let's talk farm animals

What does sustainable farming mean to you?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Free run barn

Free run barn

I was at a conference this week discussing agriculture and food production in Canada.  I must say it was a pretty exciting and motivational two days.  The first reason being that we had some progressive innovative farmers and industry people in the room.  They were excited to be there, they are passionate about farming, they want to keep improving, and they want to show Canadians what they do.  Not only that but they were asking what do consumers want from us?  The second reason is that there was some interesting, scratch that, fascinating discussion about how food is grown.

Historically debate about growing food has been a bit one dimensional.  By only looking at food safety perhaps we are neglecting to look at animal welfare.  By prioritizing environmental factors perhaps we are overlooking the affordability of food.  There was a theme running through the last few days where a more holistic approach to growing food seems to have taken root, that there is a social commitment on the part of all of us involved in agriculture and growing food to balance the five principles of sustainable food growth and farming.  These five principles include: Food Safety; Animal Health & Welfare; Environment; Economics and Food Affordability; and Health and Safety.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 15th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Canada,Chickens,Consumers,Sustainability,Uncategorized
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Giving Thanks

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

On this Thanksgiving weekend I was surrounded by my children, my family, good and plentiful food and a warm home. I was reflecting on all of the beautiful parts of my life that I am thankful for and felt truly blessed by my fortune to live in Canada and yes, even my good fortune to live in Saskatchewan.

In 1931 one in three people lived on a farm. Today's it's one in 46

In 1931 one in three people lived on a farm. Today’s it’s one in 46

I thought back to a few days ago when I participated in a wonderful event called AgEXperience. School children from in

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Canada,Farm life,Uncategorized
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I think we need to talk…

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Jean L Clavelle
Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

Growth hormones.  Dirty nasty words aren’t they?   I’m sorry to bring this up but I think it’s something we need to talk about.

Many of us in Canada, well North America, are so extremely fortunate we live in a place where getting enough to eat is not generally a problem and where we have the choice to make decisions on what we consume.  We have the opportunity to choose where our food comes from and how it’s produced regardless of cost.  Fortunate indeed.

And with this providence, it seems to have become almost admirable to deride those who do not choose foods of a certain variety ie “natural” “ethically raised” “antibiotic free” and  “hormone free”.   Now I would like to assure those of you who can’t or don’t make these food choices despite pressure from your peers or social media, that the food grown in Canada is safe and healthy including beef produced with the use of hormones.  Here’s my attempt at explaining why.

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

First what are growth hormones and how do they work?  Growth hormones are tiny pellets inserted into the back of the ear of a beef animal which slowly releases synthetic hormones over a period of several months.  These hormones mimic the natural reproductive hormones manufactured by the animal.  To make a long physiology discussion short, they encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feed conversion (the amount of feed required to deposit muscle). Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed as protein deposition does.  Muscle tissue contains about 70% water while fat contains less than 30% water.  This means that for every ten pounds of muscle gained, about three pounds comes from dry feed and seven pounds comes from water. This ratio is the reversed for fat growth - roughly seven pounds from dry feed and three pounds from water.   So you can see, that with slight increases in protein deposition and slight decreases in fat deposition that there are pretty big differences in the amount of feed required.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 30th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Food safety,growth hormone
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Some good news on animal welfare

Jean L Clavelle

Lately my professional world seems to be focusing on the negative – on everything that’s not happening, how agriculture seems to be under constant attack, what we are not doing that we should. Today, I’ve decided to focus on the positive. I wanted to share some of the great work that our local and North American livestock ag community is doing for animal welfare.

To start, the 4th Annual International Beef Welfare Symposium is set to be held July 16 to 18 at Iowa State University (www.cpm.iastate.edu/beefwelfare) This conference was designed to offer producers, processors, retailers, government officials, NGOs, animal scientists, veterinarians and students the opportunity to discuss, debate and learn about the current and emerging welfare issues that face the beef cattle industry. Renowned beef cattle experts, bovine practitioners, philosophers and animal scientists will offer their insight and perspective and discuss the latest research findings during the invited presentations and poster session. Something that will benefit everyone involved in livestock agriculture and help to spread a positive message on the importance of animal welfare.

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Posted by FACS on May 15th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Canada,Codes of Practice,Research,Social media
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Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the Beef Cattle Research Council. To see the full article and others go to BeefResearch.ca

Jean L Clavelle

 

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Antimicrobial resistance has become a highly charged issue.  Headlines appear in the news on a regular basis suggesting that antibiotics are becoming less effective in humans and farmers are to blame.

Some concerns have been raised that antimicrobial use in livestock leads to antimicrobial resistance and that some of the products used in food animals are closely related to antimicrobials that are important in human health. It’s also been questioned whether antimicrobial resistance can be transferred among bacteria, which may reduce effectiveness of drugs used in human medicine.

Of course the Canadian beef industry is also concerned about antimicrobial resistance.  Cattlemen depend on the effectiveness of animal health products, and on consumers’ confidence in how beef is raised and the safety of the beef they consume.  And just like the rest of the society, farmers need human drugs to be effective too.

We’re all in agreement on the seriousness of antimicrobial use and resistance.

Several nations around the world have surveillance programs in place to monitor trends in antimicrobial use and resistance.  In Canada, this is led by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS). In the United States, surveillance is conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  These programs test for antimicrobial resistance in healthy animals arriving at slaughter plants as well as retail meat samples. In addition, various groups including the Beef Cattle Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada collect more detailed antimicrobial use and resistance information in a broader range of microbes and locations (e.g. feedlots, manure, soil, water).

To date, scientific surveillance has indicated that:graph 1 antibiotic resistance PIC

  • Resistance to antimicrobials that are most important in human health is extremely uncommon in healthy North American cattle and beef.
  • Multi-drug resistance is similarly low, and is not increasing.
  • In cattle, the vast majority of antimicrobials used are not used in human health at all.

Let’s look more closely at the last point. The vast majority of antimicrobials used in cattle are ionophores.   Ionophores act on rumen microbes; they selectively inhibit methanogenic bacteria and allow beneficial rumen bacteria to make more feed energy available to the animal, thereby improving feed efficiency and weight gain.  Ionophores also prevent diseases like coccidiosis.

Ionophores have no benefit to, nor are they licensed for use in humans. Even if microbes developed resistance to ionophores, this would not make them resistant to classes of antimicrobials that are used in human medicine.

Eliminating antimicrobial growth promotants, including ionophores, in cattle production would substantially reduce the overall use of antimicrobials, but would that reduce concerns about antimicrobial resistance?

Denmark phased out the use of those products in livestock production between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2001, we can see a clear trend of increased use of prescribed veterinary antimicrobials. The decrease in antimicrobial use has happened in the “medium importance” category, antimicrobials rarely used in human medicine anymore.  Without the use of growth promoting antimicrobials, the need for antimicrobials that are important to human health increased. In addition, there has been no clear trend towards decreased antimicrobial resistance in Danish cattle or beef.

Canadian research has repeatedly shown that antimicrobials are used responsibly by Canadian beef producers, and resistance to the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine remains extremely rare in beef cattle. Antimicrobial resistance will continue to be a research priority in Canada’s beef industry to maintain or improve current prudence.

Continued use of antimicrobials of no importance to human health in Canadian beef production will be critical to the future competitiveness of and reduced environmental impacts by Canada’s beef sector due to improved feed efficiency and reduced animal disease.  Furthermore, the consequences of a ban on ionophores in Denmark suggest that discontinuing the use of such products would not lead to lower antimicrobial resistance, and may increase the use of antimicrobials that are important in human medicine.

To learn more about antimicrobial use and resistance in Canadian cattle and beef, visit http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/antimicrobial-resistance-11

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Posted by FACS on April 28th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Research,Uncategorized
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The Distance from Farm to Plate

 

be Jean L Clavelle

Since becoming involved with social media over the last year I have begun to take note of people’s attitudes, opinions and knowledge as it pertains to agriculture and food production.  I grew up on a farm, attended an ag college and subsequently worked in agriculture so I’ve been surrounded by like-minded people my entire life.  However, agvocating has opened my eyes to the realization of just how little the From AgricultureMoreThanEver.cageneral public knows about where food comes from.  It is fascinating (not to mention a little scary) to delve into the general public’s belief system and knowledge base in this area.

To clarify I am pro conventional agriculture, organic farming and alternative production practices.  I believe in new technologies and in providing the consumer with what they desire and believe there is room for multiple types of systems.   It is surprising though at how little understanding there is of contemporary food production practices by the general public regardless of what type of system we discuss.

Now, at every chance available I ask questions.  Whether it is on Facebook, Twitter or in an actual real life face to face conversation (I know, how old school).  This is not to be antagonistic, just to understand an individual’s perspective - and sometimes position - on food production and possibly to dispel some misconceptions or false information that seems to be endemic in the populous.  I also ask so as to understand why and how they developed their beliefs.  Where did we fail in our society that such a basic life necessity is so distanced from that of every other day to day need?

A recent conversation of animal welfare versus animal rights included a discussion about what happens at a slaughter plant.  Surprisingly I was asked if I understood what “actually” happens there.  Now, I do not object even the slightest to someone’s choice of being vegan though I was thoroughly astounded about the question of whether or not I’d considered what happens at a slaughter plant.  We raise animals to eat and with that comes the understanding that the death of those are animals are inevitable and it is our responsibility to be respectful of and honour that animal’s life.  For this person the thought of that many animals dying on a daily basis was just too overwhelming and simply too much to bear so adopted a vegan lifestyle.  Despite the intrinsically dark nature of animal slaughter it never occurred to me that this essential step in getting meat from the farm to the plate should come as a surprise to anyone.

Stats Canada stated that almost a third of Canadians lived on farms in 1931 and in 2006 that dropped to 2%1.  How did we go in one or two generations to be intimately involved in supplying our own food to now having so little idea as to be completely oblivious.  And that is only going to become more evident in future generations.  My cousin told me a few years ago that her young daughter wanted to take the “wrapping” off of her peas – she wanted to take the shell off the pea pod.  If we are so distanced in garden vegetables how shocking must a barn filled with thousands and thousands of laying hens seem?

So in conclusion, my friends, I offer no suggestions here.  I only request that we all continue to speak out in an honest and respectful way.  To seek out what really drives a person’s belief system so that we can help to dispel those myths and to continue to keep producing food in the best way possible.   Because it is essential that our customers and our society understand what it means to do so.  That we are not forced to do it in a way that would not be beneficial for our children, environment or our future.

  1. Found at statcan.gc.ca
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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 31st, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media,Speaking out
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Lets Get Talking!

Jean L Clavelle

Alright.  I believe it is time to dust off the old soap box and step back on.

Many organizations reporters and marketing programs recently have expressed opinions about what is the “ideal” regarding animal production in Canada.  “Better Beef” from A&W, the W5 report regarding egg layer operations, PETA, HSUS throw around ideas and words intended to pluck at the strings of the consumer’s heart to show that they are better, that they care, that they are not the enemy while big business – agriculture – is trying to simply make an extra buck.  Phrases such as environmentally friendly, sustainable, humane, antibiotic free are tossed around like so much feed in a pig barn.

Although I group these organizations together, their underlining intent is often not the same.  PETA and HSUS want to eliminate the use of animals altogether, A&W wants to drive sales, W5 well I’m not entirely sure why a “news” organization would publish such a one-sided sensationalized commentary other than to increase viewers.  The common denominator is that they are all focused on currying the favour of society and the consumer at the expense of producers and livestock.

Deep down my dirty little secret is that I truly don’t have a problem with a company creating a marketing campaign that targets the needs and wants of the consumer or when a news article provides a balanced article detailing the pitfalls of a production system.  Where I do draw the line is when an organization does not support the Canadian producers that are purchasing their product, the people that have reliably supplied them with a safe healthy food product for decades.  For example the A&W campaign that openly sourced product from suppliers outside of Canada.  I suspect that had the lines of communication been open, Canadian beef producers would have happily agreed to provide whatever beef product A&W requested.  However to imply that the beef industry is not willing to adapt or evolve or cannot supply what is needed is simply erroneous.

Now, that brings me to the point of this story.  Why are the lines of communication not open?  Why are we not telling our story?  Why are we not working with our consumers to identify new trends and supply that product?

I am at a loss as to why livestock agriculture is so afraid to seek out the needs and opinions of its consumers.  Is it because we are afraid that we will not stand up under scrutiny?  Is it because we are afraid we will have to eat humble pie and acknowledge maybe we might have to change?  Agriculture by its very nature is the epitomy of adaption and evolution.  This should be something we in livestock agriculture are excitedly engaged in!

So come on agriculture.  Step up.  Let’s figure out what consumers and society wants.  If that means seeking out consumer’s opinions, and asking questions well then lets get asking!  If that means changing then we may just have to change to meet their needs.  I fear that if we do not, we (and therefore animals and society in general) are going to lose out because the misguided and misinformed may force us to go down the wrong path.

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Posted by FACS on February 17th, 2014 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal care,Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Future of Farming,Misconceptions,Speaking out
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Calving: when and how to help

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.)

Jean L Clavelle

CALVING: WHEN AND HOW TO HELP

The basis of a cow–calf enterprise is a healthy cow with a healthy nursing calf.  Knowing when and how to help is an important part of responsible calving management.winter calving PIC

A cow or heifer is having difficulty when:
• the cow actively strains for 40 minutes with no progress
• 90 minutes have passed since the waterbag first appeared
• the legs emerge with the surface of the hooves pointing up
• only the head or tail emerges
• an uncalved cow is mothering another calf
• a cow has demonstrated greater than 5–6 hours of anxiety, e.g. walking about, tail extended, apparently looking for something

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Posted by FACS on February 3rd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal health,Beef cattle,Canada,Uncategorized,winter
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Bridging the great divide

by Jean L Clavelle

There are some statistics being tossed around these days on social media - only 3% of the population is involved in food production agriculture.  Of those involved in primary production, 98% are family owned and operated.  Interesting as it seems this has set up our culture to be an “us against them” scenario in terms of food production and the general public.

It has been my experience that people in animal agriculture are passionate about raising their animals.  This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.  Most of my colleagues feel the same way, and primary producers (those directly involved with on-farm production) that I’ve had the pleasure of working with here in western Canada exemplify this statement.  They want to produce a safe product, they want their animals to have a satisfying life and they want to have enough income to provide for their families and continue on with this lifestyle.

Sure there are some bad eggs (sorry for the bad pun) and those that don’t make the right choices.  This happens in every walk of life, every profession, every business however it is not the norm and it is certainly not the norm (or considered acceptable) in animal agriculture.

Sadly animal rights groups and some media presentations like those we saw in the recent W5 report do their best to highlight the small percentage that do not represent what conventional agriculture really is.  And instead of highlighting positive practices, sensationalized media coverage takes small snippets of unacceptable episodes and position them as being the norm.  Let’s be clear, animal rights groups do not want us to use animals in any way shape or form.  They do not believe we should eat meat or any animal by-product.  And unfortunately this message is lost for the average consumer.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 12th, 2013 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Canada,Feeding the world,Media,Uncategorized
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Perceptions of Antibiotic Free Meat

By Jean L Clavelle

There has been much discussion lately on social media sites regarding marketing and how perceptions can be easily manipulated.  One such topic is that of antibiotic free meat (AFM) where animals produced for food are never treated with antibiotics.  It involves consumer health, animal health, medical drug prescriptions, animal management and more – all highly charged emotional topics.

Much of this discussion revolves around the concern for human health and that antibiotic use in livestock may result in a public health risk due to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.   The implication being that AFM is a healthier option for humans.  The scientific component is a complicated one and has been debated at length in scientific journals and trade publications not to mention social media.  I won’t discuss it here as its more than one blog can adequately cover in a sitting.

One element that is often overlooked is that of animal welfare and the moral issue of raising AFM although I have seen it used as a marketing (dare I say) gimmick by many retail and food services organizations.  Antibiotics are products used by both humans and animals to prevent and treat disease illness and suffering.  We had previously discussed the definition of animal welfare (http://www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca/2013/07/25/do-you-know-what-animal-welfare-really-means/) and an important element of welfare is freedom from pain injury or disease by rapid diagnosis and treatment.  If we examine the exact nature of an AFM production system would it be considered inhumane?  Under this system animals cannot be treated for illness or disease if they are to be sold into this market.  Which is fine.  Until an animal falls ill.  And it will happen just as you or I might succumb to an illness despite our best efforts which can only be treated with antibiotics.  Good animal welfare and animal management dictates that sick animals be treated or if that’s not possible euthanized.  Just like we would want ourselves and our loved ones to receive treatment.

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Posted by FACS on October 28th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal cruelty,Animal health,Animal welfare,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Social media,Uncategorized
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