to the survey, several breeds of ducks, including the Ancona, Magpie, Saxony, and Silver Appleyard, show populations of fewer than 150 breeding birds and one or no primary breeding flocks. If they are to survive each of these requires prompt conservation efforts, including the development of additional primary flocks. Experienced breeders are strongly encouraged to consider working with these breeds.
The Aylesbury and Welsh Harlequin ducks, and the American Buff, Pilgrim, Pomeranian and Roman geese are all also critically endangered. The Welsh Harlequin duck and American Buff goose have only one primary breeding population each. The Aylesbury duck, Pomeranian and Roman geese have only two. The Pilgrim lies near the Critical/Rare dividing line based on the 504 breeding birds found in the hatchery survey, the basis of the 2000 ALBC Conservation Priority List. It jumped to 664 breeding birds when individual breeders are included. Still, it has only four primary breeding flocks. Each of these breeds is in immediate need of conservation, and needs more breeders to raise small flocks.
Rare: The Buff and Cayuga ducks, and the Sebastopol goose are classified as Rare, all having more than 500 and fewer than 1000 breeding birds or fewer than seven primary breeding flocks. Cayuga ducks barely exceeded the 1000 mark when the six individual breeders breeding a total of 53 birds were added to the 960 breeding ducks managed by 16 hatcheries. The Cayuga is in a good position to rapidly increase in number with little effort. Only a few additional breeders are needed to help further secure its future. The Sebastopol, however, has only three primary breeding flocks among eight hatcheries and two individual breeders. Additional primary breeding flocks are needed to conserve these breeds.
Watch: The Campbell, Rouen, Runner and Swedish ducks and the African, Chinese and Toulouse geese are all in the Watch category, with populations of more than 1000 and fewer than 5000 breeding birds. The Rouen breeding population is just over 5000, so it remains on the list to prevent its losing the ground it has gained. The Swedish, Campbell and Runner ducks, in that order, and the large African need relatively more conservation work because of their smaller breeding populations. The 3,204 Toulouse geese are the sum of the three types (described below) which places them clearly in the Watch category. The survey data shows only 654 standard Toulouse, and only six primary breeding flocks. The standard Toulouse clearly belongs in the Rare category and needs immediate attention. Again, prompt conservation efforts will prevent further decline of these breeds.
Study: Three breeds have been placed in the Study category. One is the Australian Spotted duck, a bantam that is proving itself in pest control and egg production. It comes from an unusual pedigree that includes Call, Mallard, American Pintail and a wild Australian duck. According to waterfowl expert Dave Holderread, it behaves differently than other bantams and becomes feral very quickly. It is very vigorous and ships well.
Another is the Gray goose. One breeder describes the Gray goose as the "old farm goose, descended from the old English Gray. It is often wrongly called commercial Toulouse." Additional clarification is needed to understand if there is a difference between this goose and the non-dewlapped Toulouse.
The Shetland goose is a recent import to the United States. Only a few flocks are known to exist, and additional documentation is required to determine its genetic status and agricultural history.
The individual survey turned up a small flock of West of England geese. This breed is related to the Shetland and is a precursor to the Pilgrim. When the ALBC Conservation Priority List is revised in 2001 it will likely be added.
Non-endangered breeds: The primary production waterfowl breeds in North America are the Pekin duck and the Embden goose. Only hatcheries that sell birds to the public and individual breeders were surveyed: commercial hatcheries providing birds to growers were not. While the population numbers of the Embden goose fell within the Watch category, the populations in the commercial hatcheries would quickly place it outside the Watch category.
There was some confusion about whether or not the Muscovy was to be included in the census, so data were not consistently gathered. The Muscovy, however, is a common duck globally, existing as domestic, feral and wild populations. While of agricultural importance, it is not presently in danger of extinction.
Data on the Mallards were not collected because significant populations of both wild and domestic ducks exist.
Breed names are developed and used to identify a specific genetic package: a named breed is of one genetic type. Unfortunately, this does not always occur in the real world. Several waterfowl breeds are known by multiple names in hatchery catalogs and among poultry people. The Buff duck is also known as the Buff Orpington. Orpington is an accepted breed name by some hatcheries, Buff being the varietal color. ALBC has listed this duck as the Buff, as named by the American Poultry Association. The Runner duck, with its alluring variety of color patterns, is also known as the Indian Runner duck. The Khaki Campbell was the original variety of the Campbell duck and most catalogs list it as such. The breed name is Campbell, which is how ALBC has listed it.
For several waterfowl breeds the same name is used to designate more than one type. The Rouen duck and the African and Toulouse goose each have multiple types that are known by a single name. This makes both the promotion and the conservation of these breeds more challenging. To be effective, conservationists need to know the differences between the types, and their historic agricultural purposes.
The Rouen has two distinct populations. The smaller type Rouen duck has historically been used for meat production and is readily available from hatcheries. The larger type Rouen is a highly prized exhibition bird but not an agricultural production bird.
The large, dewlapped African goose reflects the original phenotype, and is an exceptional meat bird. According to Dave Holderread, the large African gains weight more quickly and produces a leaner meat than European breeds. However, he finds that they are harder to hatch than other breeds, and therefore the eggs require special handling. This large dewlapped African is of special conservation interest. The smaller African goose, Mr. Holderread says, likely contains some influence of the Chinese goose, a relative of the African.
The standard Toulouse is a large, dewlapped bird with elongated feathers, loose skin, and a keel. It is a unique color of gray, a good layer, and raised for its fatty liver which is used to make fois gras. This is the bird of particular conservation interest. There is also a smaller Toulouse which is a longer legged, tightly feathered, keel-less goose with no dewlap. It is a productive agricultural meat bird. It is more numerous than the large dewlapped Toulouse, but still requires genetic conservation. Exhibition Toulouse geese have very exaggerated dewlaps.
A number of activities remain in the waterfowl census. "Breed Notes", brief descriptions of each breed, need to be updated or developed. Breed notes will be made available on the ALBC web site, and to inquirers upon request.
When the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPPA) completes the survey of its membership, ALBC will incorporate that data into ALBC data for a more complete picture of waterfowl status.
Strategies will be developed to nurture the network of waterfowl breeders. This network is essential to the conservation of waterfowl. Through it breeders can identify others with whom they can exchange stock and information and it becomes an important source of expertise on the history, attributes and husbandry of the breed. ALBC will share this resource contacts with SPPA and the International Waterfowl Breeders Association.
ALBC will use breed information and numeric status to raise public awareness about the decline in domestic duck and goose populations and the potential loss of biodiversity, and to promote domestic waterfowl to consumers and breeders. A list of hatcheries selling rare breeds of waterfowl will be published to facilitate this.
Conservation can happen at many levels. Everyone can try to purchase products supplied by rare breeds. Buying duck for a holiday dinner from the local farmer not only keeps the farmer in business, and gives the duck a job, but also allows you, the consumer, to suggest what breed of duck you would like to buy next time.
Farmers, back-to-the-landers, and backyard hobbyists can acquire a conservation priority breed for market and/or for pleasure. Purchases of waterfowl from hatcheries create a demand for the birds and provide an economic justification for hatcheries to continue to produce these breeds and varieties. Market production of these breeds re-engages them with their agricultural heritage, and promotes their usefulness within that context. Market production, over the long term, will provide the greatest potential for recovery. Those already breeding a Conservation Priority List breed should not give it up for a more endangered breed. All Conservation Priority List breeds need stewards.
All breeders are encouraged to consider the immediate and thoughtful disposition of their flock in the eventuality of their death or an unexpected crisis. Many rare breeds are lost in the interim between a life crisis and its legal resolution. Breeders need to make their wishes regarding flock disposition for the flocks clear to family and friends. For those getting out of business, as a final act of stewardship of the genetic treasures in their care.
Thanks to all of the hatcheries and breeders who shared their knowledge and time with ALBC. This report would not have been possible without their generosity. Special thanks and appreciation go to Dave Holderread for his sharing expertise in waterfowl, helping to clarify breed nomenclature, and historical and production information.
A complete report, including a resource listing, entitled Taking Stock of Waterfowl: The Results of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's Domestic Duck and Goose Census, is available for $6.00 plus $3.00 postage/handling($5.00 for international shipping) from ALBC, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312. Funds must be in US dollars and may be paid for with MasterCard or Visa credit cards or in cash. Checks and money orders are also accepted from the US and Canada.