let's talk farm animals

Farming in Perth County for seven generations and planning for more

Bob McMillan, Julie Moore and their family appear as the faces of January, 2014 in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

Bob McMillan, Julie Moore and their sons Reid and Nolan appear as the faces of January, 2014 in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

by Patricia Grotenhuis

Bob McMillan and Julie Moore may have struck people as an unlikely pair when they first started dating. He was a farmer passionate about the land and his livestock. She was a self described city girl from Toronto who knew little about farming when they met.

McMillan’s family’s history is entrenched in the rural community near Stratford.  His ancestors bought the Perth County farm in 1850 when they came from Scotland, and it’s been in the family  ever since.  The farm has changed a lot over the years, but according to McMillan, that just adds to the history for future generations.

“The roots are something I take for granted.  There are interesting stories and the history is nice to have.  There have been lots of changes, but everyone gets to add something to the farm,” says McMillan.

Moore added, “We continue to call the original stone house our home. Under our roof, seven generations have been born, married, celebrated and inspired. Our home farm is truly a place where a family story begins.”

The two are appreciative of farm life and their community, something that Julie has especially appreciated coming from the city.  “I love the sense of community here.  It’s so different from larger, urban centres – everyone knows the history and has a sense of connection and belonging,” she said.

In 2013, the couple and their two young children Nolan and Reid appeared in the eighth edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. The couple’s winning application was chosen from a field of 31 exceptional entries in a new contest launched to select one farm family to appear in the calendar.  In their application, Julie described her family as a “progressive, passionate and proud farm family”. She also said that she felt they “typify today’s farm family – active, educated, engaged, caring and committed to our families, our farms and our community.”

McMillan and Moore have expanded their business by purchasing a neighbouring farm. They’ve also built a new barn and added new corn storage/dryer facilities.
They’re doing their best to make sure they leave the farm in a better condition for the next person who works the land by implementing numerous environmental improvements. McMillan has switched to new tillage systems to help conserve soil.  He uses crop rotation to make sure nutrients are not being depleted from the soil, and to improve soil health by having crops with different root systems each year.  Crop rotations also lessen the insect and disease pressure on the plants.

To explore changes that could be made on the farm to improve the environment around them, McMillan completed an Environmental Farm Plan and implemented many of the changes the program suggested.  As part of a conservation project, the couple has planted 1,000 trees on their property.

“We plant for another day and another generation, so we can grow our rewards down the road,” says McMillan.  “It’s impressive to see the benefits now from past projects.”
McMillan is also devoted to caring for his livestock - pigs - and follows stringent guidelines on what the animals are fed and how they’re cared for.

They’ve also got a strong commitment to their community.  McMillan is currently Deputy Mayor of Perth East, sits on Perth County Council and is involved in other community boards and associations.

“I want to be a younger voice in politics, and I want to continue making people aware of farming through my politics,” says McMillan, who was first elected as a councillor in 2003 and is serving his second term as deputy mayor.

Moore is also involved in the community, serving as a school board Trustee with the Avon Maitland District School Board, volunteering with many projects at her sons’ schools and as a consultant to the South West LHIN.  She enjoys running, and has completed several half marathons.  Their two sons, Nolan (7) and Reid (3) enjoy everything there is to see and do on the farm.

Julie is using her newfound knowledge of farming to help educate friends and family from the city about where their food comes from, and the dedication of the people who grow it.

“I didn’t have an appreciation for my food, where it comes from and the work and skill that goes into producing it.  Farmers are highly skilled. They need to be to produce quality food. Food that is safe and healthy food for us to enjoy” says Moore.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on January 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Environment,Faces of Farming,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Future of Farming,Pigs

Cleanliness and consistency keys to chicken comfort, farmer says

(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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David and Goliath - Guest blog

In this post, we’re pleased to feature a blog written by Ontario farmer Sandi Brock. You can follow Sandi’s posts at http://staffachickfarmer.blogspot.ca/

Guest blog by Sandi Brock (Reprinted with permission)

Hard to put into writing what we sometimes feel. Farming lately has felt like a David vs. Goliath type of battle. I’m growing weary of this fight. We (farmers) are being targeted by media. Media likes a story, the worse it is, the better for them. Unfortunately, it leaves our consumers confused, scared and ultimately turned off. Gone are the days when we were all reliant on our land, our animals and our hands to feed our families. Let’s face it, the majority of our friends, neighbors and families do not farm. In fact, they may have a hard time remembering even being to a farm that was maybe a grand-parent’s or great grand-parent’s.

This then becomes our lop-sided battle.

There are just not enough of us to overpower the damage the media is doing. Farming to them is a story. To us, it is our life. It is our blood, sweat and tears. It is our income, our pride, and our contribution to a huge sector of our community and country. We don’t do this to become millionaires. We are happy to get one good year in five. We live at the mercy of the weather, the consumer, and the lenders. If any one of these are not in sync, we don’t meet our goals.

We do this because it’s in our bones. We do this because we love it. We do this because, ultimately, we all like to eat.

So that’s my side. But, it’s not enough. We need to educate. Not the other farmers, which we often find ourselves doing. It’s comfortable to talk to others that do what you do. But, that’s easy. The harder conversations need to be had with your friends in town, your neighbors, your kid’s teachers. We need to be honest and open about what we do, how we do it and most importantly, why we farm. This is the message that needs to be spread like wildfire. The problem is, we don’t take the time. I know while struggling through this fall, the last thing I feel like doing is justifying my farming practices. We are tired, stressed and feeling a bit discouraged. Day after day is another damaging story about our industry. Are they true? Likely not, but does it matter? No. It has made people hesitate. Even me, seeing stories that are edited to create fear, have made me just a little more on edge.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 22nd, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Chickens,Consumers,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Misconceptions
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“Shocking” undercover dairy video hits home

There’s a growing community of agricultural advocates in North America - farmers and farm enthusiasts who are passionate about what they do and who, more importantly, are focused on finding ways to stand up and tell their stories to the world.

One of these enthusiasts is Dairy Carrie, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin. You can read her blogs at www.dairycarrie.com.

In particular, we’d like to call attention to her latest blog entitled “Shocking undercover dairy video hits home” which features footage filmed on her farm. If the title has piqued your curiousity, chcek it out for yourself at http://dairycarrie.com/2013/02/14/shockingvideo/

Read the comments below the post too. They’re sure to make you smile!



Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 15th, 2013 :: Filed under Activism,Animal care,Dairy cattle,Family vs factory farming,Farm life
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A pony for Christmas

by Patricia Grotenhuis

A lot of children want ponies for Christmas at some point in their lives.  They keep hinting about it, write letters to Santa, and think “if I’m really, REALLY good, maybe I’ll get it”.  I was one of those children.

When I was six, the only thing I wanted was a pony or a horse.  Maybe it was from Dad’s stories of having ponies when he was growing up, maybe it was just because it would be neat.  Regardless, it was all I thought about.

When the time came for us to write our annual letters to Santa, I’m pretty sure mine said something along the lines of: “Dear Santa How are you and Mrs. Claus?  How are the reindeer?  I’m 6 years old now, and I’ve been trying really hard to be good this year.  All I want for Christmas is a pony…

I also convinced my brother, who was 10, and sister, eight, to add a pony to their Christmas letters.  It did not take a lot of convincing.  We were farm kids and loved animals – it was just natural to want another one in the mix to love and care for.

I was extra nervous and excited as Christmas Eve approached.  We made sure Dad remembered to leave a bale of hay for the reindeer, which was an annual tradition.  Not the small bales, either, one of the big round bales so all of them could get enough to eat.

We helped Mom make a batch of peanut brittle, because Santa had told us in past years it was his favourite.  And, like all years, we all tried to stay awake to see Santa, even though we were exhausted.

Eventually we drifted off, and the next morning we woke up and ran downstairs to open stockings with our parents and grandma before chores began.  The rest of the presents always had to wait until the animals were taken care of, but we knew the routine and we were okay with that. Santa had indeed visited while we were sleeping!

There were some extra presents under the tree, and overflowing stockings.  There was also a note from Santa, thanking us for the peanut brittle and for the hay.  His reindeer loved having something to eat to keep them going that night.  Santa also mentioned we should check on the cow in the maternity pen.

We bundled ourselves up and went out to the barn.  The bale was completely gone, other than some loose hay scattered around the ground where it had been sitting.  The whole family went back to the maternity pens.

While we were in the maternity pen section of the barn, which gave the cows space and privacy during calving, my brother turned around.  A small horse was sticking its head over the gate of the second maternity pen!  We were so excited it was hard to concentrate on chores.

Eventually we did finish and opened our other presents after a delicious breakfast made by Mom, but that horse was on the top of our minds.  We decided to name her Noel in honour of the day she arrived.

Later that day, dad brought our new horse out so we could go for a little ride on her and I knew I was the luckiest girl in the world.

Out of all of my childhood Christmases, I remember that one with more clarity than any other.  To this day, when I hear someone say they want a pony for Christmas, I smile and take a trip down memory lane.  I know most will not get a live pony like we did, but will always be thankful for that magical Christmas when a little girl’s dream came true.


Posted by FFC on December 20th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal health,Christmas,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Hay,winter
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Enjoying the peace of a barn at night

By Patricia Grotenhuis

There is something peaceful about a barn at night.  I’ve always found it soothing to be out there after all of the animals are fed and cared for, as they all eat or rest contentedly, a soft yellow glow from the lights shining on them.

I was reminded of how nice it is recently when I slipped out to give my husband a message.  In the summer, being in the barn after dark always meant chores were going really slowly since most of the family was in the fields, or, as children and youth, that we were preparing animals for a show at a local fair or 4-H event.  Once the time change comes, though, it happens daily.  As soon as the equipment in the barn for feeding the animals is turned off, and there is just the gentle, steady hum of the milking machines, the peacefulness starts.

The cows stand munching on their feed waiting to be milked, and the calves eat their hay and grain, waiting for their share of the milk.  In the heifer barn, they are finishing eating and starting to lay down and rest.  The radio plays softly in the background. My husband slips quietly between the cows, putting milking machines on, and taking them off, giving the cow a little pat on the back or scratch on the neck as he goes.

As the cows finish milking, they often lay down to chew their cud, which is not only part of the digestive process for them, but is also a sign of a content, healthy animal.

By the time milking is finished and the calves have been fed their milk, a large portion of the cattle in the barn will be settling in for the night.  At that point, my husband is nearing the end of the chore routine as well – cleaning the barn, checking on any cows that are close to calving, and doing a final walk-through to make sure everything is in its place and the cattle are comfortable.

Some nights, of course, a late night in the barn is caused by a piece of equipment breaking, a cow having a calf, or one of the animals needing a little bit of extra care.  On these nights, the barn is not always such a soothing place.  Even then, though, that night charm shows through.

My husband, like all farmers I know, takes pride in making sure the animals and land he is in charge of are cared for as well as possible.  All farmers have their own way of achieving that goal, but they share the same end result.

Some days, it means he barely sees our children because something needs a repair in the barn, or there is a cow who is showing some early signs of sickness.

Some nights it means getting up at two in the morning to drive to the main farm and make sure a cow is not having difficulty delivering a calf.  Other times, he is pouring over his herd management paperwork, making decisions about what he should change in the barn, meeting with people to make sure the cows are receiving the proper nutrients in their diet, or going to various industry meetings to keep up to date on the latest research.

To farmers, the greatest compliment they can receive about their livelihood is that they have a nice farm, their animals look good and are doing well, and they are taking care of their land and the environment. That is why my husband will not leave the barn with something left to do, or do a half-hearted job of caring for the cattle.  The benefits and satisfaction he gets from seeing the farm doing well are a payoff for him.


Posted by FFC on November 30th, 2012 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,animal handling,Autumn,Barns,Dairy cattle,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Housing
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Meet the face of September in the Faces of Farming calendar

 by Patricia Grotenhuis

Farming is just in the blood for some people, as is the case with Jim Patton, a sixth-generation farmer from near Alliston.

Patton was not always sure he was going to farm.  He decided to attend the University of Guelph after doing a project on the importance of agriculture in his final year of high school.  He graduated with a diploma in agricultural business, and returned to the farm. 

Broiler breeder farmer Jim Patton

Once Patton returned to the farm, he began making changes to modernize the family’s business.  Patton is featured as the month of September in the 2012 Faces of Farming Calendar, published by the Farm Care Foundation, because of his dedication to making improvements. 

In 1998, Patton began keeping broiler breeder chickens. These are roosters as well as the hens who lay fertilized eggs that will hatch into chickens raised for meat. In 2000 he added raising pullets (young hens) to the farm.  In addition to the birds, Patton also grows corn, soybeans and wheat.  He makes it a point to go to as many industry conferences and workshops as he can, including a three-day training course at the University of Alberta and a no-till(age) conference in Cincinnati.  He sets a personal goal to bring at least one idea home to implement on the farm from each event that he attends. This interest has also led him to the Innovative Farmers of Ontario association – where he now serves as a director.


Posted by FFC on September 19th, 2012 :: Filed under Broiler Breeders,Chickens,Education and public awareness,Environmental Farm Plan,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Innovative Farmers of Ontario,Pullets,Uncategorized
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In the face of crisis

By Jeanine Moyer

Living on a farm means we live farther away from our neighbours than most people. Instead of lawns and fences separating our house from the neighbour’s we have fields and streams. Sometimes I think the distance between each farm can make the relationship between neighbours stronger. And tests the strength of a relationship like an illness or disaster when neighbours come together to face adversity.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 19th, 2012 :: Filed under animal handling,Barn fires,Barns,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Sustainability of the family farm
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Farming for six generations - or more

By Patricia Grotenhuis

I’ve always known farming is in my blood.  Recently, I found out how far it goes in my bloodline is while my parents were going through the family tree.

In two lines of the family tree, one from Mom’s side and one from Dad’s side, I am the sixth consecutive generation of Canadian farmers.  In all likelihood, if you were to go back further into my family history and look at what type of work my ancestors did before coming to Canada, my family’s farming history could go back even further. 


Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 12th, 2012 :: Filed under Canada,careers,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Feeding the world,Future of Farming
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We can all make a difference – one farming story at a time

Stacy and Troy Hadrick

 By Patricia Grotenhuis (with tips from Lilian Schaer)

Everyone has a story to tell, and for Troy and Stacy Hadrick, sharing their story through social media has taken them around the world.

The ranching couple from South Dakota found out the hard way that relying on someone else to tell your story can have unintended consequences.  Since an early media experience in 2002, where an interview with food activist Michael Pollan saw Troy – and the conventional beef industry -  vilified in a feature article, they have vowed to do a better job telling their own story so misunderstandings do not happen again.

“Every single one of us involved in agriculture is a spokesperson,” says Stacy.

Over the years, the couple has found themselves sharing their story with people in the agriculture industry and also with consumers, businesses, activist groups and more.  They are examples of how much one person can do, especially with social media’s ability to allow people to reach so many.
The Hadricks encourage all farmers and ranchers to tell their story.  They stress the importance of bringing your connection to agriculture up when you introduce yourself to someone, opening the gate for conversations.

“Take a couple of minutes to answer questions.  If you’re not excited about the stories you’re telling, they won’t be,” says Troy.

The couple gave both a workshop and a keynote address at the Farm & Food Care Ontario AGM in Waterloo during the month of April.  Speaking to the conference topic, “Building Better Bridges”, they shared a number of stories about how they began advocating for agriculture on a large scale, and the experiences they have had since they began.

Troy and Stacy are daily examples of what they advocate – talking about how important it is to speak up when you hear information being shared which is not factual.  One of the examples of how they have made a difference includes Yellowtail Wine and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Upon hearing that Yellowtail donated $100,000 to the HSUS, an animal activist organization (which fronts as a humane society but spends less than half of one per cent of its total budget to help animals, according to Humane Watch) Troy took action.  He began by posting on Yellowtail’s facebook page, simply stating he was an American farmer and the donation would impact his family negatively, as HSUS strives to end animal agriculture.  Troy encouraged family and friends to do the same.

Further reflection reminded Troy that he had a bottle of Yellowtail wine in his cupboard.  He proceeded to create a 54 second video of him dumping the wine on the frozen ground while some of his beef cattle look on, explaining why he is dumping the wine and what impact the Yellowtail donation will have on many American families. You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA

The video was uploaded to YouTube and the number of views began accumulating. Troy also started receiving attention from both  Australian media and the Australian government.  Unknown to Troy until this point, Yellowtail’s initial donation was part of a larger commitment to donate $300 000 over a three-year period.  Through his short video and the use of social media, Troy prevented an additional $200 000 from being donated and resulted in an apology to the industry from the company. A response from Yellowtail to the negative publicity said that the feedback “was very helpful to us — in fact, it prompted us to specifically choose the areas where we’d most like to celebrate animals. …We hope that you will understand that this allocation of money is a direct result of hearing your concerns.”

“We changed the future course of donations from a multinational company with social media.  That’s the power of social media,” says Troy.

Food and farming story telling tips- written by Lilian Schaer

Prepare a 30-second elevator speech – a quick description of who you are and what you do. Keep it simple by using words and concepts people will understand. Avoid using industry jargon and lingo, be prepared for the questions people will ask once they hear what you do and be aware of the criticism people have of your industry.

“For most people, meeting a farmer is like meeting Big Foot – they’ve heard it exists but have never met one,” says Stacy. “You only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure you adapt your elevator speech to your audience.”

Build a message map. If you’re asked to do an interview or answer questions about what you do, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Pick your topic or key point and support it with three key messages and supporting arguments. This technique also works for writing a letter to the editor, talking to your school board or meeting with politicians. Be careful not to overwhelm your audience with complicated messages or too many numbers, but if you don’t have any statistics handy, don’t make them up

“Always take a few minutes to compose yourself and get some points together,” advises Troy. “You can do this anywhere, in the dust on the dash of your pickup, on a napkin, anywhere – and don’t be afraid to have it sitting right in front of you.”

Stay informed. Know what consumers are seeing and hearing and what some of the common myths are about agriculture. To consumers, a farmer is a farmer regardless of what commodity you produce so you’re likely to be asked questions about all sorts of things people hear or see in the news. Be enthusiastic about what you do – if you’re not excited about what you do, no one else will be either.

“Talk with emotion, not fact and science,” says Stacy. “As farmers we’re not used to being emotional but activists and those who are against agriculture use emotion all the time.”

Become involved. Join the groups in your area. This can be a local chamber of commerce, business association or other organization so you can meet people who aren’t part of your regular agricultural world. These venues provide opportunities for you to speak up about who you are and what you do to produce food. The Hadricks also advise farmers to be active in the farm organizations they belong to.

“Take part in setting policy and be there when they need people to do things,” says Stacy. “We’re all busy but think about what you can do to squeeze a little bit more time to do your advocacy.”



Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 7th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Education and public awareness,Family vs factory farming,Farm life
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