Answering a few questions about animal care in a chance encounter

 By Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural enthusiast.

December 22, 2020 - During the summer, I attended the Canadian National Exhibition with the Ontario Farm Animal Council’s (OFAC)  spokesrobot Oprah.  Most of the questions we were asked were fairly general, but there was one comment which has stuck in my mind since then.

 It is one I’m sure everyone in agriculture has heard at some point, and if they have not heard it yet, they will soon.  While we were on our way to the parking lot at the end of the day, a gentleman stopped us and asked what Oprah was for.  I briefly explained that she is an educational assistant sent to events such as fairs and festivals by the Ontario Farm Animal Council, and followed up by telling him who OFAC is and what it does.

Once I finished my explanation, the first comment he made to me was about how farming has been going downhill compared to how it used to be when he was a child.  He went on to talk about the conditions on farms being worse now than they were in the past, and how there are no regulations or laws enforced for farmers on animal housing.  He was under the impression that farmers are putting as many animals as possible into barns to make more money, at the detriment to animal health and wellbeing.  The man had never farmed, and had the same concerns many urbanites share.

Just two months earlier, we had a major barn fire, which resulted in our heifer barn being completely burnt in a matter of hours.  The good news is that all of our heifers (young female cows who haven’t yet given birth) were on pasture when the fire started, so none perished, or even suffered from smoke inhalation. 

In the two months between the fire and the CNE, my husband and father-in-law had been doing paperwork and research every day to prepare for building the new barn.  Because of this, I was very familiar with the planning stages between a concept of a barn and the final plans.

I used my personal knowledge to explain to the gentleman about the existence of Codes of Practice which dictate how much space animals need and many other aspects of housing and handling.  In addition, I told him about Nutrient Management Plans and legislation that determined how much land is required per animal so there is not a nutrient overload to the soil.  I also made sure to stress that if an animal is not healthy or comfortable, the result is poor production and injuries or illnesses which will negatively impact the farmer.

The man responded with his opinion that legislations and regulations are fine, but they are probably not being enforced to whichI told him about the months of planning and paperwork which has to be done before ground can be broken for a new barn, and assured him that people do pay attention to housing conditions for animals.  Finally, I told him about how charges can be laid if a farmer is not housing or caring for their animals properly.

He seemed relieved at all of this information, and was more receptive to the idea that farmers are doing their best to care for animals.  I walked away hoping that he would share his new information with someone else and, in doing so, help spread the word about positive changes in agriculture.  There are a few things I wish I would have told him during our conversation, however.

I wish I would have had the space requirements for animals now versus 25 or 30 years ago.  Stalls which seemed big then are at the lower end of acceptable now, and pens are the same.  Granted, part of this change is to accommodate larger animals, but mainly it is for comfort.  I also wish I would have told him about how much brighter and more open the new barns are compared to the old barns. 

Our new barn was completed at the beginning of November, and the heifers moved in right away.  It’s rewarding to see how comfortable and healthy they are in the new barn which has multiple pens allowing all of them to have equal access to the feeders.  It is also has lots of natural light and fresh air.  Temperature controls raise and lower the curtained walls automatically so the temperature is never too high or too low.  Having new handling equipment makes it easy and low stress when animals have to be caught.  There are many differences between the old and new barns and the improvements in equipment and codes of practice make a very pleasant environment for both the farmers and the animals.

Unfortunately, there is only so much information you can share with someone in a brief encounter.  If I had the chance to have a longer conversation with this gentleman, we could have branched out into topics outside of housing too.  I could have told him about advancements in many handling and animal care practices being used today.

We never have the full amount of time we need to explain our industry.  It is too broad, with too much disconnect between the farmers and consumers.  People in agriculture are also normally so passionate about what we do that they tend to want to spend full days talking about the truth in agriculture and farming practices. 

The main thing to remember is whenever you are given the chance to dispel a myth or answer a question, take it.  Even if you barely scratch the surface because of time or language constraints, a small amount of information is better than letting a question or concern go unaddressed.  Stay positive and show that farmers really do care, and have the same concerns about welfare as consumers do.  If we all do this, even though we may not share all of the information we want to, at least the person we are talking to will have a positive experience.


Posted by OFAC on December 22nd, 2010 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal health,Barn fires,Codes of Practice,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Housing,Innovation and technology,Regulations,Research,Sustainability of the family farm,Uncategorized,animal handling
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One Response to “Answering a few questions about animal care in a chance encounter”

  1. Laurie Loveman
    January 2nd, 2011

    Thanks for an enjoyable article. . . we all need to answer questions about animal care and safety when they are presented to us, especially to those who are interested in agriculture but not actively involved in the profession; the people we speak to can become our best supporters when it comes to animal welfare.

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