Breed associations have three main breed functions, protecting, promoting, and proving.
The prime function of a breed association is in protecting the breed which is done through an accurate and reliable registry. As breeders we all may make mistakes and no registry is infallible but the first line of defense in protecting a breed is the breed's registrar whose responsibility it is to carefully check all paperwork. The number of registrations will ebb and flow but varies too much to employ a trained staff for when there's a bunch of papers that come in all at once. This, along with saving expense, is why some breeds have combined their registration offices. An untrained registrar can return papers quickly if they haven't taken the time to correct mistakes but this ends up corrupting the registry and makes some papers worthless. The PDCA is fortunate to not only have paperwork processed in a reasonable time but also that we have a registrar whose experience and attention to details eliminates a great many human errors. Knowledge of the various lines within a breed is important in being able to recognize those animals that may be questionable.
All breeds began from a selection of "like" animals with some good and some perhaps not so good ones. Breeders set guidelines for certain characteristics and these characteristics along with future pedigrees became the basis for the breed. Although there were allowances for other characteristics, for the most part, with Dexter cattle, small, black and horned became the favored characteristics and would now be what might be referred to as the traditional Dexter. More variations would have existed earlier on before the advent of registering. I imagine the job as registrar would be easier back when most cattle fit the traditional description although I'm sure that the genetic differences between short and long may have caused some concerns. Breeders will generally follow marketing trends which may or may not be good for a breed. In recent times, dun, red and polled Dexters have become more popular. When you increase the variations you change the breed's identity somewhat but since these all evolved from a few lines, an experienced and knowledgeable registrar can usually track and verify that these characteristics came from a certain pedigree.
Historically, breeders of most cattle breeds in the U.S. believed in protecting the "purity" by not upgrading but ironically they sought out the magic of imports in order to improve their breeds. Some of these would have been upgraded as European breeders were more progressive in improving a breed's production traits. In the case of Dexters, some upgrading was used in countries where it was necessary for the conservation of the breed because their numbers were dangerously low. New Zealand Rare Breeds has a good explanation of how a grading up program works there. In some cases a grade animal may conform more to the breed standards than an animal without any grading. So there is a difference between a conservationist and a preservationist, as a conservationist will work to expand the genetic pool while keeping to a breed's original traits in order to avoid possible extinction whereas a preservationist will seek lines that remain pure as possible. The work of both is important to the breed and is praiseworthy. Accurate records are important for both conservation and preservation of a breed. A breed association will sometimes close its registry in order to protect it from other registries that may have become corrupted but this might also limit the genetic pool. Currently, the PDCA can require a parental DNA test on any questionable animals to be registered.
Breed associations can and should promote their breed through national advertisements, exhibits and shows, as well as through regional events. Breeds are sometimes guilty of using too many superlatives and so honesty is usually always the best policy. Becoming a popular breed is not always good because when anything sells, usually "anything" does. So steady as you go is usually more beneficial to the conservation of a breed in the long run than a boom and bust marketing approach.
It does no good to protect and promote without proving a breed's merit. As in the beginnings of a breed, you have both good and bad animals and so breeders and breed associations must ascertain the inherited differences and make the facts available to all. Classification would be one example of a mechanism to prove merit but there are other means to sort out the genetic differences in efficiency as well. Studies are showing that small hardy cattle are more efficient and so the more information we gather and make available to breeders the more good animals will exist within the breed's population.
Senior PDCA member, Jim Johnson, perhaps summed up our diversity as a breed and as breeders the best with the phrase:
"Dexter cattle, a breed from the past, for the present and the future."