Sunday, 8 July 2007

Dogs and Chickens and Ducks... Oh My!

Our house is a bit of a menagerie these days. And if you come for a visit, you are more likely to be greeted by a dog, chicken or duck, than a person.

We've just recently added ducks to our repertoire in hopes of having gluten free duck eggs, after a few years of successful gluten free egg growing via chickens.

The chickens came before our gluten free days because my preoccupation with studying food and living off-grid began long before that.

Seven years ago, we moved into the country with dreams of living a completely independent lifestyle.

I would make all homemade, wholewheat bread and was beginning to talk about plowing up a patch in the back to grow my own wheat when we realized our diet would no longer be including any form of wheat.

I began to research what I might possibly be able to try and grow on my own for bread. Spelt and Kamut, though considered low gluten were out as we were all reacting to even the tiny amount of barley malt found in Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal and the Lindt golden chocolate Easter bunnies.

This left buckwheat (technically not wheat but a relation of rhubarb), quinoa and rice. But then my project took a severe turn as I realized that as we felt better, we were eating a lot more meat-type protein and seemed to have better energy with less grain.

So, once again, I switched gears and began to look at raising our own gluten free meat. After all, we had been keeping our few chickens for several years.

When we first went gluten free, we had switched all the animal food to be gluten free also after the children had become ill just handling the gluten chick feed. We noticed enormous behaviour changes to the positive in the animals.

Our old German Shepherd who was half blind began to see better. (I've since spoken with a vet who has also cleared a pannus affliction in a young German Shepherd Dog by eliminating gluten and corn from its diet too.) Our rottweiller no longer had the horrible gas that we endured for reasons of love alone. And our 16 year old cat who was a recluse for most of her life, began coming down from the bedroom. People would say, "Oh, you got a cat!" And we would reply, "No, we've had her for 16 years, she's just getting more sociable on her new diet." I'm sure they thought we were joking but we really weren't.

Nevertheless, changing the chicken feed to be more 'natural' for the chickens (they are omnivores like humans) had an interesting impact on the eggs we collected from them. The shells were harder, the yolks were a bright orange (as opposed to a light yellow) and tasted 'fuller', somehow. And the chickens were drinking shockingly less water. But then again, we drank less on days that we didn't eat grain too.

This brought, yet another, question to light... Even though we are so healthy now... Could we be healthier if we ate gluten free meat? I mean, if gluten affected us so adversely, could the animals that we eat be affected adversely also?

I began to look up research abstracts and found that, indeed, the meat from gluten fed animals are lower in omega 6's than it should be and higher in acid levels (which have cancer implications for humans).

Even cows that are fed grass but then "grain finished" (the last six weeks before slaughter) have much higher acidity than those who are grassfed completely.

This supported our egg differences that we have experienced first hand. Also, though the typical chicken has a laying capacity for two years at best, our chickens have been laying for five years and show no sign of slowing down. In fact, one of our girls consistently lays eggs almost as large as duck eggs.

So, back to the idea of raising our own meat, chickens seem to be the most obvious choice. It didn't hurt that we were all set up for them already either. After a few years of having a tiny flock that includes innumerable trials and errors, we've finally taken the plunge and now have a fair sized, free-ranged, gluten free organic flock and a new empty freezer waiting to be filled.

The question is, will I be able to do 'the deed' when it needs to be done? We'll have to wait and see. But in the meantime, we sure are having fun with it!

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