Slovenian Autochthonous Domestic Animals, Natural and Cultural Heritage
Domestic animals have always had a cultural value for the human race. For thousands of years man has used them for food and raw material production, work and as pets. In general we consider domestic animals to be those raised for the benefit of man that live under the human care and protection. According to one of the Benecke (1994) classifications domestic animals may be divided into three groups:
In the centuries and millenia after the domestication of today’s farm animals the geographically isolated populations evolved into subgroups and within these subgroups into various animal types which adapted to live in a certain environment and climate. Thus, we gained a number of autochthonous animals that generate a biological and genetic diversity. In the past decades man has been searching for genotypes with high productivity that would substitute the generally less productive autochthons. However, in doing so, we have lost several types of domestic animals which also contributed to the loss of genetic variability in a particular species of domestic animals. We have disrupted the course of nature which, with the help of diversity of life on Earth - plants, animals, ecosystems - allows us to survive. It is as if we had forgotten that the laws of nature were the supreme wisdom and perfection surrounding all of us. Yet, there are people from all over the world trying to convince us to stop the destruction of the environment that is around us and help build a future in which people will live in harmony with nature. They encourage development that does not endanger other species, that sustains ecosystems, that supports biological diversity and that supports the lasting use of renewable natural resources. Similarly, our homeland and our nation shall only survive if we respect nature, cherish the life it offers us and if we look back at our ancestors and respect their cultural values and heritage, and preserve them for our children.
The rearing of domestic animals in Slovenia was well developed as far back as the middle-ages. This is illustrated in a fresco painted calendar in the medieval church of Hrastovlje. The images show us the spoils of war that people of Kubed had won in a clash with inhabitants of Hrastovlje. Another proof of this are also tributes to the temporal and ecclesiastical lords. Valvasor (1689) writes about the rearing of horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, etc. in the Kranjska province. He stresses the fact that the Karst horses from Kranjska region are among the best in Europe, known for their persistenc, longevity, their patience with riders and willingness to work. The horses are raised to pasture on rocks and stone to acquire these traits. Novak (1970) described the development of animal husbandry in Slovenia along with a description of the domestic animals which farmers were rearing. To understand the characteristics of certain domestic animals in previous centuries an article by ·tefan?i? (1954) is also helpful. In these articles we find data about the extent of rearing of the domestic animals. At the beginning of the century there were 713502 heads of cattle (in 1998 there were 453097), 166398 sheep (72361),25600 goats (16779), 62208 horses (9898 in 1997) and 527736 pigs (592378) recorded in the inventory. Numerically, we had more animals in the past century than we have now. Of these animals, the Slovenian autochthons brought farmers the majority of their income. In some animal husbandry branches - namely chicken and pig rearing - the autochthonous breeds from a century ago have almost completely been replaced by today’s modern breeds. In the past 50 years, the transition to market farming has favored the use of highly productive new breeds, which meant, that often only the remains of the old Slovenian autochthonous domestic animals were left.
However, the same methods have been used in more developed Western countries, who have also forgotten about many of their native breeds. Still, we must point out, that some specialists have been warning us about great economic losses if there was no longer any biodiversity. Today, while we witness incredible developments in molecular biology the autochthonous domestic animals are looked upon in a completely different light: they are relied upon as an important source of these unique animal’s genes, that will retain biological diversity and contribute to the implantation of specific characteristics into the genotypes of modern breeds. For this reason, scientists from all over the world have been trying to recover these ancient breeds and organize genetic banks. Slovenian autochthonous domestic animals are definitely worth the attention for they are a key factor in our country’s natural and cultural heritage. They have been shaped by our surroundings and bred by our people.
Since 1991 the Ministry of agriculture, forestry and food has financially supported an on going project of conservation of native Slovene species of domestic animals. After a decade of working on this project we can report that we have managed to stop the decline of most of our autochthons. Unfortunately, however, not all the breeds have been successfully preserved, since most of these animals are still - in accordance with the international norms - an endangered species. In some species (rabbits, pigeons, goats, donkeys,…) and breeds studies are still in the process of completion, thus we have not included them in this overview.
We encourage that all connoisseurs of Slovenian autochthonous domestic animals relay to us any additional information on this subject whenever possible.
Created: Friday, December
28, 2007; Last updated:
Thursday, December 20, 2012