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Rocky View wool farm Canada’s first to get animal welfare certification

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Life is good at Providence Lane Homestead.

Life is good at Providence Lane Homestead.

So good, in fact, that the sheep and alpaca fiber farm, about 20 minutes northwest of Cochrane, is the only one of its kind in Canada to receive the most rigorous certification a farm can achieve in terms of animal welfare and environmental sustainability standards. .

Tara Klager, who not only owns but lives and breathes her work on the farm, said she was delighted to learn on November 17 that A Greener World (AGW) was awarding the farm its Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) certification. , approximately eight months after applying.

The process included telephone interviews, a 50-page survey of detailed responses, obtaining a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian, as well as a visit from an AGW expert, among other things.

β€œIt was a big deal,” Klager explained, illustrating how she jumped for joy the moment she heard it.

“Mainly because everything was born out of a very negative emotional experience.”

After being marked by a visit to another farm a few years ago, which ended in a report to the SPCA, Klager and her husband Bob left determined to ensure that their animals and their customers never lived. what they witnessed that day. cultivate.

β€œEvery once in a while you have these people who really shouldn’t be in farming,” Klager said. “And we’re as unhappy with that as the audience because we don’t want that performance there. It’s so far removed from what 95% of us are involved in.”

Klager said she started the search process in 2018 to find a certification that “ticks all the boxes” regarding the quality of care and the values ​​they wanted to uphold for themselves as well as their animals, and for customers who buy wool and woolen goods. harvested and shaped on the farm.

β€œI wanted to find a process and certification that I could trust,” she said. “It was going to be more than a rubber stamp, it had to be something meaningful.”

AGW, a US-based nonprofit, has proven to be the beacon in answering that call.

The organization, however, only accredits its AWA certification for species raised in their natural habitat, which excludes the five Peruvian alpacas, but still allows the 18 Cotswold and border leicester sheep, which are technically native to the UK.

Offering accreditation across the world, AGW serves to promote and support agricultural models to the public. It also provides practical advice on building sustainable farming systems to farmers and ranchers guided by a key evolving mission to educate consumers, establish and promote sustainable farming practices and trusted certifications, and support independent farmers. committed to sustainable animal production.

β€œIt had to be practical,” Klager said of the certification she was seeking. “There had to be a lot of accountability, it had to have support because I’m still learning and it had to be applicable to our jurisdiction or something that would be recognized in Canada.”

Klager added that he also needed to have some flexibility because while they currently only harvest wool from their sheep and alpacas and do not slaughter any animals, this must be an option they might consider later. .

I don’t think that’s something I want to do, “she said, giving one of the sheep a scratch.” But it is. “

All of the animals at Providence Lane Homestead, including the 20 odd chickens, have names, according to Klager.

β€œSome chickens look a lot alike, so sometimes they’re just called ‘chickens’,” she admitted with a laugh.

Klager and her husband started the farm in 2015 with four border leicester sheep, eventually growing their “flard”, as she affectionately calls them, to also include Cotswold sheep and alpaca once she grew older. confident in his capacity as a shepherd.

Many of the 18 animals have been raised and calved on the farm over the years, including the Alpaca Sundae, while others have made it there.

Their breeding pen was rebuilt on Nov. 20, according to Klager, who said they were hopeful for babies from mid-April this year.

The farm’s breeding program was only one of the criteria reviewed by AGW and will continue to be reviewed from year to year, taking into account their qualifications for AWA certification – which requires annual audits on site.

β€œFrom the moment the animal arrives at the farm until its potential departure, they want to know everything and you go through this incredibly detailed process to give them as much information as possible and they will send someone to the farm,” Klager explained. β€œIt’s a really rigorous program.

In the event of a natural disaster, AGW expects AWA accredited farms to have a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan for the animals in their care.

While every possible natural disaster is not expected to have a plan in place, it is mandatory for events that are more likely to occur in the farm or ranch area. In the case of Providence Lane Homestead, for example, they had to create and present an emergency forest fire escape plan given their location surrounded by meadows and trees.

AGW’s Single Sheep Standards report is 28 pages long and covers everything from weaning lambs, castration, ownership and handling, and shearing of wool – the bread and butter of the farm.

All sheep and alpacas are sheared once a year around April or May and the Klagers sell the fiber to hand spinners who often come and collect the fiber directly from the animal on shearing day.

β€œSometimes our fleeces are sold a year in advance, it depends on our customer base,” Klager said. “And then it turns into all kinds of amazing things.”

The texture of wool varies widely from sheep to sheep, she added, and especially between the two species inhabiting the farm, offering many different uses, from doll hair to quilts, or being processed. in weaving through the hand-spinning process.

β€œWool is one of the most amazing and versatile materials and it used to be something everyone understood,” Klager said. β€œNow we’ve gotten so used to synthetics that people don’t always understand the ins and outs, but wool still has a use. Always. “

Although Providence Lane Homestead is the only fiber farm in Canada to receive AWA accreditation, there are 15 more across Alberta that have received certification through raising other animals, such as beef and the cattle.

“What I hope people think of when they come to the farm, and they know that we are Animal Welfare Approved, is that we are doing what we can to ensure that this fundamental resource and these amazing animals are protected and raised, and loved and cared for, and provided, so that they never have to feel bad, or have to worry that the fiber they use is from an animal that has suffered first, ”Klager explained.

“This is simply not the case here.”

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