Questions about animal and food production – answered!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Food Care Saskatchewan

 

I was really excited to take part in Farm and Food Care Ontario’s twitter party a few weeks ago to promote the launch of their latest venture – ”Real Dirt on Farming”.  This is a booklet designed to answer all of your questions about farming and food production in Canada.  It is the real dirt so to speak on everything from livestock to crops to horticulture. It was great to see so many questions from all of you and how interested you were in how your food is grown.  The sad part was that it ended way too soon, and there was so much more to share!  On that note I would like to answer some questions about food production to make your decisions about food purchases easier.

Eggs with darker coloured yolks are healthier.  There are actually no nutritional differences between eggs with different coloured yolks.  The colour of the yolk is dependent on what a hen eats.  Any diet for hens that includes a compound called xanthophylls will result in a darker yolk. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet (more common in western Canada and low in xanthophylls) will produce an egg that has a pale yellow yolk. Hens that eat a corn-based diet (most common in Ontario and higher in xanthophylls) will produce eggs with darker yellow yolks.  This is also why free range eggs tend to be darker in the summer because hens will eat grasses or alfalfa which have higher xanthophyll levels.

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

Eggs with brown shells are better because they are more expensive!  Ummm, no.  There are no nutritional differences between eggs with white shells and eggs with brown shells.  Eggs with brown shells come from different breeds of chickens.  But then why do brown eggs cost more?  Well that’s because the breed that produces brown eggs is a larger bird and requires more feed to lay one egg.  Brown eggs are more expensive simply because it costs more to grow them.

Conventional milk produced in Canada is raised with hormones.  Not so!  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle.  It regulates growth and lactation in cattle and has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST otherwise known as rBST is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10 to 15%.  The problem however is that it may also increase the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows which is why Health Canada has not approved it for use in dairy production here.  So what that means for you is that no milk, cheese or yogurt (conventional or organic) comes from cows given rBST.

It might look like granola but humans can not digest the fibrous materials found in most beef cattle feed

It might look like granola but humans can not digest the fibrous materials found in most beef cattle feed

Growing beef cattle takes away grains and other foods that could otherwise be used by humans out of the food system.  Humans have a monogastric digestive system – that means we have one stomach specifically designed for the efficient digestion of proteins.  Our systems however are not so good at digesting fibrous plant materials (things like grasses, legumes, and most other plant materials).  Beef cattle belong to a class of animals called ruminants with a digestive system specifically designed for the efficient digestion of fibrous plant materials.  They have four stomachs and the first and largest (called a rumen) is host to bacteria which efficiently break down fibrous plant material into basic nutrients which cattle can then use for growth – a system that humans do not have.  Have you ever seen a field of wheat or corn?  Even when humans do eat the grains, cattle are able to take the rest of the plant material that we humans can’t and use their nutrients.  Roughly 80% of feed consumed by beef cattle in Canada cannot be used by humans.

For the health and welfare of animals producers limit access to the barns.

For the health and welfare of animals producers limit access to the barns.

Pig and chicken farmers do not allow people into their barns because they don’t want us to see what goes on in there.  Interestingly enough humans can be vectors for transmitting disease (viruses, bacteria, fungi and mould) which can cause serious health problems and disease for both pigs and chickens.  For the health and welfare of their animals producers try to prevent exposure to disease by limiting traffic through the barn – ie by limiting your access to their barn.  In both pig and chicken barns there is a strict protocol for anyone who wishes to enter the barn which often includes showering upon entering and exiting the barn and/or wearing special clothing and boots while there.  Animals lives depend on it.

I prefer hormone free chicken and turkey because it is healthier.  Well this is an interesting one.  Did you know that no hormones are ever fed to chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens in Canada (and in fact it is illegal)?  So any kind of poultry product that you eat, regardless of how it is raised or where it is purchased (free range, free run, organic, conventional, locally grown or through the grocery store) is ever fed hormones. However, that does not mean it is “hormone free”.  Every animal produces a certain amount of hormones to grow and for basic life function – no meat product is ever hormone free.

Do you have more questions?  Great!  We would love to help you answer them.  Go to RealDirtonFarming.ca, our website farmfoodcaresk.org or email us at office@farmfoodcaresk.org

 

 

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