Sunday, January 7, 2018

Canada failed in attempt to introduce yaks into the far north

Back in the fifties and sixties of the last century, Canada had plans to ship yaks into northern Quebec where they would serve to help the Inuit survive the decline of the caribou herd upon which they had depended.

The origin and rationale of the plan
The plan outlined in a paper by David Meren of the University of Montreal was intended to introduce the yaks to the Inuit people of Ungava Bay in the northern part of the province of Quebec.
Meren thinks the plan originated in 1953 with Grant Carman an animal husbandry expert at the Ottawa Experimental Farm. In turn he was considering an idea of Marjorie Findlay a McGill university PhD student who thought that sheep farming could be introduced into the far north as a means by which the Inuit could cope with the rapid decline of the caribou herds upon which they depended.
In her thesis, Findlay compared the Inuit of Ungava Bay to indigenous Greenland residents among whom she had studied. Her plan was to ease the Inuit slowly into mainstream Canadian society as their traditional ways were threatened by the decline of the caribou herds.
Carman thought that yaks would be a better fit for the purpose than sheep. Yaks are able to stand very cold climates.
The connection with India
The Canadian government also sought to use the plan to develop a special relationship with newly-independent India. Then Minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, Jean Lesage even asked Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent to raise the issue with Jawaharial Nehru who was then his Indian counterpart.
In a letter to St. Laurent, Lesage wrote: “There might be some appeal to Mr. Nehru and to the people of India in the idea that it would be possible for them to reciprocate in some measure the assistance that Canada has been providing." However, in the end St. Laurent never got the chance to ask India for some yaks.
Canadians have a history of trying to raise yaks
Diane Latona , a historian with the International Yak Association points out that prior to the plan Canadians had been trying to breed yaks, but with mostly poor results, for about half a century.
As early as 1907 the Canadian governor general Earl Grey wrote to the Secretary of State for the British Colonies noting a plan to import Tibetan yaks into Canada. In 1908 there was a record of a shipment of yaks in November.
For some time, scientists at a facility in Wainwright Alberta tried interbreeding yaks with bison and cows. The interbreeding works but the males are uniformly sterile and the hybrids did not thrive. While yaks can survive cold climes older ones require a great deal of food and shelter to stay warm and survive.
The International Yak Association
Latona runs her own yak farm in the state of Washington. The International Yak Association has its own website.
There are quite a number of yak ranches in the US in states such as Colorado, Michigan, Washington, Minnesota and others. Yaks can stand cold weather and are adapted for mountainous regions but they need lots to eat in the form of grass or hay and shelter to survive.
The Association estimates there are about 7,500 yaks in North America.
Yaks can be raised successfully in Canada
Phil Marsh who farms near McBride BC had a herd of 250 yaks that he put up for sale in the Western Producer in 2014 in order to concentrate on a second business interest he had.
Marsh bought his first yaks in 2006 and slowly expanded his herd. He sold yak meat to a Vancouver wholesale company that resold top cuts to high end Vancouver restaurants. Marsh said it was a good business.
Marsh said that the yaks required minimum maintenance, were easy calvers and did not require special feed nor special fences. They also will not chase you out of the pasture.
Marsh estimated that there are less than a thousand yaks in Canada mostly just four or five animals to a farm.
Canadian government continues to plan to raise yaks
A new plan to send yaks to northern Quebec never came to fruition as the Department of Agriculture citing a fear of hoof and mouth disease vetoed an idea of bringing a herd in from India. However, in 1956 the Canadian government got three yaks from the Catskill Game Farm in New York.
However one turned out not to be fertile and had to be replaced. The idea was to build a herd at the Ottawa Experimental Farm. It was decided that building up a big herd could take decades. Female Yaks have only one calf often every other year. They can live up to twenty years.
Six yaks two males and four females were shipped off by the Canadian government to Al Oeming's Game Farm just outside of Edmonton Alberta. Todd, Oeming's son says that they now have a herd of more than 40 yaks.
It is just as well that the yaks never got to Ungava, where large amounts of hay or other feed would have had to be shipped there somehow to keep the yaks alive over winter, at a huge cost. However, they could serve as a source of meat.

Previously published in the Digital Journal

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