let's talk farm animals

Changing markets for changing times

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate
In recent years, interest in local foods and what farming practices are being used has created a shift.  Consumers are starting to seek out farmers who sell direct through farmers’ markets and on-farm stores, and farmers are spending more time connecting with consumers.
In the past, this was common.  In the year 1931, one in three Canadians lived on a farm, whereas today only one in 46 people do (www.farmissues.com).

Although the concept itself is not new, the markets and opportunities it creates for farmers are.  As the local food movement grows, more and more farmers across Canada and the United States market their products directly to consumers.  This is the story of one of these farmers, and how his family decided to change their farm business to better serve consumers.

Before Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow disease) was discovered in 2003, Kenview Farms, owned by the Kent family, was raising dairy heifers to sell to dairy farms across North America.  These are often called replacement heifers. Many of their animals were sold to American buyers, which was made easier by the fact their farm is fairly close to the Ontario-USA border.

Their established way of life changed suddenly on the day the border to animals closed between Canada and the United States, as did the lives of many other farmers.  Suddenly, they found themselves selling replacement heifers to an already overpopulated Canadian market, often for less than the cost of raising the young animals.

As they were wondering what to do to make the farm profitable again, one of their neighbours fell and broke his collarbone.  As their neighbour healed, the Kents cared for his 20 beef cows and his bull.  In time, they purchased the small herd, along with several others. 

They decided to sell the meat from their cattle directly to consumers, through an on-farm store and farmers’ markets.  To serve their customers best, they have two distinct lines of beef. In one, the cattle are primarily fed corn. In the other, they’re raised to market weight on grass. 

The Kents, like many farmers, enjoy answering their customers’ questions about how the cattle were raised.  They vaccinate their animals to prevent illnesses which could spread through the herd quickly, and give antibiotics to individual animals if they become ill with something they cannot fight off naturally. 

Unlike many beef farms, Kenview has calves born year-round.  To keep animals comfortable, cattle live out on the pasture from spring until fall, and in the barn during the winter.  “We want to make sure the animal is well cared for,” says John Kent.

In addition to their beef cattle, the Kents also have turkeys and chickens which they raise for meat to sell in their store and at the markets they attend.   Although the chickens and turkeys are housed indoors, they have plenty of space, light and fresh air.  The decision to house them indoors was made following an animal predator break-in several years ago which led to the death of some of their turkeys.

Stories like the Kents’ are easy to find.  The number of farmers reaching out to their consumers is increasing regularly through direct marketing and interactions on social media, among other methods.  Farmers have stories to tell…are you ready to listen?

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Posted by FFC on July 22nd, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Chickens,Consumers,Farm life,Feeding the world,Turkeys,Wildlife
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