A cow is not just a cow, nor is a sheep just a sheep. Farm animals have been with us for 10,000 years and they have shaped our rural landscapes. Livestock species may not be prominent in our urban-based outlook but they help maintain many of our most treasured landscapes that are rich in biodiversity and of great scenic value. Worldwide there are thousands of distinct breeds, each with a different tale to tell of long-established partnership with humankind.
The black-and-white Holstein dairy cow, the white-faced, red Hereford and the shaggy-coated Scottish Highland are the same species, but as breeds they are very different. And very many of the less familiar breeds, which are often part of traditional, extensive systems, are vulnerable to extinction through commercial pressure and intensification of farming.
This matters because not only are livestock breeds of cultural and landscape significance, they also contain genetic variation which is the reservoir of adaptability that may well be needed by the farming of the future.
This paper argues for a proper appreciation of the cultural significance of livestock breed biodiversity in traditional systems and landscapes; these breeds can act as a link between people and nature. If the farming component of the landscape can accommodate local traditional breeds, a greater range of ecosystem services will be provided than if only the most commercially attractive breeds are used.