Seven rare breeds of sheep have been bred at Cobthorn, where the most endangered bloodline of Norfolk Horn sheep was kept for twenty years. Important research has been undertaken, including the determination of the colour genetics in Hebrideans.
Working with rare breeds of sheep, The Cobthorn Trust has been at the forefront of the development of conservation grazing. The sheep form an integral part of the management of Cobthorn Farm itself, being used to graze the poultry paddocks.
Conservation breeding groups of some of the rarest cattle have been maintained at Cobthorn since 1976, including Irish Moile and Gloucester. Longhorn and Highland cattle have also been bred at the farm.
The most important work has been done with the Dexter breed. Cobthorn has been the most important centre of research into the breeding and genetics of Dexter cattle worldwide. The genetic nature of a major defect in the breed was established in a breeding programme at Cobthorn and has been instrumental in isolating the gene concerned. Recent studies have shown there to be very few purebred animals of this breed and a small group of these purebreds is still kept at Cobthorn.
The database on the breed held at Cobthorn is acknowledged as the most detailed anywhere in the world. A project to examine the genetic history of the breed is being undertaken in collaboration with Cardiff University.
An important contribution to the conservation of rare breed pigs was made at Cobthorn with the herd of Oxford Sandy & Black Pigs. As a result of the work undertaken by staff at Cobthorn a Breed Society was established for the first time in 1985 and continues to this day, ensuring the continuance of the breed. Several of the boars bred at Cobthorn have become the principal sires used to perpetuate this critically endangered breed.
Breeding groups of wild species of Pheasants have been kept alongside the domestic stocks at Cobthorn for many years. The most important species are the Jungle Fowl and Gallopheasants, with early breeding successes recorded with Swinhoe’s Pheasants in the 1960s leading to the establishment of a number of important breeding populations, including at Bristol Zoo.
Currently a breeding programme to study the biology of the Kalij and Silver Pheasant group is being undertaken and already meeting considerable success. A large new pheasantry is being planned to allow the work to be greatly extended and to establish breeding groups of more endangered species.
Members of The Cobthorn Trust have also undertaken field studies of several of the Pheasant species in their native habitats in Asia.