Imagine for a moment that you are a farmer who has decided to 'diversify'. What idea would you move to first? What possibility would sound like a good idea? What would that look like to you?
There are quite likely an endless array of answers to that question.
But, when Kevin and Janet Czerwonka heard the call to diversify, his was a very matter-of-fact response.
"They said that farmers should 'diversify'...and I thought 'buffalo'," Kevin says with a chuckle. "We had farmed south of Candiac, but we moved to this farm in 1991. We got into buffalo a couple of years later."
Kevin says that the decision immediately yielded positive results. "We had a good calf crop and did well with them that first year."
But, it quickly became apparent that the market for buffalo was vulnerable to the same circumstances that often cause volatility in conventional livestock markets.
"After that first year, the 'BSE Crisis' hit the cattle market. Suddenly, there was no market for buffalo either," remembers Kevin. "It was about five years ago that we saw the market start to smarten up. And now, it's just gone completely off the wall...it's unbelievable! Live weight calves right now are selling for twice as much as they were a few years ago."
While there is no guarantee that the favorable market conditions will continue, Kevin points out that there is a strong demand for bison meat and related products in the United States.
"I was talking to the fellow in Colorado that I ship my buffalo to. He tells me that he can't get enough animals to meet the demand. We actually toured his operation once. The day we were there, he had 63,000 lbs. of ground bison meat that was on its way to a major retailer. He's told me that he even has pet stores contacting him. There's a market for various bison products that people want for their pets as well."
Kevin notes that while the market for buffalo can be just as 'wild a ride' as the conventional cattle market...buffalo are actually much less labour intensive to raise.
"People sometime think that buffalo are harder to handle than cattle. But, if you have a good set-up...that isn't really true. For example, calving generally goes very well with buffalo. We VERY seldom lose a calf. The cows rarely have any calving problems...the calves are actually quite small when they're born. So, we basically let nature take its course."
So, if they were faced with the call to diversify now...would the couple still choose Buffalo?
"Oh, if I was just starting out right now, I'd certainly get into buffalo again. Granted, right now it would cost a person some money to get into it. But, I think they'd find it was worth it. You never can be guaranteed anything with livestock of any kind. But, the market for buffalo is good right now...and it looks like it's going to stay that way for a while yet!"
© Kipling Citizen