Dairy cattle are bred for their ability to produce large quantities of high butterfat-content milk. Of the 2.15 million milk cows in Canada, 74% are in Ontario and Quebec. About 60% of the milk produced is processed into butter, cheese, and skim milk powder. The remaining 40% is consumed in liquid form. Canadian per capita consumption of milk, pure cream, and evaporated milk has gradually decreased. Consumption of specialty cheeses and yogurt has increased. Milk marketing boards ensure stable production and marketing of dairy products so that producers can plan in advance to meet market demands with a wide range of products at a stable price all year round. The Canadian Dairy Industry uses seven breeds of cattle: Holstein-Friesian, Ayrshire, Jersy, Guernsey, Canadian, Short Horn, and Brown Swiss. Dairy breeds are distinguished from beef cattle by their triangular, elongated, tall body form.
French settlers first brought beef cattle to Canada in 1677. Cattle were valuable as a food source and for their hides. As settlers moved inland, cattle farming spread with them, and ranching became important in the rangelands of western Canada. There are currently about 15 million cattle and calves on Canadian farms, and each year a total of 5 million are slaughtered. Over two thirds of Canada's beef cattle operations are in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. One sixth of the veal produced comes from Ontario and Quebec. Beef cattle graze on natural pasture in summer and require about 8 hecacres per animal to maturity. Winter feed supply consists of vetch crop. In the chinook belt of British Columbia, mature herds feed on pastures reserved for winter grazing. The most common breeds in Canada are: Shorthorn, Hereford, and Aberdeen Angus, but Charolais, Limousin, and Simmental are also raised. Beef cattle must be fed a high-energy feed of oats, wheat, and barley for at least two months before slaughter to make the meat marketable, and this cuts into the profit margin. It costs about $1.90/kg to put on 200kg in the feedlot, and the 500kg finished steer sells for $2.00/kg, the operator has a gain of only $20.00. In spite of great price fluctuations and high operating costs, beef farming has persisted because of high market demand.
The Marquis De La Roche-Mesgouez as part of his unsuccessful venture on Sable Island first brought swine to what is now Canada in 1598. Pork was popular with the early settlers. It could be preserved in brine to be available during the long winters. Today, there are about 10 million hogs on Canadian farms. Hogs yield about $4.5 billion in farm cash receipts. The hog industry provides almost 40% of the agricultural income for Quebec and Ontario. There are five main swine breeds in Canada: Yorkshire Hogs, Landrace Hogs, Lacomb Hogs, Duroc Hogs, and Hampshire Hogs. Crossbreeding results in large litters, and animals that grow quickly to marketable size. Canadian pork is produced under the high standards of the Health of Animals program and is free of serious livestock disease. Hog processing plants provide more jobs than cattle or poultry processing operations, since 70% of the meat sold is in processed rather than fresh form. The average Canadian consumes about 28 kg of hog meat or products yearly.
Poultry are domesticated birds kept for their meat or eggs. Common varieties in Canada are chickens, ducks, and geese. There are over 400 million hens and chickens on farms, and over 25 million turkeys. An average Canadian consumes about 20 dozen eggs, 25 kg of chicken, and 5 kg of turkey, ducks, and geese yearly. Sales of poultry, eggs, and processed poultry products contribute over $3 billion to Canadian farm sales. Ontario and Quebec produce over 50% of all Canadian poultry and poultry products. Poultry farms are classed as producers of eggs, chicken meat, turkey, waterfowl, or game and exotic birds. In recent years, public demand for poultry has doubled due to its high protein and low fat content. Poultry is light on the digestive tract, and allergies related to it are far less frequent than pork and beef. The white or breast meat is considered as tastier and healthier than the muscular legs favored by children.
Rabbit farming in Canada is not a highly organized, market-oriented industry. Originally, rabbit production was developed to supply felt hat manufacturers, and meat production was secondary. The demand for rabbit meat increased after WW II. Rabbit farms specialize in meat production fancy, breeding stock, or animal research products. Canada does not record rabbit meat production, because the volume varies and is greatly influenced by imported product. The estimated average consumption of rabbit meat in Canada is about 50 gr, compared with over 5 kg in Europe. Production of rabbits for research establishments is conducted under contract and is the most profitable aspect of rabbit farming. Rabbits produce low-fat meat and have the best meat to bone ratio of any meat-producing animals except turkeys. Marketing is a serious industry problem, as large chain stores insist on a constant flow of product, a demand difficult to meet due to high summer and low winter production. The future for rabbit meat production looks promising because rabbits consume a high forage diet, and do not compete with humans for food. A rabbit can produce almost five times as much meat per body weight as a beef cow.
Sheep and goats are raised primarily for their meat and milk. Sheep arrived in Canada in 1695 to provide early settlers with food and clothing. Today, wool production is minimal, and the demand for mutton varies according to a region's ethnic population. Since l985, the demand for mutton has been decreasing steadily. There are however about 750,000 head of sheep in small farm operations throughout Canada that raise Border Chevoit, Dorset, Hampshire, North Country Cheviot, Oxford, and Suffolk breeds at a reasonable profit. Goats are a close relative to sheep, and have been introduced into Canada at about the same time. They are also raised in small farm operations in every province except Newfoundland. 45% of the goat stock is found in Ontario. Goats are raised primarily for their milk, of which 70% is made into cheese. Some breeders specialize in goats for mohair production. The demand for goat meat is governed by ethnic groups, and has been increasing for the past decade.