let's talk farm animals

Questions about animal and food production - answered!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Food Care Saskatchewan

 

I was really excited to take part in Farm and Food Care Ontario’s twitter party a few weeks ago to promote the launch of their latest venture – ”Real Dirt on Farming”.  This is a booklet designed to answer all of your questions about farming and food production in Canada.  It is the real dirt so to speak on everything from livestock to crops to horticulture. It was great to see so many questions from all of you and how interested you were in how your food is grown.  The sad part was that it ended way too soon, and there was so much more to share!  On that note I would like to answer some questions about food production to make your decisions about food purchases easier.

Eggs with darker coloured yolks are healthier.  There are actually no nutritional differences between eggs with different coloured yolks.  The colour of the yolk is dependent on what a hen eats.  Any diet for hens that includes a compound called xanthophylls will result in a darker yolk. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet (more common in western Canada and low in xanthophylls) will produce an egg that has a pale yellow yolk. Hens that eat a corn-based diet (most common in Ontario and higher in xanthophylls) will produce eggs with darker yellow yolks.  This is also why free range eggs tend to be darker in the summer because hens will eat grasses or alfalfa which have higher xanthophyll levels.

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

Eggs with brown shells are better because they are more expensive!  Ummm, no.  There are no nutritional differences between eggs with white shells and eggs with brown shells.  Eggs with brown shells come from different breeds of chickens.  But then why do brown eggs cost more?  Well that’s because the breed that produces brown eggs is a larger bird and requires more feed to lay one egg.  Brown eggs are more expensive simply because it costs more to grow them.

Conventional milk produced in Canada is raised with hormones.  Not so!  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle.  It regulates growth and lactation in cattle and has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST otherwise known as rBST is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10 to 15%.  The problem however is that it may also increase the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows which is why Health Canada has not approved it for use in dairy production here.  So what that means for you is that no milk, cheese or yogurt (conventional or organic) comes from cows given rBST.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 24th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Chickens,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,eggs,Misconceptions,Poultry,Turkeys
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Dairy farmer sisters from Hagersville in 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Hagersville - Milking cows and growing crops are two passions that Heather and Jennifer Peart of Hagersville have

Heather (l) and Jennifer (r) are dairy farmer sisters near Hagersville, Ont.

Heather (l) and Jennifer (r) are dairy farmer sisters near Hagersville, Ont.

always shared.

The sisters, fourth generation farmers, decided to turn their love of farming into a lifelong career when they bought their first 50 acre farm in 2005. At the time, they were only 18 and 20 years of age. Jennifer was studying for her Agricultural Business degree and Heather was studying for her Animal Science degree, both at the University of Guelph.

Since then, they’ve gradually increased the amount of cattle and land they own. Today, they each own 25 cows and together, have increased their land base to 200 acres growing corn, hay, wheat and rye to feed their livestock.

Currently, Jennifer milks cows in the morning before heading to her off-farm job. Heather is the full time herd manager at their family farm, Peartome Holsteins, and farms full time with parents, Doug and Mary-Ann.

Both sisters are enthusiastic agricultural advocates. When they showed their cows at the annual Simcoe fair recently, they estimate that they answered about 400 questions from visitors about their cows on a whole variety of topics. And, when they milked their cows at the end of the day at the fair, an audience of about 100 circled around to watch. “We really enjoy answering questions about our animals,” said Jennifer. “It’s fun when a routine milking can turn into an impromptu agricultural education session.” Jennifer also sits on the Haldimand County Agricultural Awareness Committee.

Their commitment and passion for farming has attracted some attention. In 2014, they are being featured as the faces of November in the 2014 Faces of Farming Calendar produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by AdFarm.

“It’s nice to be able to change the face of farming by being a young female in agriculture,” says Jennifer.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 3rd, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Uncategorized
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The Intentions Behind PETA Attack Ads

Jean L Clavelle

You may have seen the DairyCarrie post recently regarding the PETA video which told a story of cows slogging through deep mud, living in deplorable conditions, emaciated, and generally uncared for. However, upon further investigation DairyCarrie identified several questionable points about the statements and images in the video and that perhaps the story was not all it was shown to be. The video stated that cows were emaciated and generally uncared for however upon closer look the cows had shiny glossy clean coats, were bright and alert and actually in good condition. To the uneducated eye and in comparison to say a sow with large rounded hips dairy cows may look emaciated but that is really just their anatomy - this is normal. It was said that cows were forced to live sleep and eat in mud and manure but if cows actually lived in the conditions shown their bodies hips and tails (not to mention the walls and every other surface in the barn!) would be covered in mud but they were sparkly clean above their legs. (See DairyCarrie.com for the full article).

This one small blog stirred up a virtual hornets nest on social media. By the next day DairyCarrie had 1.2 million views on Facebook and 160,000 people reading the article. Harris Teeter (the grocery food store chain), implicated in the video by PETA as purchasing directly from the farm, denied ever having any relationship with it and PETA was forced to retract their statements.  Upon investigating PETA’s allegations, local county inspectors determined they were unfounded, the cows were actually well cared for and there were no (zero nada zip) welfare concerns.

So why would a group like PETA set out to defame a small dairy farm like this and the dairy industry as a whole? What could possibly be the objective of such a stunt if there was in fact no animal welfare issues? PETA, Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals and others believe in animal rights. Simply put they do not wish for anyone to use, own, have animals of any kind whether that be for food, for entertainment or for pleasure. Including companion animals. They often implicate poor animal welfare as the reason for investigating farms or organizations that involve animals. And let’s be honest occasionally there are poor animal welfare conditions that are beyond ideal and downright negative. However as shown by the DairyCarrie post sometimes (and perhaps more often than you realize) it has more to do with the fact that people are simply using animals (regardless of animal welfare) and the posts and videos distributed by these extreme animal rights groups have nothing to do with animal welfare. And because the general public doesn’t understand the normal anatomy, physiology and animal management of a particular species PETA and other groups spins false truths playing on our emotions. For example in the PETA video it was noted that cows were referred to by number and that implied uncaring conditions. However what an excellent management practice for producers to know an animals complete history from birthday to health issues to production. So even though they do have numbers it’s a practical way to provide the very best health management and individual care for each animal based on what each cow requires.  And as I mentioned earlier to the untrained eye, it might appear that dairy cows are emaciated however obvious hip bones are normal for cows in good condition or even overweight cows.

The Animal rights belief system is certainly a valid one.  It’s unfortunate that these groups behave so badly and devalue that perspective by lying and marketing false truths. I ask each one of you to ask more questions before you believe on face value everything that is published by one of these extremists groups. Contact your local agriculture office, or any of the provincial industry associations who can help you answer your livestock questions or to visit a farm and find out what really happens.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 2nd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Animal welfare,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,HSUS,PETA,Uncategorized
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Conventional versus Organic Milk Production - Do you know the difference?

Organic Milk PIC

In the 2011/12 dairy year 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production was organic

Jean L Clavelle

This weekend an interesting conversation came up about organic milk production.  And it’s shameful to admit but I realized just how little I know about it!  So this started me on a quest to learn more about the differences between organic and conventional milk and thought I would share some of my findings with you.

As previously mentioned I am in support of organic food production even though I do not purchase organic products for myself or my family.  There is obviously a desire on the part of the consumer for organics and so it is important for Canadian producers to meet those needs.  I think there are pros and cons to both production streams and a fit for both in our society.  This post is not written to encourage you to support one or the other only to share information on both types.

For a little background on organic milk in Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated that as of 2012 dairy made up 11% of all organic sales in Canada.  And in the 2011/12 dairy year 218 farms produced 937,137 hectolitres of organic milk which represents 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production.  Significant numbers for sure and one can only assume they will increase.

The first basic difference between organic and conventional production is that all organic dairies must meet the requirements of the Canadian Organic Standards.  Just as in conventional production organic dairies require a balanced feed ration which include substances that are necessary and essential for maintaining the cows’ health, including large amounts of high-quality roughage.  In organic production however all ingredients must also be certified as organic and approved for use by an accredited certifying body. Organic dairy rations can not include GMO feed sources, and must be free of any synthetic herbicides, pesticides fungicides or fertilizers.

No dairy is legally allowed to use artificial hormones to increase milk production in Canada regardless of whether it is organic or conventional.  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle which regulates growth and lactation.  BST has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST (rbST) is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10% to 15% but it has also been related to an increase in the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows, which is why Health Canada has not approved it’s use.  It is important to note that rbST has not been shown to have a negative effect on human health and its use is permitted in other countries (such as the United States), where it is considered safe.

Antibiotics can be used only when a cow is sick. When a cow receives antibiotics, she must be clearly identified and her milk properly discarded for a mandatory withdrawal period (based on veterinary label instructions) until the medication has cleared the cow’s system.  In organic production cows given antibiotics are required to have a longer withdrawal time above that required in conventional production.  Its important to note that each load of milk is tested for the presence of antibiotics prior to it being added to the milk supply regardless of its production method and any violation to this would result in severe fines for both conventional and organic producers.  I would like to note that using antibiotics is important for the welfare of dairy cows regardless of whether it is a conventional or organic operation.  No matter how good the care, some animals will get sick and it is imperative they be treated.

Nutritionally, dieticians say organic milk is not significantly different than conventional milk.  Interestingly enough the nutritional profile of dairy products for both organic and conventional can vary with season, genetics and feed source however all Canadian milk will meet the minimum nutritional profile guaranteed on each carton.

So! I hope this info helps you to understand some of the differences in how organic milk is produced compared to conventional milk.  But whatever you decide to purchase just know that our Canadian milk supply is healthy safe and tasty.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 5th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Dairy cattle,milk,Organics,Uncategorized
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Opening the barn doors with ‘Breakfast on the Farm’

By Kim Waalderbos

Agriculture is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, say dairy farmers Jim and Nancy Wert – until now.

Reserve your FREE Breakfast on the Farm tickets: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontarios-breakfast-on-the-farm-august-2014-tickets-11374855499

For full details, and to reserve your FREE Breakfast on the Farm tickets. visit:
http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontarios-breakfast-on-the-farm-august-2014-tickets-11374855499

The Werts along with their four university-age sons are spreading that great secret and opening their barn doors. On Saturday, August 2, 2021 the family will host more than 2,000 visitors at their Stanlee Farms Inc. in Avonmore, Ont. for ‘Breakfast on the Farm’.

“We’re really looking forward to welcoming everyone,” says Jim, noting “the really great part is consumers get to talk to farmers first hand and ask questions”.

For the Wert family, a fifth generation of family farmers, their animals are top priority. Farm visitors will see many special features they’ve incorporated to ensure “the ladies” are comfortable and healthy. Their 110 milking cows are housed in a freestall barn, which means they are able to roam about the barn on their own schedule for feed, water or lay down. The milking cows can groom themselves on cow brushes, and have access to fresh air circulating thanks to a special ‘Cyclone’ fan. Jim and Nancy milk their cows twice a day in their milking parlour. On average, each cow produces 32 Litres of milk daily at the Werts’ farm.

The Werts’ heifers (younger female animals) are group housed in a ‘pack’ barn, where they have a large bedded area (pack) to lay down comfortably. Along their feed bunk is a slatted floor area to walk on. This allows manure to fall through to a pit below and keeps the animals’ feet clean and dry.

The youngest calves are also housed in groups, which enables lots of social interaction. Last year the Werts installed a robotic milk feeder. This means the calves can drink warm, fresh milk as often as they like throughout the day. “We really noticed how the older calves teach the younger calves where to get their milk, grain, hay and water,” says Nancy. “The calves really flourish in this environment.”

Jim and Nancy Wert along with their four sons will welcome visitors for breakfast & a farm tour on August 2, 2014.

Jim and Nancy Wert along with their four sons will welcome visitors for a free breakfast & a farm tour on August 2, 2014.

The milking cows and oldest heifers are turned out on pasture in the warmer months. “It’s a psychological benefit for us, and we feel it helps keep the animals healthy,” says Jim. The Werts have 550 acres of land that they use for pasture, and to grow corn, soybeans, forages, barley for straw and specialty beans. “Most of what out animals eat is grown on farm,” Jim says.

The Werts feed a ‘Total Mixed Ration’ (TMR) to their animals. The TMR is a consistent mix of ingredients including corn silage (fermented corn), haylage (fermented grass), high moisture corn, minerals and sometimes soybeans. They work with a dairy nutritionist to make sure the TMR is balanced perfectly for animal needs.

For the past three years, the Werts’ milking cows have also been fed a special Omega-3 supplement. The cows are able to optimize this supplement in their four-compartment rumens (stomach) and produce milk with Omega-3 essential fatty acid benefits for consumers.

The Wert family raises Holsteins, a black and white breed of dairy animals. They’re also certified in the Canadian Quality Milk program.

At Breakfast on the Farm, the Wert family is keen to answer questions and show visitors around. “We feel we represent your typical Canadian dairy farm,” says Jim.

As a bonus, visitors at Breakfast on the Farm can meet farmers from other sectors including chickens, eggs, bees and apples. “It will give a real perspective of agriculture in Ontario,” Nancy says.

Of course, there will also be breakfast – Ontario eggs, sausage, pancakes, maple syrup, berries, chocolate milk and apple cider are just a few of the menu items.

What’s in a name?!

The Wert family has recently added a goat to their farm. Help them find the perfect name by entering your idea in the naming contest at Breakfast on the Farm.

 

For more details, and to reserve your FREE Breakfast on the Farm ticket, visit: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontarios-breakfast-on-the-farm-august-2014-tickets-11374855499

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 31st, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,AgVocacy,Animal care,Breakfast on the Farm,Dairy cattle,Farm life,milk,Speaking out,Uncategorized
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Why I Think Dairy Supply Management is Important

Jean L Clavelle

Let me begin by saying that this is an incredibly complex issue. To be truthful I do not fully understand how supply management impacts international trade or even really the nuts and bolts of the supply manager system itself so I will not discuss that here (Dairy Farmers of Canada have produced some fantastic background information http://www.dairyfarmers.ca/content/download/1164/13161/version/2/file/Economic-Rationale2011_EN.pdf on the economics of supply management if you would like to know more). Despite my ignorance, I do think dairy supply management is incredibly important to dairy producers and Canadian consumers.  And I want to attempt an explanation of why from the perspective of a consumer not as someone with a dairy background (which I do not have).

Under this system producers are paid a fair price

Producers are paid a fair price

Many have critiqued this system but it seems they have oversimplified and under complicated the issue to the extreme.  It had been said that supply management isn’t good for the producer or for the consumer.  But I think ‘they’ are wrong.

So what is supply management?  Supply management controls the volume of milk produced on a provincial and annual basis. Provincial boards manage the milk supply to coincide with demand for their products.  By effectively controlling production, expensive and costly surpluses are avoided.  A price is then set by a federally managed board based on cost of production, consumer price index and multiple other factors.  Not just anyone can supply milk either, dairy producers purchase quota essentially for the right to sell milk. Without quota no one can legally sell milk.

So why do I think it’s important?  Well, the objective of supply management is two fold 1. to provide Canadian consumers with an adequate supply of the product at reasonable prices and 2. to provide efficient producers with fair returns.  And that is the crux of my argument.  Under this system producers are paid a fair price.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 25th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Regulations,Uncategorized
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Napanee dairy farmer in 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

By Kelly Daynard

Dairy farmers Kevin and Adrianna MacLean enjoy interacting with the public and answering their questions about farming.

Dairy farmers Kevin and Adrianna MacLean enjoy interacting with the public and answering their questions about farming.

Napanee - You may not have thought of celebrating Christmas with a herd of dairy cows but that’s just what residents of Napanee did last year when they were invited to a special holiday open house event at Ripplebrook Farm.

Ripplebrook Farm is a third generation family farm operated by Kevin MacLean, his parents Barton and Barbara and his step-son Taylor. The family milk 130 cows and crop 750 acres.

The family always embraces opportunities to showcase the farm and often host tours throughout the year. Last year, they decided to host a “Christmas with the Cows” event for their community. They had no idea how many people might attend and were both surprised and pleased when 200 showed up to watch their evening milking and spend the evening in the barn.

That’s just one example of Kevin’s work as an agricultural advocate – or agvocate. Youth groups, service groups and school trips all enjoy feeding the young calves and “helping” to milk the cows. A friendly member of their herd, nicknamed “Carrie the Curious Cow” is always a special hit with the visitors.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 20th, 2014 :: Filed under 4-H,Agricultural Advocates,AgVocacy,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Horses,milk
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It’s a good thing!

Jean L Clavelle

Today I would like to share some of the positive things I am enjoying about livestock agriculture!  FACES OF FARMING PIC

It is satisfying to hear about all of the young people going into agriculture as primary producers.  Agriculture is not just a career choice with a myriad of job prospects but many young people are finding primary production a viable way of life.  Going back to the farm offers a life that is inherently satisfying regardless of the stress and long hours. Each year the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan publishes a billboard campaign featuring influential and modern young farmers who are making significant strides in their fields. The 2014 campaign was recently released so if you are in Saskatchewan look for these signs around Saskatoon and Regina.

I am excited to see the increasing application of technology in the day to day operation on farm.  Agriculture is not represented by the stereotype of uneducated hillbillies.  I understand that this may not be what our consumer is expecting or perhaps, wants to see but I think it is reassuring.  Many producers have a university education and are incorporating the latest technologies in their operations. This allows for production methods that are constantly improving - quicker identification of disease, better use of resources, healthier animals, and improved food supply for the consumer.  This is meeting the challenge that society has set – to improve efficiency, sustainability and animal welfare. To me the use of cutting edge technology implies a need for improvement, for evolution and for advancement which is everything that agriculture should be doing.

A great example of this is dairy robotic milkers.  As I have mentioned numerous times in previous posts I support many types of production systems - organic, conventional, small production for local markets, larger corporate farms etc etc etc.  However for robotic milkers to be feasible, farms need to be large enough to warrant the expense of a robot and are thus a best fit in mid to large size operations.  There are some advantages to robotic milkers that I believe warrant discussion.  Cows have the option to choose to be milked at whatever frequency they desire, instead of being milked the conventional twice per day.  It is interesting to see that cows will often go through the milker 2 to 5 times per day depending on the stage of lactation and the individual cow.  Robots are able to measure the somatic cell count in the milk which is an indication of mastitis.  Long before regular practices would be able to identify the problem the robot can predict disease and those cows treated as well as automatically divert the milk.  This is beneficial for the cow and for the consumer and for the producer.   Robotic systems also allow the producer to be in constant contact with their barn.  Alarms will sound if there are ever any problems with the cows or equipment which prevents problems before it happens.  Now this is not to say that non robotic systems cannot have optimal management but this technology certainly enhances a producers’ ability to manage his or her operation.

I think one of the biggest things I am enjoying right now is our renewed sense of pride in the fundamental nature of agriculture.  Tagvocate PIChe AGvocate movement has re-ignited the belief that what we are doing is worthy and worth explaining to the world.  Yes we need to continue to evolve and improve but overall Canadian agriculture efficiently and cleanly provides healthy food for our citizens.   It may be overwhelming but the ag community has taken up the challenge to share what we do with society.  And in the words of Martha Stewart “it’s a good thing”.

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Posted by FACS on May 26th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Animal welfare,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Uncategorized
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Inside Farming: Want Safety? Think Milk!

The process behind clean Canadian milk from the farm to the processor

By Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

Many steps in place on Canadian dairy farms to ensure milk is kept clean, safe and nutritious from teat to glass.

Many steps are in place on Canadian dairy farms to ensure milk is kept clean, safe and nutritious — from teat to glass.

Every year, I visit the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair to show my heifer, and part of this experience is talking to the

cab drivers while I travel to and from the grounds and the hotel. This year, I got into a great conversation with a cabby about why he buys organic milk. He said that he feels safer giving his children organic milk to avoid the hormones and antibiotics in milk. The impression left on me from this conversation was, “how can anyone feel unsafe drinking any sort of milk in Canada?” You see, Canadian milk is one of the safest things you can buy in the stores to drink. All Canadian milk is 100 per cent free from artificial hormones and antibiotics. In fact, the only thing that is in Canadian milk (besides milk) is vitamins A and D which, by law, have to be added. So, how is milk so safe? Let me tell you!

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 23rd, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Farm Safety,Food safety,Uncategorized
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Scrub-a-dub-dub

by Kim Waalderbos

These days it looks like some of our cows are dancing the hokey pokey. There sure is a lot of wiggling and shaking happening in one particular corner of our barn. A closer look reveals the source of the movement – a new cow brush (see picture).

Since this stationary, two-brush device was installed last weekend the cows have been lined up for their turn to brush off and get spiffed up. The timing couldn’t be better as the cows discover this helpful tool to help scrub away at the long hairs that were part of their winter ‘coats’ and now fall to the floor below in heaps.

Cow brushes can commonly be found on dairy farms across Canada. They can look like our stationary brush that the cows move against or they can be fancier motorized brushes that are motion activated and when pushed, spin against the cows to brush away dirt, dust and hair. The goal is the same – to help cows keep clean and comfortable.

It sure is a popular thing to play with on our farm. And I think the cows look shiner and more content because of it.

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 12th, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Dairy cattle,Uncategorized