Chronic wasting disease (CWD) of deer threatens the survival of the Boileau deer farm, but it also seriously compromises the profitability of the operations of the only major slaughterhouse in this sector, Viandes de la Petite Nation. And selling meat from healthy animals risks disrupting the market.
“If we lose our livestock [de 3 500 cerfs rouges dont le fédéral a ordonné la destruction], we stopped everything. We are going to close the slaughterhouse”, says Denis Ferrer, manager of the farm and the slaughterhouse located in Outaouais.
The slaughterhouse operation and its state-of-the-art cutting room will simply not be more profitable if it only slaughters the animals sent by the other deer breeders in Quebec. “We can’t keep ten deer a week open. […] The slaughterhouse activities as such were no longer profitable. We had ours to ensure high quality meat for our customers; it was part of a global marketing context,” says Mr. Ferrer.
He says he is open to proposals from other creative sectors, without having too many illusions. “We’ve already slaughtered beef for a group of breeders who had specifications and weren’t making a profit,” he says.
The co-owner of another Quebec slaughterhouse, André Forget, of Viandes Forget, in the suburbs of Montreal, recognizes that the slaughter industry is difficult. “It is not easy to find workers who want to work in a slaughterhouse. The other thing is that we have to fight giants and it costs us more here with federal inspection rules and provincial standards,” portrays Mr. Forget. He considers the situation of the Boileau deer and the Petite Nation meats to be “sad and a little catastrophic, because they have set up a beautiful the business “.
André Forget, however, is not convinced that this is the end of the Viandes de la Petite Nation. “They are capable people. They are located near Ottawa and Ontario; they can turn it around”, hopes Mr. Forget.
The destabilized market
The other element of fear for red deer breeders is undoubtedly the imbalance in the market that will be caused by the excess of animals being slaughtered. “Total demand for all breeders in Quebec is between 1,500 and 2,000 deer per year. If a company has to cut 3,500 at once, that will be a very large surplus and prices can become ridiculous”, laments Gervais Therrien, breeder and president of the Cerfs Rouges du Québec Association.
An analysis shared by Alexandre Therrien, owner of Gibiers Canabec, which specializes in the bushmeat trade. However, he has no intention of taking advantage of the situation. “We want to work long-term with the creators who remain,” says Mr. Therrien. He maintains that the possible disappearance of its competitor Cerfs de Boileau is not a good thing. “They raised awareness about venison and did a good job of promoting it. Together, we develop the sector,” he underlines.
At Maison du Gibier, Julie Rondeau has a reserve of venison until next January. The price, therefore, is not falling at the moment. According to her, the void that could be left by the cessation of Cerfs de Boileau’s activities could be filled by the production of creators from Quebec, from elsewhere in Canada or from New Zealand.
The creator of Chaudière-Appalaches, Gaétan Lehoux, fears precisely this last option. “The price is lower in New Zealand. If we get the restaurants and our customers used to buying deer from there, it will be difficult after the crisis to come back and sell our meat to them for a higher price,” he says.
Denis Ferrer of Cerfs de Boileau advises breeders who will stay to breed a critical mass of animals. “What makes a sector strong is volume, even for a small niche like deer. Otherwise, sales are difficult and you cannot market less noble pieces, such as offal. But for that, it will take a lot of energy and money,” he assesses.