Northern Finncattle. Photo taken by Linn Groeneveld.
The new NordGen Council for Animal Genetic Resources, nominated for the term 2015-2017, had its first regular meeting in Finland at the end of April. The Council also had the possibility to get more acquainted with the national animal genetic resource program in Finland and visit two in situ gene bank farms. Collaboration with school farms and prisons has been the special characteristic of the in situ conservation of the native breeds in Finland. Kainuu vocational college’s (KAO) Seppälä farm hosts the gene bank for the Eastern Finncattle (EFC). Seppälä is one of the few pure EFC farms in Finland. Some of the private farms focus on the use of EFC for landscaping and beef production, whereas in Seppälä the breeding is targeted on the original use of this native breed, namely milk production. Animals for the Seppälä farm were acquired from Sukeva Prison’s open ward when it closed its doors in 2008. Except for a small volume processed by a small private dairy (Raija Kauppinen), all milk is delivered to an ordinary dairy. The Council members witnessed the superb quality of the products derived from this breed. Fresh cheese from the milk of EFC was served during the coffee break and we had a chance to eat EFC steak for dinner! The Council also had a chance to visit Pelso prison, where the gene bank for the Northern Finncattle (NFC) and Finnsheep is situated. Pelso farm has the largest herd of NFC in Finland. All colour variants of Finnsheep are present in the Pelso herd, including Kainuu Grey, which actually has a status as an own breed based on its distinctiveness from the main Finnsheep population. Animals are taken care of by inmates and their supervisors, and several products originating from the sheep on the farm are sold. Some of the Council members utilized the opportunity to supplement their collection with yarn from Pelso Finnsheep. Contact information for the Council members can be found here.
NFC is polled and typically white in coloration. The Second World War had a severe effect also on NFC. The evacuation of Lapland diminished the population size and returning families only brought cows back home to Finland. Consequently, the use of bulls from other breeds resulted in a near extinction of NFC in a couple of generations. In the 1980s only a few purebred NFC bulls were left, and the reconstruction of the breed was dependent on the use of bulls from a closely related breed from Sweden, the Swedish Mountain Cattle. The population has had a steady growth since the 1980s. Currently there are almost 650 NFC cows, out of which 430 are in the milk recording system. The in situ gene bank is hosted by Pelso Prison in Vaala. Additionally, genetic material is stored in an ex situ gene bank as sperm and embryos. The effective population size of NFC is approximately 40-50 individuals. Average milk production: 5210 kg Fat percentage: 4.37 % Protein percentage: 3.47 %
WFC is mainly light brown, sometimes darker brown in color. They can have white spots or patches. WFC is a polled breed.
The breed association for Western Finncattle was established in 1906. After the war all Finncattle breeds were brought together as one breed, and quickly the WFC appearance was dominating in that population. Between 1950 and 1970 the Finncattle population suffered a severe decline due to the popularity of the Ayrshire breed and introgression from the Holstein breed. Today, there are approximately 3000 WFC cows. Two thirds of those are part of the milk recording system. The in situ gene bank for WFC is at Ahlman vocational college in Tampere. The effective population size of WFC is approximately 90-100 individuals. Average milk production: 6776 kg Fat percentage: 4.39 % Protein percentage: 3.50 %
EFC was defined as an own breed in the 1890s, and a herdbook was started for this breed in 1914. EFC has a red-brown coloration on the sides and a ragged white stripe across the back. EFC is a polled breed.
EFC was nearly extinct in the 1980s. The decline of EFC started after the war and was aggravated by the replacement of EFC with Ayrshire cows and use of Holstein semen on EFC cows. In the 1980s only 50 cows of EFC were still alive, but luckily there were semen doses of seven old EFC AI-bulls left at one bull station in Finland. Currently, the number of cows is almost 800, out of which 250 are in the milk recording system. The breed is now well known and increasing in popularity! In situ gene banks for EFC are situated in vocational colleges of Kainuu (Kajaani) and Ahlman (Tampere). Additionally, genetic material is stored in an ex situ gene bank as sperm and embryos. The effective population size of EFC is approximately 40-60 individuals. Average milk production: 3706 kg Fat percentage: 4.28 % Protein percentage: 3.51%