Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heritage Breeds. Which are Canadian? Does it matter?

I've been doing some serious research on what animals I want to acquire for my homestead/hobby farm, when the time comes.
Some will come sooner rather than later (spring 2013 I'm planning on getting my first couple sheep or goats, possibly some rabbits as well).
Some animals are more expensive than others (cattle and bison can cost $1000+. Goats, sheep, swine and donkeys are in the $150-$500+ range. Rabbits and poultry are generally $5 to $30+).

Some breeds need lots of attention, others can forage and birth on their own with great results.

What kind of animals do I want to raise?
How hands on do I want to be with my animals? How hands on CAN I be?
Do I want pasture/foraging breeds or barn/feedlot breeds? 
Do I want breeds developed for commercial industry or heritage breeds?
Will any heritage breed do or should I focus on finding Canadian heritage breeds?
Am I only keeping animals for my family (and friends) or will I be selling meat, milk, eggs, fibre, breeding stock, etc?

Lots of questions that need answers. Some are even pretty easy to answer. Others, not so much.

First of all, price. I mentioned it earlier but I should note that you can get animals a lot cheaper at auctions and by buying them as infants (bottle lambs, wiener pigs, etc).
Contact your local organic dairy farm, maybe they have male jersey calves to sell.
Look on the bulletin board at the local co-op.  Ask around and see if anyone is selling. Sometimes old farm guys like to only do word-of-mouth sales :)
Alberta even has heritage breed auctions at least once a year. All sorts of animals!

And lastly, check kijiji. 
I found a Jersey/Canadienne young bull. Boy would I LOVE to own him!! 
But it's just the wrong time for me to even consider it. 
First, no $ to purchase. Second, even if I managed to get him, no where to keep him over winter. Third, nothing to feed him. 
There would have to be a miracle of sorts in order for me to get him and find a farmer friend to take him in for the winter and feed an extra mouth he wasn't planning on.

Any takers?? ;)

Then, I'd have to find a couple of fine females to breed him with. Dairy preferably. Canadienne's would be best (one of Canada's heritage breeds, out of Quebec). However, those are hard to find on the west coast, and I'm sure they'd be expensive. 

I guess it's not meant to be.  If he's still around in the spring, maybe I'll get lucky :)

Let's talk about heritage breeds.  
Here's a great website listing off Rare Breeds in Canada. They have many of the breeds I was already looking into.  Many are ones I'd never heard of.

So why choose a heritage breed? Many reasons!  

Ease of care: Many of these breeds were developed to take care of themselves. They forage well, perform well on pasture and need little help from humans when it comes to birthing.  Many also are resistant to the illnesses and diseases that can plague breeds developed for commercial purposes.
Taste: Their meat, milk and eggs just TASTE better! 
Artisan Value: Naturally coloured wool for hand-spinning, soft hides for rugs, clothing and furniture, fluffy down for hand-stitched quilts, beeswax for candles... the list could go on and on... 
Preservation: Wouldn't it be great to know that because of your small farm you're helping a heritage breed on it's road to recovery? I think so :)

Here's the breeds I'm looking into. Highly influenced by the Rare Breeds - critical/endangered/at risk - List.

Cattle: Highlands, Galloway, Red Poll, Canadienne, Milking Shorthorn, and Guernsey.  Highlands are actually one of the first ones I started looking into, followed by dairy breeds- Canadienne and Guersney.

Pigs: Large Black and Tamworth.  Berkshire is another one (not on the rare list, not even sure it's considered a Canadian heritage breed).

Goats: Nubian and Sables (coloured Saanen) are two of my top choices. As is Golden Guernsey (not found in Canada, as far as I know :( ). Boer is a common meat breed.  The one I'm really interested in researching now is San Clemente Island. They are SO BEAUTIFUL! And there's even breeders in Alberta :)

Sheep: This I'm having a problem with. The more I research breeds the more kinds of sheep I want lol I may end up with a huge mixed flock.
For sure Shetlands, Icelandics, Clun Forest, Scottish Blackface and Karakul.  Again, kijiji found me a Shetland/Icelandic cross.  Just not good timing.  I would also like to keep some hair sheep, Dorper/Katahdin - they make terrific meat animals. The other breed that I would like to mix into at least some of my -future- flock is Romanov

Poultry: Another difficult one. It's something I hadn't thought too much about. There's lots of great poultry breeders just in the Edmonton area.  Looking at the Rare Breeds list and doing a bit of research I think I've narrowed in on some breeds I'd like to track down.
Chickens: Wyandotte (white, gold laced and silver laced), Chantecler, Rhode Island Red, Silver Grey Dorking.
Turkeys: Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Ridley Bronze (a very "traditional" looking bird), and Beltsville Small White. 
Geese: Pilgram, Embden, Toulouse
Ducks: Khaki Campbell, Aylesbury, Silver Appleyard, Rouen (look like mallards :) )
I wouldn't mind having some wild game birds as well (pheasant, etc).

Horses and ponies we'll never have as Zac is allergic to them.  But, I do want a guard donkey or two for the sheep and goats.
And bees. Zac likes bees. 
And oxen ;) (read the link, you'll understand the wink)

So, I will continue to research animals and breeds and slowly decide what will suit my families -future- farm :)

What do you look for in a breed? Is heritage important to you? What breeds do you already own?

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