by BETTER FARMING STAFF
© Copyright AgMedia Inc
“Why don’t you raise and market a meat bird?” Jacob Stoltzfus wrote Arlan Galbraith, owner of Pigeon King International (PKI), in an April 2006 fax.
Stoltzfus heard about the Canadian pigeon-breeding scheme in 2005 from others in his Amish community. PKI sold pigeon breeding pairs for as much as $500 and bought back offspring for up to $50 each. The company collapsed in mid June and its bankruptcy trustee estimates liabilities could reach $40 million over assets.
Having produced squab for the New York City market for more than 30 years, Stoltzfus knew there was opportunity. Demand for his birds sometimes reached a high of 500 a week.
In his letter, Stoltzfus told Galbraith that he was not happy with “what’s happening with this program!” and included an article clipped from Amish Family Life that cautioned people about PKI.
Galbraith’s faxed, hand written, response came five days later on paper with rubber-stamped headings “Financially supporting family farmers” and “Arlan Galbraith (The Pigeon King International).”
Galbraith referred to the article as “garbage.” He said he was not interested “in meat production, in any kind of food production, as the return on investment is very low. There is much more money in the entertainment industry.” He concluded with a biblical quote and admonitions: “Judge not lest ye be judged” and “He who does not trust is not to be trusted.”
The response was consistent with an early edition of a PKI breeders’ guide that claimed, “Arlan Galbraith has no meat type birds as the market price is low, feed is high and profit is low.” The statement was removed from the section in an updated version of the book, published in 2006.
Five months after his exchange with Stoltzfus, Galbraith bought property near Cochrane, Ontario and proposed to build a squab processing plant there.
So what changed his mind?
Former employee, Mark Wolf claimed it was his idea. Galbraith never seriously looked into squab production, Wolf said. “He told people he did. But it was just to show them that there was a market even though he really wasn’t considering it.”
In an Oct. 22, 2008 telephone interview Galbraith said becoming involved in meat production had always been in the back of his mind but he’d started out small. There was “no way I could contemplate building a processing plant unless I knew that I had the interest of enough people to do it on a large enough scale.”
As interest grew in PKI, he decided to take the leap. He says he chose the northern Ontario location because it was within a day’s drive of major markets in southern Ontario, Montreal and the Eastern Seaboard and was also close to breeders in Western Canada.
The plant was going to be a prototype for others to be located in Canada and the United States, he said. Galbraith wanted to build his own plant rather than use an existing processor because he wanted federal licensing. “The provincial plants are no good for what I wanted to do.” (In Canada, products processed at a provincially licensed abattoir can only be sold within provincial boundaries). BF
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