DUNVEGAN -- If Laurie Maus of Dunvegan has her way, some Ontario heritage livestock, including her Tunis sheep and Chantecler hens, could be heading to prison... for their good and for the benefit of prisoners who will tend them.
"It's a proven fact that a connection to animals helps people rehabilitate," Maus explained to members of The Heritage Livestock Club of Eastern Ontario who attended the annual meeting Feb.18 in Russell.
Maus presented her case to incorporate heritage breeds into prison farms, defunct since the previous Conservative government nixed such programs, including the profitable former Frontenac prison farm in Kingston.
At the time, the facility was considered to be one of the best dairy operations in the country, with an award-winning herd bred over 100 years.
As with other prison pens, it provided inmates with dozens of jobs that included milking, gathering eggs, feeding and cleaning, as well as offering food to other prisons and local food banks.
The Conservatives decided the system was no longer a useful way to rehabilitate inmates and closed it down, claiming that the farming skills acquired were no longer useful in the workplace.
"But it was good for the animals, the prisoners and particularly to help keep the viability of heritage breeds alive," stated Maus.
Pat Kincaid was a prisoner at the pen in Kingston and appreciates the dairy cows for teaching him the skills he needed to break free from a life-long cycle of crime.
Kincaid spent 35 years behind bars for thefts and assaults and has been out and clean for over seven years. He credits the 120 cows he tended for teaching him patience and anger management.
Kincaid's not alone in his appreciation for the animals.
Rare breed owners concurred that a prison system in which to raise animals would be ideal.
"Bio-security is a major issue in these institutions and that will help keep the purity of the gene stock," said Deborah McChesney who signed on to help promote the association and its latest farm endeavour on social media.
McChesney has recently joined the group, raises heritage breeds herself and is all too familiar with the prison system.
As foster mother to a young mischievous boy who's been in maximum-security lock down, she's witnessed the lack of stimulation in prisons.
"Bringing heritage animals back to the system will be good for everyone and offer inmates a chance to be productive and useful. Animals don't judge you."
Many others at the meeting agreed on the benefits of raising rare livestock in prisons for inmate rehabilitation and also for bio-security.
Maus explained how rare breed animals have qualities unfound in commercial varieties and how important it is to sustain those characteristics.
"We have to keep these breeds alive because they have higher disease resistance, better longevity, greater adaptability in this changing environment and besides, they taste better."
The Pen Farm Herd Co-op acquired some cows from the defunct Kingston penitentiary and has developed a business plan to prove the benefits of animals on prison farms.
The Liberal government is considering reopening some of the closed pens including two in Kingston, and is in the process of evaluating the project.
About 20 other heritage breed owners who raise endangered sheep, poultry, cattle and swine were on board to promote the idea.
Last fall, Maus proposed her plan to a Queen's University audience. She then took it to Francis Drouin, Liberal MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, who supports the idea.
Along with partner Bob Garner, Maus raises heritage certified sheep and poultry and at one time raised and bred the iconic Canadian horse.
Maus is not only a heritage animal breeder, but also holds a Master's degree from York University in animal biochemistry and has worked in several government departments dedicated to the improvement of animal sustainability.
Maus was a guest speaker at Eco Farm Day in Cornwall, Feb. 25, and scheduled to coordinate Sheep Day, March 4, in Embrun.