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JOURNAL LE HAUT-SAINT-FRANÇOIS / Actualité
Jean-Claude Vézina Par Jean-Claude Vézina
info@journalhsf.com

Mercredi, 13 mars 2013

Preserving rare and endangered breeds



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"  Every time a breed becomes extinct, some genes are lost,  " said Mary Sylvester, who is responsible for rare and endangered animals at the Cookshire Fair. For centuries and even millenia, they have evolved and adapted. "   These genetic characteristics have enabled animals to survive in sometimes extreme conditions. When these assets disappear, they cannot be recreated.  " Sylvester is very passionate on this subject.

Concerned about the defects and weaknesses making an appearance in pure breeds, Sylvester has made it her mission to try to protect both endangered species and those listed as rare, and to promote efforts to save them. All kinds of farm livestock, including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and even poultry, are important to her.

The cost of raising these animals and birds outweighs the financial gains. However, she still laments the mad rush to increase gains by modifying the genome. According to Sylvester, " For millenia humans learned to cross the most productive animals to stabilize their characteristics. " They practised genetic improvement that reproduced natural selection.

Today, she says, genetic engineering is affecting the very essence of life. People are playing around with genes without any idea of all the consequences. That is the case with some Holsteins that were developd from just one bull and four cows. " It's a very small gene pool that produced this dairy cow, " she points out. She fears that an epidemic could cause the extinction of this breed designed to produce high yields.

On their farm in Birchton in Cookshire-Eaton, which has been passed down from generation to generation, her family has about 150 North Country Cheviots. These sheep are dear to her heart since they are descended from a very old branch originating in Scotland. They were able to acclimatize to harsh weather and poor pastureland, and now flourish in Great Britain.

According to Sylvester, these sheep are quite rare in the Americas. They have genes that are resistant and adapt easily to new breeding conditions. It is because of these and other qualities that she promotes this breed. " We must raise these endangered animals not for profit but for the pleasure and joy of participating in an effort to preserve a vulnerable species, " she preaches.

A visit to her own backyard provides clear evidence that this is a heartfelt vocation, not just posturing. Her chicken run includes different varieties of fowl, with Indian Runner and Khaki Cambell ducks waddling around among Maran, Orpington, Araucana and other chickens. She also has pigs that enjoy the outdoors, penned in only by a fence that is moved as the soil gets turned over. One of the interesting things about pigs is that they use their snouts to dig up the ground looking for roots to eat, which is useful for people who like to farm without using big pieces of equipment to till the soil.

Sylvester reels off the names of breeds that a few caring breeders keep to preserve their genes. In Quebec, for example, the Canadian cow accounts for 75 to 250 head, the Canadian horse for 150 to 500, Saanen and Nubian goats for more 350, not to mention many others. She suggests that anyone interested can visit the " rarebreedscanada.ca " Website for more information.

That is her passion. She is committed to saving vulnerable and endangered breeds by encouraging breeders to show them at the Cookshire Fair.


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