Monday, May 31, 2010

Genetically modified ingredients in Animal Feed

We have concerns about the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. Since 1997 with the introduction of genetically modified soy, corn and canola by Monsanto, GMOs have cross pollinated with normal soy, corn and canola to the point where it is very difficult to keep a certified organic crop isolated in many areas where soy, corn and canola are grown.

Genetically modified plants have the genes of other organisms inserted into their DNA struction so that the other organism is capable of reproducing with the plant.In the case of canola, a brassica like mustard, radish, or broccoli, this gene is from the cauliflower mosaic virus - a toxin. Along with the genetically modified gene, a marker gene is added. In the case of canola this is a bacteria that is used for antibiotics. If the bacteria is present in the seed it is an indication that the genetic modification was successful. Unfortunately, the antibiotic bacteria also continues to reproduce -- even after it is ingested by animals or humans. Have you heard about antibiotic resistant bacteria being on the increase lately? Could it be because we are ingesting antibiotics with our food?

At Joybilee Farm we have been trying to keep our animals on a GMO-free diet.Unfortunately that is becoming increasingly more difficult. The feed mills are for the most part unknowledgable or unresponsive to our needs. Even with scientific evidence clearly demonstrating problems in animals fed a GMO diet. A recent study out of Russia demonstrated reproductive problems when hamsters were fed a diet of GMO soy -- the third generation was completely sterile. A similiar study done in rats and another in mice demonstrated sterility in the 2nd generation. Cattle in India, grazed on GMO cotton died. Cattle can normally graze on cotton without ill effects.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has called on all physicians to prescribe diets without genetically modified (GM) foods to all patients. They called for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), long-term independent studies, and labeling, stating,
"Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.
…There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation…"

Many people are not aware that when animals consume GM food, that the products from those animals that we consume also contain GMOs.  And GMOs continue to reproduce in our bodies even after we stop consuming them in our diet.  Bees that pollinate genetically modified plants produce honey that contains GMOs, as well as wax containing GMOs.  

It is believed that sticking with certified organic food will prevent consumption of GMOs. However, unless a crop is genetically tested at harvest and after milling, there are no guarantees that it is GMO free.  GMO-free certification is in its infancy.

So back to our feed problems.  We recently discovered that the Otter Co-op 18% rabbit pellets that we have been feeding our rabbits and recommending to those who purchase breeding stock from us, contains soy, canola and soya oil -- all of which most likely are from GM sources.  There is no certified organic option available.  The predominant feed stuff in the rabbit pellets is alfalfa -- a crop that is due to be release as a GMO in the US this Spring for planting in the 2010 season.  However, in looking for a GMO free alternative we are being stumped.

The whole oats and whole wheat that we feed them two days a week is GMO free, however it comes in at 12% protein.  We need a 16% protein to keep their nutrition at its peak.  Supplementing with peas might be possible but the mill warned us that it may make the feed bitter and unpalatable.  We are still researching.

Our chickens are also in need of a 16% feed source for egg production.  Our current feed "Whole Earth" from Otter Co-op may contain GMOs as it is not certified organic but simply certified vegetarian.  The mill was unresponsive to our inquiries regarding GMOs in our feed.

On a more positive note:  Our sheep and goats have been on a GMO free diet since we started feeding whole wheat and whole oats as a 50/50 mixed feed in 2004.  However, should GM alfalfa be released in the US this Spring, the GMO free status of their hay may be compromised.  GMO alfalfa can cross with regular alfalfa grown within pollination range.  So we will be diligently watching what happens in the USA.

If you want to learn more about the threat of GMO in foods see this link.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On the Woad again

Sarah's woad from last year is flowering.  It looks like broccoli side shoots coming up about 30 inches high right now.  And the flowers are still closed.  Time to dig out those roots before the plants go to seed and become Woad Weeds.

But it is such a shame to waste all that woad dye potential.  So she is clearing the bed a few plants at a time.  3 kg. of plant material, with these 2nd year plants, gives a good medium blue to 100 grams of yarn, and a sky blue to a second 100 gram skein of yarn.  That's about the same colour that you can get from first year leaves, but with these plants there is a lot more material per plant -- so more dye potential.  4 plants are giving her 3 kg. of plant material.

The catch is that the florets turn to mush in the extraction bath, adding a lot of contamination.  So to compensate, after the indigo is extracted from the plant material, the bath is strained twice through a coarse sieve and then through a fine sieve, to get out the contamination.  Then the vat pH is changed to 9 and the vat is oxidized to precipitate out the indigo.  We are dyeing with the reduced indigo after this step.  For information on how to extract blue from woad see Sarah's website.

This year's woad bed will be planted this week, hopefully.  Its been cold and damp the last 3 weeks, after a warm spell in April, so we aren't getting much garden work done.  Yesterday, I weeded, (with help from Melinda, our wwoofer from South Africa) the pea bed and replanted the bare patches, planted salad greens, weld and coreopsis in another bed, then in a 3rd bed planted calendula along with chard, and oriental greens.  I find that planting the dye plants in with the vegetables keeps the vegetable pests confused.

I also continued working on weeding the madder bed.  The quack grass is persistent but the madder is still growing.  It will get a wheel barrow load of compost next.  The 4 year old dyer's chamomile seems dead, but there is a lot of new plants, self seeded, around the bed so all is not lost. 

And I finished a pair of fingerless gloves out of handspun fawn angora yesterday and cast on a second pair from handspun white angora.  I'm working on designing a knitting kit from the angora -- trying to get the pattern down to a 50 gram skein of angora.

Pictures coming.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lessons my sheep have taught me -- part 3

I want to tell you another story about my sheep and the lessons that they have taught me.

Another sheep that we have a special relationship with is Kiwi. Kiwi was stuck in the birth canal with just a foot sticking out – hours after his brother had been born.

In a situation like that I always pray aloud. My hands are inside the ewe and my fingers have to be my eyes, telling me what part of the lamb I have hold of and how I should pull to get him out. I need God, who can see in the darkness, to direct my touch. You have only minutes before the placenta detaches and the lamb dies, in that situation. And Kiwi had been waiting for 7 or 8 hours for help, before we realized there was a problem. His head was turned back along with his second foreleg. It took almost 45 minutes for me to find his mouth, anchor my thumb in his mouth and pull his head into a forward position and up through the ewe's pelvis. Did I feel a slight pressure on my thumb between his teeth? Is he already dead?

Kiwi was born limp, and almost dead. I saw only a slight flutter of an eyelid. He wasn't breathing. I turned him upside down to drain his lungs and then quickly placed my mouth over his wet nose and mouth and puffed softly. Then squeezed his lungs gently for the exhale. In between breaths I prayed out loud, please give him life, God. Then he breathed on his own, ever so weakly, and moved his legs. But he could barely hold his head up, he was so weak.

Kiwi came into the house for his first week of life. For the first day, we drizzled colostrum and milk into his mouth to feed him. By day 2 he had a suck and was taking his milk from a bottle. 3 days after birth he stood up for the first time.

Our Great Pyrenees, Donder, was suckling a litter of puppies at the time, and each morning when I let Kiwi outside to go to the bathroom, Donder suckled the lamb, too. Kiwi soon learned to snitch milk from dog, ewe or doe, and grew very well.

Kiwi went to the Art Gallery, the Elementary School, the Farmer’s Market, the Rock Creek Fair, and even the Regional Science Fair – first as a bottle fed lamb, and then as our ambassador.

Kiwi taught me lessons about creative provision – that God sometimes provides our needs in ways we don’t expect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lessons my sheep have taught me -- part 2

I want to tell you about some of my sheep and the lessons that they taught me.

747 is a 6 year old black ewe. She is the sheep on the left in this picture.  She was one of a triplet and we bought both her and her sister from a farm in Alberta. When she was ready to have her first lamb, her sister delivered a few days ahead of her. And I saw her feeding her sisters twin lambs. I had heard that sometimes a ewe will steal someone else’s lamb, so I intervened and gave the lamb back to his real mom. Over the next few days, 747 was licking and feeding her sisters lamb but hadn’t delivered her own. And I kept intervening and putting the lamb back with his mother. Then about 4 days later, 747 went into labour, but the lamb didn’t come. I had to help with the birth of her dead lamb.

She was so sad that she faced the wall and wouldn’t eat or drink or even look at me. I got her sister’s lamb and placed it in the stall with her, along with her own dead lamb. She brightened up and revived her spirit. For the rest of the summer she shared her sister’s twin lambs. A sheep will lick her lamb’s tail to encourage it to eat and to confirm that it is indeed her own lamb. 747 never did this with her sister’s lamb. That year she mothered any lamb that needed extra milk, and didn’t turn any away.

The following Spring she gave birth to a strong ram lamb. The first time I was in the barn after she gave birth, she Baa’d at me, with a deep, demanding tone. When I acknowledge her, she stepped aside to show me her new ram lamb. She was so proud, both of the ram and of the relationship she had with me. 747 taught me that motherhood is not about having children but about being a mother. It’s not about what you have but who you are.

Today 747 gave birth to twin ewe lambs. One white and one black. She is such a good Mom.  We're going to keep one of the ewe lambs and hope she has her mother's abilities.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lessons my sheep have taught me -- part 1

Today I spoke at a Ladies Morning Out, to a beautiful group of women -- many different ages, some with children, many without. I told them stories about our sheep and goats and about organic farming and natural dyes. I'd like to share some of those stories with you over the next few days.

Let me tell you about Tiny Tim, a very small Nigerian Dwarf goat. Tiny Tim was born 2 weeks premature. When he was born he was so tiny that he couldn’t reach under his mother’s udder to get the milk that he needed. He was unable to stand and instead crawled, like a puppy to the udder to feed. We gave him his first meal with a syringe, dribbling warm colostrum and milk down his throat and stroking his esophagus to encourage him to swallow. He had an incredible will to live.

Tiny Tim was Sarah’s special baby for a few months. Twice we had to revive him when he almost died. He had a problem. He stayed tiny. He never grew. So when the other lambs and kids were growing steadily, he stayed the same.

Once Sarah was picking wild strawberries, with Tiny Tim at her side. He was no more than 10 inches tall – the size of a Chihuahua. Tim was grazing in the patch of berries, when a coyote ran out of the woods at him. In seconds, our Great Pyrenees, Missy, was baying and running after the coyote and Tim was safe.

Tiny Tim taught me about bold trust. He would walk down to the pasture with the herd to graze, but when he wanted his milk he walked up the hill, all by himself, and pawed at the back door to get his bottle. He was never afraid. One day after his lunch bottle, he laid down for his nap and died. He had a heart defect and that’s why he stayed Tiny.


Daniel Webster, "Let us never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labour of man.  When tillage begins, other arts follow.  The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More photography helps -- Taking Great Product Photographs

I woke up this morning still bubbling over the photography workshop with Jason Coleman last night.

Here's a list that he gave during the workshop to improve your product photos:

1. Make sure the item to be photographed is clean, use a clean back drop.

2.  Make sure the camera lens is clean and free of dust and dirt.  Use an optical cleaning cloth, such as a spectacles/glasses cloth or a camera lens cloth.

3.  Get a good lighting setup -- either outside using daylight or using bright indoor lights, preferably through a light box or bounce the light of ceiling and walls.  Avoid shining bright lights directly at the object, as this will cause burnt out images or extremely bright high lights.  Avoid using the cameras built in flash, as this will also cause overexposed highlights.

Use a digital camera with a custom white balance or manual white balance.  Set it before every batch of photos.  This should stop images looking yellow in artificial lighting.   If your camera doesn't have a manual or custom white balance setting try the built in white balance settings, such as "Tungsten Light" (light bulb symbol) or "florescent light" (tube light symbol) -- if these still don't produce good results then use natural outdoor light.

4.  Use the "Rule of Thirds"/ grid lines if your digital camera has them, as this should help line up the product, and make vertical/horizontal lines stay straight, if so desired.

5.  Set the digital camera to macro mode if the object is small or close up, if the auto-focus struggles, see if your camera has a manual focus, and if it does, use manual focus to focus correctly.

6.   Use the optical zoom if possible to avoid barrel distortion, and darkened corners.  Using optical zoom can also help remove unwanted background objects.

7.  Use a tripod to help take blur free photos.  You may need to increase your ISO setting to achieve optimum depth of field, but be aware that this will increase noise and may need to be edited out of the final picture.

8.  Be prepared to do some work in Adobe Photoshop (or similar paint package) to adjust the levels, curves, etc. to produce a white background -- be prepared to edit out any small blotches/marks in the background, or scratches or other defects in the product.  (Not if you intend to list the product on Ebay.)  Using a white background seems to help produce better results both in the camera and in Adobe Photoshop.  Once the image is resized apply sharpening.

In order to take professional looking product photographs, often the set up will involve at least 2 and often 3 light sources.  One will usually be the main light, while the others serve as a fill light to prevent dark shadows.  The main light may be in the form of overhead or frontal light.  However, if a shadowless white background is desired, backlighting has to be used.  This is often in the form of a background table or light box.  Artificial lighting conditions produce colour casting effect over photos.   For instance florescent lamps will produce a green cast.  Because the product is often shot under these artificial light conditions, the white balance factor must be considered and be compensated for accordingly.  If a digital camera is used, the simplest way to address this issue to to set White Balance setting to auto.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Photography workshop report

The photography workshop for the Boundary Artisan Association, with professional photographer, Jason Coleman, was tonight.  It was great.  We each learned how to take pictures of our own specific product -- fiberart, weaving, pottery, stained glass, jewelry, wall art.  Jason addressed each of the special needs in product photography that we each faced and offered suggestions for lighting, reflective light, and using a soft box or product tent to diffuse light.

The purchase that I made a few days ago of the 30 inch Portable Photo studio, was judged to be a very good deal at under $100.  Jason brought instructions on how to make your own portable photo studio for about $100, but he didn't hand them out because the purchased one was judged more than adequate and at a great price.  And Jason recommended that we each invest in one for our own use and set it up in the studio as  a permanent fixture for taking pictures of our work.  It works by diffusing the light source to get rid of shadows.

Jason's recommendation was that the two lights be placed at different distances from the tent so that one was less bright or intense than the other.  This gives a 3 dimensional feel to the picture, rather than both lights offering the same intensity light which would make the picture look flat.  This also works for giving some definition to the texture of the handwoven or handspun fiber arts.  He also suggested that light can be increased by adding a white board -- even a large sheet of bristol board or plastic -- as a reflector to bounce light back on the piece being photographed.

Lots of ideas for taking photographs of anything from large wall art to tiny jewelry -- getting rid of unwanted shadows and reflections but increasing the wanted shadows that reveal texture or details.  But the gist of it was "control the light".  And then play with the light to get the effect that you are looking for, by using reflectors (umbrellas, sheets of white board or fabric, a product tent, or even pieces of cardboard to block the light.

Another tip he offered which can improve all photography -- even the pictures of the lambs in the pasture:  Before taking that photograph, do a "z" check.  This means scan the photo across the top, diagonally and then across the bottom for anything amiss.  Change anything that needs to be fixed by adjusting the camera angle.  Then shoot the picture. 

I was really pleased with the good information about product photography that Jason shared with the 7 artisans that attended the workshop.  I just wish all our members took the time to attend.  It was well worth the 2 hour evening.  And we kept the cost at $15 per member, by subsidizing the workshop fee.  It was an amazing evening.  Now I'm looking forward to taking pictures of my work for the website -- something I have dreaded previously.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Photo cube

Yesterday, Robin went to the States to pick up our parcels from our P.O. box.  We had three boxes from three different online stores -- sent some harp music cds that I've been waiting to get for a few months as well as some history books for Sarah's school.  She's studying the ancient world this year from creation to about the Fall of Rome.  So the box included an English translation, with parallel Greek and Latin text,  of the writings of the patristic fathers, as well as "The Annals of the World" by Usher.  And a special treat for her, the sequel to "Do Hard Things" -- "Start Here."  More about these books in another post.

Another box contained my order from Dharma -- cotton bags for our knitting kits, charmeuse silk scarves for dyeing with natural dyes and shibori, and Sarah's favorite devore scarves for dyeing with her woad.  Perfect timing as the Farmer's Markets start this week and the woad bed is being cleaned up of all the second year plants -- right into the dye vat.

The third box was for the workshop that we are organizing for the Boundary Artisan Association on "Using Your Digital Camera to Photograph your work."   Its being taught by former art photographer, Jason Coleman.  We needed one of those white photo tents to set up for the workshop to show people how to use it. I found one online from Steve Kaeser Lighting and Photography supply.

The one we got sets up on a table top -- great option, as I don't have to clean up a corner of the studio to make a decent background anymore.  You can also use the photo tent outdoors with natural daylight.  It provides a seamless background, and the nylon backed velveteen fabric diffuses the light so that there are no harsh shadows on your work.  The kit comes with two detatchable backgrounds -- black and white.  The lights in this kit are full spectrum compact florescent with the equivalent candle power of a 300 watt tungsten light bulb -- pretty bright.  The kit (sku:6220) was $100 but the 30 inch photo tent alone was a mere $44.  And it can be used outdoors in natural daylight.  Steve Kaeser also carries a smaller 16 inch tent kit with two halogen lights and a camera tripod, for photographing smaller items like jewelry for only $45.  These halogen lights heat up so you can't leave them on for an all day photo shoot.  But you can turn them on just when you want to take a picture, so its a minor inconvenience.

I set the photo tent up last night after dinner and took a few pictures to see how it worked.  I'm pleased with the results.  Its a big improvement over my usual photos.  In fact, I've been embarrassed by my lack of photography skills and so taking pictures of my work has been pretty low on the priority list.  That's one reason my artfire store was a complete failure -- no product pictures -- no sales.  So I'm hoping this workshop and the investment in a photo tent studio system will change that.

Picture before the photo tent, using a flash with a room light.

Using the photo tent and lighting kit, using the camera flash and the two full spectrum complact florescent lights in the kit.Without the camera flash the carved heart on the lucet didn't show up.

Larger items in the 30inch photo tent without the camera flash and just the two light stands -- black background:

This hat is handspun silk with metal butterfly beads and even without the flash the silk has a lot of reflection, which makes the detail of the handspun yarn hard to capture.  I will try it again with the lights pointing differently.

I liked how this angora hat turned out with the black background. 

And here it is again with the white background.  I will need to iron the background before the workshop.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

New babies and answered prayer

Yesterday 3 lambs were born to three moms.  That was after we let the flock out on pasture for the day.  One of the ewes had her lamb in the middle of the afternoon in the shelter of a grove of pine trees.  It was snowing and windy when the lamb was born.  We led the ewe up to the house by holding the lamb down where she could see it and leading it.  That lamb got under a heat lamb in the barn and stopped shivering.  She's fine now.

Then after we brought the flock of sheep up to the house for bed -- we noticed that one of the ewes was missing.  We prayed and asked God to show us where on this 140 acres of forested land the ewe was hiding.  And then we fanned out and called "Sheeeeepy".  We were almost ready to give up, with the three of us walking down one of the trails on our property, not hearing a sound of sheep or seeing anything, when Sarah spotted the ewe right beside us in a group of trees, with a new lamb.  We managed to lead her up the hill to the house before dark, with her new ewe lamb.  She was a black sheep with a black lamb so if it had been another 5 minutes it would have been too dark to see her.

We've had 3 lambs and 4 goats born since Thursday.  This is a good season.  All the babies have been strong and healthy.  God is good to us.

By the way, I am puzzling why people pray to the "Universe" when they could pray to "the One who created the Universe".  I've heard the expression, "I asked the Universe" three or four times this week.  It seems like its settling for second best, when the best is within reach.

Happy Mothers Day, my friends.

Friday, May 07, 2010

At the end of the day

Here's the view from the studio at 5pm Friday -- Closing time.  Robin is on the left by the backhoe.  Our neighbor Gavin, who owns the backhoe, is on the right.  So far there is one ditch with new drainrock and a new 60 ft. pipe done -- 2 more to do.  Our system is completely nonfunctioning right now as the water is overflowed into a temporary cesspool.  It gives the phrase "Grand Opening" a different connotation.

While Gavin is working on the drain field he plans to level out the ground from the studio to the drain field, take down some of those trees and make the ground ready to build a new outdoor dye kitchen and workshop space -- with a wood stove to heat the shelter and cook the dye.. 

Along the way there will also be a new outdoor public washroom with a flush toilet.  Since the field is wide open, they'll be able to plumb the toilet right into the septic lines.  So there is a silver lining in this stormy cloud of septic repairs.

Good night and peace to you and yours.

More septic saga

The septic saga continues:  The field is now dug up completely and the drain pipes have been removed.  We had 20 yards of drain rock brought in this week, over 300 feet of new drain pipe, landscape fabric rolls and a backhoe.  We're over a thousand dollars now and still climbing.

This is the view from the studio door.

This is Cedric digging up the old pipe.  Cedric is a very nice guy from Quebec.  He's a really interesting person with a great sense of humour and he's a hard worker.  He's romantic and is looking for a girlfriend.  (Cedric told me to write that.) Chris est timide d'avouer son opinion qu'elle a sur moi, tout ce qu'elle a ecrit precedemment vient directement d'elle meme, ps: J'aime ma maman.

Oh, and we opened to the public last Saturday.   So far we've had two visitors in the midst of construction.