There was a recent story in the Western Producer which had me thinking back to a reoccurring theme in these columns over nearly a quarter-of-a-century, and that is the gambles farmers have taken over the years to try and find new outlets to profitability.
The Western Producer story in question was about concerns from Llama Canada that their numbers have declined to 26 members from a high of 146 in 2006.
There have been a lot of attempts by farmers over the year to ‘diversify’ and while such efforts were applauded and generally supported by government, most have done little to change the face of farming.
While cattle, hogs, and chicken have been mainstays of agriculture basically from day one of North American farming, they of course hold their place in farming for one very basic reason, the general European heritage of North America is to eat beef and pork. We like our steaks, and the adage about anything being better with bacon is something we generally accept as near fact.
Beyond those three species of farm animals consumers here have never really been particularly popular.
At particular times of the years we like to chew through a pile of turkey, Thanksgiving and Christmas, the big birds aren’t exactly regular table fare for most of us.
While there have been ducks, geese, and sheep on farms from the time of the first turning of the soil, again they have never been regular fare.
Even the horse, while important to farming as a power source before the development of the tractor, numbers declined after steam and gasoline power arrived, and we have never acquired a taste for horse meat.
Over the last 25-years farmers have rolled the dice on many alternative livestock enterprises, and none have caught on beyond localized niches.
While there is nothing wrong with a farmer being successful on a localized level, there was great hope surrounding the idea to bring rabbit meat to the dinner plate. It never materialized in spite of rabbit meat having a low fat, high protein profile which would seem ideally suited to the health conscious society we live in.
There are at least pockets of rabbit interest left, including a significant producer at Saltcoats who has managed to carve out markets and maintain interest when most have given up.
Others have carved out markets for wild boar, and elk, and in the case of meat goats and bison, have even grown to have reasonable markets, although they are far from being meat most homes have ever cooked on their kitchen stoves yet.
Farmers can raise anything, but there must ultimately be a market for the meat, or fibre from the animal.
Which brings us back to the plight of the llama. It never really caught on in terms of fibre, or meat. Without a market, livestock such as ostrich and others have come and gone.
How to get enough people eating something new to the point it is popular enough to support an industry is something which has proven elusive for all but pork, beef and chicken.