When Myrna Gisler moved back to the family farm near Innisfail, her parents decided it was time to branch out into something a little different — ostriches.
That lasted all of two weeks.
“I didn’t want a thing to do with them,” said Gisler with a laugh.
“Those things are evil. They’re miserable creatures. I said, ‘Either they go or I go, because one of us will end up dead.’”
Luckily, another new type of livestock was gaining a foothold in Alberta at the time, and this one turned out to be decidedly less miserable for the Gislers.
“I love them. They’re my babies,” said Gisler, who had 150 at one time but is now down to a more manageable 40. “That’s a good number for me just to keep active.”
And while Gisler loves her animals, they’re not pets, but rather part of a small but growing goat industry in Canada.
“In North America, most people aren’t too familiar with goat meat, but outside of that, it’s extremely popular with the rest of the world,” said Gisler, adding that roughly 75 per cent of the world’s population eats goat meat.
Gisler mainly sells her animals as breeding stock, but her lesser-quality animals go into the growing market for goat meat. But as a small industry — there are only about 6,000 goat farms raising 225,000 goats across Canada and slaughtering only about 57,000 head of that — marketing has proven to be a challenge.
“When BSE hit, they closed everything. They opened it for the beef, but they didn’t worry about it for the goats,” said Gisler.
“We’re still fighting our way back into the export market. We’re not a high priority.”
That’s “frustrating” for goat producers like Gisler, who are trying to supply a growing population of immigrants who grew up on goat meat.
“There are so many people coming into Canada who want quality goat meat, but 90 per cent of the goat meat that’s consumed in Canada is imported from Australia,” said Gisler.
“If people can get good-quality meat that hasn’t been frozen for six months, they’re really eager to do that.”
In Canada, growing Filipino, Muslim, and Jamaican communities are “always looking for product,” and while Gisler works with Sungold Specialty Meats in Innisfail, new abattoirs catering to those communities have popped up in Edmonton and Calgary.
“We don’t have the numbers to export. There’s so much demand that there’s no way we can possibly meet it,” said Gisler, adding that goat meat and milk are also becoming popular with “the health conscious.”
“The market is there, and there’s definitely room to grow.”
And it’s proving to be profitable for producers as well — so much so that some cattle producers are adding Boer goats to their operations to complement their cattle herds.
“When I first started in goats, if you got 50 cents a pound live, you were doing great. At Easter, it was about $3.50 a pound live,” said Gisler.
“I can’t see any other industry that has grown like that in the last 20 years. Growth has been steady all along.”