let's talk farm animals

Decking the halls - on the farm

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by Kim Waalderbos

For farm kids, there’s one thing that stands between them and their Christmas celebrations – farm chores. That’s right, farm animals take no holidays. However, Christmas day is far from an ordinary day for these Dinner Starts Here bloggers.

For Ontario dairy farmers Justin Williams and Andrew Campbell, Christmas morning starts long before the sun rises while so many others are still snuggled in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

“Christmas morning starts at 4:30 a.m. when we wake up and head to the barn for milking,” says Justin, adding that despite the early hour the barn has a festive spirit. “Christmas morning always seems to be more cheerful in the barn.”

Across the province, at Andrew’s family farm, it’s all hands on deck too. “Christmas around here is pretty wild!” says Andrew. With everyone in the barn, chores go by very quickly with some milking cows, some feeding them, and others laying down a fresh bedding of straw. “It’s the chores we do every morning, but because the whole family is out, we get done much faster.” Then it’s in for coffee, breakfast snacks and of course - opening presents.

On Christmas morning you’ll also find sheep farmer Sarah Brien in the barn. “Christmas morning is a busy time,” she says. “I think it is for every family, but especially when you have 150 animals in the barn that you have to feed before you eat, open presents and visit family.”

It’s divide and conquer for Stephanie Campbell’s farm family. “First dad goes out and does his early barn chores in the hen barn while mom and I start to get things ready in the house.” Stephanie squeezes in a trip to town to pick up her Grandma just in time for the family to gather and open presents. Then it’s back to the barn to gather eggs and finish up chores before the extended family arrives for Christmas dinner.


“Our chickens still need to be taken care of on Christmas morning, and so they are part of our routine,” Stephanie says. “I have great memories of doing chores around Christmas time because everyone pitches in and helps.”

The wait on Christmas morning for the food and presents is almost unbearable most farm kids will tell you. “My sisters and I would be vibrating with the excitement of Christmas morning being so close,” says beef farmer Scott Snyder. “Overall though, Christmas morning is likely my favorite morning because it is relaxed, filled with family and the atmosphere it creates is just plain peaceful”.

For many farm families, Christmas dinner takes place mid-day. “Because we have to head back to the barn late in the afternoon for another round of milking and feeding cows, we’ll have our Christmas dinner at noon,” says Andrew.

“You don’t really get to take a day off and relax when you farm, but I think everyone would agree that we don’t mind it,” Sarah says.

To follow more in the lives of these Ontario farmers, visit www.dinnerstartshere.ca


Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 23rd, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Farm life,winter
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Colostrum: It’s important

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The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  (FACS represents the Saskatchewan livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture.)

Newborn calves have virtually no immunity of their own.  Antibodies are transferred from the cow to colostrum (first milk).  These antibodies protect the calf from disease for the first two months until the calf begins to make its own antibodies.

Significant absorption of antibodies only occurs in the first 12 hours of life.  After that time most antibodies are digested, although some can act locally in the gut.  It is essential calves receive colostrum within a maximum of 12 hours to develop immunity to infectious agents they may meet in the first two months of life.


Posted by FACS on December 19th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Dairy cattle
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Cleanliness and consistency keys to chicken comfort, farmer says

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(St. Anns) - When newly-hatched chicks arrive at Topp Farms, they are placed into barns that have been freshly cleaned and warmed for their arrival. New bedding lines the floors, and energy efficient lights reflect off the natural wood paneling to create a cozy and safe place for them to explore.

“When chicks are placed into my barns, they’ve usually just hatched a few hours before,” says Kevin Topp, owner of Niagara-area Topp Farms. “It’s important to make chicks feel comfortable and that they find the water and food as quickly as possible.”

Kevin Topp is shown in his family's chicken barn.

Kevin Topp is shown in his family’s chicken barn.

Topp is a third-generation chicken farmer with a university degree in economics. He worked in the barns with his father growing up, but he considered a career in banking before returning home with his wife, Renee, who landed a teaching job in the area. He says his return to the farm was driven largely by new technology that was taking some of the labour out of chicken farming, such as automated feeding equipment, and improved temperature control systems. The industry was becoming more organized too, with a vertical supply chain that guarantees consistency and quality to end-users. Today his chickens are sold to a company that supplies restaurant chains such as KFC and Swiss Chalet.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 16th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Chickens,Family vs factory farming,Uncategorized,Ventilation
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Feeding in a Cold Snap

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by Jean Clavelle, Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

(The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  FACS represents the livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture. )

The critical temperature below which an animal must increase heat production to keep warm (i.e. Eat more energy, reduce performance or use body reserves), is about -20°C for a mature beef cow on maintenance rations IF:

  • She is in good condition (BCS 3.0).
  • She has a dry winter hair coat.
  • She is sheltered from the wind (and rain or wet snow if it is a regular occurrence).
  • She has bedding to lie on.

Anything less than these “ideal” conditions means that the animal will be cold stressed at higher temperatures, -10°C or even 0°C.  coldsnap

However, regardless of condition, cattle need extra feed to get through a cold snap with a minimum amount of stress.  This is absolutely critical for thin or moderate condition cows (BCS 2.5 or less) as they have little or no back fat to keep them warm.

Have your consulting nutritionist or Extension specialist, with information from a laboratory analysis of your feed or a program like Alberta’s CowBytes, balance rations for whatever is considered “normal” winter temperature, e.g. -20°C.  Then be prepared to feed extra energy during cold weather by feeding additional grain or pellets (range or screenings) or even high quality hay.

Remember it takes time for cattle in the early part of winter to adjust to col.  A cold snap in November or December when normal temperature is around -10°C will be felt more severely than a cold snap in January when normal temperature is around -20°C.

Thumb Rule

Increase energy at a rate of 1lb (0.5 kg) grain or pellets for every 5°C drop in temperature at mid-day below -10°C, (or -10°C, depending on your “normal” maintenance ration) to a maximum of 5lbs. (2.5 kg).

For example if the temperature drops overnight from -20°C to -35°C, increase grain by 3lbs (1.5 kg).  If the temperature drops overnight from -10°C to -35°C the cattle need an extra 5lbs (2.5 kg) of grain to help maintain body temperature.

Be careful of any sudden increase in grain.  Make sure that it is spread out so every cow has opportunity to eat.  If temperature drops dramatically, divide the extra grain into morning and night feedings which will get the cows moving around and help avoid over consumption by few.

If a cold snap is anticipated, begin feeding a little extra grain (1 or 2 lbs; 0.5 or 1 kg) a couple days in advance.  Continue feeding reduced amounts of extra grain two to three days after the temperature returns to “normal”.  This will avoid sudden large changes in feed and present a more even flow of energy to the animal.

Watch for Rumen Impaction

Digestion of roughages in the rumen creates heat, which in the summer “goes to waste,” but in Canadian winters becomes an important part of animal maintenance, i.e. it is used to keep the animal warm.

Cattle will tend to sharply increase feed intake in cold weather in an attempt to maintain body temperature.  They may consume more low quality roughage such as straw or chaff, especially if ground or chopped, than they can digest, which could result in rumen or omasal impaction.

DO NOT grind or chop low quality roughages too fine (3/4” or 1” screen max).  It costs money and can create impaction problems.  Feeding extra energy during a cold snap will reduce cold stress, maintain animal condition and reduce potential for impaction.

If you want to see this original CattleFACS brochure go to facs.sk.ca.




Posted by FACS on December 10th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,winter
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Farming with family members requires give and take

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Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey farmer

Sometimes determination takes a while to prove itself. This week I was able to tell my dad, “I told you so” with only a 10 year waiting period!

As with any business, there will be disagreements with partners involved. In a family farm business it is amplified by the fact that those partners are also parents or siblings with whom you sit down with for normal family time like Christmas.  During the time of transfer of responsibility for decisions, this becomes more of a challenge, as everyone on both sides of the process will agree.

Even though I got to say I was right, somehow dad managed to leave me thinking about the issue and realized he still was able to reinforce management ideas that I already knew.  When I look back over 10 years, I quickly realized how agriculture has changed and developed. No longer can we plan for just the next few years. Instead, we have to look at all the options and possibilities that are available and make sure that all decisions are made knowing that anything might happen.  Lots of farmers now run their farms as a true business with far more time spent looking at all details than their predecessors did. As a result, some of the old sayings like “a penny saved is a penny earned” don’t always hold water anymore. Times have changed.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 6th, 2013 :: Filed under Farm life,Sustainability of the family farm,Turkeys
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Outstanding Young Farmer award winners are “living the dream” as beef farmers

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By Patricia Grotenhuis

Working to improve the quality of beef cattle they raise and helping with the family meat business keep the winners of Ontario’s 2012 Outstanding Young Farmers’ Award busy.

Cory and Heidi Van Groningen met at the University of Guelph and after completing their educations, married and bought a farm.  They have built that farm up at the same time as they have been working in Cory’s family retail business (selling beef and other local products) and raising a family.  To recognize the work the couple has done, they were featured in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar published by Farm & Food Care Ontario.  Their page is sponsored by RBC Royal Bank.

Cory and Heidi Van Groningen are the faces of December in the Faces of Farming calendar

Cory and Heidi Van Groningen are the faces of December in the Faces of Farming calendar

They purchased their farm after marrying in 2004. “It all happened pretty quickly.  We decided to buy a farm, and then there we were, fencing by moonlight in October,” says Cory.

At school, Cory studied Agricultural Business while Heidi studied Animal Science.  They graduated in 2000, with Heidi working for a dairy and beef research facility after graduation and Cory returning to the University of Guelph to complete a Master’s degree, with a focus on agricultural economics and animal science.

“We had talked about buying a farm and having the opportunity to raise a family there was a big part of our decision to buy,” says Cory.

Cory is now in charge of marketing, finance and sales at the family business plus managing the farm, while Heidi manages their two staff and raises the couple’s three young girls, Brooke (5), Hailey (3) and Ruth (2).

To raise a superior beef animal, they are involved in research projects with the University of Guelph on meat tenderness, quality and animal genetics.  Finding out what their customers want is very important to them.

“For us, we can see the production right from the farm through to the consumer and we get to talk to our customers on a regular basis,” says Cory.

The meats from VG Meats in Simcoe have won awards at the Ontario Finest Meat Competition, held every two years.  The family works hard to ensure the customers are happy with the product.  They have strict production guidelines.

“If we don’t have a good explanation for using the product, we don’t.  We use sustainable practices which we can explain to the customer,” says Cory.

To protect the environment, there is an alternative land use project underway at Cory’s parents’ farm which returns a designated area to its original habitat. Both farms also have environmental farm plans which strive to improve the environment on and around the farm.

Cory and Heidi expand their passion for agriculture and their local community by taking part in many groups and organizations.  Cory is the Vice President of the Haldimand Cattleman’s Association, treasurer of the Ontario Independent Meat Processors’ Association, on the advisory council for Conestoga College Institute of Food Processing Technology, and on the Board of Directors for Beef Improvement Ontario.  Heidi teaches Sunday School at church where Cory is also actively involved.
The couple is happy with the decision they made to buy a farm after their wedding.

“We get to live our dream,” says Heidi.

To see a video interview with Cory and Heidi, visit http://www.farmfoodcare.org/calendar-videos/2013/december.php


Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 2nd, 2013 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Faces of Farming,Uncategorized
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