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The Canadienne is one of the few historic breeds of livestock developed in Canada. It descends from cattle of Normandy and Brittany which were brought to Canada between 1601 and 1660. This population was shaped by natural selection in the rugged environment of eastern Canada, and the resulting breed became known as the Canadienne. The breed is closely associated with Quebec, and even today the majority of the cattle are found in this province.
The Canadienne was the dominant dairy type in eastern Canada until the importation of improved European breeds in the early 1800s. In 1850, the Canadian government officially discouraged the use of the Canadienne in favor of “improved breeds.” This unfortunate policy was reversed in 1883, when the breed was again recognized as valuable for its superior environmental adaptation. Pure breeding was again encouraged, and a herd book was established in 1886.
The breed flourished for several decades, though it became rare again during the early to mid-1900s. The dairy industry’s emphasis on high rate of production, utilizing confinement husbandry, left the Canadienne unable to compete with the Holstein. Brown Swiss genetics were introduced as a way to increase milk production, though the result was to dilute the characteristics of the Canadienne without any market advantage gain for the breed. Fortunately, pedigrees were documented and some cows continued to be bred to purebred bulls, so that pure stocks continue to exist as well as those with Swiss breeding.
The Canadienne breed is critically rare and most of the remaining animals are still found in and around Quebec as of 2008. Small herds do exist in the US. The breed merits attention for use in grass‑based dairying, especially where the quality of forage is low. Under these conditions, the Canadienne will be able to demonstrate its value to dairy farmers and thus gain a broader base of support.
Canadiennes are black, brown, tan, or russet with a pale fawn muzzle and udder. Many have a lighter colored stripe along the back. The black‑tipped horns curve up and turn back toward each other. Cows weigh about 1,100 pounds, and bulls about 1,600 pounds. Milk production averages about 15,000 pounds per lactation, with about 4.35% butterfat and 3.7% protein. Most significant is the breed’s ability to produce milk on poor forage and under very challenging conditions. Few dairy breeds demonstrate this combination of hardiness and productivity as well as the Canadienne.
Status: See CPL