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Canadian farms have always supported a variety of livestock beyond the traditional cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry, but in the 1980s livestock producers began to explore less traditional species as a means of diversifying farm income and utilizing marginal agricultural land. At the same time, health conscious consumers with increasing disposable incomes sought out alternative livestock products for their novelty or advertised health benefits.
During the 1990s many of these species expanded rapidly, driving breeding stock values upwards. In the early 2000s some of these populations declined, while some held their own. Species that declined did so because of production problems or in some cases, lack of consumer acceptance for their products.
Most consistent in their growth have been bison, an indigenous species well adapted to our climate that fits in well with current livestock operations, as well as llamas and alpacas. On the other side, ostrich, emus and rheas numbers experienced substantial growth in the nineties, but had declined substantially by 2006. The 1996 census found 58,875 emus and rheas, but ten years later, their numbers were down to 4,000 birds. For the same period ostrich declined from 14,879 birds to 2,748. Goat numbers showed growth from 1986 to 2001, but dropped 3% between 2001 and 2006. Ducks had a similar experience, an increase of 72% from 1996 to 2001, but a decline of 14% between 2001 and 2006. Wild boars were down 37% between 2001 and 2006.
For the past five census periods, the most popular other type of large livestock on farms remains horses and ponies, whether kept for work, breeding or recreation. Canada's horse and pony numbers did decline 1% between 2001 and 2006, but there were significant shifts in the number of animals from the western to eastern provinces.
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