The Royal Palm Turkey


“We consumers think of turkeys not as farm animals, but just another mass-produced item on a shopping list.”

(Sara Bir,’How Turkeys Got Broad, White Breasts’, Modern Farmer, November 24, 2014



Turkeys are indigenous to the southwest part of North America and Central Mexico and have spread throughout the world from there.  They were introduced to Europe via the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, and made their way back to North America by way of Britain’s colonization of New England. A hundred years ago, you would have found turkeys on most North American farms because turkeys were considered a near perfect fit for the needs of rural families. Turkeys were self-reliant foragers who could breed without human assistance, lay plenty of eggs, and raise their own young. Most importantly, they were a good source of inexpensive meat for the table.

It is not by accident that I said ‘were’, because this is no longer the case.

As with so many other rare breeds of domestic livestock, turkeys have also been victims of 20th century advances in farming, refrigeration, and transportation. Today nearly all the turkeys we consume – about ninety-nine percent, in fact – are Broad-Breasted Whites. Broad-Breasted Whites have been bred to grow extremely fast and move very little. They cannot reproduce naturally, but must be artificially inseminated because the enormous breast of the Broad-Breasted makes the bird unable to breed.

Because nearly all turkeys are the same breed, and there are few strains within that one breed, modern turkeys are the most genetically eroded of any livestock. Apart from the ubiquitous Broad-Breasted White, most other breeds of turkey are threatened with extinction. Among these endangered breeds is the Royal Palm.


Royal Palm Turkey Tom at the farm of Brent and Janet Tolhurst, St. Chrysostome, QC

The history of the Royal Palm turkey is not a long one. The breed was only recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1971. Although similarly marked turkeys have been around for centuries – one black and white variety known as the Pied or Crollwitz has existed in Europe since the 1700’s – the Royal Palm was developed in Lake Worth, Florida, on the farm of Enoch Carson in the 1920’s.

“Mr. Carson began developing the breed in the 1920s using crosses between several turkey breeds, including the Black, Narragansett, and Bronze as well as with wild turkeys. Royal Palm turkeys became a recognized breed by the American Poultry Association in 1971, decades after its inception, largely because it took so many years to stabilize the breed’s unique coloring. Although the coloring will occur accidentally in crosses, establishing a predictable lineage took quite a while.” (Countryside Daily, Nov. 4 2016)

The Royal Palm is truly beautiful. The saddle (back) of the bird is black, while the base colour of the rest of the bird is white. The white feathers end in black metallic edging giving the Royal Palm its spectacular showy appearance.


The Royal Palm’s purpose was principally as an exhibition bird; it was not intended for commercial meat production. But that is not to say that they are not good eating –they are! Although they are small in size -the hens reach a mature weight of 10lbs; the Toms weigh an average of 16lbs – the meat is flavourful and is prized by chefs.  Slow Food USA includes the Royal Palm in its Ark of Taste. Unlike most domestic turkeys, Royal Palms are active birds capable of flight. They are also good foragers who will do a good job keeping the barnyard insect population in check. While they might lack the commercial potential of other heritage turkey breeds, Royal Palm turkeys are ideal birds for a small farm due to their longevity, ability to reproduce, and thriftiness.

The breed’s status is unknown in Canada as there are no known large-scale breeders. Rare Breeds Canada estimates the Royal Palm to be critically endangered.


Sources:, The Livestock Conservancy ( , Modern Farmer Magazine (, Slow Food USA (



The Belted Galloway

As rugged as the buffalo,

As thrifty as the Scot,

The cattle for God’s thousand hills

And the places God forgot.

— H. Gordon Green


Belted Galloway Cow
24×30 collage and gold leaf on panel


The Galloway region of south-western Scotland seems to have always had its own hardy variety of cattle.  Long before modern breeds as such existed, there were tough native cattle that could endure the harsh climate and were good foragers who could fatten on rugged hilly terrain. The modern Galloway was developed from this native type and was gradually standardized as a polled (hornless), mainly beef breed sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.  Galloways are predominantly black, although they can also be other colours such as brindle, red, or dun. At some point in the breed’s history – as with many old breeds, it is hard to say exactly when – yet  another colour of Galloway was developed, one which showed the distinctive pattern  of a (usually) black animal with a wide white ‘belt’ around its middle. The ‘Beltie,’ as it is affectionately known, was likely derived from crossing the old black Galloway stock with a type of ‘belted’ Dutch dairy cow called the Lakenvelder, perhaps around the same period as the black was standardized. A herd book for the standard Galloway was opened in 1877, but there was no herd book for the Belted variety in Scotland until 1928. The Belted and non-belted varieties are alike in most respects except coat colour.

Besides its distinctive markings, the Belted Galloway is special in a number of ways. First, the Beltie is supremely well adapted to harsh climates. Part of its adaptation takes the form of a “double” winter coat. The breed grows a long ‘top coat’ of hair for the winter, but also has a soft mohair-like inner coat to keep it warm. The only other animal which has a similar coat is the bison. This appears to be purely a coincidence of adaptation to climate, as the two creatures are not genetically related. Belties can shed down to a smooth coat in summer.


Belted Galloway cow at Green Arpents Farm, Ormstown


Because the Belted Galloway evolved its double-layered winter coat, less body fat is needed to keep the animal warm in winter, which results in a meat which  is finely marbled with much less external ‘white’ fat. Some studies have shown Beltie beef to be lower in calories and higher in protein than more common varieties of beef, with a high CLA (a beneficial trans fatty acid) and a healthy omega 6-omega 3 ratio. In addition to being a beef that is healthy and lean, Belted Galloway beef ranks among the most flavourful and juicy of all beef breeds and is beloved by chefs the world over.

Belted Galloways are efficient and economical grazers able to make good use of marginal land, and, again, thanks to their extra winter coat, they do not require expensive feed supplementation in winter:

The Galloway’s evolution didn’t stop there. Again their environment was one of alpine type low protein foraging including mosses and lichen, woody stems and coarse grasses. They adapted to the naturally low protein environment and by a lucky for us combination produced high quality meat from poor quality feed. (New Zealand Galloway Association)

Belted Galloway cattle are short-legged, independent-minded, calm, and smart. They are medium sized cattle. The average weight for a bull is around 820 kg, with 570 kg for a cow. The cows are devoted, protective mothers who produce rich milk and rarely require assistance giving birth. They were a ‘crofters cow’ used on small farms for both milk and meat, but never as working animals.

Although Black Galloways came to Canada in the nineteenth century, the first registered herd of Belted Galloways did not enter the country until the middle of the twentieth century. This first herd was imported by Gordon Green to Quebec in 1951, and descendants of this original herd still graze the pasture of the Green farm, Green Arpents, in Ormstown, Quebec. The Greene herd is now believed to be the oldest continuous herd of Belted Galloways in North America.

The Belted Galloway population has recovered from a low point during the Hoof and Mouth Disease crisis in the U.K. in the early 2000’s. Their numbers are few in Canada, however, and the Belted Galloway remains on the Rare Breeds endangered list.


Sources: Cheryl Johnstone Green, Green Arpents Farm

Belted Galloway Society (

The Livestock Conservancy (

Greg Suart: Presentation to the New Zealand Belted Galloway Association, 2007,


The Chantecler Chicken


Canadienne, elle l’est, la blanche Chantecler;

Son plumage de neige évoque notre hiver;

Sa tête altière et fine, et de crète allégée,

Contre nos froids autant semble bien protégée,

Et le nordais pour elle est un simple zéphyre,

Sans crainte son œil contemple l’avenir


(Canadian she is, the white Chantecler

Her snowy plumage evokes our winter

Her proud and fine head, with her reduced comb

Against the cold is well protected

And the North wind is just a light breeze to her

Without fear her eye looks to the future.

Translation by Anne Gardon)


Poem in honour of the Chantecler

 by Dr. P.E. Rochon, Clarence Creek, Ontario, January 1919



Chantecler Rooster 30 x 24 collage on panel

In the early years of the twentieth century, a man named Wilfrid Châtelain, who was a Trappist monk at the Cistercian Abbey at Oka, Quebec, received a visit from his father. Brother Wilfrid, an agronomist by training, was in charge of the poultry flocks at the Oka Agricultural Institute at that time. He and his father were touring the flocks when something about the birds struck them as odd:  All the varieties of poultry they were looking at were of European or U.S. origin. Not one breed of chicken had ever been developed in Canada.

Brother Wilfrid, University of Montreal archive


Brother Wilfrid decided to rectify this situation, and in 1908 he and the monks of the monastery at Oka began developing a Quebec breed of chicken. The goal Brother Wilfrid established for himself was to create a chicken which would be dual purpose: a good layer of eggs and also a good, meaty bird for the table.  He wanted a bird that would lay well even in the cold, dark, winter months, and would have a small comb and wattles to avoid the perils of frostbite, a bird which would be hardy and robust and would also have a good carcass weight. It took ten years of devoted research and careful breeding, trials, and aggressive culling for the Trappist monk to arrive at the type of chicken he had in mind.  Brother Wilfrid used Dark Cornish, White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, White Wyandotte, and White Plymouth Rock as the foundation of his new breed which he named the Chantecler after the rooster in the play by Edmond Rostand (author of Cyrano de Bergerac) of the same name. The rooster Chantecler believed his crowing caused the sun to rise.


An Association for the Chantecler chicken was formed in 1918. In 1919 the Chantecler was shown with much acclaim at the First National Poultry Conference. And in 1921 the Chantecler Chicken officially became a breed when it was admitted to the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection. The original type of Chantecler developed at Oka is white, but somewhat later, Dr. J. E. Wilkinson of Alberta developed a brown “Partridge“ variety. This later variety was admitted as a breed in 1935.


 Chantecler Rooster, Wikipedia commons

The Chantecler is a large bird with a broad breast.  Males weigh up to 3.9 kg, females between 2.5 and 3 kg. The hens can lay up to 210 eggs in their first year’s lay. The egg colour is light brown. The Chantecler has a small “cushion” comb and very small wattles, and the legs and curved beak are always yellow. The breed has a fairly docile temperament and is exceptionally well adapted to the cold.

The breed became popular on family farms in Quebec and beyond up until the 1950’s when its numbers decreased dramatically. At one point in the late 1970’s the Chantecler was believed to be extinct. But due to the efforts of some small farmers who had never given up on it, Brother Wilfrid’s chicken was brought back from the brink, and in 1999 was awarded “Patrimoine mondial québecois’ status. The Chantecler’s numbers have improved somewhat due to renewed interest in the breed, however it remains on the Rare Breeds Canada endangered list.

Université de Montréal archive. Drawing taken from one of the scrapbooks dedicated to the Chantecler chicken.

Sources: le Soleil, 01 mars 2014,, Canadian Farm Animal Genetic Resources Foundation Internet archive, Association Québécoise de la volaille Chantecler,


The Canadienne

Canadienne Cow: 24×30 collage on panel.

“Endowed with the robust health of the northern breeds, acclimatized by more than three centuries of living in this country and of incomparable frugality, no other bovine breed possesses, by itself, so many qualities, responds better to the care it receives, and is more beneficial to the common farmer.”               Dr. Couture, founder of the Société Générale des Éleveurs of the Province of Québec, Ottawa, February 5, 1908, (Société d’Histoire de la Haute-Yamaska)

Cattle from France arrived in North America as early as 1538, but they were not kept in any significant number until the permanent settlements of New France were established in the early 17th century.

The French cattle that came with the first colonists were a type of dairy cow commonly found in the Northwest of France. We call them a type rather than a breed as breeds in the modern sense did not exist at that time. Samuel de Champlain himself was responsible for the importation of some of these animals, and by 1629 Champlain owned approximately seventy cows of this type at his farm of Cap Tourmente, just north of what is now Quebec City.

Life in New France was difficult for the French colonists and for their animals.  The small colony was beset by famine. In July of 1629, Champlain surrendered the weak and undefended colony to a group of English Huguenot adventurers, the Kirke brothers, who had sailed into the St-Lawrence to claim what they could of the region for the English Crown. Champlain’s farm was sacked, and he was sent to England as a prisoner. What happened to the cows, well, nobody knows for sure. It is unlikely they survived.

The English occupation by the Kirkes was brief. By 1632, New France was back in French control. In the years that followed, colonization began in earnest and the importation of livestock started again. The largest number of cattle arrived with French colonists from the 1660’s onward.  By order of King Louis XIV “good dairy cows from Normandy and Brittany” were sent to New France. By 1667, there were 3 107 bovines in New France.

Importation of additional animals ceased once the colony had a sufficient number of cattle to be self-sustaining. These cattle of New France were bred only among themselves for many years without the introduction of outside blood. Due to the harsh conditions, only the healthiest and most fit animals survived to pass on their genes. In this fashion, the Canadienne breed was developed.

“Until around 1853 Quebec farmers knew almost no other cow except for the descendants of these first cattle.” Frère Isidore, O.C.R.

The tough little Canadienne held its ground until the second half of the 19th century when the importation of larger, foreign breeds was encouraged on Quebec dairy farms. By 1881, it was becoming obvious that the native Quebec breed was in danger of disappearing, leading a group of concerned breeders to begin a campaign in its favour. In 1886, a herd book was established for the breed, along with a breed standard. An association to promote and strengthen the breed was formed in 1895.

Annual picnic of Canadian cattle breeders. (Fonds Société des éleveurs de bovins canadiens, SHHY. Photo : Office provincial de publicité, Québec)


The Canadienne is a small to medium sized dairy breed. It has a ‘primitive’ coat colour of dark brown to black with a fawn coloured topline and muzzle. It is hardy and can thrive on forage without the need for additional expensive feeds. It is also fertile, docile, and long-lived. Although the Canadienne produces a smaller milk volume than a Holstein, the butterfat content is higher and it is considered excellent for cheese production due to its high Kappa-casein B variant protein content.

The original Normande-Bretagne type of French cow has long since gone extinct, but its genetic legacy lives on in the Canadienne and also in that of Jerseys and Guernseys, to whom the Canadienne is related. Some Canadienne cows were recently returned to France in an attempt to re-introduce the breed there.  Unfortunately, overall the Canadienne has suffered significant decline since the 19th century.  Attempts to improve its milk output led to cross-breeding with Brown Swiss cattle in the 1970’s. The result of which has rendered true, pure-bred Canadiennes extremely rare.


Odelie de Cap Rouge, Société d’Histoire de la Haute-Yamaska

It is estimated that there are only 250 pure-bred Canadienne cows left in Quebec and perhaps 1000 or so world-wide.  In 1850, there were 300 000. Rare Breeds Canada lists the Canadienne as vulnerable.

Sources:;; The Canadian Encylopedia; Les Bovins: Manuels D’Oka, Institut Agricole d’Oka, 1950; Société d’Histoire de la Haute-Yamaska.








The Clydesdale

The Clydesdale horse is named for the Clyde river valley in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Clydesdale, in fact, was the ancient name for the place.

Clydesdale Mare, 24 x 30 painted paper collage on panel.


As with most old breeds, it is difficult to pin down the origins exactly. In the mid-eighteenth century, local Scottish draught mares were bred to bigger stallions imported from England and Flanders with the aim of producing larger and better looking offspring.  Among these imported stallions was an unnamed dark-brown stallion owned by the Duke of Hamilton.

“…[T]he sixth Duke, who succeeded to the title in  1742, and died in 1758, imported a dark-brown Flemish stallion for the use of his tenantry, with a view to improve the breed of horses.   […]   It was named ” Clyde,” and the progeny were called the “Clyde breed.”  James Davidson died when Mr. Burns was a boy, yet he remembers him, and has a distinct recollection of the reputation which the progeny of “Clyde” obtained.”   The Glasgow Herald, May 12th, 1883 compiled in The History of the Clydesdale Horse, 1884


In addition to the Duke of Hamilton’s famous ‘Clyde’, there was also a black unnamed Flemish stallion imported from England around 1750 by a John Paterson of Lochlyloch. This black stallion with white on his legs was also a famous progenitor of the Clydesdale breed.  A filly born in 1806 – later known as the Lampits Mare for Lampits Farm where she was born – who traced her lineage to that black stallion is listed in the ancestry of almost every Clydesdale living today. She and her offspring were described as:


…the true type of Clydesdale, having well-sprung ribs, gun-barrel body, hind legs standing well together, and first-rate action.”  “The Hamilton Advertiser”, August 11, 1883, compiled in The History of the Clydesdale Horse, 1884

It is the ‘first-rate action’ that sets the Clydesdale apart from other draught breeds.  Each foot is lifted cleanly off the ground so that the bottom of the hoof is visible. This showy leg action gives the Clydesdale its distinctive style, enabling the breed to dominate the show ring.

Georgia, Clydesdale filly, owned by Murray McClintock of Ormstown


The original Clydesdale was probably a stockier animal than the ones we see today. The modern Clydesdale is tall- commonly between 16.2 and 18 hands high – weighs about 1600 to 1800 pounds, has a fairly short back, and is well-muscled. They are usually bay in colour, but may be black, brown or roan, and have extensive white markings on the legs, belly, and face. Their long straight legs are ‘feathered’ with silky white hair.

An example of the breed circa 1860 from Elements of Agriculture by G.F Warren, 1915


The first Clydesdale to arrive in Canada was a stallion named Cumberland who was imported to Ontario in 1840. The breed quickly spread throughout the country. Soon the Clydesdale had become the most prevalent draught breed in Canada. The breed’s numbers peaked in the 1930’s, but mechanization in farming eventually rendered the heavy horses obsolete. By the 1960’s, the Clydesdale was nearly extinct, not only in Canada, but world-wide.

The Clydesdale’s numbers have rebounded somewhat – thanks in no small part to Budweiser – but the horse remains on the ‘watch’ list. There are an estimated 5000 Clydesdales remaining in the world.



Sources: The History of the Clydesdale Horse, William Love, Glasgow, 1884.

The Canadian Clydesdale Horse Association,

The Livestock Conservancy,

The Clydesdale Horse Society

The Tamworth Pig


The Tamworth pig is one of the oldest European breeds of pig, possibly descended from wild boars.

“Today’s Tamworth is thought to be the most typical breed descended from the old indigenous species, the Old English Forest pig. It has maintained this status because at the end of the 18th Century, when many native breeds were ‘improved’ by crossing them with Chinese and Neapolitan stock, the Tamworth was not deemed fashionable and hence left alone. It is now therefore the oldest pure English breed…” (

It is probable that Irish pigs were used to improve the Tamworth in the early 1800’s, but otherwise the Tamworth’s genetic legacy remains intact, making it one of the least interbred domestic pig varieties in existence. The pig takes its name from the village of Tamworth in Staffordshire, England, the region in which the breed was standardized in the mid-nineteenth century. The Tamworth was formally recognized as a breed by the Royal Agricultural Society in England in 1865.

Tamworths arrived in Eastern Canada in 1877.  They quickly spread across the country to become one of the most popular breeds of pig and a fundamental part of our agricultural history.  Tamworths were ideal for the small, mixed farms which characterized agriculture in Canada from the 19th to mid- 20th centuries due to their ability to withstand cold and to thrive outdoors with very little maintenance.

 “Tamworths are ideally suited to outdoor production, grazing compatibly with cattle, being able to retrieve forage that cattle leave behind in the open pasture. In addition, they are very efficient at rooting for food in the forest or pasture, making them ideal for forage-based farming systems. In addition to their tolerance for extreme temperatures, they are also resistant to disease, needing little if any treatment with antibiotics and their ginger colour protects them from sunburn. (


Le Journal d’agriculture illustré, Advertisement, 1895


The Tamworth is a reddish-gold coloured pig with a long, narrow body. The meat from this breed is lean and highly flavourful, and they are reputed to make the best bacon of any breed of pig. They are a low-maintenance breed as they are expert foragers who prefer to be outdoors where they can fend for themselves. Tamworths are intelligent, friendly, and curious animals. The females produce litters of up to ten piglets and have excellent mothering instincts.



Tamworth Piglets on the farm of Stacey Boychuk and Dwight McIntyre, Herdman, QC.

Tamworths take up to 50 percent longer to mature than modern commercial pigs. Their slow growth combined with their inability to thrive in the intensive, indoor conditions of modern agriculture led to a swift decline in their numbers from the 1950’s onward. Additionally, regulations which prohibit the raising of swine on dairy farms and changes in the way meat is graded also reduced their numbers.

The Tamworth is listed as critically endangered with fewer than 35 new females registered in Canada in 2015 (with a total number of approximately 250), and possibly as few as 4000 worldwide.


Additional sources: Rare Breeds Canada (, The Livestock Conservancy ( Rare Breeds Survival Trust (



The Lynch Lineback Cow


Lynch Lineback Cow

Lynch Lineback cattle are a Canadian landrace originating in Eastern Ontario.  Unlike a breed or cultivar, both of which are bred selectively to conform to a particular standard, a landrace is a domesticated variety of animal or plant which has developed locally and has adapted to thrive in its particular environment in isolation from other breeds or species. The origins of the Lynch Lineback are not known precisely, but they are thought to have descended from Gloucester and Glamorgan cattle, two very ancient English breeds which came to North America with the first British colonists.

Lynch Lineback Cow (Photo courtesy of Glenn McCaig)

A ‘Lineback’ refers to an animal with a solid coat colour – usually dark – which has a white top line running along the back from the base of the neck to the end of the tail, and a white underline along the belly. It is a pattern seen on cattle all over the world and is thought to be one of the oldest bovine colourings dating back as far as the Auroch seen in cave paintings from twenty-five thousand years ago.


Lynch Linebacks are triple purpose animals used for dairy, beef, and possessing a good temperament for use as oxen. They are medium sized cattle, black, with a white top line and underline. They have exceptionally tough feet adapted to rocky pasture and an ability to thrive on wild forage. And while they do not produce as much milk as a Holstein, they eat less, retain their lactation peak longer, and are long-lived and productive throughout their lives – as long as twenty years!

Lynch Linebacks on pasture (Photo courtesy of Rob Torr)

These Lineback-type cows were a fairly common sight in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Their popularity was halted by the advent of artificial insemination, which made it much easier for farmers to breed their cows to more popular dairy breeds such as Holsteins and Ayrshires. Subsequently, the Lynch Lineback almost disappeared.

That the Lynch Lineback exists at all can be attributed to the work of one man: farmer Robert Lynch of Mallorytown, Ontario.

“Robert [Lynch] …started to farm on his own in the early 1960’s. He realised that the Lineback cattle he used to milk by hand for his father when he was a boy were disappearing….In an attempt to save the Linebacks, Robert kept whatever cattle he had and did not cross them to any other breed of cattle.” Glenn McCaig, Genesis Spring 2012


Video courtesy of Nick Vinnicombe

Because Lynch Linebacks are hardy and require less feed than larger high production dairy breeds, they are an ideal family cow for small farms and organic dairy operations.  A  Lynch Lineback Breeders Association has recently been formed with hopes of stimulating interest in this breed.

Lynch Lineback Cattle are currently considered critically endangered.

For more information about the breed: Rob Torr: 416-894-1170

(Sources: “History of The Lynch Lineback Cattle Parts I and II”, Spring 2012 and  Spring 2013 in Genesis: The Journal of Rare Breeds Canada)

The Cotswold Sheep : An ancient breed as friendly as a dog

This breed of sheep originated in the Cotswolds, a hilly region of south central England. It is one of the oldest English long wool breeds and is thought to have descended from the flocks kept by the Romans during the time that England was a Roman territory.

The Cotswold sheep was at the heart of the English wool trade during the Middle –Ages, and, at that time, wool was responsible for around fifty percent of the country’s economy. Many fine medieval churches were built from the wealth generated by these animals. The breed remained one of the most important breeds for both wool and meat production right up to the early twentieth century.

The Cotswold is a large sheep with a friendly personality, and they are famous for being ‘easy keepers’.  They have a long, thick, curly white fleece. The face and legs are without wool and the animal is usually white. The Cotswold has a forelock of ringlets, which distinguishes it from the other long wool breeds. Neither the ewes nor the rams have horns.

Being a large breed, the Cotswold also has a good carcass weight for meat production. Although they grow slowly, they do well on pasture and are adapted to fairly harsh weather conditions. Ewes weigh around 85-90kg and rams, 130kg.

Cotswold Ram


The Cotswold first arrived in Canada in the 1860’s and it was soon established as a favourite breed among farmers.  Consider this testimonial which appeared in Quebec’s Journal d’agriculture in 1889:

For me, I prefer the cotswold and why? Because its wool is white and I can make a quantity of valuable household items such as covers, flannels etc., everything that one cannot do with a shorter, too gray wool. … Because the weight of the dry and clean wool from each cotswold is 8 to 13 lbs per fleece … Because the meat is at least equal if not greater in weight and quality to any other breed … .The cotswold copes well in our climate and our pastures …. (J.O.Coulombe)

By the 1870’s in Canada, the Cotswold ram was the preferred sire for most sheep farmers. Between 1878 and 1914, almost 75 000 Cotswold sheep were registered in the American flock book.  After the First World War, the number of Cotswold sheep declined precipitously to the point of almost vanishing. Merino sheep came to be preferred for wool production, and farmers moved to the Suffolk and Dorset- whose lambs are faster growing – for meat.

By 1978, however, the numbers had dwindled to 78. The situation had become drastic in the 1980s when there were an estimated Cotswold ewe population of just 35 in Canada.”  (Ross Farm Museum, NS)

The number of Cotswolds has rebounded somewhat since the 1990’s. However they remain on the endangered list.

 Sources: Canadian Cooperative Woolgrowers Ltd, Rare Breeds Survival Trust UK, The Ross Farm Museum, Nova Scotia, Le journal d’agriculture du Québec juillet 1889.

The Ridley Bronze Turkey

Ridley Bronze Turkey 24 x30

Ridley Bronze Turkey 24 x30 (Original photo reference supplied by Samara Heritage Farm)

This Canadian breed of turkey was developed in Saltcoats, Saskatchewan during the late 1940’s. Although it bears the name of ‘Ridley’, the man who was the originator of the breed was actually J.H. Richardson.


Richardson’s goal was to produce a turkey for meat production which was large, could forage well for food, was calm and friendly, could withstand the harsh Canadian climate and reproduce naturally.

He [Richardson] travelled all over Canada and the US, getting stock upon which he based his breeding program.  He eventually created his ideal, and once that happened, never again added in any new stock.

(Ridley Bronze, Canada’s Heritage Turkey,


The Ridley Bronze was the result.


An ideal bird for small farms, Ridley Bronze Turkey hens weigh about seven kilograms, male turkeys as much as thirteen kilograms or more.

The Ridley family – from whom the Ridley Bronze Turkey got its name – farmed the birds from the 1950’s to 1980’s. It was George Ridley who provided breeding stock to the University of Saskatchewan for their Ridley Breeding and study programme.


The flock was maintained until 2008 when budgetary constraints forced the University of Saskatchewan to disperse it

“…at which point the turkeys were sent to various private flocks located right across Canada. Sadly, this dispersal did not go well, with the majority of birds being lost to a variety of causes (disease, predation, loss of interest) within a few short years. Fortunately in the years preceding their mass flock dispersal, the University had sold birds to other private owners and so by 2009 or so, these small flocks owned by private breeders, were all that remained in Canada.”  (ibid.)

Rare Breeds Canada lists the status of the Ridley Bronze Turkey as critical. Canada’s only variety of domestic turkey is in danger of extinction. According to the most recent survey conducted in 2015, only 250 breeding females remain.

Sources: The Heritage Livestock Club of Eastern Ontario: “Canada’s Own Turkey Breed Still on the Critical List”; Rare Breeds Canada;

The Embden Goose


Embden Goose

The Embden Goose (Painted paper and gold leaf on panel 30 x 24 ©2016 Alyson Champ)

The origins of this breed are not known for certain. Embden Geese are thought to have originated in the North Sea region of Europe, in either the Netherlands or Germany, where large white geese have been bred since the 13th century.

The Embden goose is an elegant bird with its pure white feathers, orange feet and beak, and eyes of the clearest blue. It is also one of the largest breeds of domestic geese, prized for its ability to fatten quickly on pasture. The Embden was first exported to North America in the early 19th Century.


Exhibition of my work at Rare Breeds Canada’s Rare Breeds Renaissance, Canning, Nova Scotia.

In addition to their usefulness as birds for the table, Embden geese have been employed as ‘weeders’ for food crops such as potatoes and strawberries. Geese are herbivores by nature and prefer eating grasses rather than broad-leafed plants. Weeder Geese were very popular as recently as the 1950’s and 1960’s, but their usefulness was rendered obsolete as herbicides became more effective and their use more widespread.

The Rare Breeds Canada Conservation List designates the Embden’s status in Canada as vulnerable. (Sources: Wikipedia and FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 2002)


Woman with goose

The artist with her goose, Flora.

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