let's talk farm animals

What does sustainable farming mean to you?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Free run barn

Free run barn

I was at a conference this week discussing agriculture and food production in Canada.  I must say it was a pretty exciting and motivational two days.  The first reason being that we had some progressive innovative farmers and industry people in the room.  They were excited to be there, they are passionate about farming, they want to keep improving, and they want to show Canadians what they do.  Not only that but they were asking what do consumers want from us?  The second reason is that there was some interesting, scratch that, fascinating discussion about how food is grown.

Historically debate about growing food has been a bit one dimensional.  By only looking at food safety perhaps we are neglecting to look at animal welfare.  By prioritizing environmental factors perhaps we are overlooking the affordability of food.  There was a theme running through the last few days where a more holistic approach to growing food seems to have taken root, that there is a social commitment on the part of all of us involved in agriculture and growing food to balance the five principles of sustainable food growth and farming.  These five principles include: Food Safety; Animal Health & Welfare; Environment; Economics and Food Affordability; and Health and Safety.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 15th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Canada,Chickens,Consumers,Sustainability,Uncategorized
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Ontario farmer uses barcodes to raise the bar on beef

By Jeanine Moyer

(Simcoe and Stoney Creek) – Ontario beef farmer Cory Van Groningen knows what’s important to his customers – quality

Cory Van Groningen

Cory Van Groningen

and trust. And he’s found a way to increase meat tenderness while tracing every single cut of beef from the farm, directly into the hands of his customer. All this is achieved by using barcodes and innovative tracking systems that begin at the animal’s birth, and follow right through to placing prime beef cuts in the grocery store cooler.

As co-owner of the family business, VG Meats, Van Groningen is responsible for keeping the supply chain short by raising cattle for their own processing plant and retail stores. He and his wife Heidi run a 400 cross-bred cow herd, producing beef for VG Meats and other retailers. Raising cattle directly for their own market means Van Groningen has complete control over the product through every stage, beginning at birth, to ensure health, quality and traceability.

Keeping with a 40-year family tradition of processing and retailing meat, Van Groningen also works alongside his parents and three brothers, managing and operating a processing plant and two retail locations. Selling directly to customers through two retail locations in Simcoe and Stoney Creek, ON, means Van Groningen and his family can talk directly to their customers, determining exactly what they want and what’s important to them.

“We’ve learned customers want to trust the people packaging their meat,” says Van Groningen. “They often ask questions as a way to learn more about products and test a retailer’s competency. Traceability is a way to earn their trust and help them verify they’ve made the right choice in choosing our meat products.”

As a farmer, food processor and retailer, Van Groningen knows consumer trust means the family business needs to be accountable for the products they sell. And that means product traceability right from the farm to the customer’s plate.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 8th, 2014 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Food safety,Innovation and technology,Meat processing,Meat/slaughter plants,Retailers,Traceability,Uncategorized
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Ontario pig farmer in the 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

By Kelly Daynard

Plattsville – To hear Scott Richmond talk about his farm, you’d think he had more of a career as a poet or a novelist than as a farmer.

Scott Richmond’s a fifth generation farmer, raising pigs, corn and soybeans on his family farm near Plattsville

Scott Richmond’s a fifth generation farmer, raising pigs, corn and soybeans on his family farm near Plattsville

“My favourite thing is to walk out the back door when the dew is on the grass and the sun’s just coming up over the hills. It just smells like beauty”, he says when describing his chosen career. “I just can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Scott’s a fifth generation farmer, raising pigs, corn and soybeans on his family farm near Plattsville, in Oxford County. His farm was named Brae-Heid, in recognition of its rolling hills, by his long ago Scottish ancestors who emigrated here.

Scott said that there was never any doubt that he was going to farm. Looking back, he chuckles, “I don’t think I picked farming. I think farming picked me.” He studied agriculture at the University of Guelph, graduating in 2002. From there, he worked in construction for a while before returning home join his parents in their farming business.

Together, they have a “farrow to finish” pig farm where mother pigs (called sows) give birth to their piglets and the piglets are raised up to the age when they go to market. They also grow 250 acres of corn and soybeans that are used to feed their livestock.

A successful blind date a few years ago led to his marriage to wife Dawn and the recent arrival of their daughter, Meredith, the sixth generation of the Richmond family to live on the farm. Dawn wasn’t from a farm but Scott’s proud to report that she’s adjusted to her new rural life well. “She’s always eager to help out when needed.”

Scott says that the health and well-being of his pigs are always foremost on his mind – from the time he wakes in the morning until he goes to bed at night. His daily routine involves walking the barn to ensure that all of his pigs are healthy, content and have enough feed and water as well as checking his fields to ensure that his crops are also thriving. Said Scott, “I haven’t found a better business partner than Mother Nature.”

Scott is also active in his community. He’s vice president of his local curling club and past president of the Oxford County Pork Producers’ Association. He likes being involved in his community and his industry. “It’s a combination of coveralls and business”, he said in an interview. “I like working at home and being my own boss but I like helping in the industry too.”

Many Ontario pig farmers, like Scott, are also involved in helping their local food banks. In June 2013, a new pilot program saw a donation of 10,000- 500g packs of ground pork made directly to Ontario food banks in Southwestern Ontario including Sarnia, London and Hamilton. The program built upon the success of the “Donate a Hog” program that was started in 1998.

During the course of the 2013 pilot project, the donated pork represented the equivalent of 20,000 meals for adults. The entire quantity was dispatched within three to five days of delivery.

Next, the program’s organizers hope to build on the success of the Ontario Pork Program by securing enough funding to run the program year-round for two years. The hope is to purchase enough pork to make it available to food banks on a regular basis. Industry partners have expressed an interest in helping to match funds made available by Ontario Pork, the organization representing Ontario’s pig farmers.

The Oxford County Pork Producers’ Association, of which Scott is past president, has also been active in food bank initiatives, donating to their local food bank in Woodstock.

“I think it’s important for farmers like us to give back to our communities,” said Scott. “I feel really fortunate to have the life I live. If we can do something to help others facing hunger in our communities, that’s a very good thing.”

He added that more than 400,000 Ontarians visit their local food bank each month, with 160,000 of them being children. Many of them are lacking good protein sources, like pork, in their diets.

In 2014, Scott is the face of Ontario’s pig farmers and December in the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. His page is sponsored by Elanco Animal Health and the Ontario Association of Food Banks. Both are involved in the Ontario Pork Program.

To see an interview with Scott, visit – http://youtu.be/JFhaUrYkqLg

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 2nd, 2014 :: Filed under Faces of Farming,Farm life,Pigs,Uncategorized
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Questions about animal and food production – answered!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Food Care Saskatchewan

 

I was really excited to take part in Farm and Food Care Ontario’s twitter party a few weeks ago to promote the launch of their latest venture – ”Real Dirt on Farming”.  This is a booklet designed to answer all of your questions about farming and food production in Canada.  It is the real dirt so to speak on everything from livestock to crops to horticulture. It was great to see so many questions from all of you and how interested you were in how your food is grown.  The sad part was that it ended way too soon, and there was so much more to share!  On that note I would like to answer some questions about food production to make your decisions about food purchases easier.

Eggs with darker coloured yolks are healthier.  There are actually no nutritional differences between eggs with different coloured yolks.  The colour of the yolk is dependent on what a hen eats.  Any diet for hens that includes a compound called xanthophylls will result in a darker yolk. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet (more common in western Canada and low in xanthophylls) will produce an egg that has a pale yellow yolk. Hens that eat a corn-based diet (most common in Ontario and higher in xanthophylls) will produce eggs with darker yellow yolks.  This is also why free range eggs tend to be darker in the summer because hens will eat grasses or alfalfa which have higher xanthophyll levels.

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

Eggs with brown shells are better because they are more expensive!  Ummm, no.  There are no nutritional differences between eggs with white shells and eggs with brown shells.  Eggs with brown shells come from different breeds of chickens.  But then why do brown eggs cost more?  Well that’s because the breed that produces brown eggs is a larger bird and requires more feed to lay one egg.  Brown eggs are more expensive simply because it costs more to grow them.

Conventional milk produced in Canada is raised with hormones.  Not so!  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle.  It regulates growth and lactation in cattle and has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST otherwise known as rBST is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10 to 15%.  The problem however is that it may also increase the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows which is why Health Canada has not approved it for use in dairy production here.  So what that means for you is that no milk, cheese or yogurt (conventional or organic) comes from cows given rBST.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 24th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Chickens,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,eggs,Misconceptions,Poultry,Turkeys
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Please welcome Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan to the Table!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

As of December 10 2014 our province will see the launch of a new organization called Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan (FFCSK). FFCSK represents the wide range of producers established here in Saskatchewan, from livestock to crops to horticulture as well as government and related businesses with a common goal to provide credible information on food and farming within the province. It is FFCSK’s mandate to cultivate awareness and appreciation of agriculture in consumers with the belief that getting to know farmers equals getting to know food.

Previously called the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan or FACS, the group began investigating the potential of a move to FFCSK in 2011. FACS currently represents the livestock and poultry industries to advance responsible animal care within the province. However Adele Buettner, FACS Executive Director noted that “…the general public does not understand how their food is grown or how agriculture has changed over the years, neither is there currently one central location in Saskatchewan where consumers can readily access reliable information on food production.” It was recognized a wider need was not being met so FFCSK was created to represent the people who are passionate about food and farming in Saskatchewan and provide a coordinated effort, expertise and a unified voice on behalf of the whole agri-food sector.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 12th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Speaking out
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Proud to have “farmer’s hands”

By Patricia Grotenhuis

"Hands" was the theme of the 2015 #facesoffarming calendar

“Hands” was the theme of the 2015 #facesoffarming calendar

“Where do you work?” the nurse asked, looking at my hands.

“I work at home,” I said, “on a farm.”

“I knew it!” she exclaimed. “It’s a dairy farm, isn’t it? I could tell by your hands. I would know a dairy farmer’s hands anywhere – I used to live on a dairy farm.”

The other nurse in the room seemed surprised by the exchange, so my nurse called her over to show her my hands.

“See,” she explained, “they’re soft in some spots, calloused in others, and stained.”

It was the most accurate description of my hands I’ve ever received. Washing the cows’ udders leads to the soft patches, while forking all of the feed and bedding leads to the calluses. It depends on the day what the stains are from. Sometimes they come from the teat dip we use on the cows after milking to maintain udder health. If I’ve been helping my husband fix something, the stains could be from grease or oil. I enjoy canning when I can find time, so in this particular case, they were stained from pitting cherries.

My hands have never had a manicure, and will never be described as “pretty” or “well looked after”. I’m okay with that, though. I’ve had farmer’s hands most of my life, and to me, it means I spend my time caring for our animals and land, no matter what toll it takes on my body or skin.

The 2015 Faces of Farming calendar

The 2015 Faces of Farming calendar

Soon, winter will be here, and with it will come chapped, cracked skin from my hands being exposed to the elements while I work. It means my hands will catch on fabrics, and sometime they will crack deep enough to bleed. I’m still okay with it, though. It will just be yet another way of showing people I am proud of what I do, and proud to take the best possible care of our animals and land.

“Hands” was the theme of Farm & Food Care Ontario’s 10th Anniversary Faces of Farming calendar. Meet the farmer models in our 2015 calendar here: http://farmfoodcare.org/news/2015-faces-of-farming-calendar

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 7th, 2014 :: Filed under Faces of Farming,Farm life,Uncategorized
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Dairy farmer sisters from Hagersville in 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Hagersville – Milking cows and growing crops are two passions that Heather and Jennifer Peart of Hagersville have

Heather (l) and Jennifer (r) are dairy farmer sisters near Hagersville, Ont.

Heather (l) and Jennifer (r) are dairy farmer sisters near Hagersville, Ont.

always shared.

The sisters, fourth generation farmers, decided to turn their love of farming into a lifelong career when they bought their first 50 acre farm in 2005. At the time, they were only 18 and 20 years of age. Jennifer was studying for her Agricultural Business degree and Heather was studying for her Animal Science degree, both at the University of Guelph.

Since then, they’ve gradually increased the amount of cattle and land they own. Today, they each own 25 cows and together, have increased their land base to 200 acres growing corn, hay, wheat and rye to feed their livestock.

Currently, Jennifer milks cows in the morning before heading to her off-farm job. Heather is the full time herd manager at their family farm, Peartome Holsteins, and farms full time with parents, Doug and Mary-Ann.

Both sisters are enthusiastic agricultural advocates. When they showed their cows at the annual Simcoe fair recently, they estimate that they answered about 400 questions from visitors about their cows on a whole variety of topics. And, when they milked their cows at the end of the day at the fair, an audience of about 100 circled around to watch. “We really enjoy answering questions about our animals,” said Jennifer. “It’s fun when a routine milking can turn into an impromptu agricultural education session.” Jennifer also sits on the Haldimand County Agricultural Awareness Committee.

Their commitment and passion for farming has attracted some attention. In 2014, they are being featured as the faces of November in the 2014 Faces of Farming Calendar produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by AdFarm.

“It’s nice to be able to change the face of farming by being a young female in agriculture,” says Jennifer.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 3rd, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Uncategorized
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Wondering about antibiotics in cattle feed?

 

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

There has been much discussion on antibiotics that go into livestock production and their influence on antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotic resistance is so incredibly complex that not even the scientific community fully understands all of the causative factors.  We don’t have the space to tackle that topic here but I would like to chat about antimicrobial use in cattle production – in particular a group of medications called ionophores – as they are a widely used tool by cattle producers and wildly misunderstood by the general public.

Rumen diagram

The rumen is the main digestive center.

So let’s start from the beginning.  Cattle are considered “ruminants”, a class of animals which have not just one stomach but four (yes you read that right – 4 stomachs!).  Of the four compartments, the Rumen is the first and largest, and the main digestive centre.  The rumen is filled with billions of bacteria that are able to break down grass and other coarse fibrous materials (such as hay and straw) that animals with only one stomach (including humans, chickens and pigs) simply cannot digest.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 29th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Education and public awareness
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Meeker’s Magic Mix turns fish byproduct into premium compost

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care Ontario

(Evansville) – To anyone who knew Mike Meeker as a child, there’s no surprise that he’s now a fish farmer, raising

Mike Meeker and his dog Rosco stand on the dock of his rainbow trout fish farm near Evansville on Manitoulin Island.

Mike Meeker and his dog Rosco stand on the dock of his rainbow trout fish farm near Evansville on Manitoulin Island.

rainbow trout on a pristine lakefront property on Manitoulin Island. “If there was water anywhere, I was in it,” Meeker says of his early years. “There was never any doubt in my mind as to what I wanted to do.”

After attending the University of Wisconsin where he studied Zoology, Meeker played hockey for a few years before settling on the west side of Manitoulin Island in 1984 with his family. At that time, Meeker said that there weren’t any other fish farms on the island so his plans were met with a great deal of skepticism. But, his perseverance and enthusiasm paid off and he is now one of five growers successfully raising trout in the area.

When an average rainbow trout reaches market size, it weighs between 2.5 and three pounds. Of that, though, only about half of the fish is used for human consumption. Until a few years ago, the remaining byproducts (called offal) were sent to a landfill site and farmers were required to pay a fee to dispose of it. Meeker found this frustrating. Not only was he not being paid for the entire fish but he was facing significant costs to dispose of parts of it. “It really added insult to injury,” he recalled. “I didn’t see it as a waste but as a resource.” Utilizing the fish byproducts in a product is much more environmentally responsible that adding to the pile of waste at the local landfill sites.

Meeker’s developed a reputation in his industry as being an inventor and an entrepreneur. Like many farmers, he’s determined to keep overhead expenses low and is always seeking ways to make his farming operation more efficient.

Reflecting on the costs and perceived waste of disposing of the offal, Meeker began experimenting. He sourced and retrofitted an old cement truck and used it to churn a mixture of fish byproducts with sawdust (a byproduct of the forestry industry). He then composted the material. Over a few years, he’s perfected the three-month process, studying the optimum airflow, moisture content and temperature of the mixture. A retrofitted snow blower has also been put into use to further grind up the material and lays it in wind rows for composting.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 21st, 2014 :: Filed under animal by-products,Environment,Innovation and technology,Uncategorized
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Giving Thanks

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

On this Thanksgiving weekend I was surrounded by my children, my family, good and plentiful food and a warm home. I was reflecting on all of the beautiful parts of my life that I am thankful for and felt truly blessed by my fortune to live in Canada and yes, even my good fortune to live in Saskatchewan.

In 1931 one in three people lived on a farm. Today's it's one in 46

In 1931 one in three people lived on a farm. Today’s it’s one in 46

I thought back to a few days ago when I participated in a wonderful event called AgEXperience. School children from in

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Canada,Farm life,Uncategorized
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