Extraordinary Chickens

Extraordinary ChickensLooking for a unique gift for the chicken fan of the family? Here’s a favorite!

Photographer Stephen Green-Armytage has captured the personalities, breed differences, and striking good looks of chickens of all shapes and sizes in two books: Extraordinary Chickens and Extra Extraordinary Chickens. Disheveled crests, unusual combs, feathered feet, colorful plumage—it’s all represented. Even unique toes get some attention!

Extra Extraordinary ChickensThere’s not a lot of information in these books, although some brief breed profiles are included. Overall, they’re pretty much for pure enjoyment. But they can and do spark an interest in some of the less-common chicken breeds out there. For that contribution alone, they’re well worth it.

And while you’re at it, you may want to take a look at the Extraordinary Chickens wall calendar, another favorite, and one that certainly draws some attention.

The gorgeous photos in these books and calendar are sure to provide year-round smiles for a chicken enthusiast. Highly recommended!

Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

Vitamin E (Tocopherol)Vitamin E (tocopherol) is best known for its immune-boosting function.  It serves as an antioxidant, working with selenium to eliminate free radicals.  It also helps to repair damage to the body, and ensures the health of the white blood cells.  Because of this important role, and its function as a structural component of various membranes, vitamin E is necessary for the function of just about every system in the body.

This vitamin is involved in many complex interactions with other nutrients.  Its relationship with selenium has already been mentioned.  Research suggests that vitamin E may also aid in the synthesis and metabolism of a number of other vitamins and minerals:


Vitamin E (Tocopherol)Natural Sources

Vitamin E is one nutrient that animals cannot synthesize.  Plants, however, produce vitamin E in abundance, making all green, growing forages and fresh, minimally processed grains good sources.  Oils derived from grains are also high in vitamin E, provided that they are fresh.

Dogs and cats can use the vitamin E stored in the tissues of other animals.  Liver and fatty meats are good sources.  Raw or lightly cooked eggs are also suitable, as are nuts, wheat germ, and green vegetables.


Causes of Deficiency

One common cause of vitamin E deficiency is stress, including injury, illness, and high levels of performance.

In grazing animals, a deficiency can be brought about by insufficient amounts of fresh forage in the diet.  Sometimes this is caused by drought, while in other cases confinement is the problem.

In pets, particularly cats, a deficiency can be caused by high levels of unsaturated fats, including those found in tuna.  Vitamin E is required to protect the body from free radical damage caused by these types of fats, so the higher the level of unsaturated fat in the diet, the higher the requirement for vitamin E will become.

All animals eating grain are at risk for vitamin E deficiency if their rations are not high-quality.  Unfortunately, this vitamin is rather unstable and will break down quickly under less-than-ideal conditions.  Factors that may cause deterioration of vitamin E in feeds include:

  • Mold.
  • Nitrates.
  • Milling.
  • Moisture.
  • Rancid oils (unsaturated fats).
  • High temperatures.
  • Prolonged storage times.


Symptoms of Deficiency

Unfortunately, a vitamin E deficiency can sometimes be hard to identify because of its wide range of symptoms.  Some of the symptoms that might occur include:

  • Lowered immune system.
  • Fever in cats.
  • Weakness.
  • Separation from the herd or flock.
  • Eye problems.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Perspiration.
  • Poor skin health.
  • Reduced wool production.
  • Increased levels of external parasites.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Muscular dystrophy (most common symptom in all species).
  • Stiffness.
  • Lameness.
  • Arched back.
  • Difficulty standing.
  • Disequilibrium.
  • Muscle tremors.
  • Varying degrees of paralysis.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Weak pulse.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Anemia.
  • Hemorrhaging.
  • Blue extremities.
  • Edema.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Metabolic disorders.
  • Jaundice.
  • Severe abdominal pain in cats.
  • Lumps in fatty tissues in cats.
  • Dark urine.
  • Low fertility.
  • Stillbirths.
  • Retained placentas.
  • Metritis.
  • Mastitis.
  • Reduced milk production.
  • Weak offspring.
  • Poor growth.
  • Sudden collapse.
  • Death.


Symptoms of Toxicity

Vitamin E appears to be safe for most pets and farm animals.  There are questions as to whether excessive supplementation may reduce milk production and meat tenderness, but this is not certain at the present time.  The only known effect of excess vitamin E on pets and most types of livestock is exacerbation of a preexisting vitamin K deficiency.

Chickens, however, have a lower tolerance threshold for vitamin E supplementation than other types of livestock.  Symptoms of toxicity include:

  • Exacerbation of preexisting vitamin K deficiency.
  • Waxy feathers.
  • Reduced pigmentation in beaks, legs, and feet.
  • Reduced growth.


Medicinal Uses

One of the main uses of vitamin E in livestock is to prevent muscular dystrophy and sudden death in young animals.

The immune-boosting role of this vitamin can also be used to advantage in some cases.  For instance, vitamin E is routinely used to ward off disease in stressed calves, can help laying hens cope with heat stress, and is often beneficial for pets suffering from allergies, skin problems, heart disease, and a variety of autoimmune problems.  It may also help animals return to health after an illness, as well as slow the aging process.

Vitamin E may improve reproductive performance in a number of ways, as well.  It is sometimes used to treat infertility in horses.  In sheep, it shows potential to improve lamb weaning weights.

Studies suggest that supplementation may increase the quality of animal-derived foods.  For instance, vitamin E is known to prolong the shelf life of beef when fed to cattle before slaughter.  It also appears to have a positive effect on the flavor and cheese yield of milk when given to dairy cattle.


Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice.  Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.


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The Ongoing GMO Debate

The Ongoing GMO DebateFirst a definition: A GMO (genetically modified organism) is any living thing that has been altered by genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering uses a plethora of different techniques to create GMOs, but in all cases the end result is the same: the insertion, deletion, or mutation of one or more genes.  This technology enables scientists and breeders to mix species that are not of the same kind and thus ordinarily could not breed together.


The Upside of GMOs

The main goal of genetic engineering is to improve an organism in some way.

Accordingly, genetic engineering has created plants with the following benefits:

  • Resistance to weeds, pests, and other environmental challenges.
  • Reduced use of chemicals in farming.
  • Higher yields.
  • Improved texture, flavor, or shelf life.
  • Enhanced nutrient analysis.
  • Vaccine-like defense against some health problems.
  • Increased suitability for use in biofuels.

Proponents of GMOs hope that these benefits can address some of the tough issues facing the world in general and impoverished countries in particular.


The Downside of GMOs

So what’s not to like about GMOs?  Opponents have raised the following concerns:

  • Unintended effects of pesticide genes on organisms other than pests.
  • Possibility of development of GMO-resistant weeds and pests.
  • Genetic contamination of non-GMOs.
  • Patent disputes.
  • Possibility of allergic reactions in people who eat GMO foods.
  • Possibility of long-term health effects in humans.
  • Unanticipated effects on quality of eggs, meat, and milk from animals fed GMO feeds.


The Controversy

It is interesting to note that scientists themselves are not in agreement as to whether GMOs are safe or not.  For some time commentators reported on the “broad scientific consensus” that assured us that genetically modified food is perfectly safe.  In October 2013, however, an international group of 93 scientists, academics, and physicians released a different statement:

As scientists, physicians, academics, and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is “over”.

By December of the same year, nearly 300 experts had signed the statement.

Part of the trouble with the GMO debate is that hindsight is necessary to make an accurate assessment of the long-term effects of any technology.  Genetic engineering is simply too new to evaluate properly.  The first genetically modified tomato was sold in 1994—only 20 years ago.

Since then studies have been conducted that appear to favor first one side and then the other.  As a result, GMO safety is still up in the air.

In the statement released in 2013, the signatories agreed:

Science and society do not proceed on the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always open to well-founded challenge and disagreement.  We endorse the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the same.

At this point, perhaps the words of the above statement are all that can be said with confidence.

The Roots of Cattle Driving: Part 1

The Roots of Cattle Driving
Highland Cattle in an Open Lakeland Landscape by Samuel Bough

There seems to be a vague impression that the Chisholm Trail stands alone in history, an isolated event with no connection to other events either before or afterward. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The history of cattle driving undoubtedly goes back thousands of years to the wanderings of nomadic peoples all over the world. To explore the roots of American cattle drives, however, we won’t delve quite that deep. We’ll start in the year 1707.


From Scotland to England

The event that started America’s fascinating trail-driving heritage was the Union with England Act, passed by Scotland and taking effect on May 1, 1707. One of the hopes of those in the Scottish parliament was that a union with England would improve Scotland’s economic conditions. These hopes were a long time in being realized, but eventually a thriving trade was established between the two countries. This trade was in cattle.

For countless generations, Highland and Galloway cattle had been a reliable source of food and hides for the Scottish people. The Industrial Revolution in England increased the demand for these products, and a market was created.

Eager for a chance to earn a good living, Scottish drovers herded their cattle southward beginning sometime around 1760. For the next six decades or so, tens of thousands of these animals were fattened in the lush pastures in the border country between the two nations, and then taken to the various markets in the area.

And what does this have to do with the cattle drives in America? Well, the descendants of these Scottish drovers came to our shores and ended up practicing their trade here.


Across the South

The Roots of Cattle Driving: Part 1
Cowboys Wrestling a Bull by Frederic Remington, drawn for an article on Florida cracker cowboys

Many of the early settlers of the South were English, Scottish, Irish, or some combination thereof. When they arrived, they found cattle already running free in their new homes, all descendants of animals lost or abandoned by Spanish explorers. In Texas and Mexico there was the Texas Longhorn, of course; but there were also other “landraces”—distinct populations of cattle shaped into breeds solely by their environment. For instance:

  • The Pineywoods, which ranged from eastern Texas to western South Carolina.
  • The Swamp cattle, from Louisiana.
  • The Florida Cracker, from Florida, as its name suggests.
  • The Corriente, found in various parts of the South.

Undoubtedly there were others, most of them now forgotten and lost forever. They served an important purpose nevertheless.

Many settlers “adopted” some of these feral cattle, relying on them for milk, draft power, and occasionally meat. When the settlers moved to different parts of the country, they often took their cattle with them.

But some settlers were a little more ambitious. Instead of keeping their cattle to aid in subsistence farming, they actually fattened cattle on corn and high-quality pasture (think Kentucky bluegrass) before sending them off to markets further east.

And so an industry was born.


The Roots of Cattle Driving: Part 2


Helpful Resources

Peopling the PlainsPeopling the Plains
Ready to learn more about the Southerners who brought the cattle trade to Kansas? Read our full review.

Brave the Wild Trail
Fictional account of the Florida Cracker Trail, written for young children. Although the story is set after the Civil War, Florida Cracker cattle were driven to market for trade with Cuba prior to that. Read our full review.

The Christian Kids’ Gardening Guide

The Christian Kids' Gardening GuideLooking for a gift idea for a young gardener? Here’s a book that may spark an interest.

Practical but inviting, The Christian Kids’ Gardening Guide by Rebecca Park Totilo makes the gardening process fun and simple. Besides discussing the basics of planning, planting, and caring for plants, this book offers projects galore:

  • Make seed tape.
  • Plant trees.
  • Create compost.
  • Mix up bug repellant.
  • Bake carrot cake.
  • Turn pumpkins into decorative pots.
  • Press flowers.
  • Mix up herbal soap.
  • And more!

Four interesting garden designs are provided:

  • The Salad Bowl Garden.
  • The Moon Garden.
  • The Butterfly’s Buffet.
  • The Healing Cross Garden.

Super-small-scale ideas are provided for apartment dwellers, as well.

And while children are learning about plants and how to raise them, they will learn about the plants of the Bible with verses and simple devotions.

A book with substance, but plenty of fun, as well. Great choice for that fledgling gardener in your family!

Vitamin D (Calciferol)

Vitamin D (Calciferol)One of the best-known roles of vitamin D (calciferol) is its function in calcium and phosphorus absorption.  These two minerals are essential for bone growth, so it naturally follows that vitamin D is key to skeletal health.

However, vitamin D is also necessary for proper hormone function.  In this role, it helps regulate immune response, insulin secretion, and blood calcium levels.

Two other important functions of vitamin D are carbohydrate metabolism and gene expression, which translates into embryonic growth.


Natural Sources

Vitamin D is the sunlight vitamin.  Substances in the animal’s skin are converted to vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light.  How much sunlight an animal needs in a day to supply its vitamin requirements depends on the intensity of the sun and on the amount of hair or fleece covering the animal.  Dogs and cats are relatively inefficient at synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight.

Forages are actually a poor source of vitamin D when they are green and growing.  When the plant dies, however, the vitamin is formed in the leaves exposed to sunlight, thus making sun-cured hay a good source of vitamin D for grazing animals.

For animals such as swine and poultry, an animal-derived source of dietary vitamin D is far more effective than a plant-derived source.  Good sources include whole milk, cod liver oil, and freeze-dried fish meal.  Irradiated yeast is also high in vitamin D.

Ideal sources of vitamin D for pets include eggs, liver, fish, fish oils, and dairy products.  Seaweed is one of the few good plant sources.


Vitamin D (Calciferol)Causes of Deficiency

A vitamin D deficiency is highly unlikely in animals kept outdoors, although it can happen in extremely high latitudes where there is less sunlight.  Otherwise, a vitamin D deficiency is usually a sign that something else is wrong, such as parasite infestation, organ damage, or moldy or rancid feed.  Long-term use of anticonvulsant drugs is also linked to vitamin D deficiency.

Animals housed indoors must receive vitamin D supplementation of some type.  Standard corn and soy rations will not meet their requirements.  Hay will only suffice if it is leafy and has been cured in the sun.

Also, recent discoveries suggest that there may be a number of genetic defects that would impair vitamin D synthesis in livestock.  Little is known on this topic at present.

Failure to provide a dietary source of vitamin D is another cause of deficiency in cats and dogs—these animals cannot meet their nutritional requirements from sunshine.  And for owners who are feeding vitamin D supplements, let the buyer beware!  Not all supplements on the market are equally effective (natural sources of vitamin D are far safer, anyway).


Symptoms of Deficiency

  • Reduced immune function.
  • Irritability.
  • Weakness.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Slobbering.
  • Inability to close mouth.
  • Failure of adult teeth to appear in kittens.
  • Weak teeth.
  • Harsh coat.
  • Poor feathering.
  • Abnormal bands on feathers in colored breeds of poultry.
  • Swollen, painful joints.
  • Pliable beaks and claws.
  • Bowed legs.
  • Dragging hind feet.
  • Lameness.
  • Fractures.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Difficulty standing.
  • Labored breathing.
  • Convulsions.
  • Infertility.
  • Reduced egg production.
  • Dead, weak, or deformed offspring.
  • Decreased milk production.
  • Milk fever.
  • Failure to grow.


Symptoms of Toxicity

Vitamin D toxicity in animals is typically due to oversupplementation (particularly with synthetic vitamins), although pets can also suffer from excess after eating some rodent baits, human medications, and unbalanced pet foods.  Symptoms include:

  • Depression.
  • Weakness.
  • Bad breath.
  • Drooling.
  • Loss of voice in swine.
  • Rough hair coat.
  • Pain.
  • Muscular atrophy.
  • Bone thinning.
  • Stiffness.
  • Lameness.
  • Arched back in swine.
  • Paralysis.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart failure.
  • Seizures.
  • Weight loss.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Vomiting, sometimes with blood.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Dark-colored feces.
  • Excessive urination.
  • Reduced egg production.
  • Reduced milk production.
  • Reduced growth.
  • Death.


Medicinal Uses

The most common use of supplemental vitamin D in livestock is to prevent rickets and other bone deformities.  Recent research, however, suggests that this vitamin also has great potential as a substitute for or complement to antibiotics.  It can help animals combat a wide array of both bacterial and viral diseases, most notably mastitis.  Careful supplementation may also prolong the lives of dogs with congestive heart failure.

Two other interesting uses of vitamin D are enhancing reproductive performance and increasing meat tenderness when fed before slaughter.


Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice.  Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.


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What is Collagen?

What is Collagen?Simply put, collagen is the protein that makes connective tissue. It is a fibrous substance made up of four amino acids:

  • Glycine.
  • Arginine.
  • Proline.
  • Hydroxyproline.

Collagen not only gives structure to various parts of the body, but it adds a certain degree of elasticity.


Where Collagen is Found in Animals

In farm animals, collagen is a key part of a number of tissues:

  • Skin.
  • Hair.
  • Tendons.
  • Ligaments.
  • Cartilage.
  • Bones.
  • Intervertebral disks.
  • Corneas.
  • Teeth.
  • Blood vessels.
  • Gastrointestinal tracts.


Where Animals Get Collagen

Healthy farm animals can synthesize their own collagen. This process is not yet fully understood. However, we do know that somehow the body assembles the amino acids listed above into collagen with the assistance of vitamin C, and that the collagen then goes on to build the structures listed above.


Practical Applications

Collagen is sometimes given to performance horses to promote joint health and to aid recovery from injuries to the tendons and ligaments. Otherwise it is not a common supplement for farm animals.

Animal-derived collagen has aided humans in a number of ways, however. For instance, collagen is what gives leather its strength and flexibility. It has long been used to make glue, as well.

Collagen is one of the reasons that cooking meat slowly is a reliable way to ensure its tenderness. Cuts that are considered lower in quality are usually the ones that contain more connective tissue (i.e., collagen). As the collagen in the meat is exposed to temperatures over 160°F, it begins to dissolve into gelatin. Slow-cooking gives the collagen the time it needs to completely melt, leaving the meat tender.

Tallgrass and Shortgrass

Tallgrass and ShortgrassIf you are familiar with Kansas regions, you have probably noticed that much of the natural vegetation of the state is either tallgrass or shortgrass prairie, with a transition zone of mixed prairie in between.

What is the difference between tallgrass and shortgrass prairie? The names indicate that height is the distinguishing characteristic, but there is a little more to it than that.


Tallgrass Prairie

  • Adapted to areas with an annual precipitation of 30 to 40 inches.
  • Native ecosystem of the eastern Great Plains.
  • Plants may grow over 6 feet tall.
  • Dominated by bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass.
  • Forbs (pasture plants other than grasses) include a diverse array of wildflowers.
  • Grows lush and thick in response to rain.
  • Very high grazing value in spring and summer, but low value in winter.


Shortgrass Prairie

  • Adapted to areas with an annual precipitation of 15 to 25 inches.
  • Native ecosystem of the western Great Plains.
  • Plants may grow up to 10 inches tall.
  • Dominated by grama and buffalo grass.
  • Forbs include cactus and yucca.
  • Sparse, but drought-hardy.
  • Relatively stable grazing value year-round.


Practical Application

Tallgrass and Shortgrass
Shortgrass prairie—complete with buffalo wallow

Historically, Indians grew crops along the fertile valleys of the tallgrass regions, while moving further west to hunt. The buffalo which they depended on for meat frequented both the tallgrass and shortgrass areas, but were mostly restricted to the shortgrass prairie in winter, when the grass went dormant.

This pattern is still reflected in the Kansas cattle industry today. The Flint Hills (a prime example of tallgrass prairie) are considered “stocker country,” a place for keeping fast-growing steers during the spring and summer. Cow/calf operations, which depend on year-round forages, are more common in the shortgrass parts of the state.


Helpful Resources

Wildflowers & Grasses of KansasWildflowers & Grasses of Kansas
Learn about the plants unique to each type of prairie. Read our full review.

30-Year Normals
See for yourself the climate contrast that necessitated the difference between tallgrass and shortgrass prairie.