Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farming in the Winter

Fir Hill Farm after a snowfall
      Farmers tend to use long term forecasts, like the Farmers' Almanac, or the one provided in the Western Producer, to plan for seasonal activities. In winter forecasting, it is important to know in advance how bad the winter may become so that management changes can be made, and adequate feed and shelter can be anticipated.
      According to Environment Canada, there are two factors that indicate a cold, snowy winter is ahead of us. One is that we are in the cold phase of La Nina. The other is that we may be in the cold phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-term ocean fluctuation of the Pacific Ocean. When these two are in phase they tend to amplify each other, resulting in a snowier, colder winter. Based on the recent snowfall and cold snap, it seems that the predictions may be accurate. It will likely be a far cry from the record breaking warm winter of last year.
      For grain growers or vegetable producers that may be a signal to head to Cuba for a farm tour and warm weather. But for livestock producers, it means stocking up on long johns, warm socks and gloves. It also means waking early to frozen water systems that need thawing, feed that needs hauling, and ensuring livestock and poultry have access to windbreaks and shelters.
      It is especially critical that livestock and poultry have access to clean water that is not frozen. Dehydration causes more problems than the cold itself in the winter. Lack of water will dramatically reduce egg production in chickens – no water, no eggs. The chicken just shuts down in order to preserve water for body functions. (The short days contribute to the decline in eggs, also). Chickens have an amazing ability to survive in frigid weather, as long as they can have shelter, food and water. Cows cannot eat enough snow for their water needs, and must have ice broken daily or given fresh water each day. Adequate water consumption is also important for enough feed to be consumed. Animals don't eat enough if they aren't provided with enough water.
      Feed plays an important role in keeping livestock warm, besides providing needed nutrition for growth and survival. A well fed animal can keep warm from the heat of digestion, so full feed bunks are important in the winter.
      I like to use molasses in the winter. Molasses can be added to water to encourage drinking, and also keeps the water from freezing quite as quickly. Molasses drizzled on hay or provided in tubs also provide energy and encourages feeding.

Sheep eating and resting under the shelter of the trees

      Besides fresh water and feed, livestock and poultry also need shelter from the wind and cold. Barns, sheds, forests all provide shelter. Barns need to have good ventilation and be free of draughts – enough to keep animals out of the wind and pounding rain or snow, but not too airtight or there could be respiratory problems. Giving animals choice – access to a shelter, but not locked into it, is a good compromise so the animals can choose what is comfortable for them. It's helpful if animals are in groups, because they will often huddle together if weather is severe. I am amazed at how much animals can withstand, when you consider how people bundle up, heat up their homes, and stay indoors and out of the weather. Farmers are out every day in the weather and you get used to it. Animals also acclimate to the weather, and for the most part are okay. When there is any sudden change – to either very hot, or very cold – animals find it harder. Also, older animals and very young animals need extra care. We have small wool sweaters that can go on newborn lambs that are born outside when it is very cold. Most of our flock is expected to lamb in April when the worst of the weather has passed. However, based on the twin lambs born just this week, I think our breeding plan may have been adjusted by an eager ram. No doubt I will be spending a lot of time outside this winter, tending to the flock.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Riparian Area Regulations in the Gulf Islands and on island farms

Sockeye salmon in the Adams River near Kamloops, BC

      This year British Columbia experienced the biggest salmon run in one hundred years and I had the good fortune of witnessing the return of millions of sockeye salmon to the Adams River this fall. It was estimated that 30 million plus Fraser River sockeye returned after two years in the Pacific, and the fish in the Adams River near Kamloops travelled up the Fraser and the Thompson before arriving at their final destination. There were so many fish the river had a red glow, and dense schools were observed near the shady shoreline of the river. It was incredible and inspiring to see.
      Just two years ago the first sockeye in one hundred years returned to the Coquitlam River, where I grew up. Coquitlam, or "Kwikwetlem" which means “red fish up river”, is close to Vancouver and a dam was built in 1914 to supply power and water to the growing community. Because of the dam, the fish could not return to Coquitlam Lake, water levels were affected, and development along the shoreline all had negative impacts on the fish and over time no salmon returned. Further damage by logging up Burke Mountain up to the late 1920's damaged many tributary streams feeding the river. My grandparents homesteaded on the mountain in the late 1920's, with such a stream running behind the house. Over the years the trees grew back on the mountain, the streams were protected with development setbacks, and First Nations and conservancy groups became interested in bringing the salmon back. A population of Kokanee lived in Coquitlam Lake, thought to be descendents of the sockeye who were trapped in the lake when the dam was built. The municipality and regional district were concerned about encouraging this project, because of changes to water quality if fish returned to the lake. But the proponents of the project won, and many Kokanee fry were collected from the lake and released into the river. Two years later the fish returned, and many were gathered by hand and placed into the lake for the process to be continued. The streams running down the river provide habitat for the bear, the deer and other wildlife and plants necessary for the ecosystem. 
Adams River
      One effort to protect the fisheries resource is the provincial Riparian Area Regulation, intended to replace the Streamside Protection Regulation. The biggest difference between the two is the shift in liability and expense onto landowners and developers. The riparian area is the area bordering on ditches, lakes and wetlands that links aquatic to terrestrial areas and contributes to fish habitat. The RAR directs local governments to either include riparian area provisions in zoning bylaws, or to exceed the requirements as they see fit. It is a little confusing, since it often is not used to just protect a known salmon bearing stream, but has been broadened to include introduced fish, like trout into Buck or Magic Lakes, and to included any regionally important fish. It is also different from the Riparian DPA that some LTC's have identified by plant features adjacent to watercourses. It can also be broadened if the qualified professional is instructed to do a simple assessment for fish potential, and not fish presence. In the Gulf Islands there are few streams that would qualify as fish bearing, especially given the period of time they are dry. However, with assessments done in the winter when streams are running there is a greater likelihood of determining potential to be fish bearing.
      On some islands several property owners became aware that the consultants hired by the Islands Trust to identify streams had trespassed on private property, something that is not authorized by the Riparian Area Regulation and is in fact illegal. The consultant's report provided the evidence; photographs clearly taken from inside the property boundaries. Trespassing on farms is a serious matter in that biosecurity on farms requires all visitors to identify themselves to the property owner, there are liability issues with bulls, rams, and other hazards, and according to legal opinion local governments and their consultants are not permitted to trespass on private land. Most landowners were not aware of the consultant coming to the island and did not receive a letter by either the Local Trust Committee or the consultant, even though the watershed boundaries for evaluation were known beforehand and the Local Trust knew who the affected landowners were.
      An opportunity to educate property owners about the RAR and what landowners can do to protect and enhance their riparian areas was lost. This is especially distressing since the local government is required under the RAR to educate the public, with the assistance of Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Ministry of the Environment. Also lost was an opportunity for the consultant and the LTC to learn from the landowners, who know their land best.
      On Mayne Island, the situation was corrected and the consultant carefully contacted landowners for permission to enter their property. If permission was not granted they used aerial photographs and other non invasive methods to gather data. Property owners often discussed their streams and ponds with the consultant, adding greatly to the quality of the final report and no doubt, to the intent of the Act.  Some property owners have taken things a step further and have hired their own consultant to do a more thorough assessment of their properties.
      Nobody would deny the importance of riparian areas to our watersheds, wildlife and plant life. Farms are often located in valley bottoms, and although farm activities are exempted from the RAR there are other regulations and programs in place to ensure that riparian areas on farms are protected and enhanced. For example, the Farmland Riparian Interface Stewardship Program administered by the BC Cattlemen Association has worked with over 140+ farm and ranch operations since 2004, and the Environmental Farm Plan includes assistance in restoring and enhancing riparian areas on farms. Water is critical to farming, and farmers have been responsible for many of the ponds created in the Gulf Islands, that provide water and also habitat.   

The Sustainable Region TV Program - short stories about big issues

The Sustainable Region TV Program - short stories about big issues

See Episode 39: Salmon Return to Coquitlam Lake

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Predators of Sheep

Llama guarding flock of sheep
The Gulf Islands are well known as an ideal place to raise
sheep - the climate, the grass, the quality of lamb produced, 
and the lack of wild predators.  But the reality is a bit 
different - for years sheep producers in the Gulf Islands 
have struggled with dogs, ravens, golden eagles, and the odd 
rogue bald eagle that attack lambs. On Salt Spring there has 
been the odd bear or cougar. For Vancouver Island, the major
predator is the cougar, for the rest of the province it is 
coyotes, and sometimes bears, cougars and wolves. 
     Predation of sheep is not unique to BC, and a survey of 
sheep producers across Canada by the Canadian Sheep 
Federation revealed that about half of all sheep producers 
have lost sheep to predators and the impact is significant.
     Last year the CSF worked on a national strategy to 
deal with the predator issue, which included a presentation 
to the federal minister of agriculture, and a Value Chain 
Roundtable on Predation in Toronto which I attended.
     The BC Sheep Federation started a Wild Predator Loss 
Prevention Pilot Program last fall to develop a sustainable 
approach to predator issues for all commercial livestock.  
The sheep sector has not been well served in the past, 
and in BC sheep producers are notcompensated for losses from 
wild predators.  This project was to helpdevelop prevention 
strategies, identify needs, gather baseline data and hold 
regional meetings to determine regional specific problems. 
At one meeting to discuss predators one of the producers on 
a conference call with us had to break from the meeting to 
chase off a coyote - the irony of the situation was not lost 
on us.   
   At a followup workshop in Princeton in conjunction with 
this year's BCSF AGM and seminar, a seasoned conservation 
officer advised producers as to what they can do to minimize 
the impact of predators, and what to do if prevention fails.
     Upon returning from the meeting, I found out that a 
stray dog had been running loose at our end of the island and 
had attacked a nearby flock, killing and injuring several 
sheep.  This wasn't the first time this year that dogs had 
been at large chasing deer or sheep on our island.  The one 
predator that we didn't talk about in the round of meetings 
over the past year was dogs, because they are viewed as a 
local government issue.  For us, CRD Animal Control is in 
charge of licensing dogs and ensuring that stray dogs are 
dealt with.  Butalthough a vigilant animal control officer 
is valuable in a community with sheep farms, we all rely on 
pet owners to have their dogs under control.
     And any dog can be a problem dog.  A survey of dog 
owners in Australia found that most pet owners are in denial 
about the ability of their own dog to cause damage.  Any dog 
is capable of chasing sheep and attacking them.  It is in 
their nature.  Indeed, most dogs are just having fun when 
they take chase of a sheep or a deer.  Many times, 
especially in hot weather, the sheep will die from exhaustion 
and won't have a mark on them.  Often, the wounds are 
extensive and the sheep may need to be put down, or it may 
have long term problems.
      Sometimes it isn't known who's dog was involved, and 
that is really a problem because it is very likely that dog 
will strike again.  I have had dogs attack my sheep on more 
than one occasion and the owners of the dogs have all 
responded differently.
     What can we do about dogs?  Owners have to keep them 
under control at all times.  Just because it is a pet 
doesn't mean it won't chase a sheep.  Producers are 
legally allowed to shoot any dog on their property that is 
worrying their flock, and anyone who sees a dog at large 
should call their local animal control officer, and alert 
any nearby sheep producers.  Sheep producers can receive 
compensation - either from the dog owner (if known)or the 
local government in charge of animal control 
(if the owner is not known).  Llamas can be helpful to keep 
with sheep, because they don't like dogs and they will 
inspect anything strange that enters the field with their 
sheep.  Guardian dogs are also useful to keep with sheep 
and can help with predators and stray dogs.
     Recently the BC Sheep Federation sent out a copy of the 
Sheep N'Ewes to every sheep producer in BC that receives the 
pink CSIP tags, and in the center of the magazine is 
information on the Wild Predator Loss Prevention Pilot 
Program, with a survey that I urge every sheep producer to 
fill out and mail in.  There is an area of the survey where 
producers can write how many sheep have been lost, and by 
what type of predator.  Be sure to indicate how many have 
been lost to dogs (or ravens, eagles, etc).  This will help 
the BCSF and your local sheep organizations advocate on your
behalf. (In the Gulf Islands the local sheep association is 
the Inter Island Sheep Breeders Assn.)