letter to the editor357

The low-down on hay Hey, what about Yukon hay? (The News, April 10):  The Yukon Wildlife Preserve Operating Society respects and appreciates…

The low-down on hay

Hey, what about Yukon hay? (The News, April 10): 

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve Operating Society respects and appreciates the efforts of the Yukon Agricultural Association in promoting and developing Yukon Agriculture.

And we recognize that Yukon farms demonstrate a high standard of quality.

It is certainly not our intention to exclude local producers and it is my hope this letter will help explain our needs on this matter.

Please allow me to clarify the status of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and its relationship on taxpayer funding.

I will then outline our needs regarding hay for the animals at the preserve and explain why the decision was made to purchase hay from Alberta.

The preserve was purchased by the Yukon government in April 2004 with the intention it become a community resource and natural educational facility.

In October 2004, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve Operating Society assumed operation of the YWP.

The society is comprised of a diverse volunteer board of directors, which meets on a monthly basis to discuss preserve business.

The board is committed to ensuring the preserve succeeds in its efforts to become a valued community resource.

Within the board structure, eight distinct committees have been formed to focus on important areas such as animal care, education, research, infrastructure development and financial management, to name few.

The committee members work throughout the year on specific projects and initiatives to reach their goals. They work closely with staff members to implement activities.

The preserve receives operational funding only, from the territorial government. The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit organization with charitable status and our growing membership (currently 394) is comprised mainly of supportive Yukoners.

Additional funds are raised through the operating society’s efforts, such as: year-round educational tour programs, special programming, individual donations and fundraising events.

The preserve’s focus is to provide visitors a high-quality environmental and educational experience.

The preserve is not feeding or producing large herds of animals as the Yukon Game Farm formerly did under private ownership.

We are not breeding animals to sell for profit; rather the operating society’s mission is: “To promote knowledge and foster appreciation of arctic and boreal ecology through the creation of a centre of northern education, conservation and research excellence at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.”

We are continually developing programs for students of all ages and the general public to help us achieve this mission objective.

With respect to the topic of hay: The preserve conducted a telephone census with local hay producers in September.

We inquired about hay availability with high percentages of alfalfa, prior to purchasing our hay supply from Alberta.

This census was done in response to comments among local hay producers that the preserve is not purchasing hay locally.

One concern was received by the preserve, in writing, from a local producer (we responded in writing), while others were not formally presented but rather expressed verbally within the agricultural community, however, never directly to the preserve.

The telephone census was simply our attempt of trying to include local producers.

As well, the details surrounding our hay purchasing procedures were explained to Cliff LaPrairie in a telephone conversation I had with him on March 10.

A detailed letter to this same regard was sent to Al Falle, president of the Yukon Agricultural Association, on March 27.

The following information will provide an explanation of our decision to purchase hay from outside the territory.

The diet for the existing wildlife housed on the preserve was developed over 15 years and is based on the Calgary Zoo model of nutritional requirements for captive Canadian wildlife.

As well, the Large Animal Research Centre in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the University of Saskatoon were consulted regarding proper nutritional diets for these animals.

Our on-site veterinarian has worked exclusively with wildlife since 1992 and is active in ensuring our animals receive the very best in nutrition.

The preserve is an intensive operation, where the animals are treated as individuals and we take pride in having an enhanced animal care program.

The majority of the 107 animals on the preserve are cervids, who primarily eat leafy plants rather than grass; therefore, in order to meet their nutritional needs the hay must be leafy (minimum 60 per cent second-cut alfalfa) and high in protein (16 to 19 per cent).

This requirement is especially important during the winter and early spring months when browse is not available for these animals.

In effect, this high percentage of alfalfa is providing the animals with browse they would normally have access to in the wild.

In the experience of many zoos and the preserve, captive moose, deer, caribou and elk do very poorly on brome grass hay.

Mountain goats and sheep can maintain themselves on grassy hay, but they prefer alfalfa.

They also need an adequate protein content of at least 16 per cent.

Muskoxen and bison will do well on brome grass hay assuming other feed is available, but do not like timothy grass. 

The animals at the YWP are presently fed a second cut alfalfa, brome grass, mix hay.

The mix is on average 60 per cent alfalfa with 16- to 19-per-cent protein. Even at this high ratio, the caribou, mule deer and moose manage to pick out the grass and consume only the alfalfa.

At present we pay $9.70 per 70-pound bale (this price includes freight and delivery to the preserve). Our hay is received in three separate deliveries from October to November, totaling approximately 2,400 bales per year.

When entering into an agreement with a new hay provider we require that their hay be tested by Northwest Lab in Lethbridge, Alberta, to ensure the hay meets the nutritional requirements established for the preserve animals.

If any local hay producers are able to provide hay of suitable quality and price for the animals residing at the preserve (as detailed above), we would certainly review their offer and would consider purchasing hay locally. 

Carolyn Thorne, executive director, Yukon Wildlife Preserve