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.
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.
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.
When the French arrived, they weren't necessarily prepared for the climate, certainly not as the people who already lived in Canada were. They took fashion cues from the aboriginals, wearing lots of long garments, layers, and furs to ward off the cold. One such outfit is known as a capote, a "blanket coat" tied with a ceinture fléchée or "arrowed sash" made in the fashion of a "wampum belt" worn by the aboriginals. This sash serves both to close the garment and support the back, and has become part of the national costume.
While there was, as is to be expected, a difference in fashion between different social classes, Winter was the great equalizer, and everyone from the "habitant" working class to the bourgeoisie could be seen wearing skins such as these.
This cow is wearing one such capote with a matching hat. I couldn't find the exact word for this particular type of hat, but I did learn that Canadians call "tuques" what Americans call "beanies" so maybe they just call it that. The capote is decorated with little wool or leather balls and fringe, either for visibility (as they are often brightly colored) or pure fashion. This type of garment tends to be neutral colored on its base, with bright stripes woven or dyed in.
While there are lots of current issues regarding colonists origins and relations with native peoples, historically, the French-Native relationship is typically well-regarded and viewed positively. As someone with a bit of French-Native blood myself, I like to think they got along and that we can continue to develop positive relations. Thus, this little cow is an endangered breed descendant from colonists in native clothing, enjoying one of Canada's favorite treats shared by all of her peoples.
If you're gonna crossbreed, you gotta regulate it, and its worth restoring lost traits. Variety is the spice of life, after all!
Merci et au revoir!
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