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The Canadienne is a dairy breed developed in French Canada from cattle imported back in the XVIIth century from Brittany and Normandy. The Canadienne is the only breed of dairy cow native to North America. At its origins, it was not the result of genetic blends and was once exclusively and intimately linked to Quebec’s terroir*. Today the Canadienne is seriously threatened. It nearly disappeared entirely due to cross-breeding with the Brown Swiss breed. Very few purebred animals remain, but a current trend towards the traditonal-type Canadienne has initiated conservancy and development efforts in regards to its genetic make-up. Its advancement is primordial to guarantee a future for this breed of French-Canadian heritage.
* Terroir: A place-based designation, intimately linked with the land, the soil and climatic conditions.

Characteristics of the Breed

Several orientations exist to characterize the Canadienne cattle breed, but the current trend is to favour and restore its traditional-type characteristics. In fact, the Association for the Development of the Canadienne Cattle Breed in Charlevoix has oriented its efforts towards research into its ancestral archaic breed standard, a very functional and profitable aspect of its breed development network

Standard of the Canadienne Cattle Breed


The Canadienne is a small to medium sized specialty dairy breed. Cow weights vary between 400 and 500 kg, to a height of 130 cm at the withers. In bulls, average weight is 800 kg.


Most Canadienne cattle show distinct and primitive coloured coats, that is, a black coat with a pale fawn topline stripe and muzzle. Its coat may also be black, brown or russet. Several shades exist between black and brown depending on the body part, but generally the muzzle, topline, udder and scrotum are paler in colour. Blue (blue roan) or brindled coats were acceptable colours in the past, but they have not been observed for quite some time. Calves are born light in colour, with permanent colouration establishing itself around the age of 4 months. 

Black hooves, muzzle and extremities.

Head and Horns:

The head is long, expressive, with a narrow forehead and straight, even profile.

When horns are present, they are relatively long and in general upturned. They can be white with black tips, black or brown.


Quite long body with a broad chest, straight topline and wide, protruding hips. Fine skinned. Hocks are well-defined, and the animal is fine of bone and member.

The teat is clean-shaped and angular, very supple and well-developed. It generally becomes flaccid after milking.

Aptitudes and Performances

The Canadienne is a specialty dairy breed that produces milk which is economically profitable in a terroir-based system where conditions are harsh and difficult. In fact, the Canadienne has long been considered of great hardiness, alert and quick of temper. Over the centuries, it has inherited a quiet sobriety, resilience and robustness to face the harsh climatic conditions of the New World. These qualities have vested it with a longer lifespan (fifteen-year-old cows are not rare), as have its good fertility and legendary ease of calving. Average dairy production for cows is 5000 kg of milk, which contains 4.3% butterfat and 3.6% protein. For all these reasons it is important to maintain and even enhance these attributes, which make the Canadienne breed very profitable in a breeding and production system such as the one featured in the Charlevoix project.


« This is an animal’s innate ability to produce and reproduce itself while exploiting the utmost from the environment where it evolves, with a minimum contribution required from the outside." (Source: INRA Marcenat – UPRA Tarentaise).»

Adaptability to systems under harsh conditions:

Which means the animal shows great frugality and a very strong resistance to variations in temperature. This also indicates that the animal adapts well to walking on rugged terrain.

Ease of calving:

Indicates that in most instances, birthing requires no assistance.

Good fertility:

Indicates that the interval between calvings is shorter, therefore reducing the number of inseminations which represent a significant economic impact.

Physicochemical Properties of its Milk:

Kappa-casein is an interesting and specific protein in the cheesemaking process. In fact, the Kappa-casein (or K-casein) gene is expressed by two alleles, or alleles A, B or E. The presence of allele B in heterozygotes (AB or BE) or homozygotes (BB) is what significantly improves the cheesemaking properties of Canadienne cow’s milk. For the same quantity of milk and an equal percentage of protein, allele B found in Kappa-casein increases the quantity of cheese produced. Currently, the Canadienne is at the heart of a project featuring permanent follow-ups aimed to restore the frequency of allele B within the cattle population, and to further improve cheesemaking properties of Canadienne cow’s milk in Charlevoix. (See 1st follow-up report in the PDF documentation section).