Bob came to us one afternoon, abandoned by his mom, who likely chose the stronger twin, and left the weaker one to die. Our close neighbour, and bison rancher, brought him over to our little farm wondering if we would be interested in trying to save him. With great enthusiasm we accepted the challenge, not having any idea what kind of challenge this would really turn out to be.
Bison are wild animals. Unlike a puppy or kitten, who would naturally accept our affections, Bob wanted nothing to do with us...at first. He was very weak, and judging by his umbilical cord, was likely already 24 hours old, with no milk. Without colostrum, the cow's first milk, his chances of survival were almost zero. Since he wanted nothing to do with us, and bottle feeding being our only option, it was not going to be easy to get him fed, and indeed it wasn't easy! Steve, our neighbour, brought his hired man over with him, and together, they held him, stood over him, and held his head in place. The hired man put a finger in Bob's mouth to check for a sucking reflex. It was there! The finger came out and almost simultaneously the bottle went in, and Bob was drinking from the bottle. Success! I was surprised it took 2 men to control him and get him to drink. After getting a couple of cups into him, we put him into his new pen, with fresh straw to lay on, and Bob had a good sleep.
About 4 hours later, I went out with his next feed of powdered colostrum. Imitating the earlier actions of the men, I stood over top of Bob, lifted his head and with one finger, opened his mouth from the side where there were no teeth. He opened and took the bottle, but it took all my strength to keep him in place. He wanted to run from me, even though he also wanted the milk. Half an hour later, I was sticky with leaked colostrum, dirty from rubbing him, and had arms and legs of jello from trying to manage him and keep him in place to drink. Regardless, he was already a joy and we were already growing attached to him. He was gentle in spirit, and so vulnerable.
Feedings continued, even in the middle of the night. It was 2:30 a.m., 8 degrees, raining and windy. As I stepped outside in my insulated rubber boots, and layers of clothing and rain gear, a flash of lightning lit up the path to Bob's pen, followed by a clap of thunder in the distance. On I went. Bob needed that milk. He was standing, waiting for me, and this time, he took his bottle greedily, It was a good sign. Bed felt good at 3:00 when I finally crawled back in, but it was after 4:00 until I could wind down again and get some sleep.
The next day dawned clear and sunny, and it was a good day for Bob. Our neighbour came over to check on him, and brought along a representative from the bison industry. Bob was on his best behaviour, and after his feed, stood beside me with his head contentedly touching my leg. 'Look...he knows you're his mom', said Steve. It felt good. Bob was attaching, and thriving.
I wish I could say the story continued in this way, and that Bob grew and thrived. However, sometimes the harsh realities of nature are exactly that....harsh. On day 3, Bob took a turn for the worse, and gradually went downhill. Within about 12 hours, he had passed away. His very beginnings in life, in isolation, and with no colostrum, eventually overwhelmed his system and with no immunity, he was unable to sustain life.
Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! In fact, about a month after this story, we did do it again, and sadly, the results were the same. Each time with an animal, we learn more about them, and how to help them. Perhaps the next time will be different.
Grain and fruit farming is what I know. Large animals were never on our farm and are not a natural default for me. Having an experience with a large animal calf was a great learning curve, and one for which I'm so grateful. Farmers LOVE their animals. Whatever the animal, it is a living being, and one to whom farmers have a certain fondness and attachment. It's more than a business and the bottom dollar, although realistically, that is, of course, also part of the big picture.
Cherries are the dominant feature on our farm. Other fruit varieties add to the diversity, and dogs and cats add a lot of fun and life. It's not likely we'll be adding large animals anytime in the near (or distant) future, but having Bob was an experience I wouldn't trade. As calving season draws to a close for this year, it's not likely there will be any more abandoned calves coming our way, but perhaps next year we can give a different report!
Has...kap...like, he 'has' a 'cap' on his head!
This new berry, which really isn't very new at all, is taking many by surprise. Also called the honey berry, it is native to Canada and Siberia, just like the saskatoon and blueberry. Its color is similar to the blueberry, but looks as if it has been stretched into an oval. Its flavour is unique to every taste bud. Many say it tastes like a blueberry, raspberry, and black currant all in one. It does have the richness of a blueberry, the tartness of a raspberry and the sharpness of the black currant. The flavour of a saskatoon is also detected by many.
It grows on a dwarf shrub, no taller than 8 feet, and often much shorter with certain varieties. Flowers will appear in spring even before the leaves! Fruit will begin to blush and turn color by June 1, luring many into thinking it is ripe before its time. One bitter and sour, unripe berry has been enough to turn too many off of this super fruit, that needs time to develop its full flavours and sugars. My advice to any who have this shrub and have felt misled by it: net it, and when you see it turn color and think it's ready, wait 3 more weeks! Waiting is key, but so is a good net. Birds know a good berry, and they know haskap! We have had an entire crop cleaned out by waxwings and robins in a little over 24 hours!
Nutritionally, haskap are one of the highest anti-oxidant berries known, beating out the wild blueberry, cranberry and black currant. It is excellent in smoothies, muffins, meusli and cupcakes. Our favourite way to eat it, is cooked into a sauce and poured over hot pancakes! Jam on our breakfast toast is a close second. As a jam, the richness of the berry is enhanced and brings out the flavour similar to a grape jelly.
Recently, a central Alberta saskatoon pie contest was held, and since I love to make pie, I entered. Growing up on the farm with 3 brothers offered me the opportunity to put my culinary interests into practice. I've made hundreds of pies over the years, some better than others, and saskatoon is still one of my favourites. This past spring provided perfect growing conditions for haskap and we had a bumper crop. I made several haskap pies and they were fantastic. However, this was a saskatoon pie contest, with rules stipulating the pie content had to be at least 80% saskatoons. I got creative and tweaked my recipe, passed down to me from my mother-in-law, and added haskap to the recipe. Long story short...I won! A comment from one of the judges was that the pie 'just had such a strong saskatoon flavour'. The secret to a great saskatoon pie...haskap!
It's been about 10 years since we put in our first haskap plants. It's been worth the effort and wait to get these beautiful berries into our house, and to be able to share them with others. Our varieties are old now, with newer ones being easier to pick, larger, sweeter, and better holding power on the branches (with our varieties, for every one we pick, 4 more fall to the ground!). Our name is on the list to get the new varieties being released in late 2016 or early 2017. For now, if you want to add one of these to your backyard, consider varieties such as 'Tundra', 'Indigo Gem', and 'Boreal'. Get 2 different ones, as they need a pollinator. If you want to skip the work in your yard, or don't have a yard, come and see us, or check out your local farmer's market in June and early July for producers. They freeze beautifully so you can enjoy them all year long!
For more information on haskap, or prairie cherries, check out www.littlecherriesontheprairie.com
Presents are fun. They’re especially fun when they’re unexpected, and something you love, but nobody really knew. After helping out at a local music festival, the organizer lavishly gifted me a basket filled with treats from one of my favorite foodie stops. Inside were energy bars, bags of ‘healthy’ snacks, trail mix, cards for 5 free smoothies, and even ‘natural’ lip balm. It was all wonderful, and as I munched on my air-popped snacks that must be good for me, I inspected my new, and scrumptious-looking lip balm. There were 2 of them, each a different, exotic flavor, and both claiming to be ‘natural’.
In a culture thriving on food trends, the word ‘natural’ has risen to the top, evoking such images as brightly colored fruits, leafy greens, country living, pharmaceutical avoidance and a healthier way to live. Terms that have accompanied this utopian world include: clean, organic, therapeutic, and safe. This sounds great!
However, not all ‘natural’ substances are safe, or clean, or therapeutic. Consider the heart medication ‘Digoxin’. It is comes from the lovely flower called ‘foxglove’ which is in many gardens around the world. Yet, it contains a powerful and toxic, cardiac glycoside, What this means, is a chemical from a flower, toxic enough to induce death, is being used every day, at the right dosage, to save the lives of heart patients.
Let’s go one step further and consider the most potent toxin known to mankind. Clostridium Botulinim, commonly known as ‘botulism’ is a ‘natural’ bacteria, commonly found in soil. In spite of its toxicity and negative associations, it is also used medicinally, therapeutically and cosmetically for conditions like spasms, eye twitching, chronic migraines and reducing wrinkles, the latter condition even earning the commonly known, Hollywood-trending name ‘Botox’.
Botulism might be an extreme example of a ‘natural’ substance, so let’s go back to the lip balm in the gift pack. The ingredients list was lovely, including items like sunflower seed oil, synthetic beeswax, coconut oil, 6 other items, and last but not least, BHT. First, it’s interesting to note that the ‘natural’ lip balm has synthetic beeswax. If you don’t know what synthetic beeswax is, join the club! According to Koster Keunen, the world’s leader in refining and processing waxes, synthetic beeswax “ is achieved by blending a mixture of fatty acid esters, fatty acids, and alcohols from a non-animal raw material source to very closely meet the chemical composition of natural beeswax.” Interesting.
If synthetic beeswax is interesting, then BHT should capture your interest even more. BHT is a lab-made chemical (that means it’s synthetic) added to foods and cosmetics as an antioxidant preservative. Some countries have banned its use. Overall, studies have shown both positive and negative effects of the chemical, and when used in controlled dosage, is effective for its intended use.
Confusion abounds not only for the consumer, wanting to make wise choices. Even the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has a difficult time maneuvering around the ‘natural’ term. Currently, they offer no definition of the term ‘natural’ on a label, suggesting it simply be used on a product that contains no added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
Ambiguity opens wide the door for companies to market their ‘natural’ products, when the ingredients used may actually be synthetic. What options are we left with? Is the public in danger? Are we doomed to be plagued with cancers, skin conditions, and unknown diseases because we have no control over what we eat, and put on and in our bodies? On the contrary, we have the great luxury and privilege of living in a world with fantastic technology. Maybe the beeswax didn’t come from a hive, and a synthetic preservative is present when moisturizing my lips on a sunny day. I’m grateful that my grandpa, and perhaps yours, was able to live well into his nineties because of a heart medication that came from a toxic, natural flower. Product research and testing today are held at an all-time high, with the results being public and accountable like never before in history.
Sipping a fresh smoothie, applying a lip balm that smells good enough to eat, and savoring the time you have with a loved one are some of the naturally good things I've chosen to include in my life. Enjoy gifts, take your medication (if necessary), and cherry on!