it proved to be a mainly unpleasant day so we stayed in to do paperwork, ensuring our Sheep & Goat Records were fully up-to-date. However, we still have not received any paperwork from defra for the Annual Census which legally has to be returned by 1st February each year; although there are plenty of big & ominously threatening posters in our local Livestock Market stating that if we don’t get our paperwork in ASAP we won’t get our Single Farm Payment (well we can’t claim it as the previous owners didn’t apply for the entitlement so that’s not an issue); or we’ll be fined; or banned from selling livestock. It also states that (as we know) new tagging laws are coming in (anyone’s guess) about which we’ll be duly informed (we’ve not been informed about any changes before so I won’t hold my breath). The posters assure us said changes will make things simpler for everyone (how so?! – if breeding animals have to be double-tagged the farmer has to work out which young animal is being bred for what purpose – & order double the number of tags so it will be doubly expensive to boot). But as we haven’t yet received so much as one piece of advisory paper from defra I won’t hold my breath.
Meanwhile I came across some information on a breed of meat goats in Tennessee: called myotonic goats but more commonly known as fainting goats, these unfortunate animals have a genetic abnormality which means that if they are scared, rather than running away they suffer a muscular reflex which causes the legs to stiffen & (particularly in the young goat) the animal to fall over, unable to move for around 10-15 seconds although the goat is fully conscious throughout. Believed to be a mutation originally caused by a form of rabies, the abnormality survived as the goats were kept by sheep breeders so that if a predator attacked the flock, the goat was literally sacrificed to allow the sheep to escape. The goats are now kept primarily for the novelty factor – although chasing a goat to the point it is so distressed it literally falls over (so to my mind potentially risks injury) is not what I would class as ‘fun’. But should such animals be actively bred for what is after all, a severe abnormality?
Personally I’ve never been comfortable that certain breeds of cat & dog have been developed to have extreme facial characterisitcs which can cause sinus & heart problems, or stumpy legs which can cause early-onset back problems or even prevent the animal from escaping if endangered (for example the Munchkin Cat). The myotonic goats, on the other hand, are to all other intents & purposes, normal caprines. So should we be encouraging or discouraging these types of breeding?
Meanwhile, I also came across a breed of sheep dubbed the ‘Olde English Babydoll Southdown’. I am not aware of any flocks in the UK but understand it is significantly smaller that our breed standard Southdown sheep. Apparently they have been bred to preserve the characterisitcs of the original Southdown, said by American breeders to be a much smaller sheep than today’s modern breed. However, on consulting the UK’s Southdown Sheep Society’s website, it mentions that at one point they were in fact selectively bred to be smaller; however this caused some undesirable traits & so the size was increased again to make it a more robust animal. So by ‘preserving’ the smaller & apparently less desirable sheep from the specific stock type, are we helping or hindering the original breed?
Hmmm……there are so many questions when messing with any species’ gene pool; & it’s hard to know who is right & who is wrong as there are two sides to every argument. After all, we selectively breed our dairy goats to have bigger, better udders & so produce more milk; or our hens to lay bigger, better eggs in greater numbers; or our sheep to produce higher-quality, heavier fleeces & more meat. However, I’d never selectively breed in the knowledge that the change purely benefited us but gave the animal concerned, a lesser quality of life: it is without doubt, a responsible, ethical choice. But as long as they are happy, healthy & free to express their natural behaviour; that must be the secret of success.