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Time to Take a Time Out – For Cute Farm Pictures!

I can’t believe February is almost over… But that means one month closer to spring!  We’ve already started bustling in the Greenbranch greenhouse seeding and loving baby vegetables, and so I thought I’d take some time before the season really starts to put up my pictures from last season on the farm.  I lost a lot when my old phone got run over by the tractor (giant tires = flat phone) but here are the ones that survived.  Enjoy!

Breakfast time - One of our new calves -  Little Ginger and his bud

Breakfast time – One of our new calves – Little Ginger and his bud

Mama Hen says hello - A beginner's egg! - Snuggling in the nest box

Mama Hen says hello – A beginner’s egg! – Snuggling in the nest box

Carrot love - Truck full of fall gourds - Sweet potato love

Carrot love – Truck full of fall gourds – Sweet potato love

A bouquet of heirloom tomatoes - Romanesco cauliflower - Lunchtime for a praying mantis

A bouquet of heirloom tomatoes – Romanesco cauliflower – Lunchtime for a praying mantis

Snowy days at Greenbranch Farm - Farm cat staying warm & lazy in the barn

Snowy days at Greenbranch Farm – Farm cat staying warm & lazy in the barn

 

 

 

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All You Need Is Love, Not Heartworms (Or Heartworm Meds)

Heartworms are some pretty nasty parasites, straight out of creepy crawly nightmares and mosquito-borne terrors.  Any pet owner has probably been schooled many times in the dangers of heartworms and been scared shitless of them by their vets – and been made to feel guilty if you’ve opted to skip the preventative treatment.  Which is, of course, ridiculous.  My biggest pet peeve when it comes to pet parentship is being made to feel guilty about my petcare choices, and our vet is the conductor of the heartworm guilt trip.

Banner is my first dog, and so I really knew nothing about dog ownership until my fiance called me at work one day and said he’d be picking up a puppy the next day.  I’ve therefore done a lot of research in the 8 months we’ve had him in preparation for my endless war with the vet over his healthcare.  After a while, however, I got smug in my holistic petcare knowledge and slacked off on my research, and when we brought him in yesterday for his last puppy shot, I had few facts in imagesmy arsenal for the Great Heartworm War.  I will admit that nothing has scared me quite as badly as her heartworm talk, and the ASPCA website only worsened my fear.  Larvae carried and deposited in my dog’s bloodstream by mosquitoes?  Foot-long worms crowding his heart and lungs?  Labored breathing, blood obstructions, death?  These things mean business.

Luckily, there are a lot of great resources out there that helped allay my fears.  Dr. Becker, who partners with Dr. Mercola on his website, is my go-to source for holistic petcare wisdom.  She begins her article on heartworm prevention by reassuring her readers that instances of heartworm are definitely not as common as your vet makes them out to be: The American Heartworm Society has an incidence map which depicts the frequency of heartworm infections.  Your dog really isn’t at high risk unless you live in southern Texas, Florida, or some areas near the Gulf.  There are pretty specific environmental conditions that have to be met for heartworms to breed (the temperature cannot drop below around 57 degrees F) and your dog has to be bitten by a specific type of mosquito that happened to have bitten an infected dog within the past 2 weeks.  So even if you live in a risky area, the chances of infection drop significantly in the colder months.Incidence-Map-logos

If you do live in a risky area, and even if you’d rather just be safe than sorry, there are much better preventative methods than pharmeceuticals.  Ivermectin, the active ingredient in most heartworm meds including Ivomec, Heartgard, Zimectrin,Iverhart, and Tri-Heart, is not even a preventative; it is an insecticide that causes neurological damage to heartworm larvae, paralyzes them, and kills them. And it comes with a list of side effects that I am not willing to deal with.  The most common complications are vomitting, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and lethargy.  In some cases, ivermectin can cause shock-like symptoms like severe vomitting, hypothermia, and depression as well as nervous system damage that causes loss of coordination, seizures, and even death.

Have no fear!  Not only are heartworms pretty hard to contract, but they’re also extremely easy to prevent – and there are lots of natural remedies should your dog actually get infected.  Hippocrates said it best when he said, “Let food be thy medicine.”  The best prevention is a healthy diet.  By feeding your dog real (if not raw) foods devoid of preservatives, rendered scraps, and artificial ingredients, you not only boost their immune system, but you give their kidneys and liver a leg up in the detox process by limiting the amount of toxins they have to cycle out.  Limiting the amount of pharmaceutical toxins (flea & tick sprays, medicines, vaccines) in their system also helps keep their immune system in prime condition. TheWholeDog, a great resource for holistic petcare, makes a great point:

The heartworm has been out there forever as far as we know, but we don’t read reports of wolves and coyotes being wiped out by heartworm, and yet domestic dogs are falling prey to it…  Surely they are healthier than the wild canines, with all our feeding of ‘scientifically balanced,’ processed foods and vaccinating them to prevent them from getting all the nasty and sometimes fatal diseases, right? … Wrong!

If you want to take extra measures to protect your dog, there are several safe options.  While most resources agree that the best prevention is keeping your dog healthy and limiting his exposure to toxins, there are homeopathic and herbal remedies that can help.  Dr. Jeffrey Levy recommends heartworm nosodes, which is a homeopathic treatment.  The homeopathic vets at TheWholeDog suggest several herbs, including Mugwort (Artemisia), Clove Flower Buds, Garlic, Spearmint, Turmeric, Black Walnut, and Wormwood.  They also stress the immune-enhancing benefits of Colostrum, or “first milk,” and fulvic acid, an antioxidant-rich compound extracted from humus, the material produced by decaying organic matter.  The herbal experts at TheHerbPlace recommend Mugwort and Garlic as internal treatments (Garlic helps repel mosquitoes and boosts immune function while Mugwort is a natural insecticide) and Geranium oil as a topical mosquito repellant.  Most of these can be found at your local health food store or online.

938_624575853299_1252124818_nNext time we take Banner to the vet (which will hopefully not be until he needs his next rabies shot) I’ll have a full list of reasons why I’m not giving my puppy heartworm meds.  We spend too much money on good, wholesome food for him to ruin his body with toxic drugs that do more harm than good.  I’m head over heels in love with this pup, and I want to keep him around as long as possible.  And that means keeping him as healthy as possible – and as far away from Big Pharma’s toxic claws as I can.

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The Dog Owner’s Dilemma

If you love your pet as much as we love our Banner, then you hate seeing them suffer because of fleas or ticks.  And since this past winter was so mild, all the sleeping insect larvae escaped being frozen, so fleas and ticks are in overabundance this year.  We live in a wooded area with a swamp that creeps around the edges of our back yard, so bugs thrive here – and on our puppy.  Hearing him whine and scratch incessantly is heartbreaking, and so we began our journey through the world of pest control products.

We feed our dog like we feed ourselves – better, in fact.  He gets protein-rich, grain-free Blue Buffalo food, fresh veggies and meats from the farm, and only quality treats and bones.  We didn’t want to counteract all that wholesome goodness with toxic pesticides, so we started with natural remedies.  First, we tried a solution of cedar and orange essential oils mixed with olive oil, and though it definitely repelled the fleas, it didn’t last long; it needed to be reapplied every time he went out, which is impractical for a dog who stays outside while we’re at work.  Then we tried Diatomaceous Earth, which is a powder composed of crushed shells and dried algae.  It slices the exoskeleton of bugs and causes them to slowly dehydrate and die over the course of a few days.  Sounds pretty awful, but better them than Banner!  DE does not repel bugs, however, so they just kept swarming him.  We decided that DE is great for furniture and outdoor use, but it needed to be supplemented with a flea and tick repellant.  So we made the decision to try a conventional pesticide spray, hoping that we were making the right choice.

Frontline and Advantage were definitely out.  I didn’t want anything that toxic staying on my dog for a month, and everyone I’ve talked to who’s used it said it made their dogs terribly ill.  A friend of mine has worked in a dog kennel for years, and I asked him what he recommended.  He told me about the brand Adams, the safest conventional option in his opinion.  So I did some preliminary research and found that the two main ingredients are pyrethrin, a pesticide, and Precor (the brand name for methoprene), an insect growth regulator.  Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums and is not only biodegradable, but it’s broken down easily by the acids in mammals stomachs, so it’s non toxic to both pets and humans.  Methoprene is almost completely nontoxic; it does have a low level of dermal toxicity, though no long-term effects.  It is toxic to fish, however, so be careful where you apply it. Doesn’t sound too scary, right?  Adams even had a water-based option with aloe and lanolin for pets with sensitive skin.  So I trusted my friend and bought a bottle of the regular spray, and it worked wonderfully!  The first time we sprayed him, you could literally see the fleas jumping off him.  And Banner didn’t have any adverse reactions, so I thought we’d finally found our miracle solution.

I should have known better than to trust a chemical company.  When I got the bottle, I noticed that only a few ingredients are listed, while the rest fall under “other ingredients” which make up 97% of the formula.  When I called the company to find out what these other ingredients were, they refused to tell me, claiming that their formula was “proprietary information” which they were not allowed to disclose.  I discovered that they also use PBO in all their formulas, though they only advertise it in their Plus line. PBO, or piperonyl butoxide, is a toxic compound which harms the respiratory tract and impairs mental development when inhaled.  Not something you want to be spraying around your pet.  I called my vet – who is a CSA member at the organic farm where I work, so I trust her judgement of chemical usage – and she was also very surprised and upset that Adams refused to give me their ingredients.  Adams is one of the two brands she carries in her office, the other being Ovitrol.  Ovitrol uses pyrethrins and methoprene as their main ingredients as well, but sadly they also use PBO.  Their ingredient list also contains the questionable “other ingredients,” and though I have not called that company yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that they will give me the same answer as Adams.

So where does that leave us?  To be honest, I have no idea.  None of the natural remedies seemed to work.  Adams definitely worked, but between the questionable ingredients and the questionable ethics of the company, I have no desire to buy anything else from them.  I suppose the next step will be to peruse the aisles of Petsmart and hope that I have enough knowledge in my mental arsenal to make an informed and safe decision.

Here are some great websites to help you make your own decision on pest control:
Veterinary Products Laboratories.  They have ingredient info for several leading products.
Pet Education.  This site describes all the different classes of pesticides.
Doctors Foster and Smith.  Another site with great info on all the different kinds of pesticides.
PETA’s Flea Control: Safe Solutions.  Read what PETA has to say about flea control.
Mother Earth’s Natural Flea Control.  A very informative article on fleas and the different pest control products.

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If You Love Your Pet, Don’t Feed Them Roadkill

Have you ever wondered what is actually in those tasty looking pellets you feed your dogs and cats?  I’ve never given much thought to pet food, mainly because I’ve only had fish for friends for the past few years.  But we just got a puppy and I’ve been doing some research on organic dog food – surprisingly, my non-organic boyfriend is totally into feeding our little guy good food.  The people who gave him to us gave us what was left of the Purina Puppy Chow they’d bought, and we’ve been feeding him that while we decide which organic brand to go with.

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Banner, our boxer/mastiff/hulk pup

When we first decided to get a puppy, I signed up for a newsletter on Dr. Mercola’s website called Healthy Pets with Dr. Karen Becker.  Well, a few days ago I read her article about what actually goes into pet food and how the “rendering” process works.  Needless to say, this handsome hulk pup will not be eating the rest of that Puppy Chow.

This article – and the fact that I’ve been feeding my little guy such awful food – disgusted me so much that I don’t even want to write about it.  I’m just going to share the highlights with you and leave you to make your own decision.  If you care about the food you put in your own body, I hope you would give the same care to your pet’s food as well.

Here’s the low-down on the rendering process:

The rendering process involves combining “raw product” (defined shortly) in huge containers and grinding the mixture down to chips or shreds.

The mixture is then cooked at 220º – 270º F for up to an hour, which separates the meat from the bone.  The grease, also called tallow, rises to the top, is skimmed off the mixture, and becomes the mystery ‘animal fat’ frequently found on pet food ingredient labels.  The remaining product is put in a press which squeezes out all the moisture and pulverizes the material into a powder. Shaker screens are used to separate excess hair and large bone chips from the powder.  The result is meat and bone meal added to pet food formulas…

 

In case you thought the rendered ingredients in your dog’s or cat’s food came only from (presumably regulated) slaughterhouses or animal processing plants, now you know better. Renderers also drive around in specially designed trucks picking up dead farm and ranch animals, as well as dead pets from animal shelters. They also collect fat, grease and other human food waste from food outlets…

 

Among the dead livestock and poultry that renderers collect are a large number of animals that died from disease or “accidents” – never even making it to the slaughterhouse…”  (Decoding Pet Food Doublespeak)

Yep, it’s time to take a trip to PetSmart.  They have a surprisingly good selection of organic pet food, though the one we went to only had canned and dry food.  According to Dr. Becker, the best kind of pet food is a raw food diet, either frozen or dehydrated.  Canned is second on her list, and dry is last because there is no moisture content (The 3 Best Pet Foods You Can Buy).  I’m not sure where to find raw pet food, so until then, I think we’re going to stick to either canned or dry and just feed him lots of wholesome table scraps.

These are some of the organic dog food brands I’ve heard of or researched: Halo, Wellness, Castor & Pollux Organix, Natura Karma, Blue Buffalo, EVO, Instinct.  (Check out this site for dog food ratings by ingredients: DogFoodAnalysis.com.)  From what I’ve gathered poking around the interwebs, Blue Buffalo seems to be the most highly recommended.  They even have a high protein line called Blue Wilderness.  Sounds perfect for our hulk-in-training.