Miner Heritage Farm
100 Mountain Street
Granby QC J2G 6S1
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© MINER HERITAGE FARM
Plant and animal heritage: an issue of keen interest to us
In January, 2010, at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially launched the “International Year of Biodiversity”, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly.
The aim of the “International Year of Biodiversity” is to promote the protection of plant and animal species threatened by extinction. Ms. Merkel noted that human activities would lead to a species extinction rate that is 100 to 1,000 times greater than a natural rate. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “close to one-quarter of all living animal and plant species could disappear by the middle of the century from the pressure of human activities. The specialization and industrialization of agriculture in particular has led to an extremely rapid erosion of the world’s genetic heritage. Thus, protecting biodiversity is a major issue of our century, and the Miner Heritage Farm also wants to do its share, however minimal it may be, to help in this regard.
Fortunately, protecting biodiversity, and food and agricultural biodiversity, is a major concern for many organizations, including Slow Food, an international movement established 20 years ago and presided over by Carlo Petrini. In 1996, Slow Food created the Ark of Taste to defend food and agricultural biodiversity around the world. Members from areas around the world joined and registered their species. Quebec registered two heritage breeds threatened with extinction: the Chantecler chicken and the Canadienne cow, which will be introduced later on in this text.
Ancestral animal and plant species that, over the decades or even centuries, have adjusted to the conditions of our regions, have demonstrated their ability to adapt to our “terroir” (land) and maintain an existence there. These animals and plants are “survivors” that have been able to resist the harshness of our climate and attacks by natural predators.
This expression of durability and sustainability attests to a genetic heritage the Miner Heritage Farm wants to protect and enhance.
Melons and animals “Made in Quebec”!
We know the protection of long-time plant species and, by extension, biodiversity, is becoming a fundamental issue to meet the inherent challenges posed by climate change, the introduction of new insects and pollution. This is why our ecologically grown gardens will expose people to the original horticultural practices, and to the rare and old-time varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers. We believe it is important to educate the public on this subject and to show it is possible and indeed desirable to grow and consume the fruits and vegetables of our forbearers.
Take our melons, for example. Currently, melon-growing in Quebec is rather marginal, and very few of us realize that in the early 1990s, melons had their moments of glory thanks to the famed “Montreal melons” and ”Oka-grown melons”, two species from our plant heritage. In fact, because of their incomparable flavour, these melons were shipped to places such as New York, Boston and Chicago, where they were eaten by the upper class of that era. As horticultural writer Rock Giguère explained, historical evidence shows the Jesuits grew the melon in Montreal as early as 1694, probably from seeds that were of American origin. But over the years and with the diligent work of avid farmers, such as the Trappist monk Father Athanase, new “made in Quebec” varieties, such as the Montreal melon and the Oka-grown melon, came into being.
“Oka-raised melons. Photo taken from Histoire Québec magazine, November 2003, Vol. 9 no. 2”
“The monks hard at work in the garden next to the Oka Agricultural Institute. Photo taken from Histoire Québec magazine, December 1995, Vol. 1 no. 2”
This is but one example of our agricultural heritage, but there is a story behind every seed planted by our ancestors! What tale lies behind a name so lyrical as the “Mémé de Beauce” tomato or the “Crotte d’ours” (Bear Poop) potato?! It will be our pleasure to share this information with farm visitors who will be able to admire and even taste this living heritage.
Along with celebrating our history, our thematic gardens will be the basis for many demonstrations about the work cycle, from getting the ground ready to the harvesting of the crop.
Our ancestors’ horses, cows and chickens…
Our three heritage animal breeds – the Canadienne Cow, Chanteclerc Chicken and Canadian Horse – are a rich legacy left to us by preceding generations of breeders. These three domestic animal breeds were, in fact, developed by our ancestors for the purpose of providing them with meat, milk and eggs, and to help them with farm-work in rough fields. These exceptionally resistant animals had to be able to survive in a harsh climate with limited food resources. Over the years, and with the knowledge they gained, our ancestors were able to create a “Quebec” chicken, cow and horse that were perfectly adapted to our land. Small in size, energetic and able to survive our severe winters, these animals are national treasures to discover. Unfortunately, because of the modernization of farming and production requirements, these breeds have almost disappeared from our landscape.
On its 10th anniversary, the Fédération des producteurs de races patrimoniales du Québec, an organization devoted to the study of Quebec’s heritage breeds, published a report on the current situation of each of these three heritage breeds.
Reporter Françoise Kayler reflected on the report and made the following observation: “While the Canadian Horse is well established, the Canadienne Cow situation is alarming. The report is blunt: we need to sound the alarm for the Quebec heritage cow. There are currently fewer than 200 purebred female Canadienne cows in the world.” Another alarming factor is: “the registration process of cattle via the current regulations of the Société des éleveurs de Bovins Canadiens (SEBC) (Canadian Cattle Breeders Association). In fact, sires from other breeds can be registered as Canadienne purebreds at the discretion of the SEBC executive. Thus, the continual introduction of “foreign blood” into the breeding registry makes it difficult to rebuild the heritage cattle herd.” The report offers remedial measures: A herd rebuilding plan to maintain the purebreds and a real Canadian Cow Registry.
The Chantecler Chicken is also in danger of extinction. But hope is on the horizon. On September 25, 2009, an agreement was signed with the Poultry Producers Joint Plan. The agreement allows for lifetime commercial production rights “to implement a plan to save this heritage.”
The Miner Heritage Farm has made its mission to help bring visibility to these three heritage breeds by exposing them to the public and distributing information about their history and the people that breed them.
Some background information on each of the three heritage breeds
The Canadian Horse
The Canadian Horse is Canada’s “national” horse and Quebec’s “agricultural heritage” breed. It is also sometimes called the Little Iron Horse. In 2007, the Canadian Horse breed had about 7,000 living registrants. The Canadian horse is 14 to 16 hands tall (one hand is 4 inches or 10 centimetres). It is a good-natured, very versatile horse that is used in a number of equestrian disciplines. The most common colours of the Canadian horse are black, bay or chestnut.
The Canadian Horse Breeders Association has compiled a history of the Canadian horse, an excerpt of which is presented in the following paragraphs. “According to research, the Canadian horse was introduced to New France in July of 1665. The first load of 12 horses was sent by King Louis XIV. There is no record of the breed or region of France from hence they came; some writings mentioned the Royal Stud Farm, others that they were purchased by the Compagnie des Indes occidentale. What is known for certain is that shipments arrived on a regular basis. The first ones were given to religious orders and to gentlemen who had an avid interest in agriculture. A notarized contract obliged the owners to breed the animals, maintain them and return a foal after three years to the Intendant. This foal was then entrusted to someone else who was then bound by the same conditions of care and reproduction. In case of breach of contract, there were provisions for fines of one hundred pounds. This very regimented breeding system allowed for their rapid development in the French colony. The myth of the Canadian horse being abused is unfounded. It would have been very difficult to neglect such a valuable work animal; as well unfulfilled legal obligations were very costly.
In 1671, Intendant Talon wrote in his report to the King that it was no longer necessary to send shipments of horses since there were a sufficient number for trade.
From 1665 to 1793, the horse population in New France grew from 12 to 14,000 animals. To the end of the French regime in 1760, the horses sent from France are the only ones to be developed in the colony. Contact with the English to the South was forbidden because England and France were at war. The topography of the Appalachian mountains was also a formidable obstacle to outside communication. At that time there were no roads and the only means of long distance travel was by foot or by canoe.
For almost one hundred years, the horses multiplied in a closed environment without the benefit of other blood lines. Their common source, lack of cross breeding, and their rapid reproduction created a particular genetic group giving rise to a unique breed: the Canadian horse. Why Canadian? Because in 1867, the year of Canada’s confederation, the generic term ‘Canadien’ solely referred to French speaking. At that time, it was natural for the horse, being originally from France and having started its spread through the French colonial area of the St. Lawrence Valley, to be named “Canadian”.
Eight years later, in 1895, veterinarian Dr. J.A. Couture founded the Canadian Horse Breeders Association.”
With the arrival of the automobile, the upper class of society quickly replaced horses with cars. The same was true in the fields, where the more affluent farmers bought a tractor to replace their horse. The horse lost its « social status » and the horse population began to diminish. During the 1950s and 1960s, only the poorer farmers or the ones who maintained an allegiance to their horses, continued to do their farm-work using a team of horses. They lived modestly, as the horse went from being a symbol of noble social status to being a sign of social backwardness and sometimes even of poverty. The horse slowly began to regain its nobility status in the 1970s, but was reserved for an elite group that played equestrian sports. The Quebec government worked to make the Canadian horse more attractive for equestrian competitors on its farm at Deschambeault: the aim being that as the Canadian horse regained its nobility status, its population would increase.
The number of new births registered with the Canadian Horse Breeders Association remained fairly steady from the opening of the registry in the early 1900s to 1980. Between 25 and 50 foals per year were registered. In 1981, the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture Farm School at Deschambault decided to set up the La Gorgendière breeding program. This led to an increase in the number of foals registered each year, and it reached a peak in 1999-2000 with about 500 foals registered. In less than 20 years, the number of registered Canadian horse births had increased 10-fold. Since 2000, the births have remained steady at between 450-500 registered foals per year.
Little by little, the breed is being restored. Canadian politicians are regaining an awareness of the importance of the Canadian horse. In 1999, Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously passed a bill of law recognizing the Canadian horse, the Canadienne cow and Chanteclerc chicken as a Quebec agriculture heritage breed.
Similarly, on November 8, 2001, Canadian parliament proclaimed the “Canadian Horse” as Canada’s national horse.
Founded in 1998, L’Association québécoise du Cheval Canadien (AQCC) (Quebec Canadian Horse Association), is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to promote the Canadian horse breed in accordance with original standards. Its mission is to protect and enhance the breed in keeping with the original standards as described in Volume 1 of the Canadian Horse Breeders Association stud book. The Association’s wonderful slogan, “Preserving for our children the horse of our forefathers” underlines the importance of saving and disseminating this priceless agricultural heritage.
The Canadienne Cow
Photo: Joanne MacLeod Haverkort
The Canadienne Cow is the heritage breed that is most in danger of extinction; fewer than 450 registered females are pure-bred. But the Canadienne Cow is the breed that enabled a dairy industry to be established in Quebec. The Canadienne is the only breed of dairy cow native to North America, and it was exclusively and closely linked to the Quebec “terroir”. Because of the Canadian government’s policy in the 1850s, and the priorities of the modern-day dairy industry, the Canadienne, once the country’s main milk-producing breed (prior to the 1950s) has been declared endangered by “Rare Breeds Canada”.
The Canadienne is regarded as one of the most productive among the very old and hardy breeds of the world. The Canadienne is a highly efficient milk producer, known for its high yield of butterfat and protein, which are excellent for making butter and cheese. At the annual livestock breeders convention in 1908, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, Sydney Fisher, stated:
“I have no hesitation in saying the Canadienne Cow is best butter-producing machine on four legs. Everyone can have their own tastes and preferences, but people that know its great quality, the richness of its milk, its genetics and the ease with which it is bred, will share my opinion….”
The Canadienne Cow is of medium height. The female weighs about 27 kilograms at birth and 500 kilograms in adulthood. The male weighs 32 kilograms at birth and an average of 750 kilograms at maturity. While they are modest in size, Canadienne cows remain an attractive option for dairy farmers wishing to make milk using an intensive pasture management system. In fact, the Canadienne allows the dairy farmer to make use of the pasture earlier in the spring and later in the fall, a time when wet pasture conditions would result in greater damage if larger breeds were grazing. The Canadienne Cow is similar in appearance to Jerseys and some of the old breeds from Brittany and Normandy. Its coat can be black, fawnish brown or reddish. It is generally lighter along the back line, around the muzzle and near the udder.
For 15 years, until 1914, Thomas Bassett Macaulay (vice-president of the Canadian Cattle Breeders Association from 1906 to 1911) played a key role in starting up a bold breeding program mainly based on breeding prize Holstein bulls with high quality cows. In the conclusion of his thesis titled The Rising Breed, T.B. Macaulay also had high praise for the Canadienne Cow. He wrote:
“Canadians have no reason to bring in, at great cost, foreign breeders to improve their dairy cattle. They have them right here: a breed that ranks first among the world’s milk-producing breeds and which is destined to become the preeminent breed. This breed is the Canadienne. It is well coordinated, has a very strong make-up, a gentle but not lymphatic temperament, an incomparable frugality that allows it to find its sustenance whereas another would suffer from malnutrition, and to get by with regular feeding; it gives rich milk almost from one calving to the next. It is the most profitable for an ordinary farmer in this country.”
As a report by the Canadian Farm Animal Genetics Research Foundation notes, the Quebec provincial government has always had a keen interest in the Canadienne breed, and it even maintained its own herd until it was lost in a barn fire in 1983. In the early 1970s, the ministère de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) (Quebec Ministry of Agriculture and Food) became growingly concerned about the level of inbreeding within the Canadienne breeds, and also that the Canadienne was falling behind the other breeds in terms of the level of improvement in udder quality and milk production. The decision was then made to introduce genetics from the Brown Swiss breed into the herd. At first, breeders were originally strongly divided over the decision. But as results developed, more and more breeders adopted the practice. Looking back, one can say the introduction of Brown Swiss blood led to significant improvements in performance, but the absence of any control measures put the Canadienne breed at risk of being totally taken over by the uncontrolled use of Brown Swiss genetics.
Fortunately for the breed, this practice was stopped, and a bull needed to have a 15/16 degree of purity for registration and use as a breeder. To achieve this, the Ministère de l’Agriculture de la Pêche et de l’Alimentation du Québec (Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) funded a program known as Project Embryo Plus. The aim of the project was to identify the older, 100% pure Canadienne Cows and place them in embryo flushing programs using older 100% pure bulls as their service sires.
The aim was to develop a bank of 100% pure embryos and release them over time. In 2000-2001, 30 embryos were made available to be implanted in recipient animals in member herds, with the resulting calves being raised in these herds. The male calves were evaluated and the best ones were selected for semen collection and use as breeding bulls within the breed. The females were also inspected and evaluated for use as embryo donor cows for the program.
Once the animals’ commitments were met, they became the property of the member into whose herd they born.
As the Association for the Development of the Canadienne Cattle Breed in Charlevoix points out, the Canadienne remains on the critical list. It almost disappeared entirely because of the cross-breeding with the Brown Swiss breed. There are very few Canadienne pure-breds left, but there is seemingly growing interest in regard to the conservancy and development of the Canadienne’s genetic make-up. Such efforts are of prime importance to ensure the future of this Quebec heritage breed. The mission of the Chalevoix regional organization is to establish, collectively manage and enhance the Canadienne breed of cattle population in a healthy, viable and sustainable manner, to find and restore the ancestral standard in order to develop a milk program for a “terroir”-based network in Charlevoix.
This type of initiative could well make all the difference in this heritage breed’s fight for survival.
The Chantecler Chicken
Photos: Michel Boulianne
As described by the Canadian Farm Animal Genetic Resources Foundation, the Chantecler Chicken is a composite breed derived from: the Dark Cornish, White Leghorn, Rhode-Island Red, White Wyandotte, Columbian Wyandotte and White Plymouth Rock.
Its history began in 1908. At the time, Brother Wilfrid was in charge of the poultry flocks at the Cistercian Trappist Monastery in Oka, Quebec. One day, when his father visited him, they both realized that all of the breeds at Oka were either from Europe or the United States. Brother Wilfrid decided he was going to do something about it, and he devoted many hours planning how he could develop a breed unique to Canada.
He decided the breed should be dual purpose, white, a good winter layer and, above all, the comb and wattles needed to be relatively frost resistant. After working on this for 10 years, and a series of smartly done cross-breeding between the breeds listed above, the Chantecler Chicken was born.
An association, started in 1918, adopted strict rules to control breeding and ownership. A member could not sell, lease, lend, give or exchange any living bird of the new breed, and selling eggs to anyone who was not a member of the association was prohibited.
It was also a requirement that the Association be given a full list of birds owned by members. That wouldn’t be a bad idea today, considering the scarcity of poultry breeds.
The White Chantecler received a lot of publicity at the first Canadian National Poultry Conference in 1919, and it gained official recognition as a breed in 1921. G.Toupin (1922) wrote the actual description of how the breed developed while he was a student at the Oka Agricultural Institute. He was a professor by the time the breed made its world debut.
Brother Wilfrid wrote a letter in 1941 explaining how he had come to choose the name Chantecler. The name was taken from a hero in the French poet Edmond Rostand’s fable that was popular in Paris around 1910. The fable was about a love affair between a Chantecler rooster and a golden pheasant hen. He thought the name, derived from the French words “chanter” – sing – and “clair” – bright – was perfectly suited for this new breed. In the farming community, Brother Wilfrid’s Chantecler quickly became a Quebec cultural symbol.
Unfortunately, with the arrival of more productive hybrid breeds, the Chantecler lost its position in our markets. Up until recently, there were only 2,000 Chantecler chickens worldwide, most of them in Quebec. Chantecler chickens are raised at a slower pace than modern hybrid chickens but their meat is very tasty.
Fred Silversides, a poultry research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, mapped out the breeding plan that will preserve the Chantecler breed. As he explained, the best way to preserve a breed is to market it and have people eat it, because if a breed is being used for consumption, the breed’s population will be strong and stable.
The preservation of the breed is underway. As a report in the newspaper Le Devoir noted: in 2008, after years of considerable apathy, Quebec’s three poultry producer unions finally gave in to repeated requests by Chantecler chicken breeders. Under the agreement Chantecler chickens can be raised and marketed outside the strict regulations that prevailed in the industry until recently. This is being done to promote the survival of Quebec’s own breed, while enabling consumers to again enjoy this home-grown product. On September 25, 2009, three Quebec poultry-producer organizations – Éleveurs de volailles du Québec (EVQ), Fédération de producteur d’œufs de consommation (FPOCQ) and the syndicat des producteurs d’œufs d’incubation du Québec (SPOIQ) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Fédération de producteurs races patrimoniales du Québec (FPRPQ) aimed at ensuring the breed will be maintained. The plan to save this heritage breed consists of allowing 10 farms to raise Chantecler flocks, each comprising 150 hens and 15 roosters, producing a maximum of 30,000 laying eggs and 20,000 chickens. These chickens would be distributed in specialty shops. There would also be 500 laying hens to produce eggs for the consumer.
The parties also agreed to implement the appropriate legal measures for the preservation and maintaining of the Chantecler breed. The joint plans of the three organizations will provide the 10 farms selected by the FPRPQ with the rights to preserve and maintain the breed. There will be a logbook on each of the farms and a certificate of authenticity of the breed for production will be established under a guarantee of quality of the consumer-intended eggs and chickens. The products that come from these Chantecler breeding farms will become the first such guaranteed quality label products in this sector of the poultry industry. This will lead to the developing of new niches in the marketplace and the creating of consumer product, thereby ensuring the survival of the Chantecler breed.
Fortunately, some people, such as singing artist Fabienne Thibeault, have realized how important it is to save our three heritage breeds and have been spurred to support the efforts of the breeds’ producers.
Fabienne Thibeault lives in France, nevertheless she decided to set foot in Quebec’s “terroir” (farm products-producing land) to preserve this province’s agricultural heritage. Upset by the government’s foot-dragging on the issue of saving the Canadienne Cow, Canadian Horse and especially the Chantecler Chicken from extinction, Thibeault, who played the robot waitress in the Starmania rock opera (the original), is now lending her voice to these so-named heritage breeds that have been in danger of extinction for many years.
As the artist explained in an article published in the Montreal French-language newspaper Le Devoir: “The Chantecler Chicken, Canadienne Cow and Canadian Horse are part of our history, our heritage, and they are quietly disappearing and nobody seems to care. That cannot continue. We need to support the producers that take care of these breeds and make sure the legal structure is favourable to them in the future.”
Meanwhile, the Canadienne Cow, which gives rich milk that is ideal for making cheese, and the Chantecler Chicken, often likened to the Bresse (France) Chicken – the only chicken in the world to bear the AOC guaranteed quality label – may still have a great future in the local markets. “With a little bit of effort and goodwill,” says Ms. Thibeault.
And it is in this spirit that the Miner Heritage Farm project is being undertaken. By distributing information on our three heritage breeds and rousing the interest of visitors about these breeds, we hope to contribute to a collective effort to enhance and preserve this important part of Quebec’s agricultural heritage.
Sources: The Association for the Development of the Canadienne Cattle Breed in Charlevoix; Encyclopédie du patrimoine culturel de l’Amérique Française; Canadian Farm Animal Genetics Research Foundation; Gastronote: A blog by cooking and cuisine journalist Françoise Mayer; Le Devoir, January 26, 2007, January 27, 2007, June 23, 2007, April 22, 2008; Brief by the Quebec Association of Heritage Breed Producers; Canadian Agricultural Museum; Wikipedia.
The more we pour the big machines, the fuel, the pesticides, the herbicides, the fertilizers and chemicals into farming, the more we knock out the mechanism that made it all work in the first place.
~David R. Brower