let's talk farm animals

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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Recalling one barn fire story during Fire Prevention Week

By Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

The heifer barn before the fire.

The heifer barn before the fire.

Waking to pounding at the door at 1:45 a.m. one June morning, we struggled to open our eyes. Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of flames shooting out of our barn. As my husband raced outside yelling a thank you to the girls who were at the door, I rushed for the phone to call for help. We already knew the barn could not be saved, but were immediately aware that the other buildings were in danger if the flames spread.
We had no idea if all of the heifers were outside on pasture. With our setup, they have the freedom to move back and forth between the barn and pasture as they please. We had to make sure the ones who were on pasture did not return to the barn, though.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 8th, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Barn fires
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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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