All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shire horses extinct?

Shire horses on the 'brink of extinction' experts warn.Daily Telegraph

Britain's shire horses could be extinct within a generation following a drastic drop in the number of breeders, experts have warned.

Certain breeds such as the Suffolk Punch are listed as 'critical' with only 100 pairs left in the UK - making them rarer than the giant panda.

Others including the Clydesdale are listed as 'vulnerable' with just several hundred breeding pairs remaining.

Meanwhile, Shires - Britain's best known working horse breed - are said to be 'at risk'.

Experts say the animals are dying out before they can be replaced because of a reduction in the number of UK breeders.

The 'heavy horses' have traditionally been used for farm work, pulling wagons and even in warfare where they hauled huge artillery around the battlefield.

But after the Second World War the increasing use of machinery spelled the end of their widespread use on the farm and their numbers began to drop.

The warning about their decline was issued by animal charities, and by Harry Gotts, 80, one of Britain's last heavy horse breeders.

Mr Gotts, of Redruth, Cornwall, says unless drastic action is taken to increase their numbers they could soon become extinct.

He said: "It is very sad. The numbers are not increasing. More Suffolk Punch horses die now than are born.

"They are rarer than Giant Pandas. It would be a great shame if this carries on."

He added: "We have accept these beautiful animals could be extinct one day."

Harry has run the Shire Horse Farm and Carriage Museum in Redruth for 35 years after coming into contact with them on a farm where he was evacuated during the Second World War.

According to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), numbers of Suffolk horses are categorised as 'Critical', Clydesdales are 'Vulnerable' and Shires are 'At Risk.'

Experts say a number of factors have led to the decline, including the sheer time, resources and costs required to care for the creatures.

The horses can be over 18 hands (180cm) tall and weigh up to 176 stone (1,120 kg or 2,460 lb) - costing hundreds of pounds each month in feed alone.

They can eat a round hay bale in two days and up to three bags of oats, a bag of sugar beets and six bags of carrots in a week.

In addition there are vets' and blacksmiths' fees, leading to annual keeping costs in their thousands.

Dawn Teverson, Head of Conservation at the RBST, said: "Heavy horses are so large that most normal people with normal levels of resources cannot look after them.

"They have to be really committed and it is a big responsibility. The Suffolk Punch is the rarest of all the breeds, there are just over 100 breeding mares left which is a tiny figure.

"A lot of the mares are used as show animals which means they aren't breeding, and you also can't guarantee that a mare will produce a foal every year.

"All of these factors and many more have contributed to their current plight."

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