Museum celebrates preservation of rare breed
Dairy cows may not be the first thing that comes to mind when Canadians think of heritage preservation. But in a country founded on agriculture, the preservation of a historically-significant breed once on the verge of extinction is a big deal. It’s the reason staff at the Canada Agriculture Museum are ecstatic that Annabelle, a heritage breed called the Canadienne, delivered a female calf on December 18, 2011 named Antoinette.
“We are thrilled by the birth of a female calf,” says Marie-Sophie Desaulniers, manager of visitor experience at the museum. “It means that we’re restarting the museum line, and that we’ll now be able to breed our own Canadienne cows.”
The museum acquired Annabelle last year. While there are only about 300 purebred Canadiennes in the entire country, this rare breed is the cornerstone of Canadian dairy history. It has been credited with helping settlers in the French colonies persevere with dairy operations, despite Canada’s frigid winters and drought-filled summers.
“The Canadienne is the dairy breed that is really the most indigenous, the one that started the country,” explains Elwood Quinn, livestock chair at Rare Breeds Canada. “The Canadienne is able to produce a decent amount of milk on very poor nutrition and she’s also very versatile.”
Small, but robust, the Canadienne was used by farmers in the eighteenth century for both milking and ploughing.
“She has a great endurance to cold,” says Quinn. “It’s the reason the Canadienne was able to survive the early winters in Canada in barns that were not nearly as comfortable as they are today.”
Over the years, the Canadienne was gradually replaced by higher-producing breeds, like the black-and-white Holstein, a familiar sight on Canadian farm landscapes. As a result, the rare breed nearly disappeared altogether in the 1970s.
“The Canadienne lost importance over time, as farmers were able to grow more grains and feed larger, better-producing cows,” says Desaulniers. “The thing about rare breeds is that they generally become rare for a reason.”
Besides being a working farm with a revenue-generating dairy herd, one of the museum’s mandates is to exhibit animals that have significance to Canadians. The museum acquired another Canadienne, Precieuse, in 2007, but despite many attempts to inseminate by a purebred Canadienne bull, she was never able to reproduce. Annabelle’s pregnancy means the museum will help the breed to persist.
“Having Canadienne cows at the museum is really important because they were really the founding block of Canadian dairy production,” says Desaulniers. “It’s a significant part of the story we are trying to tell to Canadians. With Annabelle’s offspring, we will ensure we have a functioning line of Canadiennes to preserve this breed.”
Video of Antoinette
Learn more about the Canadienne breed in the Virtual Museum of Canada ‘Canada’s Got Treasures’ video at:
For more information, please visit our Visitor Information page or call 613-991-3053.
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