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.

Share

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
Tags :: , , , ,

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.

Share

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
Tags ::

Wondering about antibiotics in cattle feed?

 

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

There has been much discussion on antibiotics that go into livestock production and their influence on antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotic resistance is so incredibly complex that not even the scientific community fully understands all of the causative factors.  We don’t have the space to tackle that topic here but I would like to chat about antimicrobial use in cattle production - in particular a group of medications called ionophores - as they are a widely used tool by cattle producers and wildly misunderstood by the general public.

Rumen diagram

The rumen is the main digestive center.

So let’s start from the beginning.  Cattle are considered “ruminants”, a class of animals which have not just one stomach but four (yes you read that right - 4 stomachs!).  Of the four compartments, the Rumen is the first and largest, and the main digestive centre.  The rumen is filled with billions of bacteria that are able to break down grass and other coarse fibrous materials (such as hay and straw) that animals with only one stomach (including humans, chickens and pigs) simply cannot digest.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 29th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Education and public awareness
Tags :: , ,

I think we need to talk…

Comments Off

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.

Share

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
Tags :: , , ,

Another perspective of intensively raised livestock

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few weeks investigating the concept of a “factory farm”. It’s an interesting label because it seems to come with inherent biases of agriculture and food production - the name itself implies a 1930’s concept of human exploitation. I’ve also been surprised how commonly and in a generally flippant manner it used when discussing agriculture on social media or in person.

Broiler chicken barn

Broiler chicken barn

During my investigation it became quite evident that when people refer to factory farms they are generally referring to large scale intensive livestock operations. And these references are overwhelming negative. My first impression is that big equals bad. And it is not an outrageous jump to make - I can imagine how any non Ag person would react when walking into a broiler barn with 15,000 chicks or onto an Alberta feedlot with 20,000 head or upon hearing the words ‘robotic milkers’ for dairy production. Big equals anonymous care where staff simply do not care, that technology has replaced individual attention, and where health and welfare are of little concern.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 16th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Education and public awareness,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , ,

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.

Share

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
Tags :: , ,

Finding my voice

By Resi Walt, Communications Intern at Farm & Food Care and dairy farmer

When you’re young and growing up, it can be hard to grasp how big the world is. Where you live – your home, your yard and your neighborhood – is where your world begins and ends. As a child growing up on a farm, I felt that everything I would ever need was on the farm. That included the sandbox, the hay mow, and my bike.

As I got older and went elementary school, I had the occasional sleepover at a friend’s house, or stayed a night with my grandparents, and my world grew a little. Then I found myself in high school, and eventually got my driver’s license. The world really opens up when you can drive anywhere on your own!

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 19th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions
Tags :: , , ,

Changing perspectives in a changing world

dairy cow PICJean L Clavelle

Interesting how perspective can change.

When I was studying large animal behaviour in college a lot of the focus of our discussion and research was centred not just around behaviour but on animal welfare.   It was a natural thought progression I guess. At the time however, the word “welfare” carried with it a negative connotation within the ag community. It was associated with something on the fringe or for people who were extreme and equated with animal rights groups and activists like the PETA members who got naked on the corner of a downtown city block to protest something or other.

Now let me be clear it’s not that agriculture didn’t care about animal welfare it’s just that they didn’t necessarily have a word for it. It was more a belief system of it being the ‘right thing to do’. I’m reminded of what a family member told me when I explained I was writing a paper on feedlot animal welfare. She explained that I had better be careful before I ruined my career before it started. When I let her read the paper she said something to the effect of “well yeah, that’s just common sense”. It was simply the label of Animal Welfare that was foreign, not the concept.

Seeing the now infamous dairy footage recently was disheartening to say the least. It was simply wrong, it was disgusting and it was unacceptable. It set back everything that I and other proponents of animal welfare are trying to do not to mention cast a black cloud over the rest of animal agriculture and the good work that the majority of producers in Canada do. I am encouraged though to see that the ag community has not battened down the hatches to defend the poor decisions of a few. The agriculture community has not circled the wagons to say to the public “no, you just don’t understand”.   As a group and as individuals they have stood up and condemned that behaviour publicly. Animal abuse is Not Ok. The ag community has seemed to embrace the terminology that you the consumer can relate to - Animal Welfare.

Ironically I feel like I’m now being reverse discriminated against for being involved in livestock. I have been called disgusting, moral-less and without ethics. I have been asked how I can be involved in a business so horrible and would I eat my dog or my horse? I’ve been told I only have my views because I live in Saskatchewan and that’s all I know. I have been told numerous times that agriculture is big business and big business is intrinsically unethical so how can animals really be cared for well. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many producers are introduced to the public or how open we are about what happens on farms the worst always seem to be believed. It used to feel like a noble profession, feeding the world. But that positivity seems to be stolen with every negative tweet.

My only hope is that the recent evolution in livestock agriculture has not come too late to keep up with the dynamic social media world. My request is that if you have questions about something that you’ve read or heard please find a producer and ask for the real answer and an honest response. Maybe hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will change your perspective.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 21st, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media
Tags :: , , ,

Animals are animals, not people

H with Horses PIC

Jean L Clavelle

A few weeks ago we were sitting around watching a Disney cartoon with our two young children before bedtime activities started. One of the more senior members of our family who happened to be in the room with us (a recent retiree from farming) made a comment that went something like “Disney has ruined society’s perception of animal agriculture”. At first, I brushed it off with a laugh but have been thinking that perhaps that statement holds more truth than I first thought.

Animals are animals, not people. They are not secretly speaking our language when we are not around despite every hilarious Far Side cartoon in the Sunday paper. Cows do not wear aprons, pigs do not ride skate boards, dogs do not have problem solving skills of an adequate level to save the world from imminent disaster (although I will admit all of those concepts make terrific story lines for toddlers).  Even though animals do communicate, form social bonds, have mothering instincts and relationships, they are not humans.  They do not share our social structure, our language, our problem solving ability or our emotions.  They are animals.

So when faced with the overwhelming messages of Disney and other tv shows, movies, toys, and books that show animals as having human characteristics how do we raise our children to understand that this portrayal of animals is not real?

My first thought is that I will teach them the main principles of raising animals on the farm - whether that be a dog, cattle, chickens, a horse or a ginuea pig.  With livestock you quickly learn that their needs come before your own.  It doesn’t matter if you are tired or hungry or cold because you’ve been outside all day, if the animals need to be looked after you better get outside and make sure they are fed and watered and comfortable.  Raising animals means that you treat them when they are sick.  If an animal has an illness that can be treated with antibiotics then antibiotics are used so that animal does not suffer. Raising animals means that you have a responsibility to use the latest techniques that will benefit not just the animal but the environment because that is the right thing to do.

Above all it means that you treat them with respect.  Whether they are simply companions or whether they are giving us milk or eggs or will be butchered they are to be valued with kindness and empathy.  And this does not mean giving them a luxury stall at the most expensive equestrian center or the finest silk day bed to lounge on while you are at work.  We must truly understand what that animal needs as an individual of a particular species.  Just as animals are not humans, dogs are not cats, beef cattle are not goats, horses can not be treated like pigs.  It is up to us, the people who care for them, to understand what they need in terms of their environment, their social activities, their nutrition.  And that is part of the process of respect.

I want my children to know that we will use those that pig for bacon, that beef animal for steak, and that dairy cow will give us milk.  But what a better way to teach them gratitude for the food in their bellies than to show them where food comes from.  It does not come from a grocery store.  As an adult I am now more grateful than ever, each time I sit down to a beautiful bacon and egg breakfast that I am involved in raising the animals that gave it to me.  I hope my kids have that same appreciation.  Even if I to continue to let them watch Disney cartoons.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Food,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , , ,

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.

Share

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
Tags :: , , , , , , , ,