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On-farm conservation of rare and endangered local animal breeds – EU

There is a range of approaches to maintaining agricultural genetic resources on-farm across the EU. Most EU countries offer financial support to breeders of endangered native breeds by paying per head of productive animal that is registered to the breed. Schemes are often implemented through Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) with co-funding from a nationally funded programme for example schemes in Austria, Germany, Italy and Ireland. The schemes are overseen by local breeding associations and by national genetic resources monitoring programmes. Italy has supported 130 breeds of poultry, cattle, goats, equines, sheep and pigs through agri-environment schemes in 18 regions in 2007-2013. We do not describe plant genetic resources approaches here (e.g. arable, horticultural and permanent crops), but the results-based support for traditional orchards can include a requirement to maintain traditional varieties of fruit and nut (see the Maintenance of traditional orchards – Germany fiche).


General characteristics

Geographic details
Support is generally open to all farmers who have native breed animals and are willing to collaborate with the breeding associations in the maintenance of specific breeds. The following are examples of some of the many results-based approaches to protect animal genetic resources in a number of European countries.
Germany: Support measures for animal genetic resources are currently available in 13 of Germany’s 16 federal states, providing support for 11 horse breeds, 13 cattle breeds, 18 sheep breeds, 4 goat breeds, 5 pig breeds, 2 chicken breeds and 2 goose breeds (TGRDEU 2014). Some of these are implemented through results-based agri-environment payments that pay per head of breeding animal maintained over the 5 year contract period, whilst others are funded through schemes organised by breeder associations (e.g. through the rural development LEADER or cooperation measures).
Italy: Agri-environment schemes in 18 regions supported a total of 130 endangered breeds in 2007-2013, including poultry, cattle, goats, equines, sheep and pigs (Pirani et al, 2011). Most of these breeds are supported in one region only.
Ireland: An agri-environment scheme is available for three types of Irish cattle, three types of pony / horse, and one sheep breed.
Austria: The agri-environment scheme in 2007-2013 supported 9 cattle breeds, 2 pig breeds, 8 sheep breeds, 7 goat breeds, and 5 horse breeds.
Management requirements
Unlike schemes that focus on protecting non-domesticated species, such as species rich meadows or wild bird populations, which require land management actions, schemes for genetic conservation focus more on record keeping and ensuring animal (or plant) numbers remain constant.
In general for these schemes:
  • Animals must be tagged and identified and registered in a farmers herd book and in the breed log books kept by the approved breeding society for that breed. Regular (e.g. monthly) records must be kept for each breed.
  • Dead animals must be replaced in order to maintain the number of breeding animals.
  • Male animals and embryos must be made available to the national gene bank, as must all available genetic information if required.
Scheme selection process and entry requirements
The schemes are generally open to all farmers who wish to keep the specified native breed(s) on their holdings, without limitations on number of farmers who can receive payments or the number of animals of the specified breeds that can be funded. Farmers must be members of an approved breed society and remain members for the period of the contract (usually 5 or 6 years for EAFRD contracts). Adult animals must have a certificate of registration to qualify for payment, e.g. proving that females have produced registered offspring (condition in Ireland). Non-EAFRD schemes have various structures and requirements.

Payment information

Results indicators
The result indicator for this scheme is the observation of number of heads of breeding female or male animals and offspring, with breeding pedigree recorded in herd/breed book. The breeding females must have produced pure breed offspring at least once during the payment contract period, and the breeding males must be entered into certified breeding programmes annually (as specified in the Austrian rural development programme 2007-2013).
Nature of payments and their structure
Payments can be made per head of breeding animal kept, for new offspring, and for the rearing of new breeding animals. The payments are a small incentive, but recognise the public appreciation for those farmers keeping endangered livestock breeds. Other payments are also available for animal purchase, and for supporting breeding associations.
Some examples of payment rates in German rural development programmes in 2007-2013 are as follows (it is expected that these schemes will continue in 2015-2020):
  • Baden-Württemberg: In 2007-2013 the scheme (MEKA-programme, measure N-C3) offered a payment of €70 per head for each breeding cow of the Vorderwälder Rind breed and €120 per head for each breeding cow of the Hinterwälder, Limpurger and Brown Swiss breeds and for the Altwürttemberger Pferd and Schwarzwälder Fuchs horse breeds.
  • Brandenburg & Berlin: Payments were offered for four breeds in 2007-2013 of between €80 per reproduction and €50 per boar for a pig breed, €25 per breeding male or female for a goat breed, €170 per livestock unit for heads of breeding cattle, €140 for heads of breeding horse.
  • Thüringen: Payments were offered for 8 breeds of pig, horse, cattle, goat and sheep of 200 €/LU (all the specified breeds) in 2007-2013.
  • The German national programme ‘Zuwendungen zur Förderung der Zucht und Erhaltung gefährdeter Nutztierrassen’ provides co-funding.
In Ireland, payments are based on average livestock units of registered animals, with mature breeding cattle and horses counting as one unit, and immature cattle, ewes and lambs as partial units. Payments are made annually for the number of units kept during that year (DAFF, 2011).
In Italy, payments are based on average livestock units, and range between a minimum of €80/LU to a maximum of €400/LU in different regions and for different breeds (Pirani et al 2011). During 2007-2013, a total of 135,575 livestock units were supported under 10,130 different contracts, with an average contract value of €6,834 (Rete Rurale Nazionale, 2014)).
In Hungary, payments are paid per registered breeding female. During 2007-2013, two different payment rates were available for gene preserving nucleus flocks, which are participating in priority breeding programmes, and for line preserving flocks. For example, for the Hungarian grey cattle support was €284 per breeding female in gene preserving flocks and €160 per breeding female in line preserving flocks (Hungary RDP 2007-13).
In Austria, payments are made at two rates for highly endangered and for endangered breeds, and are highest for breeding males, as these are particularly scarce and are the main limiting factor to maintaining the genetic diversity of rare breeds. The higher payment rate is justified by the added costs and barriers to keeping breeding males (Austrian RDP 2007-2013). In 2007-2013 payments for endangered breeds were €140 per breeding cow, €430 per breeding bull, €160 per breeding mare, €430 per breeding stallion, €30 per breeding ewe or nanny, €75 per breeding ram or billy; payments for highly endangered breeds were €280 per breeding cow, €530 per breeding bull, €55 per breeding ewe or nanny, €120 per breeding ram or billy, €150 per breeding sow and €300 per breeding boar.

Control mechanisms

Description of control mechanisms

Evaluation and monitoring

Scientific evaluation
In most Member States, national programmes for the maintenance and sustainable use of animal genetic resources coordinate national monitoring and evaluation of animal genetic resources (effective population size) together with the breeding associations, collating the information from herd/breed books. The results of ecological monitoring in some Member States are outlined below. At the European level, data are being collated and evaluated in the European Farm Animal Biodiversity Information System EFABIS, but the data and coverage are still patchy. EU Member States also report to the FAO for its regular UN-FAO State of the World Report on Animal Genetic Resources, next due in 2015.
Monitoring framework
Monitoring is based on the farmers herd/breed books and the breed log books of the breeding associations. The farmer is subject to control checks of his or her declared head count of breeding animals and the herd/breed book, for example by comparison of animal ear tags with herd book entries. Breeding associations verify herd/breed books and monitor breed population numbers,which are in turn checked by the agricultural authorities. The national farm genetic biodiversity coordination point (e.g. the TGRDEU in Germany) monitors and collates information from the herd and/or breed books and from other research, for example on genetic diversity. The uptake and performance of the agri-environment schemes are monitored as part of the assessment and evaluation of rural development programmes.
Observed ecological results
In Germany, of the 74 monitored breeds, 52 breeds are currently endangered as a result of their small population size. The populations of several sheep breeds and one horse breed have been stabilised as a result of the funding support in operation and are now in a lower Red List threat category than in the first Red List in 2008 (BLE 2013b). Cattle breed populations have been maintained, but have not expanded and remain in the same threat category as in 2008.
Observed socio-economic results
The German schemes generally have a good farmer acceptance rate and there is a wide cultural recognition of native breeds as part of the German heritage (BLE 2013a). The German breeding associations monitor the economic situation of each native breed. The economic value of a number of endangered native breeds has increased, either through regional niche food product marketing, (such as the Heidschnucken and Rhön sheep associated with particular protected landscapes, and the Schwaebisch-Hallische pig marketed in a quality meat cooperative), and/or in nature protection and landscape management, using breeds that are adapted to particular conditions, (such as low quality forage, and breeding out of doors) (BLE 2010). In Baden-Württemberg, for example, the scheme has run since 1993 and has good uptake with around 1,000 farmers enrolled in the scheme, protecting approximately 9,800 horses and cows (2009 figures). The number of breeding animals in the scheme has been maintained over the 2007-2013 period (MLR 2010). It is attractive enough for many farmers to apply for as part of a broader agri-environment agreement (MLR2010).
The Italian schemes running between 2007-2013 supported about 1.4% of the total livestock numbers in Italy, and the Rural Development Programme monitoring data suggest a steady increase in the number of cattle that receive support and belong to endangered breeds from 0.3% of total LU in Italy in 1997 to 1.4% in 2010 (Rete Rurale Nazionale 2014)).
Success factors
Schemes have relatively good support from the wider agricultural community. As a result of these schemes, the economic value of a number of endangered native breeds have increased, for example via regional niche food product marketing, (such as the German Heidschnucken and Rhön sheep associated with particular protected landscapes, and the Schwäbisch-Hallische pig marketed in a quality meat cooperative), and/or in nature protection and landscape management, (using landraces that are adapted to particular conditions, such as low quality forage, and breeding out of doors) (BLE 2010). In Baden-Württemberg in Germany, for example, reported success factors include that the scheme is easy to apply for and it is relatively simple to record the number of cattle and horses as part of the scheme monitoring process. Most farmers who apply for this scheme do so in combination with other agri-environment modules (MLR 2010).
Barriers to implementation / challenges
The Rural Development Mid-Term Evaluations of the 2007-2013 period found that rural development support measures have been successful at stabilising endangered livestock breeds in some regions (eg in Italy and Austria), but payments often did not take into account the risk status of the supported breeds and did not offer sufficient incentives for farmers to maintain the current population of at risk breeds or to switch from higher yielding to local breeds (Nitsch, 2006, Oréade Brèche, 2005, European Commission, 2005).
Some of the endangered native breeds are no longer associated with any actual economic value either for animal breeding (as they do not contain recognised valuable traits such as resistance to a particular disease) or for use in regional/high quality product marketing and/or nature conservation (due to their low productivity). As a consequence of this, and the relatively low payment rates for individual animals, it is often difficult to ensure that farmers maintain these breeds on their farms. These breeds require strong support measures to maintain breeding populations. In general, financial support for farmers and breeding associations is crucial to maintaining herd-book registered breeding animals.
Information source(s)
Regulation 1974/2006/EC . Annex IV Thresholds for endangered breeds (referred to in Article 27(4)).
Baden-Württemberg Ministerium für Ländlichen Raum und Verbraucherschutz, Abteilung Landwirtschaft (2014) FAKT (Förderprogramm für Agrarumwelt, Klimaschutz & Tierwohl) – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. Ministerium für Ländlichen Raum und Verbraucherschutz, Abteilung Landwirtschaft. Available at
BLE (Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection) (2010) Animal genetic resources in Germany. National programme for conservation and sustainable use. Recent activities and achievements. Available at:
BLE (Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food) (2013a) Rote Liste: Einheimische Nutztierrassen in Deutschland 2013. Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE). Available at:
BLE (Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food) (2013b) Neue Rote Liste: 70 Prozent der heimischen Nutztierrassen gefährdet. Available at:
Brandenburg Ministry of Agriculture (2014) Brandenburg & Berlin Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 (Entwicklungsprogramm für den ländlichen Raum in Brandenburg und Berlin für die Förderperiode 2014-2020. Ministerium für Infrastruktur und Landwirtschaft des Landes Brandenburg. Available at:
DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) (2011) Specifications for the Agri-Environment Options Scheme and Natura 2000 Scheme. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Ireland.
European Commission (2005) Synthesis of Rural Development Mid-Term Evaluations. Available at:
Freistaat Thüringen (2014) Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. Ministerium für Landwirtschaft, Forsten, Umwelt und Naturschutz. Available at:
Hessen (2014) Available at:
Hungary Rural Development Programme 2007-2013. Approved version, pp257-258.
MiPAAF (2007) Elenco delle razze minacciate di estinzione.
MiPAAF (2013) Linee guida per la conservazione e la caratterizzazione della biodiversità animale di interesse per l’agricoltura.
MLR (Ministerium für Ernährung und Ländlichen Raum) (2010) MEKA III – Ein Agrarumweltprogramm mit sichtbaren Erfolgen - Brochure on the whole agri-environmental program in Baden-Württemberg. Available at:
Nitsch, H (2006) MEACAP WP5 Case study on genetic resources in food and agriculture. Dissemination level: non-public. 6th Framework Programme SPECIFIC TARGETED RESEARCH PROJECT n°SSPE-CT-2004-503604,
Oréade Brèche (2005) Evaluation des mesures agro-environnementales. Oréade Brèche, Auzeville, France.
Pirani A, Gaviglio A A M, Pedol M L and Demartini E (2011) Evoluzione delle politiche di tutela della biodiversità zootecnica italiana. Agriregionieuropa anno 7 no26 p79. Available at:
Rete Rurale Nazionale (2014) Attuazione regionale delle misure per l'utilizzo sostenibile dei terreni agricoli. Analisi delle relazioni annuali di esecuzione 2012.
TGRDEU Zentrale Dokumentation Tiergenetischer Resourcen in Deutschland (2014). Fördermassnahmen der Bundesländer. Available at:

  • Scheme type
  • Hybrid
  • Location
  • Across many Member States in the EU
  • Farming type
  • On farms where rare or endangered local animal breeds are maintained
  • Environmental objectives
  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity objectives
  • The protection of rare or endangered local animal breeds
  • Scheme coverage
  • Genetic conservation schemes of this nature are widespread across the EU.
  • Stakeholders
  • The schemes are overseen by local breeding associations and by national genetic resources monitoring programmes as well as involving farmers.
  • Scheme duration
  • n/a
  • Results indicators
  • The observation of number of heads of breeding female or male animals and offspring
  • Management requirements
  • Generally management requirements for these schemes focus on record keeping
  • Payment details
  • Payments are made per head of breeding animal registered as rare or endangered. Additional payments can be made depending on the scheme in question.
  • Payment source(s)
  • Schemes are often implemented through the CAP with with co-funding from nationally funded programmes
  • Website
  • Contact
  • n/a