Challenges Facing the Alternative Livestock Industry

Kaji Kado did a research project for the Canada-Saskatchewan Agri-Food Innovation Fund entitled Saskatchewan Specialty Livestock Marketing Study. The study identified a number of major concerns and issues that must be addressed before the specialty livestock industry can grow and be successful. Some of these concerns and issues include:

  1. Inadequate promotion and food preparation training. Most of the specialized livestock commodity groups are under-funded, disorganized or incapable of adequately mounting a consistent and continuing promotion program. Product appears to move off shelves when customers and chefs are given in-store demonstrations along with recipes and instruction.
  2. Need to build greater convenience into the product. In an age of working wives, it is extremely difficult to find families who can take the time to prepare foods that are difficult or fussy.
  3. Insufficient volumes to get export economies. Individually farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan are producing too small quantities of venison to even consider exporting.
  4. The industry is too capital intensive. Many producers have invested too much money into their breeding stock, equipment and buildings to provide a reasonable return on investment.
  5. Industry infrastructure does not exist. Other than in the case of bison, which uses the existing livestock infrastructure, most production and marketing infrastructure has yet to be created for other species.
  6. No production standards, weights and conformations. This is extremely difficult in an industry that starts with a breeding stock frenzy. Everyone appears to be interested to breeding any females to any males just to increase livestock numbers. Little concern has been paid to size, conformation, rate of growth, and especially to the fact that the livestock will eventually have to be sold for meat or hides.
  7. Production units are generally too small. Most specialty livestock producers are only dabbling. Few producers are at a stage where they have production economies in feed purchase, haulage, etc.
  8. Production has not specialized. Current producers are trying to do everything themselves. This is not the case in the more mature livestock industries.
  9. Farm gate selling is not an adequate way to develop an industry. Many of the specialty livestock sectors are selling a considerable portion of their product at the farm gate. This is no basis for an industry.
  10. Poor product marketing. Problems include such things as unavailability of requested volumes; unavailability of desired cuts, or inability to adjust to consumer requirements; poor packaging and presentation; and inconsistent quality based on no discernible grading.
  11. Need for more value-added products in the market place. The industry needs to develop product that is pre-cooked, sliced, trimmed, and packaged.
  12. New food security rules in terms of trace ability back to source. Although there are no requirements for this in Canada, some export markets such as the UK now have programs in place.
  13. Lack of standards for wholesale and retail cuts. Other than bison, no standards exist for retail cuts.
  14. Producer associations are not strong. According to Kado, specialty livestock associations have not been able to offer producers much assistance or direction; associations typically lack sufficient funding; there is a lack of inter-industry coordination and producers do not feel the need to cooperate until they are seriously pressured to do so.