CANADA'S CARIBOU CROP

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON January 15 1922

CANADA'S CARIBOU CROP

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON January 15 1922

CANADA'S CARIBOU CROP

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON

THE stockman who learns that vegetation abounds in the North will ask whether you can raise cattle or sheep up there. The answer is that you could if you wanted to but it would not pay. During the years 1918-1921 I have talked with many cattlemen in such places as Alberta, Montana and Arizona and it is clear that during at least the latter two of these three years cattle raising has not paid. The chief trouble is that in most of these places you have to feed and shelter cattle for part of the year. By the time you have plowed the land, planted alfalfa, bought all the required machinery, put the hay into stacks, erected barns and fed your cattle, though it be for only two or three months, you have put more money in them than at present prices you can get out of them.

If it does not pay to raise cattle in Alberta where you feed them for at least three months in the year, it would not pay to raise cattle in the polar regions where you would'have to feed and shelter them at least six months in the year. But it would pay famously to raise cattle in Montana or Idaho, I have been told, if you did not have to feed them or stable them and did not have to worry about the possibility of a blizzard coming once every few years to kill off part of the herd. Correspondingly, there should be a profit in raising any domestic animal in the North if that animal required no shelter or feeding and produced meat that commanded a fair price. We have such an animal in the reindeer.

The first objection commonly made to reindeer is that they are a wild animal. Apparently many people have the idea that about the only tame reindeer there are are the half dozen that Santa Claus drives around about Christmas time. Even these do not look very tame in most of the pictures. The fact is, however, that reindeer were domestic before history began. They are as domestic as sheep. The records of China show that in the fifth century of our era there were numerous domestic reindeer in northern China, and King Alfred the Great tells us that when he was king of Britain there were domestic reindeer in Norway that took there the place of the cattle of England.

Should anyone desire evidence of the docility of the herds of domestic reindeer to-day, he can find it in any library in Chapter Eighteen of John Muir’s delightful “The Cruise of the Corwin,” a book in the main written in the early ’80’s of last century, although not published until 1917. Muir is as good an example as Burroughs to show that natural history can be fascinating without being faked. No one ever seriously questioned the accuracy of his observations. In this chapter he tells us in substance that many reindeer in the herds which he visited in northeastern Siberia were as tame as Mary’s Lamb that followed her to school, and that in general the herds were as docile as the average flock of sheep.

Reindeer are Tame Caribou

THERE has been irregularity of usage as to the words “reindeer” and “caribou”. The usage seems to be crystallizing now. We speak of reindeer when we mean domestic animals and caribou when we refer to those that are wild. There are many kinds of reindeer and many kinds of caribou. In general, reindeer are smaller than caribou but the biological differences between the smallest reindeer and the largest caribou seem to be less than those between corresponding breeds of cattle, as for instance Jerseys and Guernseys on one side and Shorthorns and Polled Angus on the other. We may be able to tell the difference between Jerseys and Guernseys but it is doubtful if they themselves can or at least do. Similarly, the zoologist may distinguish learnedly between caribou and reindeer but they themselves appear unaware of any strangeness. When a band of one meets a band of the other they mix with perfect freedom. This characteristic is of great value for the animal breeder. The domestic reindeer being smaller than the wild caribou, the United States Biological Survey looks forward to increasing by a third or a fourth the weight of carcass of the domestic reindeer of Alaska during the next ten or twenty years by crossing them with the larger wild animals, such as the Osborn caribou.

Those who have no personal familiarity with the polar regions find it strange that these animals flourish up there. Fundamentally there is nothing strange about it when you once realize that they are native animals. Each creature flourishes best in a peculiar environment of its own. Cattle and giraffes can fend for themselves in the South but would die in the North. Reindeer and caribou flourish in the North but would probably not get along very well in the South. They are in no more need of shelter from a blizzard than a Texas steer needs shelter from the rain, nor are they more likely to freeze to death than a giraffe is to die of sunstroke. The

reindeer is no more likely to starve to death in the North because the ground is lightly covered with snow part of the time than a fish is to die of thirst because the ocean is salty all the time.

So far as I know, no man has ever seen any evidence of a caribou being cold in winter or of their being seriously incommoded by a blizzard. I used to be a cowboy in my early days in the West. I know how cattle behave in a sleet storm, for I have more than once followed them as they “drifted” before the wind when no one could stop them. The behavior of caribou is just the opposite. For more than ten years I have in winter made a living in the Far North by hunting them and as a hunter, I know their habits even better than I did those of the half-wild cattle as a cowboy. If I am hunting caribou towards sundown of a winter’s day and see a band just before dark too far away to approach them while there is still shooting light, and if that evening a storm blows up and a blizzard rages for two or three days, as has often happened, I look for that band of caribou to move about five miles in twenty-four hours directly against the wind. If it is a three day storm, I would look for them at the end of it fifteen miles to windward and would probably find them there if they had not meantime been seared by a wolf or interfered with by some special cause, such as open water or a precipitous cliff.

You have here, therefore, animals that are in no need of shelter from storm or cold. The only time reindeer might conceivably need it would be the calving season in the spring. It is true that calves are sometimes frozen to death during the first five or ten hours afterbirth but this happens so rarely that the death rate among reindeer calves in Alaska during the last twenty years has never been as high in even the worst years as the average death rate among range calves (cattle) in Alberta or Montana.

Next comes the quality of the meat. This question can be answered in many ways, although none is more conclusive than the evidence as to price.

Value of Reindeer Meat

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, is one of the fine cities of Europe with a population of between three and four hundred thousand people. 1 wrote a letter to the Chamber of Commerce of Stockholm and have received a long reply

which may be summarized as follows: Reindeer meat has been on the market in Stockholm for several decades. Apparently it was looked down upon in the beginning as an inferior meat because produced by a people looked upon as inferior—the Laplanders. Gradually, however, the meat increased in favor until something like ten years ago it came about to the level of the various common domestic meats. It is now sold in the city by the hundreds of tons each year and last winter the average price of reindeer meat ranged from equality up to twentyfive per cent higher than that of beef for corresponding cuts.

Another answer as to the quality of reindeer meat is found in the American market. The winter of 1920-21 the Alaska firm, Lomen and Company, of Nome, shipped to the United States sixteen hundred reindeer carcasses which were sold to the best clubs and hotels for prices between three and four times as high as corresponding cuts of beef. At a time when the big meat packers were selling the best American beef in New York City wholesale at eleven cents a pound, reindeer meat was being sold wholesale for thirty-five or forty cents a pound, depending on quantity purchased.

Several hundred typical Americans have now been living for many years on reindeer meat in Alaska. Once upon a time the city of Nome imported large quantities of beef. The import of beef has lessened partly because the city gradually lost its population but the beef importation decreased at a far more rapid ratio than the population because of the gradual encroachment of reindeer meat, until now the amount of beef imported into Nome is negligible. It may be argued that the price had something to do with this change, for in Nome reindeer meat has been somewhat cheaper than beef, but anyone will find on inquiry that people who live in Nome do not consider the price to be the determining factor, but rather the quality of the meat. For every man there who says beef is better than reindeer you can now find another who says reindeer is better than beef.

Not long ago I had a conversation with a man who had lived in Nome for twenty years. He told me that Nome the winter of 1920-21 was about the only place on the west coast of Alaska that had any ordinary domestic beef. Now and then during the winter visitors came in from outlying districts where no meat was available except reindeer, and my informant said he had noticed and had also heard it commented upon by others that the visitors when they went to hotels or restaurants seldom ordered domestic beef, as would have been the case had they been tired of the reindeer meat in the localities where they had been living. Commonly the first meal of meat eaten after arrival in Nome was reindeer meat. This informant said that something like three people out of four in western Alaska are now of the opinion that reindeer meat is better than

What is North Good For?

IT MUST be said that this opinion has been gaining ground only slowly. When I first ate reindeer meat in Nome restaurants (1912) I heard many comments to the effect that it was not so nourishing nor so well liked on the average as beef. How the idea started that the meat is not nourishing is difficult to say. Somebody probably said it and others took it up. That the taste was considered inferior was due to unfamiliarity. Through áix or eight years of custom the same people are now of the opposite opinion.

However, there will be no difficulty in introducing reindeer meat into the United States or into any civilized

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country on the score of prejudice. The thing has already been tried out and it is found that the demand is vastly greater than the supply. This will probably always remain the case, for great as are the ranges of the North they will never supply as much meat as the world would like to have. Meat production in other lands will decrease so much more rapidly than the northern reindeer production can increase, that the world’s total meat supply in proportion to the mouths there are to feed will probably never again be as high as it is this year.

Here, then, we have the answer to the old question,“What is the North good for?” It is going to become the greatest meatproducing area of the world and eventually the only area where meat is produced on a large scale. This will not be because the South could not compete with the North if it wanted to but rather because the South is not going to want to compete.

When I was a youngster it was twelve or fifteen miles from my brother’s cattle ranch to the nearest ranch to the east and I never knew how far the nearest neighbor was to the west. It might have been a hundred miles. Now the farmhouses in that section are on the average less than a mile apart and they raise cereals where we raised cattle. The same story is being repeated everywhere. A good example is the Yakima country in Washington. When I first heard of it'it was a horse country. That memory is preserved by the name of a section out there which is the “Horse Heaven” to this day. A little later Yakima became a sheep country and then it became a country of orchards and market gardens. That is the course of events in Texas and in the Argentine and in most parts of the tropical and temperate zones. The wild lands of yesterday are the vast cattle ranches of to-day and the cereal farms of to-morrow, while day after tomorrow they will be cut up into market gardens and dairy farms and chicken yards and towns and cities.

Up to the present one of the main reasons for the cultivation of stock in such countries as Ohio or Ontario has been the value of manure as a fertilizer. But the rapidity of advance in chemistry and engineering is increasing almost in geometric progression. We are already taking nitrogen directly out of the air and it will not be long until doing that will be cheaper

and more convenient than the production of manure for our gardens and fields. Then will vanish one of the great reasons for the production of beef cattle in southerly climates. Undoubtedly they 'will for a long time be cultivated as luxuries.

There are various estimates to show the extravagance of a meat diet. All agree that if you first feed corn to a hog and then eat the hog you are losing the food value of a large part of the corn. Some say you are losing six-sevenths of it and others estimate the loss as high as thirteen-fourteenths. In any case, it is an extravagance.

People who do not consult the census returns are in the habit of laughing at the Malthusian doctrine of the increase of the world’s population. But those who look at the census returns do not laugh. His was not a prophecy but a mathematical calculation and it is coming true as rapidly as he said and as inexorably as things do which go by mathematical law. Professor Raymond Pearl, the chief statistician of the United States Food Administration, said during the last year of the war that, unless some new source of meat be found and if population increases the next half century at the same rate as the last half, steaks will be within fifty years as hard to get as caviar is now. He had not then thought of the possibility of large-scale meat production in the Far North, but even now he has modified his conclusion only slightly.

Grazing experts estimate that you can support permanently in certain parts of Alaska one reindeer for every thirty acres of land. This estimate will probably hold in general for about two million square miles of Canada and Alaskaandforbetween four and six million square miles of northern Eurasia. As an absolute quantity this means a large supply of meat, but relatively to the demands of the world as the world is to-day it is not large. With reference to the world of a hundred years from now, if we avoid destructive wars and do not adopt birth control, this supply, vast in itself, will be insignificant.

But such as it is it will be the one main source of meat supply fifty or seventyfive years from now. So far as I can see, the chief food output of the North will be meat until some new food plants are invented. My own family now have a farm so far north in Saskatchewan that we lose

the wheat crops by frost often enough to take up all the profit. It is foolish for us to continue the attempt so far north, and eventually no one will try it. The cardinal mistake of the men of northern Canada and United States from an agricultural point of view is that they are trying to gather grapes from thorns and figs from thistles. It is almost as foolish to try to raise wheat on Slave Lake, although you can do it, as it would be to raise ostriches in Iowa, which you could also do.

Eventually the animals and plants of such northern districts as middle Saskatchewan will not be the plants and animals which the colonists are now cultivating. They cultivate them now not primarily because the land or climate are adapted to them but primarily through their own conservatism in trying to do as they have always done and through the conservatism of the world markets which demand in general the sort of food products they always have had. But unless the world begins to manufacture food directly out of the air through chemical processes, it will soon have to reconcile itself to deriving from every district of the earth those foods which in those particular districts can be produced without going into violent conflict with natural conditions.

Grain Possibilities in North

NOW and then the newspapers have headlines about somebody discovering a new kind of wheat that ripens in five or ten days’ less time than some other. These discoveries are chiefly of academic interest, for the northward limit of wheat or of any cereal is determined not by early autumn frosts but by the sporadic midsummer frosts. There is not much point in breeding an earlier kind of wheat. There would be great point in doing what probably cannot be done, the developing of a frost-resisting wheat. Until that is accomplished the northern limit of profitable wheat cultivation will remain about whore it is now and is more likely to move south than north. Rye and oats and other cereals can be cultivated a little farther north but in the country to the north of the tree-line none of these can be produced at a profit now nor under any commercial conditions similar to the present.

I do not profess to see very far into the future, but so far as I can see the North will not produce any food on a commercial scale except fish from its waters and meat from animals which feed on the grasses and other plants that grow native and without human encouragement. Because it can produce no other food, fish and meat will be the great food products of the North, and of these meat will for some time be the greater. I do not undervalue the resources of the ocean; I suppose that the time will come when men will begin to farm the seas somewhat as they now cultivate the lands, but that consideration I am leaving out for the present.

But before that, the time will come when northern Alaska will fulfill the prophecy - of E. W. Nelson, the Chief of the United ■States Biological Survey, who has said in testimony before a Congressional Committee, that within twenty years the annual reindeer output of Alaska will be. 1,250,000 carcasses per year (equal therefore, to about 3,000,000 sheep, for a reindeer weighs more than two sheep). And If Alaska with its estimated two hundred thousand square miles of grazing land can give us an annual turnover of one and a quarter millions of reindeer, Canada with its two million square miles will give us an annual turnover of ten or thirteen million carcasses, the equivalent of twenty-five million carcasses of sheep, which is many times more than the total production of Canada to-day in all forms of domestic meats. Canada cannot do this within twenty years, for the industry there is just being started. It is, however, being started with the advantage of the Alaskan success before our eyes and progress will, therefore, be a great deal more rapid than it was in Alaska. It will not be fifty years until every part of the northern mainland of Canada and every island to the north of Canada is producing reindeer meat for export.

Lest it be thought that these prophecies are extravagant, we shall tell here the story of a prophecy now fulfilled

About seventeen years ago Gilbert Grosvenor, the editor of the National Geographic Magazine, wrote for that magazine an article in which he prophesied that within fifteen years there would be more than a hundred thousand domestic rein-

deer in Alaska, the descendants of 1280 animals then recently imported, and that within twenty-five years reindeer meat woud appear on the American markets. The publication of this article was greeted with a storm of ridicule, and especially from Alaska. Grosvenor received one letter, for instance, from a member of the United States Geological Survey, who said in substance, that he had practical know ledge of Alaska while Grosvenor was only a theorist; that he had seen the places which Grosvenor talked about and could assure him that no such thing was going to happen; and that Grosvenor was making himself and his magazine ridiculous by indulging in any such day-dreaming.

When the fifteen years had passed the 1280 reindeer instead of having increased merely to 100,000 had increased to more than 150,000 (and are now over 225,000, for the herds double in numbers evey three years). The meat instead of appearing on American markets ten years from now, appeared five years ago. At least 10,000

reindeer steers are now in northwestern Alaska ready for butchering, but lack of cold storage facilities may prevent the shipping of more than from 3,000 to 5,000 to Seattle. At last year’s prices the 10,000 are worth $370,000 at Nome, Alaska, and will be worth $600,000 when they get to Chicago, the increase in price covering both freight and profits of middlemen.

Thus has Grosvenor’s ridiculed prophecy come more than true. The herds are more than double what he estimated, and the market value of the product is already measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year ten years before he thought the first marketing would begin.

But it is incorrect to speak of “Grosvenor’s prophecy”—it was really an estimate of future increase based on past records, and then divided by two “for conservatism.” Those who disagreed with Grosvenor were really denying his facts. For men of a certain temperament it is always possible to do that. But the facts keep marching on.