Fjord horse

A couple weekends back, my husband and I visited Les Trois Coteaux, a heritage breeds farm located in Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, Quebec (near Ripon). Daniel Miclette, the owner of the farm, offers 90-minute tours in French or English for anyone who wants to visit the farm. The cost is $10 each for adults, free for children 14 and under. Although it was November – probably the worst month to visit in terms of weather and scenery – we had a great time and learned a lot about heritage breeds and farming.

Daniel Miclette grew up on a mixed farm that switched over to dairy after the Quebec government began encouraging farms to specialize back in the 1970s. He didn’t really like the dairy farming life, so he followed a different career path. But he still loved farming, so he started Les Troix Coteaux and now raises a number of heritage breeds, including Highland and Canadienne cattle, Fjord horses, Sanglachon pigs (wild boar/heritage pig crosses), Chantecler chickens, Katahdin and Blackbelly sheep, and Primorski bees. He now welcomes visitors to the farm to learn about these breeds and enjoy the surroundings.

The tour starts in a small room beside the barn, where Daniel keeps an incubator that hatches a weekly group of baby chicks for visitors to handle and enjoy. Daniel uses the incubator to hatch more than baby chickens – he also uses it for turkeys and guinea hens. He says it can be hard to find and collect the turkey and guinea hen eggs, because the mothers like to find a hidden spot to raise their babies. As the laying season draws to a close, Daniel allows all the birds to start keeping their eggs and raise their own young. In this way, the birds get to act out their natural instincts, but Daniel also gets a good overall supply of eggs.

All the birds are free-range on the farm. There is something very funny about watching them – it seems so chaotic with all these different species mixing together. And then there’s Daniel’s cat, which stares down at the birds from the roof of the house. The cat is not allowed outside, due to the birds, but he is allowed to go out an open window onto the roof. I suspect they still have to watch him, because there are trees at one end of the house, and if he hasn’t figured out how to get down yet, I’m sure he will soon!

Daniel told us some interesting things about the guinea hens. These birds can be difficult to keep if you have no other poultry – if you let them out of a confined area, they will fly away and may not return. But if you keep them with chickens, they tend to stay close to home, where the chickens prefer to stay. It’s also beneficial to let a chicken raise the guinea hen babies; the chicken’s (relatively higher) comfort level with humans rubs off on the guinea hen chicks, and the result is that they are much tamer. Daniel is planning to try the same method with pheasants and partridge next year, to see if a chicken “foster mother” will result in a tamer bird.

Aside from the birds, there are cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep. The pigs are a cross between wild boar and Tamworth/Landrace – called sanglochon, which combines “sanglier” (wild boar) with “cochon” (pig). Daniel keeps one boar and two sows, with any offspring raised to a certain age and then sold for meat or to other farmers. Daniel lamented that his current boar is too big and eats too much, so he will be replaced soon by a smaller boar, and the big guy will become sausage (let that be a lesson to not eat too much!)

The horses are Fjords, a small but very strong breed from western Norway. The Fjord is one of the world’s oldest horse breeds, and was even around in the time of the Vikings. It can be used for riding, but is also suitable for heavy work like plowing, which is easy to picture given its incredibly muscular and broad body. And I certainly got a close look – Daniel brought us into the horse’s area and gave one of the horses some hay by hand, which got the other horse interested, and suddenly I found myself in the middle of some temporary horse chaos!

Next we went out into the field and had a look at the Highland cattle. They’re a very mellow breed, and we were able to get up very close with pretty much no reaction from the cows. Daniel also raises Canadienne cattle, the only dairy breed to have been developed in North America. This breed was developed in the 1600’s, and went from being practically the only breed raised in Quebec, to near-extinction in the late 1800’s.

Daniel also raises Blackbelly sheep. These sheep grow hair, not wool, so they do not need to be sheared. They are able to tolerate heat and humidity more than other types of sheep, and are very disease resistant and parasite tolerant. Although they are a good sheep for meat, Daniel raises them mostly to sell to other farmers for their own herd. We weren’t able to get too close to them, as they are quite nervous of people. But we did get a closer look at the Katahdin sheep that he also raises. They too are a sheep with hair, not wool.

Last but not least, Daniel raises Primorski honeybees. These Russian honeybees are resistant to the Varroa mite – a mite that is likely contributing to colony collapse disorder among honeybees in Canada and elsewhere.  Primorski honeybees are also more likely to survive a harsh winter, which makes them very suitable for our winters.

We ended our visit with the purchase of some eggs, and a promise to come back later when the snow is on the ground and the landscape doesn’t look so, well, November-ish. We also talked about how this was his first English tour, and he would really like to start seeing more English-speakers from Quebec visiting his farm. Click here for Daniel’s website, or here for the Petite-Nation tourism site.

I can heartily recommend this agritourism experience, whether you speak English or French. You’ll be glad you made the trip, and afterward you can visit some of the other nearby agritourism destinations that I wrote about previously.