Friday, December 31, 2010

Michael Schmidt’s raw milk Cow Share College to be offered across Canada in 2011, according to the Vancouver Sun | The Bovine

Michael Schmidt’s raw milk Cow Share College to be offered across Canada in 2011, according to the Vancouver Sun | The Bovine

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Talking Turkey

Broad breasted bronze turkey

     This year we ended up with three types of turkeys on our farm – our heritage Black Spanish that we have had for several years, and some unclaimed 4-H poults of the White and Bronze Broad Breasted varieties. The Black Spanish were raised as naturally as possible. They mated naturally, nested in the woods, hatched out and raised their own babies. They ate seeds, bugs, berries, walnuts and grass, and receive some whole grains in the winter months. Black Spanish originated in North America from the wild turkey, and were taken to Spain by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. In the 1600s, the turkeys were reintroduced to North America, bred with wild turkeys, and selected for different feathering traits. These heritage turkeys, once very popular, were on the verge of extinction when the Broad Breasted Bronze and White grew in popularity. In recent years, heritage breeds have been increasing in numbers and ours are part of a living gene bank.
Broad breasted white turkey
      The commercial white and bronze turkeys we raised this year were acquired as poults, or chicks, from a hatchery in Alberta. They arrived by mail at the Pender Island post office. They were raised under a heat lamp with a diet formulated especially for turkeys. As the commercial turkeys grew, their diet changed slightly to a finishing diet, with a final sweet diet of crush grains, molasses and cracked corn. Once feathered, they were let out in the orchard during the day where they ate grass and fallen apples, with walnuts that fell to the ground in the fall.
Physically the white and bronze broad breasted turkeys were different from the Black Spanish, too. They grew much faster – especially the white ones. Most of the turkeys raised commercially are the white broad breasted variety. Commercial turkeys are mostly white because the pin feathers on the processed turkey aren't as noticeable. The white turkeys were originally selected from Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys, which came over from England to BC with Jesse Throssel in 1926. His Broad Breasted Bronze became the foundation of the modern turkey industry in North America.
      Some of the difference in growth rate was due to diet, but I have also raised the Black Spanish under similar conditions in the past– with heat lamps and formulated diets – and they still grew slower and matured later. Most of the difference is due to genetics. Over the years, turkeys have been selected for increased feed efficiency and rate of gain. At one point, turkeys became more inclined to eat without becoming full, increasing their growth and fat content unless their feed is restricted. I noticed the white turkeys want to clean up every bit of food, and the bronze types will eat until full, then go exploring. Turkeys are now doubled in size from the turkeys of 1929. They have reached such an increased body weight that natural mating is virtually impossible, and since the 1960's it has become necessary to use artificial insemination with commercial turkeys. They hadn't lost all their instincts to mate. They still flirt and prance about, but they aren't successful at mating.
They haven't lost other instincts or behaviours also. All turkeys are naturally curious and gentle. Curiosity without a lot of intellect spells trouble, and turkeys can get into lots of mischief. The broad breasted turkeys raised at MacDonald Farm have been known to visit the Nu to You and the playschool next door, upon hearing people's voices. They have jumped the fence and followed people down the road. 
Black Spanish at the home farm in the Grimmer Valley
     The Black Spanish at home are no better – they have visited up and down the valley, making unwelcome visits to gardens and the golf course. For all the turkeys, if you crouch down they will come and investigate, picking and poking, ever curious. They communicate through vocalization, and will come if called. A few years ago I kept a female broad breasted bronze because she had mated in an apparent monogamous relationship with my oldest Black Spanish tom. She surprised me by nesting and hatching thirteen poults, but lost them due to an inability to talk to them, so they scattered and some followed the Black Spanish mothers. We hope to try a crossbreeding program again, if there are any female Broad Breasted bronze turkeys left after Christmas this year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gulf Island Beer - Salt Spring Ales

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”

 Benjamin Franklin
First hop harvest at Grandview Farm for Salt Spring Ales
American statesman, scientist, philosopher, writer and inventor, 1706-1790

As the old year draws to a close, and the new year is here, many of us raise a glass or two in a toast to good health and good friends. For some like myself, the drink of choice will be beer. It is encouraging and exciting to see a local Gulf Island cottage brewery succeed and inspire on so many levels. Salt Spring Island Ales, also known as Gulf Islands Brewing, is an award winning cottage brewery that is co-owned by Becky Julseth and Neil Cooke-Dallin, located in the Fulford Valley of Salt Spring Island. The couple took over the brewery from Neil's uncle in 2008 and their goal has been to advance the cottage brewery movement in Canada and to make good beer, in small batches with locally-sourced ingredients. Brewmaster Murray Hunter has been with Gulf Islands Brewery since the early days and started out with a “Brew your own” business for hobbyists.
The brewery uses as many ingredients from Salt Spring as they can, such as honey, heather and hops. In 2009, the brewery formed a partnership with Grandview Farm to produce hops. Grandview Farm is organic, and only 1.5 km from the brewery. Providing labour and split cedar posts, the brewery helped to deer fence the hop field. The hops field receives water from the same Mount Bruce spring water as the brewery uses, a feature that adds to the “terroir” concept. Terroir comes from the French word for land, and in food and drink relates to the unique aspects that culture, geography, geology and climate bestow on a local variety. This fall the first crop of hops was harvested for use by the brewery, and the product of their labours were released in limited edition.
Hops have been grown in BC since the 1860's. By the 1890's, hops were cultivated in the Fraser Valley, Squamish, Vernon and Kelowna areas. Chilliwack in particular became the single largest hop growing area and remained strong until the 1970's, then declined into the 1990's. The growing conditions for hops and grapes are similar, so wine producing regions are home to both great hop and grape growing. The Hop plant is a hardy perennial that produces annual vines from a permanent root known as the crown. Vines grow up to 25 feet tall in a single season, but die down to the crown each fall. The female flower cones of the hops plant are used for brewing. They flavour and stabilize the beer.
An added bonus to local farmers is the availability of spent grains for cattle and sheep feeding.
Just as tourists flock to the various wine regions of the planet, including the Gulf Islands, tourists also seek out the best in cottage beer. As a twist on a typical pub crawl, there are those who go from island to island to enjoy the local brews, often by boat.
But perhaps the biggest inspiration for me was to see Becky in bright pink boots, amongst the hops in a photo on their website. These are in fact quite a badge of honour among the women who are involved in making beer – whether it be home brewed, cottage brewed or commercially produced. A club was formed called the “Pink Boots Society”, whose mission is to inspire, encourage and empower women to become professionals and advance their careers in the Beer Industry. The Pink Boots Society especially believes in education for women brewers, to produce superior beer, and to increase the number of women beer judges and brewers.
Murray, Becky and Neil planting hops (note the pink boots!)
Happy New Year to you all – and Cheers!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Country Guide - article on truth behind young people and ag by Gord Gilmour

Monday, November 08, 2010 | 
By Gord Gilmour, CG Associate Editor


By now we’ve all seen the reports and the newspaper stories. It doesn’t matter exactly which ones. They’re all more or less the same, starting with the “fact” that tens of billions of dollars of farm assets must somehow be transferred to the next generation of farm operators over the next few years.
Is it really a “fact?” And if it is, is it really going to cause massive upheaval in Canada’s farm sector?
Take the recent report from Statistics Canada as an example. Based on the 2008 Farm Financial Survey, the federal number cruncher lays the scope of the issue out in black and white: 53 per cent of the farms in Canada are operated by a farmer 55 years of age or older. Those farmers hold the majority — about $134 billion — of Canada’s total farm assets of $247 billion.
“Most of those are expected to retire over the next 15 years. Consequently Canadian agriculture will lose significant expertise as these operators retire,” reads the report in part.
That StatsCan report isn’t the only one out there. It’s just among the latest.
One of the first salvos in the farm succession challenge came from Guelph’s George Morris Centre about 10 years ago. Larry Martin was the lead author on the report, which told agriculture that it should expect huge asset turnover — as much as $50 billion — and as many as 120,000 farmers of pensionable age by 2010.
Martin’s report was one of the catalysts creating a whole trend towards fretting over farm succession in Canada, and over the past decade it has seen governments and farm organizations press for bigger, better and costlier programs.
But when Country Guide contacted Martin about the study, he spoke frankly about its limitations.
“I think if I were asked to write that report today, I’d either say no, or I’d write a completely different report,” Martin says candidly.
New thinking
The talk of big dollars turning over and a greying farm population is fine as far as it goes — and it remains an accurate portrayal of the most experienced and established farmers in the country. But that talk fails to address other, more heartening trends that Martin now sees eddying below the surface in the up-and-coming generation.
“I’m not worried about attracting good young people to agriculture in Canada — not one little bit,” Martin says. “The quality and skill level of the new generation of farm managers I’m meeting is just phenomenal.”
Martin meets a new crop every year through the centre’s Canadian Total Excellence in Agriculture Management program, which offers a group of predominantly younger producers an annual ongoing educational and networking opportunity. He says based on this experience, he’s convinced there’s a new breed of farm manager sinking their roots in Canadian soil.
Martin says these managers are frequently farm kids coming home in their 30s after an extensive off-farm career, or even high-powered professionals with no direct connection to the farm. They’re bringing innovative new management ideas that accomplish a lot of things, including finding ways around the seemingly perpetual problem of financing the establishment and growth of a new farm.
One of Canada’s top agriculture lenders echoes that sentiment. Rémi Lemoine, chief operating officer of Farm Credit Canada (FCC), tells Country Guide that succession planning isn’t something that can be ignored — but there aren’t any signs that it’s a pending crisis either.
After all, the StatsCan numbers are talking about the industry in its totality, and while they’re an important piece of context, each succession plan is unique and finds its own innovative way past these hurdles. Lemoine describes a fast-changing landscape where young farmers are open to new ways of doing business that their predecessors never even considered. He doesn’t quite come out and call it a generation gap, but it becomes clear as he speaks that this is exactly what he’s describing.
“When I was coming into the business in the 1980s — I’ve been in agriculture lending for more than 25 years — there was this idea that you had to own all the assets,” Lemoine explains. “You bought the assets and paid them off as quickly as possible, even if you struggled on the income side.
“The new operators today are much more open to different ideas like long-term rental arrangements,” Lemoine says. “In many cases they’d prefer someone else carry some of the risk of land ownership, and they’d prefer to make their investments in other areas.”
Cameron Short, executive director of the policy division of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), agrees farm transfer is a big dollar issue — but he joins his counterparts in questioning the occasionally overhyped nature of the discussion. In fact farmers don’t tend to turn 65 and pull the pin. They’re engaged in a business they enjoy and few of them circle their 65th birthday on the calendar as some sort of escape plot.
“To the average farmer, turning 65 isn’t some magic number,” says Short. “They’re like most small business owners in that way. Many of them really like farming, they’ll continue long after they’re 65, and they’ll retire gradually.”
That trend dovetails nicely with the realities of farmland ownership in Canada. In many cases retiring farmers are, not unnaturally, reluctant to turn their backs on a lifetime’s work by selling their land. Many of them prefer to retain ownership through their retirement years, relying on the rental income to supplement government pensions and other investments.
And eventually, when the retired farmers pass away, more and more of their children are opting to retain land ownership.
“I think that’s something you’re going to see more and more,” says Martin. “It’s become very common down in the U.S., where you might see someone who lives and works in Denver owning and renting out what was the family farm in Iowa.”
In most cases that land goes to another local farm, but Martin says there are also farm management companies in some parts of the U.S. that will manage the day-to-day farm operations for landowners as well, something that could potentially emerge on this side of the border in a big way. And then there’s also the issue of outside investors.
“There are a number of operations, some in Ontario, some on the Prairies, whose business plan is to buy land and hold it long term and rent it back to farmers,” Martin says. “They say they will be — and they appear to be — holding it long term.”
All of these one-off solutions give just a hint as to some of the ways the farms of tomorrow will grow and thrive despite the challenge of farm asset transfer.
Getting started
Putting such strategies to work means sitting down to honestly evaluate the operation and the goals of the various family members who will be affected by any future succession plan. Starting early gives operators and heirs time to manage tax implications and to adopt strategies ranging from downsizing to using insurance to offset farm asset inheritances.
There’s only one problem — nobody wants to do it. Elaine Froese is a farm family business coach, public speaker and consultant who works closely with families to conquer some of the interpersonal issues that inevitably surround any attempt to talk these issues through. She spoke to Country Guide recently by telephone from her family’s operation near Boissevain, Man.
“These topics are very, very sensitive ones, especially these days, with so many zeros trailing around behind all the numbers,” Froese says. “The value of farms has gotten so much greater over the past few years.”
Froese also says that the farm community is, generally speaking, not necessarily well equipped to have these discussions. Farm operators and their families tend to be hard workers and problem solvers, but they also as a rule tend to be more comfortable with technical rather than interpersonal challenges.
“We don’t deal with these issues very well at all,” Froese says. “We prefer to push them off as long as possible.”
But that’s a terrible strategy, she says, because no matter how invincible any of us may feel, the day will come when our will is opened up. And if the issues aren’t talked through ahead of time, someone could be surprised and angered — and the fact that they’ll likely be grieving at the same time will raise the stakes even higher. Froese says she’s seen plenty of examples first hand of families being irrevocably fractured.
Abe Toews grew up on a dairy farm near the city of Steinbach in southern Manitoba. These days he operates StoneCreek Financial Group in Regina, where he advises businesses of all type about business issues including succession planning. Like all succession advisers, Toews told Country Guide that there’s a right way to do these things and a wrong way.
“I’ve been involved in and seen some really good plans, and others that were, well… not good,” Toews says. “And when it’s not good, it can really be a disaster.”
Both Toews and Froese had no shortage of horror stories to share — something they say is a reality for anyone who’s in the business. Assets can get hung up for years at times, leaving multimillion-dollar businesses twisting in the wind. Siblings can refuse to speak to each other for years on end. Or lawsuits start flying, eating up the hard work of a lifetime.
Toews agrees that sitting down and talking frankly about these issues with family members is the first and most important step. He also says that doing it now allows a farm operator to explain a few of the facts of life to non-farming heirs, facts such as the reality of needing to keep assets together to ensure that the business remains viable, and the contribution that the farming heirs have made over the years to building the business.
“It’s the old question of fair versus equal,” Toews says. “In a lot of cases, an equal division of assets would actually be very unfair to the farming heir.”
Making the headlines
While the big numbers in the farm succession reports are grabbing all the attention, the people in the know say there’s the danger that the problem is being overblown a bit.
AAFC’s Cameron Short says one issue that’s frequently overlooked is just what definition is used to determine what’s a farm. In a lot of cases there are farms with tiny annual sales — about $10,000 for example — that are included in the global industry figures.
“A lot of these small, hobby-type operations actually hold a surprising amount of the total value of the assets,” Short says.
That’s because they tend to be retirement or hobby enterprises that are clustered in desirable areas or around major cities, where other forces like general real estate pressures have a major effect on asset values.
Farm Credit Canada’s Rémi Lemoine says there also appears to be little evidence that young farmers who do want money to purchase assets are having trouble finding it. He cites his organization’s loan portfolio as just one example.
“Last year about 34 per cent of the loans we made were to people under 40 years of age,” Lemoine says. “And those have been loans to every possible type and model of farm operation.”
In fact, Lemoine says one of his growing concerns these days isn’t the scope of the farm succession issue. It’s that the industry is paying too much attention to this picture and risks painting an unattractive self-portrait at a time it needs to sell itself to new entrants.
“If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that bad news gets out very quickly and good news doesn’t,” Lemoine says. “Sometimes I think this doesn’t project the industry in a very good light and it might actually scare new entrants, rather than attract them.”CG
“ The quality and skill level of the new generation of farm managers i’m meeting is just phenomenal.” — Larry Martin
It Turns Out The New Generation Is Making Business Moves Their Parents Never Dreamed Of

More Kentuckians involved in animal composting | | The Courier-Journal

Composting expert Steve Higgins stands near a pile of compost at the University of Kentucky's compost area near Versailles. (By James Crisp, Special to the Courier-Journal) Dec. 1, 2010

More Kentuckians Involved in Animal Composting

Oldham to begin program in January
By Andrea Uhde Shepherd
When an electrical wire fell on her Springfield farm in April and electrocuted 20 beef cattle, Frances Medley figured she’d have to bury the animals — they’d been left too long to be butchered, and her livestock pickup service had closed.
Then Washington County offered to compost the carcasses — something it had never tried. The experiment worked, making Washington one of the state’s first counties to compost animals. Now more farmers and counties are following its lead.
Oldham County’s Animal Control department will begin composting its euthanized animals in January, and 39 landowners applied this year to a new funding program from the state Division of Conservation to build a foundation for animal composting.
“This is the ultimate recycling,” said Barbara Rosenman, director of Oldham County Animal Control. “It’s as green as it gets.”
It’s also a cheap and safe way to dispose of dead livestock and road kill, said Steve Higgins, an animal compost expert and the director of environmental compliance for the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture.
Animal composting has been allowed in Kentucky for more than a decade, but state lawmakers eased the process this year by removing a requirement that large animals be cut up before composting.
In Kentucky, 14 farmers or groups have permits from the state veterinarian’s office to compost animals, though Higgins estimates 600 more farmers started composting livestock before the permits became available in 2008.
Across the nation, interest in composting has been growing, especially since 2008, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted stricter regulations that targeted mad cow disease and required companies to remove the brain and spinal cord of cows over 30 months old before using the carcass to make other materials. The rules forced businesses such as Kentucky’s Griffin Industries to stop livestock pickup because it was too expensive to meet the FDA rules.
Cutting costs
Most livestock and road kill in Kentucky are dumped in landfills, incinerators or rendering plants that turn them into such usable items as fertilizer. Animals also are often buried or left to decompose, which can pollute water.
Dave Harmon with Harmon’s Dead Animal Pickup in Warsaw, Ky., said about 10 counties pay his company to pick up dead animals and take them to landfills in Boone County and Southern Indiana.
Washington has spent more than $30,000 a year on pickups, and Oldham paid Harmon’s more than $8,000 last fiscal year.
Eliminating such expenses was one reason Washington County Fiscal Court began looking into composting last year, Judge-Executive John Settles said. He expects the county, which has about 11,300 residents and is an hour southeast of Louisville, to save $15,000 to $20,000 a year by composting livestock and road kill.
“The way we were doing it, it was not sustainable,” said Washington County Extension agent Rick Greenwell. “It was too much money.”
A composting permit costs $25 a year and is required to ensure that it’s done correctly, officials said.
Jefferson County doesn’t offer financial help with livestock pickup on the county’s 475 farms, said Wayne Long with the extension office. He said most farmers bury the animals, pay for them to be picked up or let them decompose.
Animal composting is an option the county needs to consider, Long said.
The Kentucky Highway Department’s Middletown site composts animals and is applying for a permit, spokeswoman Andrea Clifford said. It also takes road kill from Oldham and its other location in Jefferson County, she said.
The six other sites in District 5, which includes Louisville, bury the animals on their property or take them to a landfill, Clifford said.
Micro-organisms used
In animal composting, the carcass is buried above ground, using wooden material similar to chips, which has micro-organisms that eat the carcass and generate heat. That both sterilizes and speeds up decomposition.
Complex chains of smelly gases break down so no smell is emitted — only water in the form of steam. There also is some carbon dioxide emitted and a hint of ammonia.
The bacteria scrubs the air so “people, dogs and buzzards can’t smell” the carcass, Higgins said. “We’ve done this for years, and we haven’t attracted a critter.”
Within six months, the animal carcass turns into a dark mulch-type material; all that’s left are a few brittle bones. It can be used as mulch or used on future composting piles. Higgins said he started composting animals at UK’s “experiment station” — a farm in Versailles — several years ago but began doing it on a wider scale last year after some rendering companies stopped picking up dead livestock and state agriculture officials voiced concern about options for farmers.
Higgins said he and others saw a need for animal composting and pushed for a change in the state law to allow people to compost whole animals weighing more than 300 pounds; previously, the animal had to be cut into four parts, Higgins said.
“Until the statute changed last session, it (composting) wasn’t really practical on the farm,” said Kevin Jeffries, a beef cattle and grain farmer in the Ballardsville area of Oldham County.
Jeffries said he plans to establish a composting area on his farm next spring.
At Oldham’s Animal Shelter off Ky. 393 in Buckner, the concrete has been poured for a composting site, and Rosenman said her department is waiting on its permit.
Rosenman said the composting initially will be for the 200 to 300 animals euthanized at the “low-kill” shelter each year. If that goes well, the department may expand to composting road kill, large livestock and even residents’ pets if they aren’t able to bury them, Rosenman said.
The compost material eventually will be used for a garden and walking area for the shelter’s animals.
“I’m trying to make something positive out of something sad and negative,” she said.
More Kentuckians involved in animal composting | | The Courier-Journal

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Turkey Facts

For my part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our Country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly....For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird and withal a true original Native of America...a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on”
Benjamin Franklin, 1774 in letter to his daughter regarding the choice of the eagle as the national bird of the United States – why he felt the turkey would have been a superior choice

Benjamin Franklin had the right idea, but obviously not everyone agreed. The turkey is a magnificent bird, loyal and brave. Fossil records place them in North and Central America over ten million years ago. They were initially domesticated by the Aztecs and natives of New Mexico and ranged over the entire U.S. and southern Canada. The Spanish explorers were so impressed with this beautiful and tasty bird, that they took some back home to Spain from Mexico in the 1500s. They selected for black feathering and over time the turkey increased its popularity throughout Europe. An excited female Black Spanish turkey has a way of spreading her tail feathers out in a fan, and holding herself proudly, reminding one of the flamenco dancers of Spain. Could it be that turkeys are fashion setters too? In the 1600's, the turkey was reintroduced to North America and crossed with the wild turkey. Selection over time resulted in standard breed turkeys with names such as the Spanish or Norfolk Black, Narragansett, Blue Slate, Bourbon Red, all with different colours and markings. These breeds would hatch out in the spring and after six months or so would be ready for market, coinciding with US Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Jesse Throssel in Aldergrove with his turkeys
Meanwhile, back in England a turkey known as the Sheffield Bronze, for the wild-type colour of the sheen on its feathers, was selected over generations for a heavier muscle in the breast area and improved hatchability. The breeder, Jesse Throssel, moved to Canada in 1926, and had some of his flock sent to his new home in BC. He developed a hatchery and was soon exporting eggs and poults throughout BC, Washington and Oregon. His Broad Breasted Bronze became the foundation of the modern turkey industry in North America. Over time, white birds were selected so that the pin feathers wouldn't be so noticeable. As the birds were selected for muscling, they became unable to breed naturally, relying on artificial insemination. Now 99% of the breeding stock, held by just three multinational companies – one in Ontario – are made up of only a few strains of Broad Breasted White turkeys – providing the basis for the nearly 300 million turkeys required to meet the demands in the US and Canada for our holiday feasts.
At the same time, the standard breeds, also known as heritage breeds, became slowly endangered as their numbers dwindled. In 1997, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), an organization that conserves rare breeds and genetic diversity in livestock, surveyed North American turkey populations to assess the genetic status of the breeds. They were very surprised to find that a number of the heritage turkey varieties including the Bronze, Narragansett and Slate were on the verge of extinction. For turkey growers, heritage birds hold important genetic traits such as disease resistance, critical to the turkey’s long-term health and survival. I have observed that although the Broad Breasted Bronze females can reproduce naturally and hatch out chicks, they have lost the ability to vocalize to their chicks, a trait that may be genetically linked.
Wild turkey numbers were also reduced because they were so easy to bait and hunt using corn. By the 1930s it is estimated that there were only 30,000 left in the wild of the US, and none in Canada whereas there used to be millions. Conservation efforts have brought back the wild turkey, and also have saved the standard breeds, now referred to as heritage breeds.
Black Spanish males foraging in the Gulf Islands
Scientists and dedicated enthusiasts have been central to these efforts. Margaret Thomson,of Salt Spring Island is one such person. There was a need for more rare breed turkeys, and she had looked into the work of the Domestic Fowl Trust while on a visit to England. This inspired her, so she contacted Rare Breeds Canada and found a source for heritage turkey eggs from Ontario. From an initial shipment of 48 eggs, 11 hatched. Another shipment resulted in one chick. That fall she went to Meadville Pennsylvania to attend a two day workshop on handling, selection, hatching and rearing heritage turkeys led by Frank Reese of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Now, six years later her flock has included Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, Blue Slate and recently Ridley Bronze, from the University of Saskatchewan. I purchased a breeding trio from Margaret five years ago, and now have a healthy flock of Black standard turkeys that forage for food all year and eat blackberries, thistle seeds, hawthorn berries, grapes, grass and even walnuts. You wouldn't believe how good a turkey tastes after it has eaten walnuts! They even prefer to roost at night in the walnut tree. They not only breed naturally, they also nest and brood their own young. Females will even help each other out and raise their young together. It's not unusual for a hen who has lost her poults to join in with another hen and serve as a type of nanny. By keeping these old breeds alive, we are ensuring that their valuable genetics are retained as a living gene bank for future generations.

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.) 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Biodiversity and Environmental Farm Planning in the Gulf Islands

The real substance of conservation lies not in the physical projects of government, but in the mental processes of its citizens.” Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac.

The Islands Trust Fund Regional Conservation Plan for 2011-2015 is currently under review, with a deadline of October 31 for public input , something most farmers may not be aware of. The draft document mentions “working landscapes”, or farms, as part of the Trust plan to enhance biodiversity – through the mapping of farms having environmental farm plans, or even acquiring farms. The draft document recommends habitat conservation through voluntary land acquisition and conservation covenants where properties are large, and private land stewardship education in higher density neighbourhoods. But what about stewardship education for large properties, especially farms? And how about using an existing successful program, that wouldn't cost the Trust or the taxpayer a nickel?
In fact, the Trust may be further ahead by encouraging good stewardship through the encouragement of farmers to complete Environmental Farm Plans (EFP), and Biodiversity Plans. These plans are administered by the BC Agricultural Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp), a subsidiary of the BC Agriculture Council. ARDCorp's purpose and mandate is to cost-effectively deliver programs and services to BC's primary agriculture industry. Environmental Farm Plans are no charge to the producer.
Two years ago, a new component of the Environmental Farm Plan – a Biodiversity Plan - was available to 70 producers in BC. The publication, Planning for Biodiversity: A Guide for BC Farmers and Ranchers was the first initiative to provide an on-farm assessment and planning tool for biodiversity in North America and the manual was revised this spring. The EFP provides farmers and ranchers with an understanding of agriculturally related environmental regulations and farm management practices that enhance environmental values. It is one step to responsible stewardship of the natural resources essential to a sustainable and economically viable agriculture.
Recognizing and enhancing the biodiversity of the farm is a second step. Whereas some people might believe that conserving biodiversity in working landscapes comes at a cost to the individual landowner, biologically diverse ecosystems provide a number of important free goods and services to farmers, reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers, reducing production risks like flooding, and increasing the productive capacity of the land.
Fir Hill Farm was one of the first to undertake a biodiversity assessment and plan. In our farm’s case, most opportunities to manage biodiversity were achieved. Our uncultivated natural areas well exceed the desired minimum of 20%. Perennial cover and mixed hay crop provide habitat for birds, fence lines are treed and have shrubs for cover. We have an old growth raptor nesting tree, although the osprey have been chased off by the eagles the last few years. We have some heritage livestock, contributing to genetic diversity of domesticated species. Our black Spanish Turkeys live wild on the farm and are able to reproduce and raise their young naturally.
Our farm links habitat areas, as both of the forested ridges in our valley are connected, aiding as a wildlife corridor. Washington Grimmer cleared the land in the 1800's and kept the connecting forested strip in the valley as a windbreak, and it also provides valuable habitat. The watercourses are also well connected throughout the farm.
Our biggest challenge is invasive species – scotch broom, thistles, giant bullfrogs, raccoons (not natural for Pender) are just some examples of invasive species that create conflicts with farming and reduce our biodiversity. In addition to that, as we enhance our natural areas and protect wildlife, there can also be negative effects on agriculture that we need to manage. For example, deer (and geese, especially resident geese) can have negative impacts on growing field crops, grass and fruit.
To implement the improvements to stewardship desired, the provincial and federal governments provide funding to farmers for specific projects.
To encourage farmer and rancher participation in the environmental and biodiversity planning available, local conservation organizations and the Islands Trust may look for ways to encourage and work with farmers, since we all benefit in the long run.
Producers interested in completing an EFP or biodiversity plan can contact David Tattam, EFP Planning Adviser, Duncan. (Phone: 250-746-7666, Cell: 250-732-4665, E-mail : or download “Planning for Biodiversity – A Guide for BC Farmers and Ranchers” at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lamb meat safety Farmers on Saltspring Island say slaughtering their lambs off-island does not make their meat any safer, the CBC's Justine Ma reports

The smaller building on right is the abattoir. Inspector's office & washroom in building on left.
CBC visited Margaret Thomson and Sandy Robley on Salt Spring Island, to learn about the impact of the meat regulations on communities without their own slaughter facilities.  CBC also visited Campbell Farm on the particular day that I took my lambs to be slaughtered on Saturna Island.  The audio, from The Early Edition, has a longer interview with Sandy, Jacques and Margaret.  Click on the link above to see the video and hear the audio, as well as read the comments on the piece.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Celebrations of Thanksgiving and Food

Pender Island Fall Fair Barbeque

      In the past few months there have been several celebrations that are based on food. In the summer, along with July 1st barbeques, family get-togethers and fall fairs, there is Food Day on the Saturday of the first long weekend in August in Canada. Food Day was started in 2003 to help Canadian beef producers who were struggling with the impact of BSE, and ironically is not well known among many farmers (who are too busy at that time of year anyway) but is used to promote beef, and by restaurants to promote Canadian food.
Morning Bay Winery, Pender Island
      In the midst of the controversy in the US over the burning of the Quran and the building of a mosque at the site of the 911 tragedy, we enjoyed the Ramadan holiday with the Muslims. No, I am not Muslim or even personally know anyone who is, at least to my knowledge. But we do raise lamb, and this year we had a very nice group of ram lambs that were in high demand. Ramadan, which lasts one month and this year took place in August, is a time for self-reflection, sharing with others, and thanks-giving. Ramadan is also marked by fasting from sunup to sundown, and meals that include sheep and goat meat, preferably from male animals that are in the form God created them. That is, intact rams. Ours had the added bonus of long tails and they were very clean from being on pasture all spring and summer, and they were organic.
August is also the time of garlic harvesting, and on Pender Island there is a Garlic Festival at Charman Farms the day after the Pender Island Fair.  On Saturna Island on October 2nd, 31Square held a community food and food gathering project called the One Square Dinner. All the food and wine was produced on Saturna. Galiano Community Food Program held an island-wide picnic in September.
Charman Farms Garlic
     Just this October 3rd, Harry and Debbie Burton and other Salt Spring Island orchardists and volunteers put on the 12th annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival, a major success in celebrating the under-rated apple. Last month Harry gave an enthusiastic presentation on apples to an equally enthusiastic Pender Island audience. He gave us a quick overview of grafting and the selection of different apple varieties. I especially enjoyed the slide show which gave us a glimpse into Harry and Debbie's world and their joy and passion for their piece of heaven. The theme of the festival was Kids and Apples, because Harry knows from his own experience how important it is for children to connect with the land.
     It is exciting to see this connection in action with a school garden growing at Pender Island School, with students recently enjoying their first harvest lunch from their garden, and we can hope for many more. There are plans for apple trees to be planted at the school as the garden grows in size.
As it becomes harder for BC producers of apples to compete in a global market, with major competition from China, New Zealand and the US, there is some relief as consumers become more aware of supporting our BC apple producers. BC produces 3.5 million boxes of apples, while Washington State produces 105 million boxes, and 230 million boxes are grown in North America. Last year several farmers' markets saw apples sold at 12 cents per pound to show the consumer what most apple producers receive for their apples. Many orchards with the standard Macintosh and Delicious apples we all know have been dug up and replanted. One of the new varieties that have excited growers is The Ambrosia, a new apple accidentally discovered in a Similkameen orchard (the pickers would eat all the apples on this favourite volunteer tree!).
Besides Thanksgiving, one day this month that acknowledges the food that is produced is World Food Day, observed each October 16th in recognition of the founding to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945 in Quebec City. The purpose of World Food Day is to increase awareness and understanding and informed action to alleviate hunger in the world. This year we have over one billion people who go to bed hungry, which is hard to understand when you live where food is so cheap and available. A few years ago Stewart Wells, President of the National Farmer's Union in Canada wrote to the UN to enquire if it was true that the world was drawing down its food supplies. As the world's cropland area remains static or declining, we experience the equivalent of a North American population added to our numbers every six years. What happens to per capita cropland area? It's more than a math problem. The UN tracks global food production, supplies, usage and prices. The global economic slowdown, following on the heels of the food crisis in 2006–08, has deprived an additional 100 million people of access to adequate food. There have been marked increases in hunger in all of the world’s major regions.
Closer to home, as Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and the harvest bounty this month, hopefully a few celebrants will give thanks to the people that produce the food we need and enjoy. The BC apple producers and beef producers, who have had some tough times, are like other producers of food who have experienced tough times. They all keep going because they have pride in what they do, in producing food for the tables of others. Because food is a key element of life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

NEW: Cowshare College Canada course outline now posted on the Events page « The Bovine

NEW: Cowshare College Canada course outline now posted on the Events page « The Bovine

Jack Knox: Slaughterhouse benefit is a meaty issue on Saltspring

Jack Knox: Slaughterhouse benefit is a meaty issue on Saltspring

Unfortunately, the link to the Times Colonist column by Jack Knox on the fundraising done by Salt Spring farmers is gone.  But the fundraising is still ongoing, as they march towards their goal to raise enough for a local mobile slaughter facility that will take care of beef, lamb, pork and poultry needs for the island.  As a fellow Gulf Islander, I am cheering them on.  I am also hoping that my smaller island of Pender can also use this facility on wheels for our own use.  As ferry costs go up - and we recently heard they are going up again - it will be more and more important for each island to be more resilient and self supporting.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big egg farms don’t mean dirty egg farms. | barfblog

Big egg farms don’t mean dirty egg farms. | barfblog

The Life and Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Vincenzo Pietropaolo -- witness to the Harvest Pilgrims

Like migratory birds, most of Canada’s 20,000 “guest” farm workers arrive in the spring and leave in the autumn. Hailing primarily from Mexico, Jamaica, and smaller countries of the Caribbean, these temporary workers have become entrenched in the Canadian labour force and are the mainstay of many traditional family farms in Canada. Many of them make the trip year after year after year.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo has been photographing guest workers and recording their stories since 1984 – in the process travelling to forty locations throughout Ontario and to their homes in Mexico, Jamaica, and Montserrat. The resulting photographs have been highly acclaimed internationally through many publications and exhibitions, including a travelling show curated by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography that opened in Mexico City.

With a foreword by Naomi Rosenblum, this beautiful and timely book of photography and exposition aims to shed light on a subject about which many Canadians know all too little. -from book description

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Predators on the Farm; Part 1 - Poultry

When we think of predator/prey relationships, it may be of wild animals, not domestic ones. But on farms, lines can be crossed and domestic livestock and poultry can be preferred targets for some predators. On islands especially, ecological imbalances can be acutely felt when predator numbers explode.
Poultry, such as chickens, turkeys and ducks are common targets. Allowing poultry to free-range may seem to be humane, but they can be easy pickings for eagles, hawks, ravens, mink, racoons, owls and even dogs. Young chicks can be eaten by cats, and sometimes rats. At one time all chickens were kept this way and their outdoor diets of grass, worms, grubs and mice (yes, chickens are predators too) were supplemented with grains and household scraps. Many people would keep just a few chickens close by, and the chickens would see that it was safer to hang out where the people lived. After nutritional requirements for chickens were scientifically established, and a complete commercial diet available, chickens were able to be kept indoors for their own protection. From this, the next step was a caged system that allowed for easy collection of clean eggs. Chickens are nibblers by nature, so feed is kept in front of them at all times, and water. A long day light triggers laying, like the onset of spring, so light systems are used to keep the hens laying. Breeding programs were developed for chickens so they would lay eggs year round. Chickens lost their freedom, but were protected from predators.
Nowadays, many people feel that chickens should be allowed to have access to the outdoors so they can enjoy their natural behaviours that they can't enjoy in a cage, like dust bathing and scratching the ground for insects and seeds. However, unless the farmer is willing to take a big loss due to predators, they must have fencing and housing that prevent predator entry, even from the sky. Quite a task, especially in the Gulf Islands where all the predators listed above now reside. We may not have “foxes in the hen house” here, but we seem to have everything else.
Raccoon, from Wikimedia
According to Todd Golumbia, an ecologist with the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, there are plans to look at the role of medium-sized, or mesopredators, like raccoons on several small islands. In the Gulf Islands, the story can be quite complicated since raccoons are on some islands and not on others. In some instances this can be related to island size and suitability of habitat but there is evidence of human-initiated introductions of raccoons to islands. Raccoons that are captured in town are often relocated, sometimes to the Gulf Islands. Species like raccoons are not viewed strictly as an introduced species, since they are native to this region. All the large predators historically present on the islands are now gone so a species like raccoons are more numerous than in the past. In this instance, they often "explode" in numbers and become hyper-abundant leading to negative effects in the environment as smaller, more vulnerable prey species decline or even become extinct, especially on islands. They can be voracious predators and are particularly hard on nesting birds.
Historical records, and long time residents of the Gulf Islands, have said that raccoons were never on North Pender Island, so we had a large population of grouse, quail and other ground nesting birds. Former BC Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie had worked as a Dominion Livestock Inspector early in his career. After one of his visits to the Menzies dairy farm on Pender Island in the early 1900's, he wrote that he loved to come to the island to see and hear the many grouse that lived here. Since the raccoons came to North Pender just a few years ago, I have not heard a grouse in our woods, nor seen a family of quail cross my path.
We had every imaginable predator attack our chickens this year, so that there are only five wiser and cautious pullets that are counted every morning. They haven't even begun laying yet!! All our egg layers were killed, so there were no eggs on the stand this summer. I had to chase a mink out of the chicken house just the other day, so now the grateful chickens come running and follow me around the yard. This summer I also chased an eagle off of a very stunned pullet – but the eagle kept coming back until he finally received his reward. Not all our predator attacks are face to face confrontations – usually we just see the aftermath – a pile of feathers, a leg, or nothing at all. Just fewer chickens, with the remainder hiding in the bushes. Our black Spanish turkeys free range with fewer problems, at least for the adults, because they resemble Turkey vultures. The young are easy targets for ravens. Racoons are nocturnal, so I just see families on the road at night. Then this summer, we caught a raccoon who quickly put his hands over his eyes. He was so darn cute; I can see why people like to feed them, but it should be remembered that raccoons are wild animals and should not be fed. They can also be vicious, and often carry disease. He put up a fight as he went into a cage while his fate was deliberated. It's definitely time to regroup and fabricate a humane yet better predator-proof system for the chickens.