Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Breed, a race or sub-variety of animals capable of transmitting their distinctive characteristics to their offspring. Some breeds have arisen from what are called "freaks of nature," or pathological variations. Of these the now lost Ancon sheep, the Mauchamp sheep, and turnspit dog are examples. Others, as the "Wood Buffalo" - a breed of bisons now extinct - were due to natural causes, uninfluenced by man. The artificial formation of breeds dates back to the time when man first reduced to subjection the progenitors of what are now our most useful domestic animals. When this process began no one can tell, but it must have been at a very early period of our race - as soon, indeed, as the wandering life of a hunter was exchanged for that of a nomadic herdsman. Then by degrees would come into operation the principle which Darwin calls Unconscious Selection. The pick of the herd would be chosen for sires and dams, and by the survival of the fittest the weakest of the offspring would be weeded out. This process, carried on through successive generations, would give rise to a race in which may be discerned the analogue of our modern breeds. The next step would be the reduction of this unconscious selection to some sort of system. Probably the earliest recorded instance of any attempt to bring man's influence to bear on the result of coupling domestic animals is found in Gen. xxx. 37-42. In Lev. xix. 19 there is a direct prohibition of the practice of producing hybrids; and though mules were common among the Jews, these animals were bred and sold to them by their neighbours. Youatt examined all the references to breeding in the Hebrew Scriptures, and came to the conclusion that "at that early period some of the best principles must have been steadily and long pursued." Allusions will be found in Homer to the necessity of choosing good sires; and the third Georgic of Virgil might be appropriately entitled "A Treatise on Horse and Cattle-breeding, with some Remarks on Sheep and Dogs." The precepts of Virgil - if, indeed, they were ever generally practised - were, however, gradually forgotten, and it was not until the close of the 18th and the early part of the 19th century that anything like general methodical breeding took place. The first subjects systematically experimented on were sheep and cattle; and Darwin quoted Lord Somerville as saying with reference to what had been effected by breeders of sheep: "It would seem as if they had chalked out upon a wall a form perfect in itself, and then had given it existence." These breeders acted upon the principle which Darwin afterwards called Methodical Selection - or that which guides a man who systematically endeavours to modify an existing breed, according to some predetermined standard. The laws governing the artificial formation of breeds may be formulated thus: (1) No two individual of any species, variety, or breed are exactly alike in all particulars. (2) Under certain circumstances constitutional variations may be transmitted to future generations. There is strong probability that in every case there is a latent tendency to transmit such variations, though this tendency may be overruled by other tendencies. (3) By persistently breeding from parents possessing any given constitutional variation, we may produce a race in which the variation will be so impressed upon the organisation as to be permanent. But, since the result of too long-continued in-and-in breeding is to produce degeneration, this must be guarded against by judicious crossing to introduce new blood.

In conclusion, it must be borne in mind that scarcely any two authorities will define a breed in the same or in interchangeable terms. We speak of "breeds" of cattle, and here the extension of the term is wide, for it covers all the strains of blood in the Shorthorns or Devons, while by the poultry and the pigeon breeder the term is often so limited as to mean no more than a strain or at most a sub-breed.