let's talk farm animals

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.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Food,Uncategorized
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Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 23rd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal health,Beef cattle,Consumers,Feeding the world,Food,Food safety,Innovation and technology,Misconceptions,Regulations,Speaking out,Sustainability
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Inside Farming: Safe food at a low price

By Rudi Spruit, CanACT President, University of Guelph

Here in Canada, we have some of the lowest cost and safest food in the world. Canada has one of the lowest food freedom dates in the world – the date at which the average Canadian has made enough money to pay for their food for the entire year. This date, for the typical Canadian, sits around Feb. 14. That is a real testament to how well farmers and all other steps in the supply chain have worked to reduce their costs and pass that discount on to the consumer.

In Canada, about 12 per cent of income is spent on food, but in Egypt, that number sits up near 43 per cent. In China, the average citizen spends about 22 per cent of their income on food, and in Russia, about 31 per cent.

Not only do we have some of the lowest-cost food around the world, but it is also the safest food available. Canada continues to keep their reputation for the safest place to import food from, and passes the most stringent food safety rules, and thus the farmers in Canada are able to send food all around the globe.

There are very strict rules about food production due to a tough governing body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA does regular inspection at processing plants, all seed plants, and even at farms. They are responsible for the food safety of Canada, from beef to dairy to honey, which may even include fining businesses for non-compliance to the laws.

Some examples of food safety are the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in cattle. Each farmer will have a unique identification, and as the cattle go through its life, this number will stay with them forever. This way, when the animal gets processed, if there is a problem with the meat or there is a recall on the meat, it can be traced back to the farm it came from. Even in milk production there is a sample taken at every farm before the milk is picked up, so if there is ever a problem, it can be traced back to one specific farm on one specific day. A record is kept of each farm based on their quality of products and history of non-compliance, which can give a very good indicator if that farm might need more inspections to keep up the excellent reputation of Canada’s food system.

As Canadians, we should all be proud of this reputation. Most countries look to Canada to see how to develop a food safety program – they will buy food and raw materials only from Canada, and will base the success of their food programs on the Canadian food freedom date. This is an amazing fact, and due to the hard work of many Canadians, we can truly say that we have some of the safest food in the world at one of the lowest costs.

Inside Farming is a series of articles written by Canadian Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (CanACT) members at the University of Guelph.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 13th, 2014 :: Filed under Food,Food safety,Speaking out,Uncategorized
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Understanding your food choices

 

by Jean L Clavelle

Purchasing meat these days can be confusing if not overwhelming.

In the car, on the drive to the grocery store you hear ads offering specials on “grain fed” meat, then you stop at the coffee shop and see they are selling sandwiches using “all natural antibiotic free chicken”, finally at the meat counter you see packages labelled as “hormone free” and “free range” and “organic”.  What does it all mean?!  What’s the difference?!

Well Chicken Farmers of Canada was able to break it down for us.

Free Range birds must have access to the outdoors. However, since there is no legal definition of free range in Canada, this can vary from farm to farm. Be wary of “fresh” free range chicken in stores when it’s -30 degrees outside, it may have been frozen product defrosted for sale and should not be re-frozen.

Free Run is different than free range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free run.

Grain Fed Since all chicken in Canada is given a feed that consists of at over 88% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing. Chicken labeled as “grain fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.

Hormone Free and/or Steroid Free - Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone-free.” This is little more than a marketing tactic, since the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned since the 1960s in Canada.

Kosher products refer to the content and production requirements, not necessarily to any specific cuisine. In Hebrew, kosher means “fit” or “proper,” indicating that the food products meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law. The Jewish dietary laws are collectively known as the laws of kashruth and deal with what foods may be eaten together and how those foods are to be prepared. 

During the processing stage, salt and water are used to prepare the chicken for market. The guidelines for kosher certification are strict and the product must still pass through government inspection in order to be sold in stores or shipped to restaurants. Kosher products are sold across the country and are widely available. For more information, you can visit the Kashruth Council of Canada at www.cor.ca.

Organic Chicken- Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country, but in general, organic chicken must be raised with at certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.

Raised Without Antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. For more information on the use of antibiotics in raising chicken, visit the Chicken & Antibiotics section on the Chicken Farmers of Canada website.

Vegetarian Grain Fed, on the other hand, means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.

So now you know the real story and hopefully the next trip to the grocery store won’t be so confusing. For additional information or to see the whole article go to Chicken.ca.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 10th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Chickens,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Food,Food safety,Uncategorized
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My meat journey

by Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Farm & Food Care, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Most of which have come from volunteering at public events. I’ve had great conversations with moms, kids, dads, grandparents and teachers, who all love farm animals and want to know more. Some common questions being ‘how big is that cow?’, ‘how many eggs does a chicken lay?’ and my personal favourite of ‘are you a real farmer?’

Others are more complex like ‘why are pigs kept in stalls?’

But there was one question that I will never forget . It was a question that caught me off guard and one that I have not stopped thinking about since that day. A mom approached me at the CNE and asked ‘how can you care for your animals and then eat them?’

Now that’s a tough question. She was not a vegetarian; she ate meat, but genuinely wanted to know.  I can’t remember what I said to her on that day, but on my drive home that night it kept cycling through my head. How do we justify this decision? I never really considered it that much.

As a young kid growing up on my family farm I became very familiar with life and death. I marveled at the miracle of a new calf being born and also mourned the life of a cow after she had died or been put down. Many times I watched and helped my dad put down a sick or lame cow. Life and death is part of everyday life on a farm. It was something that I never really questioned and I continued to think about this question long after.

It was not until recently on a tour of a Cargill beef plant that I had a “light bulb” moment. I began to piece together my thoughts as I walked through and watched how cattle are turned into the beef you see in the grocery store. Watching the workers do their jobs and trim a small part of the carcass at each point along the way was amazing. Very little goes to waste; even the hooves are processed into products that you buy for your dog at the pet store.

A couple of times our tour guide turned around and checked to see that I was alright. I was the only girl on the tour, but probably the one most fascinated by the whole process.

I left Cargill that afternoon with a renewed confidence in our food system. Regardless of what you read, hear or watch, I can say with firsthand experience that the animals who produce the meat we eat are raised and treated in the most humane manner, from the farm through to your plate.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to that day in August and when that mom asked me ‘how do you eat the animals that you care for?’ I would tell her the following:

We (as farmers) owe it to our animals to provide them a healthy comfortable life, but when the time comes we also owe them a quick and painless death. Farm animals are raised in Canada for food.  Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat that I eat, I know that the animal was well cared for and respectfully treated. I will confidently continue to eat Canadian.

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 3rd, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Feeding the world,Food,Food safety,Meat/slaughter plants,Uncategorized
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2014 Milk Calendar features recipes by Ontario dairy farmers

At Farm & Food Care Ontario, staff eagerly awaits the annual November release of the Milk Calendar, published by Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC). In fact, we’re almost as excited about arrival of the annual Milk Calendar as we are about our own Faces of Farming calendar (which if you haven’t already seen ordered, you can do so at this link.

Hats off, this year, to DFC for profiling Canadian farmers, and their favourite recipes, in the calendar including Ontario dairy farmers Reuben and Ed Bos who appear on the calendar’s cover. You can read a great story about the Bos family that appeared recently in the The Record.

Ontario dairy farmers Reuben and Ed Bos on the front cover of the 2014 milk calendar

Ontario dairy farmers Reuben and Ed Bos on the front cover of the 2014 milk calendar

Several other Ontario farmers and their favourite recipes are also featured in the calendar including Catherine Agar of Salford with her French Roast recipe appearing in May; Andrew Campbell of Appin with his mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies appearing in July; Nichele Steenbeck of Varna with her favourite Strawberries and Potted Cream; Sandra Willard of Thornloe with her Breakfast Smoothie recipe appearing in August; Jody Spriel of St. Marys with her Cauliflower Cheddar Soup recipe appearing in October and Jennifer Eastman of Kinburn with her Ham and Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese recipe appearing in November.

Farmers from Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec also contributed recipes to the project.

Ontario recipe developer and Professional Home Economist, Jennifer MacKenzie is again responsible for the array of great recipes that appear in this year’s project.

All of the milk calendar recipes can be found at http://www.dairygoodness.ca/recipes/milk-calendar/2014

 

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 27th, 2013 :: Filed under Dairy cattle,Feeding the world,Food,milk,Uncategorized
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When you’re a farmer, sick days aren’t really an option

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey and sheep farmer

Recently, a local woman ran 108 km in two days to raise money for Ronald McDonald house of London. Great job!   I found myself wondering why someone would put themselves through that much pain and agony.  Suddenly the question turned around to me and I asked why have I pushed myself past that point of pain.

We raise turkeys and sheep along with about 500 acres of crops.  About a year ago, I started having chest and arm pains, which resulted from three bad discs in my neck and several pinched nerves. So why have I made my family suffer by watching me work myself into more and more pain? Why wasn’t I smart enough to stop and walk away from it?  The bottom line was that I have livestock that need cared for and fields that need planted and maintained.  I have committed myself to contributing to the food chain at the primary level as a farmer. Farming is my dream, my passion, and my drive.  Pain and discomfort came second.

Ronald McDonald house gave this runner a home and a place of comfort when she most needed it.  I get that. The fields, the barns, the animals reward me all the time and provide a place to put life in perspective.  I see life created and given. I see death and sickness which I can treat, but most of all at the end of the day I know I have done my best to provide families with good quality affordable food.

To make my family suffer watching me work through my pain is something I didn’t realize I was doing at the time and isn’t fair, but they know the animals must be cared for.
As of now I wait to see a surgeon; trying to fill my days while someone else does my work for me.  The truth is slowly sinking in to us all that, in my early 40’s, I could be limited to what I will be able to do for the rest of my life.

We have been lucky enough to sell the sheep and all their feeding equipment to someone that is passionate about the livestock and has the same commitment to agriculture as we do. The sheep have yet to leave our farm and that will be a real reality check.  We also have had to sell our combine due to the fact I won’t be able to operate it again without creating undue pain.

We have been fortunate enough to do what we love for 20 plus years and hope to be able to carry on by next spring.

A family that I respect very much has put me up to the challenge of blogging about farming as I know it. So this is my first attempt at it and perhaps we will have more to come on the challenges that have happened and will happen on this farm.

The one thing I can guarantee is that long term injuries in a self-employed business bring with them a lot of emotional rides. Thankfully we have great neighbours and friends that are willing to help out to get things done. After all, that is what rural Ontario is about.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 12th, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Farm life,Feeding the world,Food,Sheep,Turkeys
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A reply to “The ethics of food”

The following letter to the editor was submitted as a response to an article published in the Ottawa Citizen, which you can find below the letter itself.

Dear editor,

Thanks to Kate Heartfield for her recent piece, The ethics of food. In an age where food philosophies have become all the rage, it’s healthy to ask question and respect other people’s food choices.  Ontario farmers are willing and able to produce such a variety of foods, grown a variety of ways. As a farmer, I follow food safety, environmental and animal care standards to produce the best beef in a sustainable manner in the Ottawa Valley.  Of course there are many additional standards - including organic, free range, halal and even biodynamic - that some farmers will choose to participate in and need to be paid accordingly. Regardless of what a person’s food politics are, I’m glad when they take the time to consider how food our food is produced.  I also value how fortunate we are to live in a society that has so many food choices available.

Gerald Rollins Beef farmer, Cobden, Ontario

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 5th, 2013 :: Filed under Consumers,Education and public awareness,Food,Letters to the Editor,Media,Speaking out

Connecting with consumers is the greatest reward for local beef initiative

By Kelly Daynard

Sarnia – It started six years ago as a conversation between friends. Today, that idea tossed around a kitchen table has become Bluewater Beef, an initiative of the Eyre and Shaw farm families of Lambton County.

Murray Shaw recalls that early conversation. “We wanted to expand our farms but the economics at the time, for small farmers, didn’t make sense.”

While most of their beef produced at the time was sold directly to larger processors, he and partner Ralph Eyre already sold a small amount of beef locally, taking orders from friends and family for beef from their farms. From sales of that “freezer beef”, they had learned that people liked knowing exactly where their meat came from.

The Eyre and Shaw farm families of Lambton County are the owners of Bluewater Beef

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 27th, 2013 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Beef cattle,Consumers,Farm life,farm tours,Food,Meat processing,Sustainability of the family farm,Uncategorized
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The dirty side of anti-GMO activism

By Lisa McLean, Farm and Food advisor

If you haven’t noticed an increase in online dialogue about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) lately, you will. Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, a controversial piece of legislation that, if passed, would require mandatory labeling on foods that contain GMOs and would influence labeling practices across North America. And as the voting deadline approaches, there’s an uncanny amount of “new information” being released about the supposed perils of consuming GMOs.

Most recently, a researcher in France managed to publish a scientific paper claiming to have discovered something that decades of private and public research has failed to produce: that GMOs cause cancer. According to the study’s researcher, rats that were fed a diet of GMO corn developed cancer and died at significantly higher rates than controls. Conveniently, the research was completed just in time for the final stretch of the Proposition 37 campaign.

The scientific community around the world has called into questionmany aspects of the study since it was released. Concerns include the conditions under which the results were released to media, the breed of rats used, the architecture of the study, and the troubling history of the lead researcher himself. And while the study’s results were quickly discredited in media outlets around the world, the damage is already done – particularly for consumers who are uninitiated to the dirty tricks used in campaigns such as this one. We can be certain anti-GMO activists will widely quote this “newly available” research. And, at least some consumers who have been safely consuming GMOs for years will buy into the fear mongering.

Anti-GMO activists use all sorts of tactics

But fights such as this one come at a hefty cost. The spending on both sides of the debate is getting out of hand, as proponents and opposition alike invest millions of dollars in campaigns around the issue. The consumer organizations and select food companies in favour of labeling are funded by a healthy dose of organic and so-called “natural” brands that stand to profit handsomely from further differentiation in the marketplace. Their opponents – large corporate food companies and suppliers – are likewise investing even larger sums of money playing defense to point out that their products have already undergone rigorous third party testing and have been proven safe for human consumption, time and again.

The truth is, most North Americans don’t give much thought to what approved scientific technologies were used to grow their safe, affordable food. And, consumers who take the time to educate themselves can opt to avoid foods containing GMOs, (if that is important to them), by choosing products that are labeled “certified organic.” But proponents of GMO labeling continue to turn up public pressure, and in all likelihood, someday soon they’ll succeed. It’s unfortunate that they feel the need to tear down trust in science simply because they don’t like what the science says. It’s unfortunate that, in an effort to scare others into agreeing with them – and in the absence of real evidence – they fabricate junk science to prove their point.

The real shame is that advocates on both sides of the issue are spending millions of dollars cancelling each other out on a noisy battleground. What if, instead of dirty tricks and PR stunts, companies on both sides pooled that campaign money and put it to better use – like investing in credible cancer research, or delivering healthy food programs to people in need?

 

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Posted by FFC on October 22nd, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Food,Innovation and technology,Research
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