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

Friday, January 5, 2018

How birds suvive harsh Canadian winters

As the temperatures in the area in which I live in southern Manitoba dips towards minus 40 Centigrade I often wonder how birds survive the winter here.

Some birds, just as some Manitobans, simply travel south for the winter. Humans who do this are often called "snow birds" and they often travel to areas such as Texas, Arizona, Florida, or even parts of Mexico. The premier of Manitoba has a property in Costa Rica.
Hummingbirds are among the first to leave in the fall and the last to come back in the spring. Often they come before the last frost or do not leave before the first frost. In both cases they can die from the cold. Hummingbird feeders should be brought in before the first frosts so that hummingbirds will not linger when they should be on their way south.
Geese and ducks also avoid the winter by migrating south and then returning in the spring.
Robins, warblers, gulls, red-winged blackbirds and many other birds also simply avoid the winter by migrating to warmer climes.
Juncos come from the north and stay around in the fall until there is quite a bit of snow or its gets quite cool and then travel further south.
Some birds consider southern Manitoba the south
While crows migrate south, ravens migrate from the north to spend the winters here. Unlike the crows here in the summer they do not come to eat the cat food I put out for stray cats. I see them in fields in the country side.
Arctic red polls also come south for the winter. I saw a number of red polls at my feeder the last few days. They are quite fat, and that is needed to keep them warm. It is possible that they are common red polls as I am no expert in identifying them.
Many birds simply stay all winter
Magpies come to my feeder all winter, but to eat cat food not seeds, even though their relatives the crows go south. Chickadees also visit the feeder all winter. The common house sparrow also is here all year and often visits the feeder. Nuthatches also stay all winter as do several woodpeckers. Jays also are common throughout the winter.
I have appended a video showing birds that stay over winter in Saskatchewan the next province to the west of Manitoba.
Many birds come back in the spring but simply travel on further north to nest, such as many geese, and juncos.
How birds survive the cold temperatures
Naturalist Brian Keating described for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) how some birds manage to cope with temperatures far below freezing.
Chickadees eat as many fatty foods as they can such as sunflower seeds. I use sunflower seeds in my feeder and that seems to attract them. Keating says that they will huddle together in a winter roost for the night, keeping each other warm.
Keating said: "On the coldest nights when it gets really frosty they enter a nightly hypothermia. Their body core temperature drops and they tolerate it by allowing themselves to chill down."
Keating said that on very cold nights with temperatures in the minus thirties, some birds will even shelter underneath the snow.
Chickadees apparently are better able to recall where they stash foods when it gets colder and also better at tracking down hibernating grubs.
Myrna Pearman , a naturalist from Red Deer Alberta notes that the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial organization expands by 30 percent each fall.
Often geese and ducks migrate too late to avoid freezing conditions. They have a built-in feature to keep their feet from freezing to ice as they land on frozen lakes and ponds.
Keating said: "Hot arterial blood wraps the venous (returning) blood with smaller, branched capillaries just like a glove, allowing for that valuable heat to efficiently warm the incoming blood from the legs and feet. That way they can save that valuable heat energy and keep their core warm."
Arctic Redpoll
The Arctic redpoll is partially migratory in that it tends to move south in November and travel back north again in March and April.
The Arctic redpolls can survive up to 20 hours without access to food even if temperatures drop as low as minus 54 Celsius according to Keating.
The birds have specially designed esophageal pouches that enable the birds to hold on to seeds, while slowly digesting them and enabling them to keep their body temperatures at about 40 degrees C. Keating said: "Their internal temperature can be 73 degrees warmer than the surrounding air, with the two extremes being separated by less than a half a centimetre layer of feathers."
Humans survive by hibernating inside their warm dwellings and when going outside making sure to dress for the cold. Fortunately, modern vehicles usually have heaters that keep us toasty when we have to travel through the cold.
For many, winter is a time for enjoying the outdoors with skiing, skating, snow-shoeing, and snowmobiling. There are absolutely no pesky mosquitoes or other annoying insects to bother you.

 Previously published in Digital Journal