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Preserving Dutch ancient cattle breeds

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Our western food production needed to scale up right after the second world war. We would never experience hunger again. In the meantime, the relationship we had with agriculture-animals started to change. The animals that were part of shaping our civilization disappeared from our living environment. Some figuratively -put away in barns- others literally -a number of breeds got put aside and went extinct.  

The modern food industry has mostly focussed on a range of super productive -but genetically weak- cattle breeds. The original breeds that shaped the basis of our civilization got more and more rare. Today, a lot of them are endangered.

The Netherlands counts in total of a few hundred kinds of rare cattle breeds. Out of the 144 breeds, 90% are considered as ‘critical’, ‘threatened’ or ‘‘vulnerable’. This makes an amount of 50 purebreds left of the 'Dutch landrace Pig', 20 'Dutch landrace ducks', 450 'Frisian red cows', 50 'baardkuif' chickens and a few more than 1000 'Veluwse heide' sheeps. In some cases it seems like a lot, but genetically it’s almost impossible to ever sustain a healthy population again.

Scientists and experts are warning us of the danger that the lack of genetic variations entails. Especially in the long term. They argue that the original breeds should not only be preserved from a cultural and historical perspective, but mainly because of the genetic information that these breeds are carrying with themselves. 

The honeybee is not often referred to as an agricultural breed. Yet the animal serves as an important role in our food supply. It shows that the problematic situation in which the animal finds itself, demonstrates how important it is to protect the genetic variation within our cattle and food production.


The Netherlands only native Bee species, the 'Black Bee' (Apis mellifera mellifera) has almost completely disappeared from our country in its pure form. At the beginning of the last century, many beekeepers increasingly opted for a highly productive breed to keep; that became the 'Buckfast Bee'(Apis mellifera). A hybride type of Bee that produces a lot of honey and was more easy to handle. 


Nowadays people are starting to appreciate the Black Bee more and more. Unlike the highly productive Buckfast bee, the Black Bee has managed to develop without any human interference. Because it never got selected for commercial use, the species is more resilient to diseases and parasites. The species is also well adapted to our local climate. They anticipate on the fluctuations of our climate (which we will experience more often). The species also flies within colder, wetter and windier weather and holds larger supplies of food for hard times. The help from beekeepers for the additional feeding is not necessary, in the case of a low food supply the Queen simply lays less eggs to make sure there is enough food for the whole family. 

Photo above : Mathijs Herremans works on a healthy population of `Black Bee's in the Netherlands. 

Dutch farmer Evert has been farming for more than 30 years in the Islandpolder (before Schermereylandt). Farmer Evert mixes all of his livestock with rare breeds, mainly the Blaarkop (Blisterhead) and the Frisian Dutch breed. With the use of these ancient genetics he manages to breed  animals that thrive on natural grassland. The genetic material of the ancient breeds ensure him that his cows do not grow too big (so that they will fit in the boat), and makes sure they maintain healthy hooves in the moist grass so they can graze in the nearby nature reserve. The animals are an important 'ingrediënt' of  the ancient dutch grasslands, which is full of old grasses, herbs, insects and has been an excellent nesting place for many birds for over hundereds of years. All that time, the landscape was shaped by the early farmers and their herds.