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Ontario mink farmer featured in 2015 Faces of Farming calendar

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Tillsonburg – Sandra Aspden is a grandma of six, a golfer and a motorcycle enthusiast. And now together with her husband Clarence, she’s added the title of “farmer” to her resume of interests and achievements.

Sandra Aspden’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Sandra Aspden’s Faces of Farming calendar page

The path to becoming a mink farmer in Norfolk County was anything but direct. Raised in Kitchener, she and Clarence met at a bowling alley in Woodstock more than 40 years ago. After marrying, they raised three sons – Wayne, Philip and Paul – while Clarence worked as a welder and Sandi as a factory supervisor.

In 2009, the two decided to take a great leap of faith and purchase a farm near Tillsonburg that they turned into a mink ranch. Clarence’s aunt and uncle had raised mink and he had helped them when he was growing up. They started with 1,000 females and have now almost doubled that with a goal of reaching 2,400 breeding females in their herd. On average, there are 8,500 kits (baby mink) born on their ranch annually.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 4th, 2015 :: Filed under Faces of Farming,Farm life,Fur farming,Uncategorized
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How to find out what a typical Canadian farm looks like

It is surprising to me that there is still such a massive divide between what society thinks and what actually happens on the farm. I recently spent some time trying to pin down a definition of “factory farms” with various individuals. I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion about agriculture or livestock farming I just wanted to understand what their definition was.  It turns out many think a typical Canadian farm would be considered a “factory”.

Female pigs in group housing on straw bedding.  Not what many people to be typical.

Female pigs in group housing. Not what many people to be typical.

I was surprised to learn that many have a perception that the majority of beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry birds in Canada live in dark dirty cages, without adequate food and water, individual attention, and are treated more like machines than animals.

Even though I didn’t set out to change anyone’s opinion I ended up sharing some StatsCan numbers about the average farm size (average beef herd size is 61 and an average dairy herd size is 70) and the fact that 97% of farms  are family owned and operated and shared pictures of actual living conditions as an alternative pictures commonly depicted by those not in favour of livestock use.  Other farmers also shared pictures of their farms and animals as well as personal philosophy and practices. I was again surprised to hear the response: “well sure, YOU guys aren’t a factory farm and obviously care about your animals but you are not typical”.   To this I mentally sputtered… but this IS what a typical livestock farm in Canada is like!  Is this belief system in place because we are programmed to believe the worst about agriculture (as perpetuated by nasty memes of suffering animals or pictures taken out of context like a cute little calf with a numbered ear tag) or is it simply that society has an image of farming based on idealic pictures of yesteryear?

To clarify, I do not think animal farming has it all right. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that not every practice is perfect or defensible and that some do need to change. There are also individuals that own animals that should not (even one of these people involved with livestock is too many) and they are the ones highlighted in sensational news stories. But does this mean that every farm in Canada is a factory farm? No. That any farm over a certain size is inherently inhumane?  No!

Do you want to know what a typical Canadian farms really look like? Head over to virtualfarmtours.ca to see what really happens.  Think this is just too biased to be true? Contact producer groups to get some real information and maybe even the chance for a farm tour to see for yourself.  If you don’t trust that those organizations are giving you the real answer, contact an elected government official. They can put you in contact with other government employees who work in the ag community and with producers as agriculture specialists (they give management advice and assistance to farmers).  Still don’t believe the source?  Go to the University of Saskatchewan and talk to researchers, scientists and veterinarians who study animal welfare (there are also researchers in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and the maritimes).  They can give you answers to your questions about farming and animal welfare and animal care.  Or feel free to contact me at Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and I will try and answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for taking the time.

 

Email me at jean@farmfoodcare.org

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Posted by FACS on February 2nd, 2015 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Family vs factory farming,Uncategorized
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