Cows Around the World: Canadienne

Sometimes crossbreeding can be a wonderful, breed-saving-and-improving thing, combining desirable traits of different cattle into a unique powerhouse dairy producer, but when it goes unchecked, the unique qualities of the original strains get lost.

So it is with the Canadienne cattle breed.

The history:

When the French arrived on Canada's shore in the 17th century, they brought with them proud cows from the Brittany and Normandy regions of France. The ancestry of these cows is unclear, but it is thought to be mixed at least in part with Kerry cattle. (Heard of Kerry butter? Kerry cows are one of the breeds known for having fat ratios suitable for dairy products). These cows were then bred and cultivated to withstand the cold Canadian climate, developing a specific set of characteristics such as: small-to-medium stature (like Jersey cows), deep russet-to-black color variations (think Kerrys again), and sturdy adaptability (think Shorthorns). This quality of strength enabled the cows to make the most out of sparse and low-quality resources and endure harsh weather conditions.

It is also supposed that the cows once had a quick, powerful temper (French) but it has mellowed over time, probably due to mass crossbreeding with Brown Swiss cattle, which are known for being docile and easy to work with. Also wicked cute, but that's beside the point.

The trouble:

Those desirable Brown Swiss characteristics are largely to blame for the disappearance of classic Canadienne traits, as breeding was unregulated and overused. Now efforts are being made now to restore the heritage breed of Canadiennes with the help of the few remaining purebreds.

What makes the Canadienne cow unique?

It's easy to look at a cow and say "a cow's a cow" but this particular breed has a lot going for it. Their milk production is described as "efficient" which my studies indicate means basically "average, but good enough" however, their small size means one can fit more cows on a property and they don't require as much in the way of resources. As said before, they are also sturdy and can double for milk production as well as draft animals. They have a good ratio of fat to their milk, which is also rich in the B variety of kappa-casein, which is great for making cheese!

I am particularly drawn to the coloration of these cows, and the subtle shift of reddish clay-like patches on the eyes and withers, to the rich coffee colors on the face and belly, to the honeyed rump and light udders. It's almost like you could line up the different varieties of maple syrup and color-match it to this cow. They're very pretty and have a lot of subtlety in their coloration.

In conclusion:

If you're gonna crossbreed, you gotta regulate it, and its worth restoring lost traits. Variety is the spice of life, after all!

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