let's talk farm animals

I think we need to talk…

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Jean L Clavelle
Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

Growth hormones.  Dirty nasty words aren’t they?   I’m sorry to bring this up but I think it’s something we need to talk about.

Many of us in Canada, well North America, are so extremely fortunate we live in a place where getting enough to eat is not generally a problem and where we have the choice to make decisions on what we consume.  We have the opportunity to choose where our food comes from and how it’s produced regardless of cost.  Fortunate indeed.

And with this providence, it seems to have become almost admirable to deride those who do not choose foods of a certain variety ie “natural” “ethically raised” “antibiotic free” and  “hormone free”.   Now I would like to assure those of you who can’t or don’t make these food choices despite pressure from your peers or social media, that the food grown in Canada is safe and healthy including beef produced with the use of hormones.  Here’s my attempt at explaining why.

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

First what are growth hormones and how do they work?  Growth hormones are tiny pellets inserted into the back of the ear of a beef animal which slowly releases synthetic hormones over a period of several months.  These hormones mimic the natural reproductive hormones manufactured by the animal.  To make a long physiology discussion short, they encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feed conversion (the amount of feed required to deposit muscle). Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed as protein deposition does.  Muscle tissue contains about 70% water while fat contains less than 30% water.  This means that for every ten pounds of muscle gained, about three pounds comes from dry feed and seven pounds comes from water. This ratio is the reversed for fat growth – roughly seven pounds from dry feed and three pounds from water.   So you can see, that with slight increases in protein deposition and slight decreases in fat deposition that there are pretty big differences in the amount of feed required.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 30th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Food safety,growth hormone
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A day with 6,000 chicks

By Kristen Kelderman

A day old chick - they are very curious and energetic.

A day old chick – they are very curious and energetic.

Nope, you didn’t read the title wrong. This spring, a university friend of mine called me up and asked if I wanted to plan a date with him and 6,000 chicks. An odd request you might say. And no, it isn’t a spinoff dating show from the Bachelor. Those of you familiar with farming have probably already figured out my cheeky attempt at a play on words. My friend Ryan is a broiler breeder farmer and yes, his chicks are yellow, fuzzy and fit in the palm of your hand.

I was very excited to get the call from Ryan. This was my first time going to help out on a chicken farm with the delivery of new chicks. Being the farm kid that I am, I asked what I needed to bring with me – the obvious stuff like work boots, and layers of old clothes to pile under my coveralls. To my surprise, Ryan said all I needed was a t-shirt and jeans. With the cold spring we’d been having I was still wearing my winter coat. I thought I would freeze!

With my dairy farm experience I’m fairly used to working in a cold barn and piling on the layers during chores. But Ryan’s barn is much different than my parents. It was like summer in there! The temperature was quite warm compared to the chilly April morning that was outside.

The inside of the barn was heated by propane to a balmy 30 degrees C on the third floor. I could get used to farming like this! I almost considered calling up my Dad to say that he need to sell the cows and get some chickens.

This is Ryan’s chicken barn. It is three floors high. The new chicks would move into the top floor.

This is Ryan’s chicken barn. It is three floors high. The new chicks would move into the top floor.

So why does the barn feel like you’re on a beach in Jamaica? It’s not for the people who work in the barn, it’s for the chicks that would soon call it home.

One of the most important and laborious jobs that a farmer prepares for when getting new chicks is the work before they arrive. The barn needs to be freshly clean and disinfected from floor to ceiling, new shavings spread out, the feeders and drinkers working properly and set to the right height for the chicks, and the barn needs to be the right temperature- nice and warm.

This is important so that the chicks can settle into their new home a quickly as possible. Young farm animals notice small changes in their environment much more than older mature farm animals, especially with temperature. Getting this right is vital to the health of the chicks. You want them to adjust to their new home right away.

On chick day Ryan had all of the hard work done. All we had to do was unload them from the truck. The new chicks traveled all the way from Kentucky and would have been about 12-15 hours old. They rode up in a climate controlled truck, where they were kept warm and dry.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 22nd, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Chickens,Farm life,Poultry,Uncategorized
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Another perspective of intensively raised livestock

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few weeks investigating the concept of a “factory farm”. It’s an interesting label because it seems to come with inherent biases of agriculture and food production – the name itself implies a 1930’s concept of human exploitation. I’ve also been surprised how commonly and in a generally flippant manner it used when discussing agriculture on social media or in person.

Broiler chicken barn

Broiler chicken barn

During my investigation it became quite evident that when people refer to factory farms they are generally referring to large scale intensive livestock operations. And these references are overwhelming negative. My first impression is that big equals bad. And it is not an outrageous jump to make – I can imagine how any non Ag person would react when walking into a broiler barn with 15,000 chicks or onto an Alberta feedlot with 20,000 head or upon hearing the words ‘robotic milkers’ for dairy production. Big equals anonymous care where staff simply do not care, that technology has replaced individual attention, and where health and welfare are of little concern.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 16th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Education and public awareness,Uncategorized
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The Intentions Behind PETA Attack Ads

Jean L Clavelle

You may have seen the DairyCarrie post recently regarding the PETA video which told a story of cows slogging through deep mud, living in deplorable conditions, emaciated, and generally uncared for. However, upon further investigation DairyCarrie identified several questionable points about the statements and images in the video and that perhaps the story was not all it was shown to be. The video stated that cows were emaciated and generally uncared for however upon closer look the cows had shiny glossy clean coats, were bright and alert and actually in good condition. To the uneducated eye and in comparison to say a sow with large rounded hips dairy cows may look emaciated but that is really just their anatomy – this is normal. It was said that cows were forced to live sleep and eat in mud and manure but if cows actually lived in the conditions shown their bodies hips and tails (not to mention the walls and every other surface in the barn!) would be covered in mud but they were sparkly clean above their legs. (See DairyCarrie.com for the full article).

This one small blog stirred up a virtual hornets nest on social media. By the next day DairyCarrie had 1.2 million views on Facebook and 160,000 people reading the article. Harris Teeter (the grocery food store chain), implicated in the video by PETA as purchasing directly from the farm, denied ever having any relationship with it and PETA was forced to retract their statements.  Upon investigating PETA’s allegations, local county inspectors determined they were unfounded, the cows were actually well cared for and there were no (zero nada zip) welfare concerns.

So why would a group like PETA set out to defame a small dairy farm like this and the dairy industry as a whole? What could possibly be the objective of such a stunt if there was in fact no animal welfare issues? PETA, Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals and others believe in animal rights. Simply put they do not wish for anyone to use, own, have animals of any kind whether that be for food, for entertainment or for pleasure. Including companion animals. They often implicate poor animal welfare as the reason for investigating farms or organizations that involve animals. And let’s be honest occasionally there are poor animal welfare conditions that are beyond ideal and downright negative. However as shown by the DairyCarrie post sometimes (and perhaps more often than you realize) it has more to do with the fact that people are simply using animals (regardless of animal welfare) and the posts and videos distributed by these extreme animal rights groups have nothing to do with animal welfare. And because the general public doesn’t understand the normal anatomy, physiology and animal management of a particular species PETA and other groups spins false truths playing on our emotions. For example in the PETA video it was noted that cows were referred to by number and that implied uncaring conditions. However what an excellent management practice for producers to know an animals complete history from birthday to health issues to production. So even though they do have numbers it’s a practical way to provide the very best health management and individual care for each animal based on what each cow requires.  And as I mentioned earlier to the untrained eye, it might appear that dairy cows are emaciated however obvious hip bones are normal for cows in good condition or even overweight cows.

The Animal rights belief system is certainly a valid one.  It’s unfortunate that these groups behave so badly and devalue that perspective by lying and marketing false truths. I ask each one of you to ask more questions before you believe on face value everything that is published by one of these extremists groups. Contact your local agriculture office, or any of the provincial industry associations who can help you answer your livestock questions or to visit a farm and find out what really happens.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 2nd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Animal welfare,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,HSUS,PETA,Uncategorized
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Northern Ontario beef farmer following her grandma’s career path

Meet our September Faces of Farming calendar model: Kim Jo Bliss

By Kelly Daynard

Kim Jo Bliss spent her youth on her grandma's farm, and today farms that land, raising beef cattle and sheep  in the Northern Ontario District of Rainy River.

Kim Jo Bliss spent her youth on her grandma’s farm, and today farms that land, raising beef cattle and sheep in the Northern Ontario District of Rainy River.

Emo –Kim Jo Bliss spent much of her childhood on her grandmother’s beef cattle farm. Her grandma lived around the

corner and Kim Jo’s parents always knew where to find her if she wasn’t at home.

Fast forward 40 years and Kim Jo is now managing her great uncle’s farm. “I always wanted to be a farmer,” she said in a recent interview. “I really never wanted to do anything else.”

With a herd of 50 beef cows and some sheep, Bliss continues to value both the advice from and her relationship with her grandmother. “She’s not as active as she once was,” Bliss explained, adding, “But she’s still quick to offer advice and she’ll leave me messages telling when she thinks I need to move cows to another pasture.”

Bliss also works off the farm at the Emo Agricultural Research Station, operated by the University of Guelph. The station focuses on research primarily in the areas of crop and forages.

Today, Kim Jo is an active member of the Ontario beef industry and a strong proponent of agriculture in Northern Ontario. “Northern Ontario has a lot to offer,” she explained, adding that she often drives the 3.5 hour trip to Winnipeg to fly to southern Ontario for meetings. She represents the District of Rainy River on the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association and volunteers with a lot of agricultural and community organizations.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 2nd, 2014 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Sheep,Uncategorized
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Finding my voice

By Resi Walt, Communications Intern at Farm & Food Care and dairy farmer

When you’re young and growing up, it can be hard to grasp how big the world is. Where you live – your home, your yard and your neighborhood – is where your world begins and ends. As a child growing up on a farm, I felt that everything I would ever need was on the farm. That included the sandbox, the hay mow, and my bike.

As I got older and went elementary school, I had the occasional sleepover at a friend’s house, or stayed a night with my grandparents, and my world grew a little. Then I found myself in high school, and eventually got my driver’s license. The world really opens up when you can drive anywhere on your own!

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 19th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions
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Breakfast on the Farm Roundup

It’s been almost one week since our Breakfast on the Farm event at the Werts’ dairy farm in Avonmore, Ontario. Here’s a fun roundup of the day’s numbers.

Many, many thanks and shoutouts to those that make our Breakfast on the Farm event possible!

Presenting Sponsors: Egg Farmers of Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Gray Ridge Egg Farms, Dairy Farmers of Ontario

Additional sponsorship: EastGen, Farm Credit Canada, Grenville Mutual Insurance, National Bank, Ontario Plowmen’s Association, Ontario Veal Association, South Nation Conservation Area, Stormont Federation of Agriculture, and Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Food is provided by: Avonmore Berry Farm, Conestoga Meat Packers, Morris & Donna Dusomos, Eastern Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd., Gray Ridge Egg Farms, Warren & Trudy McIntosh, Ontario Apple Growers, P & H Milling Group, Rubicon Farms and Willowgrove Hill Farms.

(click image to enlarge)

BOTF Infographic_Final

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 12th, 2014 :: Filed under AgVocacy,Animal care,Breakfast on the Farm,farm tours,Uncategorized
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Conventional versus Organic Milk Production – Do you know the difference?

Organic Milk PIC

In the 2011/12 dairy year 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production was organic

Jean L Clavelle

This weekend an interesting conversation came up about organic milk production.  And it’s shameful to admit but I realized just how little I know about it!  So this started me on a quest to learn more about the differences between organic and conventional milk and thought I would share some of my findings with you.

As previously mentioned I am in support of organic food production even though I do not purchase organic products for myself or my family.  There is obviously a desire on the part of the consumer for organics and so it is important for Canadian producers to meet those needs.  I think there are pros and cons to both production streams and a fit for both in our society.  This post is not written to encourage you to support one or the other only to share information on both types.

For a little background on organic milk in Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated that as of 2012 dairy made up 11% of all organic sales in Canada.  And in the 2011/12 dairy year 218 farms produced 937,137 hectolitres of organic milk which represents 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production.  Significant numbers for sure and one can only assume they will increase.

The first basic difference between organic and conventional production is that all organic dairies must meet the requirements of the Canadian Organic Standards.  Just as in conventional production organic dairies require a balanced feed ration which include substances that are necessary and essential for maintaining the cows’ health, including large amounts of high-quality roughage.  In organic production however all ingredients must also be certified as organic and approved for use by an accredited certifying body. Organic dairy rations can not include GMO feed sources, and must be free of any synthetic herbicides, pesticides fungicides or fertilizers.

No dairy is legally allowed to use artificial hormones to increase milk production in Canada regardless of whether it is organic or conventional.  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle which regulates growth and lactation.  BST has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST (rbST) is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10% to 15% but it has also been related to an increase in the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows, which is why Health Canada has not approved it’s use.  It is important to note that rbST has not been shown to have a negative effect on human health and its use is permitted in other countries (such as the United States), where it is considered safe.

Antibiotics can be used only when a cow is sick. When a cow receives antibiotics, she must be clearly identified and her milk properly discarded for a mandatory withdrawal period (based on veterinary label instructions) until the medication has cleared the cow’s system.  In organic production cows given antibiotics are required to have a longer withdrawal time above that required in conventional production.  Its important to note that each load of milk is tested for the presence of antibiotics prior to it being added to the milk supply regardless of its production method and any violation to this would result in severe fines for both conventional and organic producers.  I would like to note that using antibiotics is important for the welfare of dairy cows regardless of whether it is a conventional or organic operation.  No matter how good the care, some animals will get sick and it is imperative they be treated.

Nutritionally, dieticians say organic milk is not significantly different than conventional milk.  Interestingly enough the nutritional profile of dairy products for both organic and conventional can vary with season, genetics and feed source however all Canadian milk will meet the minimum nutritional profile guaranteed on each carton.

So! I hope this info helps you to understand some of the differences in how organic milk is produced compared to conventional milk.  But whatever you decide to purchase just know that our Canadian milk supply is healthy safe and tasty.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 5th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Dairy cattle,milk,Organics,Uncategorized
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Opening the barn doors with ‘Breakfast on the Farm’

By Kim Waalderbos

Agriculture is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, say dairy farmers Jim and Nancy Wert – until now.

Reserve your FREE Breakfast on the Farm tickets: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontarios-breakfast-on-the-farm-august-2014-tickets-11374855499

For full details, and to reserve your FREE Breakfast on the Farm tickets. visit:
http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontarios-breakfast-on-the-farm-august-2014-tickets-11374855499

The Werts along with their four university-age sons are spreading that great secret and opening their barn doors. On Saturday, August 2, 2014 the family will host more than 2,000 visitors at their Stanlee Farms Inc. in Avonmore, Ont. for ‘Breakfast on the Farm’.

“We’re really looking forward to welcoming everyone,” says Jim, noting “the really great part is consumers get to talk to farmers first hand and ask questions”.

For the Wert family, a fifth generation of family farmers, their animals are top priority. Farm visitors will see many special features they’ve incorporated to ensure “the ladies” are comfortable and healthy. Their 110 milking cows are housed in a freestall barn, which means they are able to roam about the barn on their own schedule for feed, water or lay down. The milking cows can groom themselves on cow brushes, and have access to fresh air circulating thanks to a special ‘Cyclone’ fan. Jim and Nancy milk their cows twice a day in their milking parlour. On average, each cow produces 32 Litres of milk daily at the Werts’ farm.

The Werts’ heifers (younger female animals) are group housed in a ‘pack’ barn, where they have a large bedded area (pack) to lay down comfortably. Along their feed bunk is a slatted floor area to walk on. This allows manure to fall through to a pit below and keeps the animals’ feet clean and dry.

The youngest calves are also housed in groups, which enables lots of social interaction. Last year the Werts installed a robotic milk feeder. This means the calves can drink warm, fresh milk as often as they like throughout the day. “We really noticed how the older calves teach the younger calves where to get their milk, grain, hay and water,” says Nancy. “The calves really flourish in this environment.”

Jim and Nancy Wert along with their four sons will welcome visitors for breakfast & a farm tour on August 2, 2014.

Jim and Nancy Wert along with their four sons will welcome visitors for a free breakfast & a farm tour on August 2, 2014.

The milking cows and oldest heifers are turned out on pasture in the warmer months. “It’s a psychological benefit for us, and we feel it helps keep the animals healthy,” says Jim. The Werts have 550 acres of land that they use for pasture, and to grow corn, soybeans, forages, barley for straw and specialty beans. “Most of what out animals eat is grown on farm,” Jim says.

The Werts feed a ‘Total Mixed Ration’ (TMR) to their animals. The TMR is a consistent mix of ingredients including corn silage (fermented corn), haylage (fermented grass), high moisture corn, minerals and sometimes soybeans. They work with a dairy nutritionist to make sure the TMR is balanced perfectly for animal needs.

For the past three years, the Werts’ milking cows have also been fed a special Omega-3 supplement. The cows are able to optimize this supplement in their four-compartment rumens (stomach) and produce milk with Omega-3 essential fatty acid benefits for consumers.

The Wert family raises Holsteins, a black and white breed of dairy animals. They’re also certified in the Canadian Quality Milk program.

At Breakfast on the Farm, the Wert family is keen to answer questions and show visitors around. “We feel we represent your typical Canadian dairy farm,” says Jim.

As a bonus, visitors at Breakfast on the Farm can meet farmers from other sectors including chickens, eggs, bees and apples. “It will give a real perspective of agriculture in Ontario,” Nancy says.

Of course, there will also be breakfast – Ontario eggs, sausage, pancakes, maple syrup, berries, chocolate milk and apple cider are just a few of the menu items.

What’s in a name?!

The Wert family has recently added a goat to their farm. Help them find the perfect name by entering your idea in the naming contest at Breakfast on the Farm.

 

For more details, and to reserve your FREE Breakfast on the Farm ticket, visit: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontarios-breakfast-on-the-farm-august-2014-tickets-11374855499

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 31st, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,AgVocacy,Animal care,Breakfast on the Farm,Dairy cattle,Farm life,milk,Speaking out,Uncategorized
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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.

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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
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