The Sunworks Blog
Spring is finally here and the birds have been outside in the shelters and ranges for a few weeks now. It is so good to see them scratch in the dirt and eat the fresh grass. They have lots of room to run around and flap their wings. The shelter and ranges protect them from the rain we have been having, gives them shade to rest in and as well keeps them safe from aerial (owls and hawks) and four legged (foxes, coyotes and skunks) predators. These field houses are moved every day to provide the birds with a clean, fresh, healthy environment and allow them to forage in fresh grass. This is how we house all of our birds from early spring to late fall. If you are able to come to our Family Farm Day on Labour Day Monday (Sept 2, 2013) you will be able to see how content our flocks are in their free range/cage free environment. Sheila
One of the phrases that is often used when farms advertise their meat products is “antibiotic free”. Our antibiotic free chicken, beef, pork , lamb and bision have never been given antibiotics at any time during their life. Some hatcheries administer antibiotics automatically at the time the chicks hatch – we receive our chicks from the hatchery when they are just hours old. The chicks do not receive any antibiotics and are not fed anything at the hatchery. Some folks use chick starter that has antibiotics in it for the first few weeks of the chicken or turkey’s life so that the bird will not get ill. They then will sell this chicken as antibiotic free because the residual time for the antibiotic as proscribed by the drug company has passed. This means that the drug company says that there will be no antibiotics left in the meat of the bird (or animal) after a certain number of days following the date that the drug was administered. The residual time could be as short as a couple of days depending on which drug was used. Technically, because of this withdrawal time, birds and animals can be sold as antibiotic free after receiving antibiotics. One of the pillars in organic livestock production is that no antibiotics are given to our birds or animals and then sold as organic. For humane reasons, if our birds or animals became very ill and our homeopathic remedies didn’t work we would give them an antibiotic. This medicated animal would be segregated out and then sold into the conventional marketplace. Our antibiotic free chickens are available in Calgary, Edmonton, Camrose and other locations throughout Alberta. Thanks Ron
Danny Turner from the Organic Box and I had a conversation about organics a couple of days ago and how it just made common sense to eat organic food and promote organic farming.
We see in the agriculture community the phrase “Based on Science, or Scientifically Proven” used often but never the phrase “Common Sense”. In organics we use a lot of common sense and ancient knowledge and a bit of science in how we grow our crops and raise our animals.
It makes common sense to not have chicken, pork or beef crammed into feedlots or massive confined feeding operations. A chicken or a pig raised in a conventional manner may never see sunlight in its life and that doesn’t make common sense. All animals, including us, need sunlight to enjoy life and live. It doesn’t make common sense for sows or gilts to be kept in crates and lined up side by side for hundreds feet long. It makes common sense for sows and gilts to be able to move in a free range system and have access to the outdoors and sunlight.
It makes common sense to have laying hens run around the barn and be able to live some of their life outdoors and eat grasshoppers, earthworms and fresh green grass. It doesn’t make common sense to have layers in small cramped cages in a windowless barn with the lights controlled by a computer to get the maximum eggs per day out of the hens.
It makes common sense to grow crops using the fertility from cover crops and organic matter and using the microbes and soil flora to keep crops strong and healthy to be able to resist pests and diseases. Strong plants grow strong animals so the animals will not need a low level antibiotic to keep them healthy. It doesn’t make common sense to spray crops a multitude of times with herbicides and pesticides because the plants can’t fight off the pests. We know that these residues will end up in the environment and ultimately in our bodies. It doesn’t make common sense to use fertilizers made from natural gas or oil and use the soil as something just to hold the roots with all the nutrients coming from artificial fertilizers.
As organic farmers we truly believe that common sense trumps science.
In the summer our birds are raised in shelters and ranges on our certified organic pastures – the shelters/ranges are moved every day onto fresh grass. Along with the grass that they can eat at their leisure they have a ration of certified organic grains that we mix here on the farm. In the winter they are raised in our barns that we have constructed with windows and overhead doors that can be opened on the warmer days. On the colder days they have the sunlight that they can bask in. They are fed the same ration of organic grains that they receive in the summer and are also given alfalfa so that they continue to have access to their “greens”. The birds have a lot of space to run around in the barns. Because we have cold winters with snow they need to be housed inside for their health (and a cold bird is a dead bird and it is very hard to keep water lines for the birds from freezing in the winter).
Our farm is certified Humane by the BCSPCA (Alberta does not offer a humane certification) and there are very strict protocols regarding access to the out of doors and space allowance in the winter barns that we have to adhere to (along with many other requirements). Last month the BCSPCA inspector spent 2 days here going through our paper trails as well as looking at all of the birds and livestock. We are audited by them every year plus have one spot (unannounced) inspection each year.
We are certified organic by EcoCert Canada and follow the COR (Canadian Organic Regulation) Standards that have been put in place by the CFIA. This means that our land cannot have received any chemical inputs for a minimum of 3 years. We are audited on a yearly basis to confirm our adherence to the organic standards. We bought the farm in 1992 and have applied only manure from our own organic animals since that time. Our birds and livestock do not (and cannot) receive any antibiotics, hormones, appetite stimulants, rendered animals or other artificial inputs in their feed.
The size of our bird when eviscerated depends on the age of the bird. We process our birds from 7 weeks of age on. We do not use appetite stimulants or regulate the birds days by a false lighting regimen. Every bird (whether a summer or winter bird) grows at its own rate so we will have a large range of sizes in each flock. Our birds are fresh each week as we process on a weekly basis and are free ranging in consideration of the fact that their environment is as free range as possible in the cold winter months of central Alberta.
Thanks – Sheila
Organic remains the most regulated and scrutinized farm to table food system in the world.
A common question we get asked is “what is Organic”. Because we generally don’t have a lot of time at the farmers market to get into every detail, we respond that in organic livestock production we don’t use antibiotics, animal by-products(swine meal, feather meal or offal products) or growth promotants. Our organic feed doesn’t have herbicides, pesticides, isn’t genetically modified and is not grown with petroleum based fertilizers. We are third party audited minimum once a year with spot audits. I also show everyone my up to date organic certificate. The Canadian Government has legislation that defines the Organic program in Canada with the CFIA being responsible to manage the Canadian Organic regime.
There are also other facets to the Organic regulations and standards such as livestock living conditions, traceability and land stewardship and some of them are spelled out in great detail. Search for the Canadian Organic Standards if you want to read the regulations and standards that we certified to. Everyone certified Organic producer in Canada is certified to these standards and their isn’t a certifying body that is any better or worse. Look for the organic certifying symbol on every product that you purchase.
Some people claim that the organic system is being diluted and compromised by major corporations. In Canada we have a very small organic community that works very hard to uphold and strengthen the organic standard. I sit on the organic poultry task force with numerous other organic poultry producers from across Canada and I see that the standards for organic poultry production isn`t being compromised but being moved to a higher level. You can trust the organic system in Canada because it is one of the best in world.
Thanks – Ron