I don't know where everyone is!," lamented president Lindley McPhail as she looked around the sparsely attended annual meeting of the Heritage Livestock Club of Eastern Ontario held Feb. 18 at Russell's St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School.
McPhail surmised the fact that it was Family Day Weekend might have been partly responsible, with many of the livestock club's 120 members deciding to take a mini holiday. When setting the meeting date and sending out notices, McPhail said she completely forgot about Family Day.
Most of the executive members were present and were re-elected to another term. One benefit of the low turnout was that it made for larger helpings for those present for the potluck lunch, featuring heritage meats, salads and desserts.
Formerly affiliated to Rare Breeds Canada, the independent club is dedicated to the preservation and propagation of farm animals important in Canadian agriculture before 1950, most suitable to being raised outdoors.
The club educates about the breeds, encourages farmers to raise them, helps members source registered animals and poultry, and helps them establish niche markets for the meat and eggs.
McPail's comment about absenteeism launched a discussion on how to make sure members know when a meeting is coming up and encourage them to attend. Ron Eamer suggested greater "person-to-person interaction" as part of the solution in making the club stronger, and Laurie Maus offered up the "bird alert" model.
According to Maus, when birders want to round up their colleagues to view a species that might soon depart the scene, one person will call three others, those three will call three more, and so on until "in 45 minutes we have 45 people staring at a Boreal owl."
Three of those in attendance volunteered to ramp up the club's social media presence on Facebook and Twitter as a way of staying in touch with the membership, and to do phone calling when required.
The meeting also reviewed the club's annual live displays, including at Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, Williamstown Fair, Russell Fair and Glengarry Pioneer Museum's Harvest Fall Festival at Dunvegan.
McPhail explained that every season the club provides all of the animals and poultry which occupy the recreated 1930's village at Cumberland operated by the City of Ottawa. The relationship isn't always satisfactory in that no signage is provided crediting the Heritage Livestock Club for its involvement, and the summer's expenses for the club in feeding and rotating animals aren't fully covered.
Opportunities have been missed, McPhail observed, including when a Dexter cow gave birth at the museum. Instead of organizing a "name the calf" contest, museum staff panicked and hid mother and offspring away for days until they were convinced it was okay to leave them on public view. McPhail said she'll make a greater attempt this year to improve the relationship.
The Williamstown Fair is the club's flagship show, with 26 breeds on display in a dedicated tent equipped with special pens. Thanks in part to a provincial grant, the exhibit was launched about five years ago as a way for the 203-year-old fair to increase its pioneer breed component. Now, said Eamer, it's one of the most popular attractions.
The heritage breeds display at Russell Fair is building every year and McPhail said she'd like to see the fair's Friday Education Day extended through the weekend to perhaps increase visitors. Coordinated by Maus, Dunvegan is the smallest of the four recurring displays.
With about $5,000 for housing and pens, Eamer said that any fair in Eastern Ontario could get started with "a nice setup" in highlighting rare breeds, a natural fit for the agricultural society mandate of preserving and promoting farm traditions and lifestyle.
In other business, Pegi Holtz reported on the highly successful 4-H Heritage Poultry Club organized in 2016 by McPhail and herself which drew 12 participants. The initiative will be repeated this year.