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Rare Breeds Compilation

Adam Henson presents a special edition of Countryfile looking at rare breed farm animals, starting with his own old spot pigs.

Adam Henson presents a special edition of Countryfile looking at rare breed farm animals. Starting with his own old spot pigs, he tells the story of some of our rarest farm animals and the threats they face.

It is an interest that Adam got from his father Joe, who was one of the founders of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. There's a chance to see the two of them returning to the place where it all started, on the Orkney Islands, before Joe advises Adam on a potential addition to the farm, some longhorn cattle. Adam's also joined by his daughter Ella to help train his exmoor ponies.

Plus there's a look back on some of the times we have featured rare breeds on Countryfile in the past. Ellie Harrison learns to plough with a rare shire horse, Matt Baker follows tamworth pigs from farm to fork and Adams discovers how the latest technology can help guarantee the future of our rare breeds.

1 hour

Last on

Mon 12 Jan 2015 02:50

Rare breed history

Rare breed history

Adam Henson has always been passionate about preserving rare breed animals. It is a passion that began with his father Joe who started their farm back in the 1970s. While feeding and bedding down his pigs, Adam explains why the less productive farm animals went through a dramatic decline in the years after the Second World War.

Find out more about the history of British rare breeds

Visiting North Ronaldsay

Adam takes a walk down memory lane when he travels to one of the UK's most remote islands. As a youngster, Adam went to North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands with his father Joe to help save the island's rare breed sheep. It is where his passion for rare breeds began. Decades later they are back for the first time together to catch-up with the islanders and their animals.

Read Adam’s profile of the North Ronaldsay sheep

Pat’s Longhorns

Pat’s Longhorns

Since the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was established in 1973 there have been many success stories – breeds brought back from the brink of extinction which are now thriving in the farming industry today. Adam is joined by his father Joe and together they visit neighbour Pat Quinn to see her commercial Longhorn herd. Joe introduced Pat to the breed thirty years ago when numbers were critical and since then she has gone on to develop one of the best herds in the country.

Learn more about Longhorns

Preserving unique traits

Adam’s farm is home to seventeen different rare breeds and the majority of these are varieties sheep. The seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay was one of the first breeds to be targeted for conservation in the 1970s and Adam still keeps them today. His mixed sheep flock shows the huge variety of different traits and behaviors that make it important to preserve rare breeds for potential use in the future.

Learn more about North Ronaldsay sheep

Exmoor training

Adam doesn’t just keep rare breed sheep and pigs on the farm, it’s also home to his hardy Exmoor Ponies. Keeping work on the farm in the family he enlists the help of his daughter Ella to halter train Annabel, one of their Exmoor foals, ready for showing next year.

Discover more about Exmoor Ponies

Suffolk Punch

Suffolk Punch

There is one breed of animal that couldn’t be more evocative of the county from which it takes its name, the Suffolk Punch. This thoroughbred is designed for strength, not speed, and makes light work of the county’s rich yet heavy clay soil. Matt meets Roger Clarke who still uses them to plough his fields. For many decades these horses worked the land in Suffolk until the introduction of tractors saw their numbers plummet to near extinction. They are still more rare than the giant panda. But, as Matt finds out, hope is not lost for the Suffolk Punch because of new ideas and an interested new generation. 

Find out more about the Suffolk Punch

Tamworth pigs

Pigs are big business in Wiltshire and Matt Baker is finding out why.  He discovers the secrets behind the county’s famous cured bacon and ham and meets the oldest pedigree pig herd in the country - rare breed Tamworths.  There’s even a family tree to prove it.  Matt has certainly fallen for the latest generation.  With 24 breeding sows, owner Caroline Wheatley-Hubbard has plenty of hungry piglets - some of them just a few days old. 

Find out more about the Tamworth Pig

Gloucester cheese

Adam goes to meet someone who is passionate about Gloucester Cattle.  Around 40 years ago, Gloucesters were almost extinct, but thanks to a handful of passionate farmers the breed was saved.  Adam visits Charles Martell who bought his first cattle with a view to reinstating the famous farmhouse Double and Single Gloucester cheeses back in the 1970s. He still makes it to this day, following an ancient recipe and using milk from his own herd.  Adam attempts the historic, and rather unusual, method of testing if the cheese is any good - by walking on it!

Learn more about Gloucester Cattle

Ploughing match

Ploughing match

Ellie Harrison discovers that, for many rural communities throughout the UK, autumn is the season of the ploughing match, a tradition marking the beginning of the farmer’s growing year. She travels to Somerset to experience the sights and sounds of the Mendip Ploughing Society’s 156th competition, meeting some of the competitors along the way. Bryony Gill shows Ellie the ropes as she takes charge of shire horses Brave Lad and Angel.  

Discover more about the shire horse

Artificial insemination

Adam visits a gene bank in Whitchurch, Shropshire that specialises in storing equine semen. This technology is being used to help protect rare breeds of horses like the Hackney stallion. This elegant horse was known as a carriage horse, but it lost popularity when the motorcar took its place. Adam discovers the science behind freezing their genes in time as a safeguard for the future.

Find out more about the Hackney Horse


Role Contributor
Presenter Adam Henson
Presenter Matt Baker
Presenter Ellie Harrison
Executive Producer William Lyons
Series Producer Joanna Brame