let's talk farm animals

Changing perspectives in a changing world

dairy cow PICJean L Clavelle

Interesting how perspective can change.

When I was studying large animal behaviour in college a lot of the focus of our discussion and research was centred not just around behaviour but on animal welfare.   It was a natural thought progression I guess. At the time however, the word “welfare” carried with it a negative connotation within the ag community. It was associated with something on the fringe or for people who were extreme and equated with animal rights groups and activists like the PETA members who got naked on the corner of a downtown city block to protest something or other.

Now let me be clear it’s not that agriculture didn’t care about animal welfare it’s just that they didn’t necessarily have a word for it. It was more a belief system of it being the ‘right thing to do’. I’m reminded of what a family member told me when I explained I was writing a paper on feedlot animal welfare. She explained that I had better be careful before I ruined my career before it started. When I let her read the paper she said something to the effect of “well yeah, that’s just common sense”. It was simply the label of Animal Welfare that was foreign, not the concept.

Seeing the now infamous dairy footage recently was disheartening to say the least. It was simply wrong, it was disgusting and it was unacceptable. It set back everything that I and other proponents of animal welfare are trying to do not to mention cast a black cloud over the rest of animal agriculture and the good work that the majority of producers in Canada do. I am encouraged though to see that the ag community has not battened down the hatches to defend the poor decisions of a few. The agriculture community has not circled the wagons to say to the public “no, you just don’t understand”.   As a group and as individuals they have stood up and condemned that behaviour publicly. Animal abuse is Not Ok. The ag community has seemed to embrace the terminology that you the consumer can relate to – Animal Welfare.

Ironically I feel like I’m now being reverse discriminated against for being involved in livestock. I have been called disgusting, moral-less and without ethics. I have been asked how I can be involved in a business so horrible and would I eat my dog or my horse? I’ve been told I only have my views because I live in Saskatchewan and that’s all I know. I have been told numerous times that agriculture is big business and big business is intrinsically unethical so how can animals really be cared for well. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many producers are introduced to the public or how open we are about what happens on farms the worst always seem to be believed. It used to feel like a noble profession, feeding the world. But that positivity seems to be stolen with every negative tweet.

My only hope is that the recent evolution in livestock agriculture has not come too late to keep up with the dynamic social media world. My request is that if you have questions about something that you’ve read or heard please find a producer and ask for the real answer and an honest response. Maybe hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will change your perspective.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 21st, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media
Tags :: , , ,

Animals are animals, not people

H with Horses PIC

Jean L Clavelle

A few weeks ago we were sitting around watching a Disney cartoon with our two young children before bedtime activities started. One of the more senior members of our family who happened to be in the room with us (a recent retiree from farming) made a comment that went something like “Disney has ruined society’s perception of animal agriculture”. At first, I brushed it off with a laugh but have been thinking that perhaps that statement holds more truth than I first thought.

Animals are animals, not people. They are not secretly speaking our language when we are not around despite every hilarious Far Side cartoon in the Sunday paper. Cows do not wear aprons, pigs do not ride skate boards, dogs do not have problem solving skills of an adequate level to save the world from imminent disaster (although I will admit all of those concepts make terrific story lines for toddlers).  Even though animals do communicate, form social bonds, have mothering instincts and relationships, they are not humans.  They do not share our social structure, our language, our problem solving ability or our emotions.  They are animals.

So when faced with the overwhelming messages of Disney and other tv shows, movies, toys, and books that show animals as having human characteristics how do we raise our children to understand that this portrayal of animals is not real?

My first thought is that I will teach them the main principles of raising animals on the farm – whether that be a dog, cattle, chickens, a horse or a ginuea pig.  With livestock you quickly learn that their needs come before your own.  It doesn’t matter if you are tired or hungry or cold because you’ve been outside all day, if the animals need to be looked after you better get outside and make sure they are fed and watered and comfortable.  Raising animals means that you treat them when they are sick.  If an animal has an illness that can be treated with antibiotics then antibiotics are used so that animal does not suffer. Raising animals means that you have a responsibility to use the latest techniques that will benefit not just the animal but the environment because that is the right thing to do.

Above all it means that you treat them with respect.  Whether they are simply companions or whether they are giving us milk or eggs or will be butchered they are to be valued with kindness and empathy.  And this does not mean giving them a luxury stall at the most expensive equestrian center or the finest silk day bed to lounge on while you are at work.  We must truly understand what that animal needs as an individual of a particular species.  Just as animals are not humans, dogs are not cats, beef cattle are not goats, horses can not be treated like pigs.  It is up to us, the people who care for them, to understand what they need in terms of their environment, their social activities, their nutrition.  And that is part of the process of respect.

I want my children to know that we will use those that pig for bacon, that beef animal for steak, and that dairy cow will give us milk.  But what a better way to teach them gratitude for the food in their bellies than to show them where food comes from.  It does not come from a grocery store.  As an adult I am now more grateful than ever, each time I sit down to a beautiful bacon and egg breakfast that I am involved in raising the animals that gave it to me.  I hope my kids have that same appreciation.  Even if I to continue to let them watch Disney cartoons.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Food,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , , ,

Faces of Farming – July

By Kelly Daynard

Deslippe familyFarming is one of the few careers that often spans generations of family members all sharing an unwavering commitment to the land and their livestock. Rochelle Deslippe of Amherstburg, in Essex County, is one such example.

Their family farm was started by her grandfather, Earl, in the 1930′s when he began a small hatchery raising turkeys. The farm was eventually taken over by Earl’s two sons, Jerome and Paul. Today, Jerome’s daughter Rochelle and her three children are the third and fourth generations of the family to be raising turkeys and crops on the farm, and Rochelle wouldn’t have it any other way.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 7th, 2014 :: Filed under 4-H,Animal care,animal handling,Faces of Farming,Turkeys
Tags :: , , , , , ,

The Externship Project: Busy week with a fresh cow program

Each summer DVM students from the Ontario Veterinary College delve into that practical experience at veterinary clinics across Ontario and additional locales. These blog posts are an opportunity to tag along with the five of them this summer.

By Chelsea Allan

Week three has come and gone and for some reason this week it has seemed to be extra busy. I’ve been up and at er’ by 5 a.m. almost every morning. But nothing beats waking up early in the morning and driving the countryside. It may seem kind of silly, but I love watching as all of the crops emerge and grow from the ground. Nothing is quite as pleasing as seeing the rows upon rows of perfectly straight lines of wheat, corn and soybeans. And every time I see a sprayer on the road I get this tingling urge to see if I could drive under it.

John_Deere_4930_SprayerHere is a sprayer in relation to cars…see I think it is a definite possibility but for sincere safety concerns I would not recommend it to anyone!

This week I had an exciting, but also slightly nerve-wracking, venture to tackle. Navan started a Fresh Cow Program. This program consists of me visiting farms once or twice a week to look at their fresh cows. Holy cow, although I was nervous about making sure I did a good job, I think I was more worried about getting lost. I will fully admit that my sense of direction sucks. Anyway, fresh cows are cows that have recently calved and have started producing milk. During this freshening or transition period there are many potential causes of illness. It is an important time to make sure that they remain healthy because they have significant energy demands from the milk they are producing and they have a potentially decreased immune system because they have just recently given birth.

To read what Chelsea’s job entailed this week, continue reading here.

 

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 27th, 2014 :: Filed under AgVocacy,animal handling,Speaking out,Uncategorized
Tags :: , ,

Why I Think Dairy Supply Management is Important

Jean L Clavelle

Let me begin by saying that this is an incredibly complex issue. To be truthful I do not fully understand how supply management impacts international trade or even really the nuts and bolts of the supply manager system itself so I will not discuss that here (Dairy Farmers of Canada have produced some fantastic background information http://www.dairyfarmers.ca/content/download/1164/13161/version/2/file/Economic-Rationale2011_EN.pdf on the economics of supply management if you would like to know more). Despite my ignorance, I do think dairy supply management is incredibly important to dairy producers and Canadian consumers.  And I want to attempt an explanation of why from the perspective of a consumer not as someone with a dairy background (which I do not have).

Under this system producers are paid a fair price

Producers are paid a fair price

Many have critiqued this system but it seems they have oversimplified and under complicated the issue to the extreme.  It had been said that supply management isn’t good for the producer or for the consumer.  But I think ‘they’ are wrong.

So what is supply management?  Supply management controls the volume of milk produced on a provincial and annual basis. Provincial boards manage the milk supply to coincide with demand for their products.  By effectively controlling production, expensive and costly surpluses are avoided.  A price is then set by a federally managed board based on cost of production, consumer price index and multiple other factors.  Not just anyone can supply milk either, dairy producers purchase quota essentially for the right to sell milk. Without quota no one can legally sell milk.

So why do I think it’s important?  Well, the objective of supply management is two fold 1. to provide Canadian consumers with an adequate supply of the product at reasonable prices and 2. to provide efficient producers with fair returns.  And that is the crux of my argument.  Under this system producers are paid a fair price.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 25th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Regulations,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , ,

Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 23rd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal health,Beef cattle,Consumers,Feeding the world,Food,Food safety,Innovation and technology,Misconceptions,Regulations,Speaking out,Sustainability
Tags :: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Napanee dairy farmer in 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

By Kelly Daynard

Dairy farmers Kevin and Adrianna MacLean enjoy interacting with the public and answering their questions about farming.

Dairy farmers Kevin and Adrianna MacLean enjoy interacting with the public and answering their questions about farming.

Napanee – You may not have thought of celebrating Christmas with a herd of dairy cows but that’s just what residents of Napanee did last year when they were invited to a special holiday open house event at Ripplebrook Farm.

Ripplebrook Farm is a third generation family farm operated by Kevin MacLean, his parents Barton and Barbara and his step-son Taylor. The family milk 130 cows and crop 750 acres.

The family always embraces opportunities to showcase the farm and often host tours throughout the year. Last year, they decided to host a “Christmas with the Cows” event for their community. They had no idea how many people might attend and were both surprised and pleased when 200 showed up to watch their evening milking and spend the evening in the barn.

That’s just one example of Kevin’s work as an agricultural advocate – or agvocate. Youth groups, service groups and school trips all enjoy feeding the young calves and “helping” to milk the cows. A friendly member of their herd, nicknamed “Carrie the Curious Cow” is always a special hit with the visitors.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 20th, 2014 :: Filed under 4-H,Agricultural Advocates,AgVocacy,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Horses,milk
Tags :: , , , , , , , ,

Inside Farming: Safe food at a low price

By Rudi Spruit, CanACT President, University of Guelph

Here in Canada, we have some of the lowest cost and safest food in the world. Canada has one of the lowest food freedom dates in the world – the date at which the average Canadian has made enough money to pay for their food for the entire year. This date, for the typical Canadian, sits around Feb. 14. That is a real testament to how well farmers and all other steps in the supply chain have worked to reduce their costs and pass that discount on to the consumer.

In Canada, about 12 per cent of income is spent on food, but in Egypt, that number sits up near 43 per cent. In China, the average citizen spends about 22 per cent of their income on food, and in Russia, about 31 per cent.

Not only do we have some of the lowest-cost food around the world, but it is also the safest food available. Canada continues to keep their reputation for the safest place to import food from, and passes the most stringent food safety rules, and thus the farmers in Canada are able to send food all around the globe.

There are very strict rules about food production due to a tough governing body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA does regular inspection at processing plants, all seed plants, and even at farms. They are responsible for the food safety of Canada, from beef to dairy to honey, which may even include fining businesses for non-compliance to the laws.

Some examples of food safety are the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in cattle. Each farmer will have a unique identification, and as the cattle go through its life, this number will stay with them forever. This way, when the animal gets processed, if there is a problem with the meat or there is a recall on the meat, it can be traced back to the farm it came from. Even in milk production there is a sample taken at every farm before the milk is picked up, so if there is ever a problem, it can be traced back to one specific farm on one specific day. A record is kept of each farm based on their quality of products and history of non-compliance, which can give a very good indicator if that farm might need more inspections to keep up the excellent reputation of Canada’s food system.

As Canadians, we should all be proud of this reputation. Most countries look to Canada to see how to develop a food safety program – they will buy food and raw materials only from Canada, and will base the success of their food programs on the Canadian food freedom date. This is an amazing fact, and due to the hard work of many Canadians, we can truly say that we have some of the safest food in the world at one of the lowest costs.

Inside Farming is a series of articles written by Canadian Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (CanACT) members at the University of Guelph.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 13th, 2014 :: Filed under Food,Food safety,Speaking out,Uncategorized
Tags :: ,

Kids in the Barn

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Over the past few months, as people hear I’m now working in the barn alongside my husband, there’s one question

Seth loves helping in the barn.

Seth loves helping in the barn.

that we commonly get asked. “What do you do with the kids while you’re in the barn?”

It’s a valid question. We have three children, and the oldest is only five. Farms have many dangers, both obvious and hidden, and our barn is full of Holsteins, which are a large dairy breed.

As soon as we moved to the main farm, before we were even in the succession planning process, I began bringing the boys out to see my husband during chores and to slowly start teaching them how to behave in the barn. We started slow, with the boys riding their bikes in the heifer barn. As time went on, we started adding in visits to the barn the milking cows are in and visits to the calves in the nursery.

By the time I started helping with night chores nearing the end of the succession planning process, the kids were pretty good about staying close, asking before touching anything, and knowing what they were and were not allowed to do. The baby is the easiest one to manage in the barn, as he happily sits in his barn stroller watching us work. When he was younger, the sound of the milking machines frequently put him to sleep and he would have his best naps during chore time. Now he prefers to watch everything that is going on, play with the dog whenever she walks past his stroller, and, in the heifer barn, sit in the play pen we put out there for him.

Aaron uses his pedal tractor to push the feed closer for the heifers.

Aaron uses his pedal tractor to push the feed closer for the heifers.

To help them pass the time in the barn, we have left the bikes in the heifer barn and have also brought out their pedal tractors with wagons. When they just want to have fun, they ride their bikes around the barn. If they want to help, they get on their pedal tractors, hitch up their wagons, and either haul hay or straw, or use the buckets on the tractor to push the heifers’ feed up. It’s always fun to watch them out there.

The cow barn is set up differently, and their bikes and tractors are not as practical in there. For the cow barn, we either have them helping my husband milk, they ride in the feed carts while I’m feeding the cows (the carts aren’t motorized and feed is forked out by hand), or they play on the steps of the hay mow with toy tractors.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 9th, 2014 :: Filed under Uncategorized

Debunking the bunk on cow calf farms

Jean L Clavelle

A friend has recently begun to show me articles circulating through social media that pertain to farm animals to ask “does this really happen?!”.   These are the frustrating ones to those of us in agriculture. They are brilliantly written in that a tiny nugget of truth is wrapped up in propaganda and misinformation and sometimes blatant lies so that livestock agriculture appears to be nothing short of horrific (which is generally the point of these articles – to convert animal loving meat eaters into animal loving vegans).

I expressed my frustration with the most recent article she showed me to which she replied why hasn’t agriculture done a better job of sharing what actually happens on farms then? Good point. So today I would like to share with you some of what happens on a cow calf farm.  Because managing cows is a little bit complicated we will only cover what happens during the summer and discuss other seasons in future articles.

cow calf PICCows (mature female cattle) and their babies (called calves) are brought to pasture with bulls (mature breeding males) in the early summer. In Saskatchewan, pastures are generally large tracts of land (often up to a mile by a mile square or more) of grass or hay referred to as forage. This land is often too hilly infertile, or otherwise not suited to growing food crops for human consumption. On pasture cattle are able to eat, sleep, play, run, lie down or do anything else that a bovine wishes to do.

Cows are turned out to pasture for a number of reasons. The first is that forage is an efficient way of providing a nutritious feed source for beef cattle. Did you know that 80 to 85% of all feed consumed by cattle cannot be eaten by humans? This is because forage is mostly fiber which humans simply cannot digest. Cattle have four separate stomach components which allows them to digest a very fibrous substance – forage – into something they can use. It’s a lengthy process too. A cow will spend about six hours a day grazing (eating) and then another 8 hours a day chewing its cud – this is kind of a cool process where they regurgitate the recently eaten feed in their rumen (the first of their four stomachs), chew it and then re-swallow it to be further digested through the remaining 3 stomachs. As you drive by a herd of beef cows lying in the grass slow down and check out a cow as she methodically chews the feed she’s eaten that day.

The next important objective for the summer months is to ensure cows are bred. Cows have a 9 month gestation (pregnancy) so the next calf will be born in the early spring in time for the new grass. Calves will begin the summer nursing but as they grow they will begin to consume more and more forage in their diet.

Beef cattle are gregarious, that means they enjoy the companionship of other beef animals (this is known as a herd). In Saskatchewan the average beef cow herd is around 75 cows and these are all usually managed together as one for the summer months.

On a regular basis producers will check their animals to ensure they are all healthy, active and present. Any sick animals are treated on site and if that isn’t enough they are taken to a veterinarian. In addition to forage, producers also provide minerals to ensure they have a healthy balanced diet. A balanced diet as we all know prevents disease and helps maintain good health.

Cows seem like gentle giants and they are for the most part. Some cows however can be very aggressive. A small proportion of cows – about 6% -aggressive cow will attack anyone or anything that gets close to their calves. This incredible picture shows a herd of cows attacking a black bear that attempted to steal a calf.

And that’s where we will end for now. Stay tuned this fall as we discuss more of what happens on a cow calf farm in the next season. If you decide you just can’t wait till then, please visit farmfoodcare.org or skstockgrowers.com.

 

 

 

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 9th, 2014 :: Filed under Uncategorized