let's talk farm animals

A pony for Christmas

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by Patricia Grotenhuis

A lot of children want ponies for Christmas at some point in their lives.  They keep hinting about it, write letters to Santa, and think “if I’m really, REALLY good, maybe I’ll get it”.  I was one of those children.

When I was six, the only thing I wanted was a pony or a horse.  Maybe it was from Dad’s stories of having ponies when he was growing up, maybe it was just because it would be neat.  Regardless, it was all I thought about.

When the time came for us to write our annual letters to Santa, I’m pretty sure mine said something along the lines of: “Dear Santa How are you and Mrs. Claus?  How are the reindeer?  I’m 6 years old now, and I’ve been trying really hard to be good this year.  All I want for Christmas is a pony…

I also convinced my brother, who was 10, and sister, eight, to add a pony to their Christmas letters.  It did not take a lot of convincing.  We were farm kids and loved animals – it was just natural to want another one in the mix to love and care for.

I was extra nervous and excited as Christmas Eve approached.  We made sure Dad remembered to leave a bale of hay for the reindeer, which was an annual tradition.  Not the small bales, either, one of the big round bales so all of them could get enough to eat.

We helped Mom make a batch of peanut brittle, because Santa had told us in past years it was his favourite.  And, like all years, we all tried to stay awake to see Santa, even though we were exhausted.

Eventually we drifted off, and the next morning we woke up and ran downstairs to open stockings with our parents and grandma before chores began.  The rest of the presents always had to wait until the animals were taken care of, but we knew the routine and we were okay with that. Santa had indeed visited while we were sleeping!

There were some extra presents under the tree, and overflowing stockings.  There was also a note from Santa, thanking us for the peanut brittle and for the hay.  His reindeer loved having something to eat to keep them going that night.  Santa also mentioned we should check on the cow in the maternity pen.

We bundled ourselves up and went out to the barn.  The bale was completely gone, other than some loose hay scattered around the ground where it had been sitting.  The whole family went back to the maternity pens.

While we were in the maternity pen section of the barn, which gave the cows space and privacy during calving, my brother turned around.  A small horse was sticking its head over the gate of the second maternity pen!  We were so excited it was hard to concentrate on chores.

Eventually we did finish and opened our other presents after a delicious breakfast made by Mom, but that horse was on the top of our minds.  We decided to name her Noel in honour of the day she arrived.

Later that day, dad brought our new horse out so we could go for a little ride on her and I knew I was the luckiest girl in the world.

Out of all of my childhood Christmases, I remember that one with more clarity than any other.  To this day, when I hear someone say they want a pony for Christmas, I smile and take a trip down memory lane.  I know most will not get a live pony like we did, but will always be thankful for that magical Christmas when a little girl’s dream came true.


Posted by FFC on December 20th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal health,Christmas,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Hay,winter
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Time to speak up

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Guest blog by Stewart Skinner, sixth generation Ontario farmer

“While what we are about to show you is from one farm in one community, we’re told this can happen and is happening across the country,” stated Lloyd Robertson to a prime time audience on Saturday night.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a strong motivation to start writing…that night I was tempted to sit down at my computer and bang out an angry retort.  In the end I decided to give myself a cool down period to make sure that I didn’t say anything stupid in the heat of the moment (not that I’ve done that before).

I am a 6th generation Canadian farmer; my family has fed Canadians almost as long as Canada has been a country.  Like my predecessors, I have a strong respect for the livestock I care for and the land that I farm.  But one thing transcends this level of respect, the call to feed the world.  It is impossible to explain this call – it is an intense feeling of responsibility to feed people while making sure that we are doing it in the most sustainable way possible so that coming generations will be able to grow food.  If farmers fail at their job, people starve.  It is a heavy burden.

In Canada today most people get out of bed never worrying about going hungry, there is always a meal around the corner at the grocery store.  This strong sense of food security is what allows Canadians to worry about paying for a house, a car, university tuition, or the welfare of the animal they are eating.  If the vast majority of Canadians didn’t know how they were going to pay for their next meal do you think they would worry about sows being confined in a gestation crate?  No, they would want to make sure that they could buy a piece of pork as cheaply as possible so that they could feed their family.

To read the rest of Stewart’s blog, visit his website at: http://modernfarmer.wordpress.com/


Posted by FFC on December 13th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Animal care,animal handling,Animal welfare,Canada,careers,Farm life,Misconceptions,Pigs,Pork
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Expert Panel Addresses Hidden Camera Investigation at Manitoba Swine Farm

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Kansas City, MO. (Dec. 10, 2012) – The Animal Care Review Panel, a panel of animal wellbeing experts, created to analyze undercover video investigations at livestock farms, has examined undercover video from a Manitoba hog farm and concludes while some of the animal handling practices shown are improper, most of what is seen are widely considered acceptable and humane.

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) created the Animal Care Review Panel to engage recognized animal care specialists to examine hidden camera video investigations and provide expert perspectives for food retailers, the pork industry and the media. The panel that examined the recent video in Manitoba was comprised of Dr. Laurie Connor, University of Manitoba; Dr. Jennifer Brown, Prairie Swine Centre; and Dr. Robert Friendship, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.

The experts viewed a 3-minute video segment produced by the group Mercy For Animals. The news magazine television series W5 also used clips of the video in a report.

Their report follows:


Posted by FFC on December 11th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Animal care,Animal cruelty,animal handling,Animal welfare,Pigs,Regulations
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Common myths about agriculture – even at the University of Guelph

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Guest blog by Rudi Spruit, dairy farmer

Rudi Spruit is a student at the University of Guelph and wrote this response to an article that appeared in the university’s newspaper, The Ontarion.

About four weeks ago, I read an article in The Ontarion about Meatless Monday. As an agriculture student at the University of Guelph, I take a keen interest in anything agriculture-related, especially if it is published in the University of Guelph’s independent student newspaper.

I can see some reasoning behind Meatless Monday, including some health benefits. I don’t know this for a fact, but with the obesity rate where it is in the United States, I can see how eating less protein and more veggies might help the North American diet.

The concern I have is in some of the wording used.   The one problem that set me off with this article was the writer’s lack of understanding about farming in Ontario, evidenced when she mentions, “Others are concerned with animal cruelty; by opting for a vegetarian diet, individuals show they no longer support the conditions many factory farm animals are raised in.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Meatless Monday campaign does nothing to help animal welfare. The concern with animal cruelty is great to everyone, especially farmers. Farmers choose to work with animals because they enjoy it. Caring for animals properly is a matter of doing the right thing.  Contented animals are also more productive animals and lead to higher quality food products. Like any animal owners, farmers must also follow laws for humane treatment, and neglect and abuse of animals of any kind (pets or livestock) is against the law.

In Canada, 98 per cent of all farms are still family owned and operated. It is true that farms are bigger than they used to be, but they’ve had to accommodate a growing world population and a declining farm population.

Fifty years ago, one in three Canadians farmed. Today, it’s one in 47, yet Canadians still want affordable, local food, so we need to produce more – and more efficiently – if we’re going to feed our growing population.

Let me tell you about my family’s dairy farm. We’re the proud caretakers of 370 cows who live in the barn throughout most of the year. There is a reason for that – and that reason will hit us all in about two months: winter. Cows don’t like it. We keep them in the barn for the same reason your pets live in the house: for comfort, fresh feed, fresh water, and safety.

In the summer, cows are often too hot and a lot of them, if outside, could risk facing heat stress and death. So our barn is designed to cool those animals down. Even when they are given a choice of going outside, they pick the barn 98 per cent of the time.

Larger farms came about because approximately 100 years ago, half of the population farmed, whilst now only two per cent do. That means two per cent of the population feeds the remaining 98 per cent. To do that, farms have to get more efficient at producing quality product in large quantities with minimal labor input.

My grandfather milked 60 cows with the help of his family of nine, which created enough income for one family. Today, my dad milks 200 cows with my mom and no other help except for the occasional weekend assistance by me, which creates enough income for all of us.

Today, there are tens of thousands of Canadian farmers like my dad, providing the same amount of care, with the same amount of detail and the same amount of animal welfare. Most farmers care greatly for their animals and take the utmost pride and care in their animals.   If you have any questions about the modern food system and animal agriculture do not hesitate to contact Farm & Food Care Ontario. It’s an organization created to answer the public’s questions about their food and farming supplies.

Also, if you want to enter a modern farm facility without leaving your desk, just visit Farm & Food Care’s website at www.virtualfarmtours.ca to tour a number of Ontario farms, including dairy farms like mine.



Posted by FFC on December 7th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Canada,Dairy cattle,Feeding the world,Future of Farming,Meatless Monday,Speaking out,Summer,Sustainability of the family farm,winter
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