In the years to come, we are likely to see a resurgence in our native livestock and equines. Kept in the right place, at the right density, native breeds can thrive on pasture-based systems with little or no requirement for expensive concentrate feeds, and significantly reduced veterinary and medical bills.  

This gives the potential for increased profitability compared with the higher inputs generally required for larger non-native continental breeds.

In addition, with the right marketing, making use of social media and emphasising the provenance, high welfare and low environmental footprint associated with native breeds, income can be increased.

In short, it makes commercial sense to keep native breeds.

But, whilst the native breed sector can and will do much to help itself, there are still specific areas where Government needs to act; either by investing in the public benefits provided by our native livestock and equines, or by removing the obstacles to keeping them.

Our manifesto is a six-part plan of action for the new Scottish Government.


  1. Recognise native livestock and equines as a key part of Scotland’s biodiversity and national heritage.

Native livestock and equines are a part of Scotland’s biodiversity, in just the same way as wild animals. That is why the UN Biodiversity Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals require Scottish Government, in common with all Governments, to take steps to conserve them.  

The breeds were bred to provide particular benefits in particular locations, as a result they are the ultimate ecosystem service providers.

Native breed cattle Highlands, Shetlands, Luings, Galloways, Aberdeen Angus, helped create pastures, mixed woodlands and meadow we cherish.

Native ponies like the Eriskay are ideal for conservation grazing.

Pigs can be used in woodland management.

Native breeds are also a part of Scotland’s cultural heritage, with strong links to certain places. Think of North Ronaldsay Sheep, or Shetland cattle and ponies; they have a huge part to play in enhancing local brands and therefore the local economy.

We expect Governments to support our wildlife and built heritage: Scottish Government should support its livestock heritage too.


The new Scottish Government should actively promote and invest in the public benefits provided by our native livestock and equines.


  1. Encourage the creation of a comprehensive network of local abattoirs.


The lack of a comprehensive local abattoir network is one of the biggest challenges faced by native breed farmers.

Firstly, there are the numbers and the distribution.  According to Scottish Government, there are many areas of even mainland Scotland, including parts of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross & Cromarty, Argyll and Bute, where abattoir locations involve moving animals more than 100 miles from the farm. And then there are the islands to consider.


But, secondly, even if there is an abattoir, it needs to be able cater for native livestock. It needs to be able to take and process small numbers of nonstandard animals, which is what many native breeds are.


It also needs to provide private kill facilities. Native breed farmers generally provide premium products, outside the mainstream supply chain, they therefore need the carcass, and all the by products, including the skin and the horns, returned to them. It’s a part of the brand and underpins the level of profit.


Also, the lack of local abattoirs offering these necessary services, inevitably results in increased journey times with inevitable consequences for the animals’ welfare.

The livestock sector is changing, we are going to see more farmers keeping native breeds and the abattoir sector needs to change too to cater for them. And quickly.

We are not calling for long term subsidy, we are calling for short term capital investment to enable what remains of the existing network to meet changing needs; and if there is no local facility, the investment needs to be in mobile or pop-up facilities.

We are also calling for a review of the regulations to ensure they are proportionate; they should be no more than is necessary to meet welfare and safety requirements.


The new Scottish Government should invest in and support a comprehensive network of small local abattoirs.


  1. Revise Carcase Grading

The EU carcase grading system categorises cattle carcases according to their shape and fat cover, with categorisation based on a visual inspection in the abattoir.


The aim is to provide a standard approach to beef throughout the supply chain, with the classification being part of the purchaser’s specification and the price being linked to it.


However, being based purely on amount of meat on a carcase, other important factors are ignored, most importantly taste.


Although the hanging and cooking of the meat are also important, taste depends to a significant extent on the fat content.


A secondary concern is the subjectivity of the system, depending as it does on simply a visual inspection.


It does not need to be this way. Under the Australian system for example, each beef carcase is graded by an accredited grader with an eating quality grade assigned for each individual cut and with more extensive data capture, measurement and evaluation of the carcase.



The new Scottish Government should introduce a carcase grading system that recognises the quality of Scotland’s native meat and which is sufficiently objective for farmers to know they are being treated fairly.


  1. Abolish what remains of the Over Thirty Month (OTM) Rule.

The original Over Thirty Month Rule, the “OTM Rule”, the rule that cattle could not be sold for food if they were over 30 months was introduced during the BSE crisis; studies had shown that even cattle that become infected with BSE did not have significant ‘BSE infectivity’ before they were four years old. So, meat from animals killed at under 30 months remained safe.

This matters for two reasons. Firstly, because many native breeds are slow maturing, and secondly because the older the meat is, the better it tastes.

The OTM rule itself was finally lifted in November 2005.

But there was another BSE related measure, called Specified Risk Material Control, or “SRM”. This requires the vertebral column, and other parts of the cow likely to carry BSE, to be removed from cattle over 30 months.

The problem is that this increases the slaughter cost by up to £50, which means the price the farmer gets is a fraction of what they would get from an animal aged less than 30 months.

We understand the medical situation that initially required the SRM have now passed.

As many native breeds are slow maturing and older meat has a distinctive and improved flavour, taking animals which are over thirty months makes business sense.

The new Scottish Government should review the need for SRM rule, and if there is no health justification, abolish it.


  1. Introduce honest labelling.

Consumers increasingly care about the provenance, welfare and environmental impacts associated with the meat they buy, and so will often seek out native breed produce because of the high standards associated with it. 

And some people choose native breed meat specifically to support the conservation of our native livestock.

So consumers need to be sure that what they are buying is what it claims to be. All too often, phrases such as “native breed lamb”, and “traditional beef “are used, which suggest they have the appropriate qualities, but these phrases have no legal meaning.

References to the breed are more precise, but the prevalence of crossbreeding needs to be acknowledged, with consumers having the confidence that when they are buying meat from a particular breed it is purebred. 

Scotland needs more honest food labelling.

Meat should only be permitted to be described as “native” or “traditional” if it is from a pedigree herd or flock registered in the herd book of a breed recognised as native by the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee “FAnGR” and only permitted to be described as “rare” if it is from a breed listed by that Committee as being “at risk”.

 The use of breed names should only be permitted in respect of meat from herds registered in the herd book for that breed. If the meat is from a crossbred animal, the cross breeding should be expressly referred to.


The new Scottish Government should introduce honest labelling for native breed produce, based on pedigree records and herd books.


  1. Recognise the value of rare and native breeds in Scottish agriculture.

Rare and Native breeds have the potential to be an important part of the solution to the challenges facing agriculture.

Lower inputs, less environmental impact, cultural significance, localised, high welfare production are all traits that are well established and recognised.

These traits could have a positive impact on meeting our biodiversity goals, lowering our agri-environmental footprint, enhancing our agritourism offering and building Scotland’s reputation as a ‘good food nation’.

However, to date there has been no recognition within government that our native breeds have an important part to play.


The new Scottish Government should pro-actively recognise the value of our rare and native breeds and include them in policy development.

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