By New Zealander Nicholas Sault [nicholas@e-writers.co.nz]. Received via email

Dr George Wilson of the Australian Wildlife Services has told thousands of his Australian farmers they should ditch farming cattle and sheep and start farming kangaroo in a big way (see here). The reason? - yes, you got it, kangaroos don't fart and belch methane like cattle and sheep.

That may be the case, but does this boffin really think that overnight you can ditch 12,000 years of domestication, and replace hundreds of millions of relatively easy-to-manage, relatively docile animals with wild animals? Even though he is a scientist, he is obviously one of those people I encounter often, who really have no comprehension of the scale of things. The reason cattle and sheep farming is so big is because these animals can be mass farmed - farmers have the feed, the fencing and the handling down to a tee. Introduce a new animal out of the bush, and you have to start learning and domesticating from scratch.

A case in point from my own country is deer farming. Deer have been farmed for decades in New Zealand, but venison is still little more than a curiosity, a meal you might have in a posh restaurant on your anniversary. Deer are the most skittish of the cloven hoofed brigade. They are extremely difficult to handle, difficult to keep confined and difficult to move. In most cases, when he wants to move cattle or sheep from one field to another, the farmer simply opens the gate and the animals, tired of their current location, just go walkabouts into their fresh new field.

I have seen deer farmers on their farm bikes chasing their deer around for hours, trying to round them up into a bunch to move them. They don't respond to dogs, and it can be quite laughable to see the lengths farmers go to move them around. Also, I have my own experience with farming exotic animals. Emu became a fad in the 1990s in New Zealand, and I still shudder at the memory of nights when I could hear the tall fences screaming, and the fixings working loose from the fence posts, as the highly excitable birds decided as a mass that they wanted to go walkabouts (or runabouts, actually). Worse than that was going out next morning and finding one of giant birds didn't make it and got tangled in the fence, almost totally de-feathering itself in the process.

Like deer and the equally exotic ostrich, emu never caught on with a people in love with roasts and barbecues. All of these exotic meats are low-fat. That was our marketing strategy - get people to eat red meat that is low in fat. But that low-fat content of the meat means that you need some skill in cooking, and time to stand over it to make sure it is not over-cooked. You can't shove a joint of ostrich in the oven and go watch the Olympics 10,000 meters track race; you have to watch it. Same with the barbecue. Take your eyes off this meat for a minute and you might as well be eating beef jerky for lunch.

In reality, deer farming has only survived in New Zealand because millions of Asian men imagine they can get their sex drives going by consuming ground-up deer antler. Hundreds of emu and ostrich farmers went bust in New Zealand simply because the meat just didn't catch on. It was expensive and difficult to cook correctly. Added to that was the sheer difficulty in farming the critters.

From an economic viewpoint, emu, ostrich and deer are browsers and cannot obtain most of their nutrients from the field, as is the case with cattle and sheep in this part of the world. The supplementary feed is very expensive, requiring a premium on the shelf price of the meat. So when the supermarkets come back to you and say "hey, we put it on the shelves for a month, but it's not selling", you tend to get very dismayed (and poor).

Then there's the slaughter (gosh the list goes on). When you spook skittish animals, they fill their blood streams with adrenaline, which is pumped into the muscle making it extremely hard. The resulting meat is as tough as old boots, literally.

When I farmed cattle, the happy chappies used to waltz onto the truck as if going to pastures new rather than to slaughter. To lessen the stress on emu, we planned to have mobile slaughter trucks, so the birds did not have to travel. The industry failed long before that ever eventuated, but lets get real. If you are going to replace the mass market of cattle and sheep with a relatively wild, unpredictable animal like a kangaroo, you'd need slaughter trucks the size of the Queen Mary to go around to the each of the farms. Well, I think I proved the point here. Boffins, please do not get into the habit of expounding outside your field of expertise.

Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your roundup of Obama news and commentary at OBAMA WATCH

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