Saturday, May 14, 2011

Interesting take on breed and pure-breds from a 1915 article

 I have been spending more time around horses ever since I left New York, and I see so many different types and breeds of the good old equus caballus, many a fine and lovely animal, that I decided to dedicate a little post to the word 'breed,' as written almost a hundred years ago by Orren Lloyd-jones, Iowa state associate professor.

Let me give the voice to the esteemed professor -
''The word breed has no biological meaning; it is bandied about by different classes of men in different places in the world without uniform regard to either type or kinship of the animals referred to. Its whole meaning is entirely dependent on the action of the rules committee of the breed association. A breed is whatever the breeders want to call it, there are no natural boundaries, and no arbitrary ones that are universally accepted.
A breed is a group of domestic animals, termed such by common consent of the breeders, and in formulating a universal definition no person can go very much further without usurping a right which is not justly his.
The significance of the derivative, pure-bred, may well be considered at this time. When a group of animals becomes sufficiently set off to be called by common consent a breed, a number of breeders unite themselves into an association. A charter is secured from the Government, a breed record or register is established, and rules of eligibility for entry into the same are set down in the by-laws. Thus the breed is definitely delimited and from this time, but not before this time, the term pure-bred can be correctly and safely applied to individual specimens. There is no natural boundary and breeders must await the arbitrary and official one. A pure-bred is an animal entered or eligible to entry in the association books, or descended from such animals.
The history of the Percheron breed of horses is interesting in this connection. Draft horses from France were early imported into this country and in 1876 an association was formed for their registry. But it soon developed that more than one kind of draft horse existed in France and that a motley array of horses was being offered for entry into the American book. A bitter dispute arose concerning eligibility of horses for record. All admitted that a breed existed, but no one could give a satisfactory definition of a pure-bred. Finally in 1883, acting on the insistent requests of American importers, the French breeders established a Record Association. They accepted as foundation animals only those draft horses found in the six provinces which comprised the old district of La Perche. At once American breeders stipulated that imported horses, to qualify for entrance in the American Association books, must first be accepted by the French Society. This ended the embarrassing uncertainty; a breeder could now lay claim to the title "pure-bred" for a horse and could successfully establish his* right to do so. Pure-breds were created by definition as a result of this action by the Society. But though the sale value of these horses was greatly increased, their biological nature was not changed. This word again depends for its meaning on the verdict of a body of men; it is in fact a civil, rather than a biological word. Biologically a horse may carry enough heritable traits to make him a high caste pure-bred Percheron, but if his ancestors lived across the line in Boulogne rather than in one of the six provinces originally specified by the French rules committee, he cannot claim that title, but must remain a Boulonnais.''

*Dear reader, 100 years ago most people involved directly in breeding horses and horse husbandry were men, hence esteemed professor uses that masculine pronoun.

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