let's talk farm animals

Enjoying the peace of a barn at night

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By Patricia Grotenhuis

There is something peaceful about a barn at night.  I’ve always found it soothing to be out there after all of the animals are fed and cared for, as they all eat or rest contentedly, a soft yellow glow from the lights shining on them.

I was reminded of how nice it is recently when I slipped out to give my husband a message.  In the summer, being in the barn after dark always meant chores were going really slowly since most of the family was in the fields, or, as children and youth, that we were preparing animals for a show at a local fair or 4-H event.  Once the time change comes, though, it happens daily.  As soon as the equipment in the barn for feeding the animals is turned off, and there is just the gentle, steady hum of the milking machines, the peacefulness starts.

The cows stand munching on their feed waiting to be milked, and the calves eat their hay and grain, waiting for their share of the milk.  In the heifer barn, they are finishing eating and starting to lay down and rest.  The radio plays softly in the background. My husband slips quietly between the cows, putting milking machines on, and taking them off, giving the cow a little pat on the back or scratch on the neck as he goes.

As the cows finish milking, they often lay down to chew their cud, which is not only part of the digestive process for them, but is also a sign of a content, healthy animal.

By the time milking is finished and the calves have been fed their milk, a large portion of the cattle in the barn will be settling in for the night.  At that point, my husband is nearing the end of the chore routine as well – cleaning the barn, checking on any cows that are close to calving, and doing a final walk-through to make sure everything is in its place and the cattle are comfortable.

Some nights, of course, a late night in the barn is caused by a piece of equipment breaking, a cow having a calf, or one of the animals needing a little bit of extra care.  On these nights, the barn is not always such a soothing place.  Even then, though, that night charm shows through.

My husband, like all farmers I know, takes pride in making sure the animals and land he is in charge of are cared for as well as possible.  All farmers have their own way of achieving that goal, but they share the same end result.

Some days, it means he barely sees our children because something needs a repair in the barn, or there is a cow who is showing some early signs of sickness.

Some nights it means getting up at two in the morning to drive to the main farm and make sure a cow is not having difficulty delivering a calf.  Other times, he is pouring over his herd management paperwork, making decisions about what he should change in the barn, meeting with people to make sure the cows are receiving the proper nutrients in their diet, or going to various industry meetings to keep up to date on the latest research.

To farmers, the greatest compliment they can receive about their livelihood is that they have a nice farm, their animals look good and are doing well, and they are taking care of their land and the environment. That is why my husband will not leave the barn with something left to do, or do a half-hearted job of caring for the cattle.  The benefits and satisfaction he gets from seeing the farm doing well are a payoff for him.


Posted by FFC on November 30th, 2012 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,animal handling,Autumn,Barns,Dairy cattle,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Housing
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Playing the industry

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Guest blog by Dan Murphy, veteran food-industry journalist and commentator. This commentary first appeared in Drover Magazine

Two recent events, both of which are under the radar of most industry participants, represent classic examples of how the animal activist community generates support for its agenda—and more importantly, how a divided, disinterested citizenry often plays right into their hands.


Posted by FFC on November 26th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Horses,Rodeos,Transportation
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Breaking down the options for your breakfast

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by Kristen Kelderman

One of my favourite traditions growing up was our Sunday night breakfast for dinner and curling up to watch the Walt Disney special on CBC. Often we would grab a dozen eggs and whip up some delicious omelets for everyone to enjoy and my sister and I would fight over whose turn it was to crack the eggs.

Since then I have cracked my fair share of eggs, but never have I really questioned where my eggs come from or where do the chickens live and what kind of care are they given?

Growing up on a farm, I never second guessed this and assumed that much like my family; chicken farmers care for their birds just like we do with our Holstein cows.

But consumers today are much more engaged and want to know more about their food and how it’s raised. And this is a fantastic opportunity for Ontario farmers to tell their story! While many people are concerned about what type of eggs they buy- free run, free range, enriched or conventional- they often don’t understand the implications that come with the associated housing systems.

The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) is evaluating the tradeoffs that exist between the different housing systems and how they impact the environment, animal health and well- being, food affordability, food safety and worker health and safety. This research follows two flocks over three years on a commercial farm at the same location with three different housing systems, an aviary, an enriched system and a conventional system.

While the preliminary data has just been released, it provides some very intriguing results regarding environment, animal health and well-being and food affordability. When compared to aviaries, conventional and enriched systems had better air quality with lower levels of ammonia and dust particulates.

Eggs coming in, by conveyor belt, from a Canadian laying hen barn.

And when considering the health and well being of the birds, there were varying results in which system had the most fractured wings, the most breast bone deviations, overall feather coverage and highest incidence of foot problems.

Overall each system had associated health pros and cons, but one did not stand out ahead of the others. The interesting information from this research is that this is the first time food affordability data has been collected on a commercial sized farm.


Posted by FFC on November 22nd, 2012 :: Filed under animal handling,Animal health,eggs,Housing,Research,Uncategorized
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An accessible way to talk about agriculture

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Guest blog by Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph. His Urban Cowboy column and blog appear Monday in The Guelph Mercury.

It’s that point in the semester where my agricultural communication students at the University of Guelph start writing weblogs, popularly known as blogs.


Posted by FFC on November 19th, 2012 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Education and public awareness,Social media,Speaking out
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Fall on the farm

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By Patricia Grotenhuis

Fall is a great time to be on the farm.  The smells, the colours and the activity of harvest and preparing the seed bed for the winter make every day different.

After months of work, it is finally time to harvest the crops, and the animals born during the winter and spring months are either ready to be sold, or are strong and hardy for winter.  Everyone waits expectantly for that first frost, signalling the end of the growing season and the start of harvest. 

It also serves as a friendly reminder from Mother Nature to begin readying barns for winter.  While winter is a time of expectation, spring is a time of promise, and summer is a time of anticipation, fall is when everything comes together on the farm, culminating into the time of gratification.  Finally, there is a chance for realization of all of those goals formed during winter and spring months. 


Posted by FFC on November 7th, 2012 :: Filed under Autumn,Corn,Crops,Farm life,Harvest
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