A hardy breed, in a broad sense, is a breed which has little demands, requires little care, and can ensure the flock or herd’s sustainability and continue production cycles while living in conditions where food resource is unreliable. A “hardy” animal therefore has a particularly developed capacity to explore the environment to look for nutritive resources and to adapt its behaviour according to these resources. These breeds generally give birth without help from the breeder, as it can be the case for more specialized breeds.
The term “breed hardiness” is however debated within the scientific community and among breeding professionals: some see a genetic aspect, while others speak of characteristics acquired through learning.
Currently, the genetic dimension is fundamental to characterize breed hardiness. Genetic selection, either by integrating criteria linked to hardiness, or by carrying it out in constrained environments, can thus preserve, but also improve, the breed’s “hardiness” capital.
The role of learning factors has also been demonstrated, giving the breeder an important role. The performance of individuals of the same breed in different contexts tends to prove that part of the hardiness can be “acquired”. For this purpose, the breeder implements practices that encourage his animals to learn to use the resources available to them.
In a nutshell, so-called hardy breeds are adapted to constrained environments and limited resources and can evolve despite these conditions. Their abilities are a good compromise between resistance and performance, and resorting to these animals reduces the amount of inputs used in breeding. This sustainable management of livestock is therefore part of an agroecological perspective.
References to explore
Séverine DABADIE, Christiane ETCHEZAHARRETA (collab.). 2016. BERGERS BASQUES / EUSKAL ARTZAINAK – ENTRE DEUX MONDES / BI MUNDUREN ARTEAN. Un livre de photographies sur le pastoralisme basque aujourd’hui. Elkar édition, Collection Ondarea. p. 224. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P-xNZIJWj8&feature=youtu.be
DENIS B, 2010. La “rusticité”, un concept difficile à définir et qui a ses limites. Réussir Pâtre, n°575, pp.40.
PETIT M., AGABRIEL J., D’HOUR P., GAREL J.P., 1994. Quelques caractéristiques de races bovines allaitantes de type rustique. Productions animales, n°7, pp. 235-243.
SAUVANT D, MARTIN O, 2010. Robustesse, rusticité, flexibilité, plasticité … les nouveaux critères de qualité des animaux et des systèmes d’élevage: définition systématique et biologique des différents concepts. INRA Prod. Animales 2010, 23 (1). pp. 5-10.