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Blondes retain small portion of Canadian market

Reed Rigney of Westlock shows off his champion Blonde d’Aquitaine bull at Farmfair International Supreme show held in Edmonton 
Nov. 9-13.  |  Barbara Duckworth photo

The breed is more popular in Europe where yield is the focus rather than marbling and meat tenderness

EDMONTON — Blonde d’Aquitaine may be the third largest breed in France, but in Canada their numbers are small.

“There is a small but very active group,” said David Kemelchuk, president of the Canadian association.

The blonde-coloured cattle were part of the wave of big, beefy cattle imported from Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Blonde cattle came from the Pyrenees area of France and were introduced to Canada in 1971.

People remember them but few use them these days, said Kemelchuk of Ellscott, Alta. He got into the Blonde business in 2001.

“Most people you talk to know of Blondes and they liked them but the market has swayed,” he said.

Canada has developed a strong Angus base in its national cow herd that can be a formidable competitor for the minor breeds.

“We are a small breed so it is hard to out market the Angus,” said Reed Rigney, secretary of the association.

There are about 100 breeders in Canada with most in Ontario and Quebec.

The cattle were on display at Farmfair International held in Edmonton from Nov. 9-13. They were shown in the all-other-breeds category with Rigney winning grand champion bull and Kemelchuk taking grand champion female.

Rigney’s grandfather, Hugh Rigney, was an early adopter of Blonde d’Aquitaine when he got into the business in about 1974. He bought some percentage females and added full-blood females in 1975.

A strong promoter of the breed, he was active in shows and the Canadian board of directors.

Blondes have a finer bone structure with a well-defined musculature that produces lean, fine-grained meat with a high yield.

Both breeders believe that ability to increase beef yield has a place in the Canadian industry. While producers chase marbling to get higher grading beef, yield has declined. Adding a Blonde bull to the herd could improve that, they said.

Both men have other breeds and use the bulls for crossbreeding.

Kemelchuk has commercial cattle with Simmental-Red Angus cows that he breeds to Blonde bulls. The result is more muscular calves that are tan to red in colour. He sells the calves at auction.

“The pure blonde calves get a little discounted because they are a more lean breed so the feeders think they will take longer to get AAA,” Kemelchuk said.

“They have a good carcass quality but it takes longer to get a good finish because they are a lean muscle breed so they work well on the terminal cow,” he said.

Rigney had a chance to visit France last summer to see Blondes and discovered the Canadian type is not much different. Cattle of this type are more popular in Europe where the grading system rewards yield rather than marbling and quality.

When the Blondes arrived in Canada, they were adapted to conditions of their homeland, so Canadians refined the muscle structure and selected for improved fertility, more milk as well as better feet and legs.

At his farm at Westlock, Alta., Rigney crosses them with Angus.

“Then you can get yield with the ability to marble,” he said.

He has found them to be a feed efficient breed.

“If you are going to feed Blonde steers, they need a higher plane of nutrition and they will do very well and do it efficiently,” Reed said.

“The guys who learned to feed them, like them because of the yield,” he said.

To prove their point, association members need to gather a large number of steers to show how they can perform under the right conditions.

In Ontario, many are marketed direct or go through Norwich Packers, which handles specialty products.

At the end of 2015, the Blonde d’Aquitaine association registered 19,500 fullboods, 15,925 purebreds and 21,900 percentage cattle.

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