Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Free run, free range or just plain Free

   Caged, free run, free range or just plain free. You may be familiar with the first three terms, but “just plain free”? Raising livestock and poultry on a farm can be done different ways, depending on the facilities available, the inclination of the farmer and the market demand. Codes of practice in raising livestock and poultry are currently being revised and would also influence how animals are to be raised. But sometimes the animals take matters into their own hands (or hooves or wings).
    Last year we had a visitor fly into our farm. She was a lovely young Muscovy duck. Our two aged Muscovy drakes suddenly started to take better care of themselves, eating better, getting more exercise and grooming their feathers more. Their heads took on an Elvis Presley-style “pompadour” look.
    The female Muscovy eventually gave in to their charms, and in the spring she began to take on the nesting look and sounds – a bouncy waddle, puffed-and-fluffed up feathers, and a “ping” to her voice. We didn't know where she was nesting, but my husband found out on Mother's Day. She had hatched out fifteen babies on the porch above our deck. Glenn carefully gathered up the babies and brought them down a ladder to the ground below. Each time he went up the ladder she was waiting for him, attacking his head as he gathered more babies. Finally, she joined them on the lawn below, mothering them. We grew concerned as each day she would show up with one baby missing. It seemed that either a wild cat, or raven, or mink was snatching her ducklings. Out of desperation and with some encouragement by us, she started to sleep at night by our door, her wings gathered around her young ones. Five young ones survived – three males and two females. For quite some time they stayed each night by the door until they were big enough to fend for themselves. One day another female flew in to join them, and another male as well. I don't know where they came from. That is where the “just plain free” comes in.
    One of the challenges of “just plain free” is determining ownership. We did provide feed and protection to the ducks, but by the way they would go wherever they wanted I wasn't sure they belonged to us, or anyone. When the young ducks were big enough their mom spent a few weeks teaching them to fly. It was kind of a “OK, watch me do it, now you try” kind of trial and error. The mama duck would fly around the farm gracefully. Soon, the young ones would tentatively flap their wings and lift off for short runs, then longer ones. Sometimes they would fly over the ridge, sometimes into the neighbour's farm. One day I spotted a male and female looking lost on Port Washington Road. Somehow, this form of “just plain free” makes management a challenge. There are still three young ones that are by the door each morning, a bit hesitant about being so free. Some have been reported further down on Port Washington Road, hanging around at feeding time at one of the sheep farms. Yes, we could clip there wings, but should we? That would make them more vulnerable to predators.
    The same problem happened last year with our turkeys. All spring and summer they would stay close to home, eating lots of blackberries and such. At one point the females move far away from the males, as the females nest and go about raising their young. As fall came on they would move further afield, becoming an annoyance to some neighbours. I ended up gathering them into the barn and sending a batch at a time to the poultry swap and sales. The heritage turkeys have a way of getting up into trees, onto fence posts, or will go high on a hill to give themselves more range to fly over. I have spoken with other heritage turkey producers who occasionally need to go to the neighbours and gather up their stray turkeys, walking them home. At least I am not the only one.
    Even hooved animals can be in the category “just plain free”. A few years ago I took a healthy group of Border Cheviot sheep to a nearby farm of good size. That was my first mistake, because Border Cheviots have a wild nature. They settled into grazing, and as fall came it was quite a challenge to gather them and separate the lambs for market. The next year, it was impossible as a dog had chased and attacked them, so they would not be gathered by our Border Collie. I soon declared them “feral”, or back to wild sheep, and tried various ways to get them back to the home farm where I could use our corral to gather them up. As luck would have it, one evening the sheep decided to graze near the driveway, were spooked by a car on the driveway, ended up on the road, and the RCMP put them into our driveway and farm. Yes, the Mounties always get their lamb.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Abbotsford firm's egg has a daily dose of vitamin D

Abbotsford firm's egg has a daily dose of vitamin D

Abbotsford firm’s egg has a daily dose of vitamin D

Nutriva Group CEO Bill Vanderkooi holds one of the 10,000 hens his firm has laying eggs enriched with vitamin D in Abbotsford October 29, 2012.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst , VANCOUVER SUN

An Abbotsford-based farming innovation firm is launching the first egg that contains 100 per cent of an adult’s current daily requirement of vitamin D, as defined by Health Canada.
Each Vitala Vita D Sunshine egg contains 200 IU of vitamin D — about 5 micrograms — or seven times the amount found in a conventional egg, according to Bill Vanderkooi, owner of Nutriva, the firm that developed the egg and feed formula that produces it, and the parent company of Vitala.
A glass of milk fortified with vitamin D provides about 100 IU.
Vanderkooi is confident he will find a strong demand for an egg rich in vitamin D, as Health Canada is revising upward the recommended vitamin D intake for adults to as much as 800 IU per day, depending on age.
Feed for the hens is supplemented with plant-sourced vitamin D, said Vanderkooi. The supplement is produced by Montreal specialty yeast producer Lallemand.
The vitamin D content of eggs can be raised as high as 600 IU, according to Vanderkooi’s feed testing.
There is considerable interest in vitamin D among scientists. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with some cancers, bone density disorders, multiple sclerosis and impaired immune function.
“A lot more research needs to be done to assess the value of vitamin D for reducing the risk of all those diseases,” said Dr. Hal Gunn, CEO of Inspire Health cancer clinic. But, he said, a handful of studies on vitamin D and cancer have produced dramatic results.
A four-year study at Creighton University of 1,179 women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that calcium and vitamin D reduced the risk of cancer by 60 per cent compared with the group taking placebos.
“It was very strong evidence that vitamin D can help prevent cancer,” said Gunn.
Five studies of particular kinds of cancer have found that people who have higher levels of vitamin D at the time of diagnosis are half as likely to have a recurrence or to die from their illness, he said.
People who live in northerly regions and who stay indoors most of the time are at risk of having low levels of vitamin D, which is naturally produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight.
“Supplementing with vitamin D in a place like Vancouver is really important because many of us don’t get enough vitamin D from sunshine,” said Gunn. “It seems to reduce the risk of a whole range of diseases.”
Gunn said a person in a bathing suit standing in the summer sun can produce more than 10,000 IU of vitamin D, a production rate that would have been quite normal for humans before the industrial age. Clothing, sunscreen and indoor lifestyles have all conspired to suppress our natural vitamin D production.
Eggs from the 10,000-hen flock will appear on the shelves of Overwaitea, Save-On Foods, Urban Fare, T&T and Choices Markets this week at a cost of about $3.49 a dozen, roughly 50 to 60 cents more than conventional table white eggs.
The flock is a conventional battery cage operation, which helps keep the price of the eggs affordable for a broader range of people, according to Vanderkooi.
Vitala also markets a free-run Omega-3 egg that has 100 IU of vitamin D produced by 20,000 cage-free hens. The Omega-3 eggs sell for about $5.50 a dozen.

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