07 April 2014

"Monoculture" of dairy cattle in North America

Most people readers of this blog are aware of the shrinking diversity of major food crops across the world (rice, corn, wheat).
Throughout history, foods have ebbed and flowed in popularity and abundance, and few have even disappeared. Compared to historic records, 86% of apple varieties grown in the US alone are gone, for example... compared to pre-1900, about 75% of global farmed plant diversity is gone.
The same problem exists with cattle:
“People started using just a couple of breeds for whatever they’re doing – meat, milk, eggs or fibre – in order to get the same sized animals to fit on an assembly line for processing and transportation and – more importantly – to make them grow as quickly as possible,” explains Ryan Walker, marketing and communications manager at the US-based Livestock Conservancy. “Agriculture today is all a numbers game.”

In North America, for example, myriad cattle varieties used to be raised. Today, a single breed – Holstein Friesians – account for 90% of dairy cattle raised in the US, and another 4% are Jersey cattle. All other dairy breeds occupy the remaining 6% sliver.

This change was especially pronounced in the US, but it also took place (and is still taking place) around the world. Today, around 20% of the world’s 8,000 livestock breeds – which include a dozen animals ranging from cows to sheep to ducks to rabbits – are in danger of extinction.
More details at the BBC, where the focus of the article is on the importance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.


  1. Crops blights, genetic disorders reducing viability, vulenrability to disease... why worry?

  2. This is why I raise Jacob sheep. It's fun to raise exotic animals. Even a strange chicken is an interesting thing to watch walking around the yard. I'm worried that life becomes more boring without all of these interesting creatures. Most people have no idea what they're missing.

  3. Holsteins produce the highest milk quantity, per animal the largest results. Jersey's have the highest butter fat content, are favored for ice cream and other like products. Humans have been creating breeds to satisfy specific needs and desires, nearly 800 distinct breeds. That is a lot of selective breeding and interference.

  4. I tried to access the BBC link, and behold, "We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee." :)

    1. Try copying and pasting a unique sentence from the quote into a Google search - you may find the fulltext reprinted somewhere you can access it.


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