let's talk farm animals

Where is the transparency at Burger King?

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farming and Food Commentator

I was as surprised as anyone to hear the news last week that Burger King in the U.S. is making an exclusive move to purchase “cage-free” eggs and pork within five years. It has certainly dominated the news. Even my urban friends (knowing I work in agriculture) have brought it up the past few days. Sadly however I haven’t been able to provide answers to some of their questions.


Posted by FFC on April 30th, 2012 :: Filed under eggs,Food,Housing,HSUS,Retailers
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Meet the farmers of January from the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar

by Patricia Grotenhuis

Three Ontario turkey farmers, the father/sons team of Heiko, Wayne and Mike Oegema, are featured in the 2012 Faces of Farming Calendar published by the Farm Care Foundation. Their page was sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

These turkey farmers are the faces of January in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar


Heiko Oegema’s family established a turkey farm in 1959, shortly after emigrating from Holland.  He said that it was the opportunities available to Canadian farm families that brought his family to their chosen country.

As Heiko’s own family grew, so did their farm business. A retail store was added when his son Mike returned to the farm.  Heiko recently retired and the farm and store are now being run by his twin sons, Mike and Wayne.

“The transition has gone smoothly.  I used to farm with my brother, and then we phased the boys in,” says Heiko.

The store, called “The Turkey Shoppe”, opened to diversify the farm in December of 1992, after Mike graduated with his business degree.  It started out small, expanded in 1996 when Wayne returned, and has been growing ever since.

“We’ve had to expand over the years, and we’re raising more birds annually to meet seasonal needs,” says Mike.

The farm has changed its production schedules slightly since opening the store to make sure it will have enough fresh birds for Thanksgiving and Christmas to meet their customers’ needs.  The Oegemas have also built a licensed free-standing meat processing plant to process their turkey meat into products such as pies, sausages, burgers, and schnitzel.

Although the store is important to the farm, the family’s main focus is on ensuring the birds’ welfare.  Heiko was on the committee that originally developed the Recommended Codes of Practice for turkey producers.  The Codes are national guidelines for the care and handling of the different species of farm animals. They promote sound management and welfare practices through recommendations and requirements for housing, care, transportation, processing and other animal husbandry practices.  The farm implemented the codes immediately, and has been following them and making improvements ever since.

Currently, the farm is undergoing barn renovations.  Work includes making the barns more energy efficient, more comfortable for the birds and improving the ventilation system.

Even with so much work to do on the farm and in the store, the Oegemas are active in their community.

Heiko is the church organist, sits on church council, and enjoys time at the family cottage with his wife, Helen.  He is also a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.  In the past, Heiko was on the Soil and Crop Improvement Association, served as chair of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario, the organization that represents Ontario’s 190 turkey farm families. He was also an executive committee member on Turkey Farmers of Canada.

Mike and his wife, Annie, have three sons.  Mike served on the local fire department for eight years, and is on church council.  In what free time he has, he enjoys golf, soccer and hockey.

Wayne is chair of the local church council and likes to hunt, fish and bicycle.  He and his wife Jeanna have a five-year-old son.  Before returning to the farm, Wayne worked as a licensed diesel mechanic for 10 years (a skill that comes in handy on the farm). Today, though, he is happy to be home farming again.

 “It’s more peaceful than the garage.  You’re tied to it but there’s a freedom and an independent lifestyle.  That’s what I love,” says Wayne.
To view the rest of the 2012 calendar, visit http://www.farmfoodcare.org/index.php/news/calendar-2012

Posted by FFC on January 23rd, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,Canada,Codes of Practice,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Housing,Turkeys,Uncategorized
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Things you should know before criticizing food production

By Leslie Ballentine, farming and food commentator

This past year, a University of Manitoba student was inspired by a campus talk she heard by the Ontario Farm Animal Council.  So inspired, in fact, that she wrote a thought-provoking article in the student newspaper. Titled: Things you should know before criticizing food production, the article is directed to the students on campus. But I think it should be directed to everyone. And it is food for thought to start the year.


Posted by FFC on January 3rd, 2012 :: Filed under Environment,Family vs factory farming,Food safety,Housing,Innovation and technology,Misconceptions
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There is no reasoning with the unreasonable

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

One of the great things about our country is the freedom to express and defend our personal opinions.  We have more venues to do so than ever before.  Not so long ago I was pulled into an on-line discussion on food animal production. The discussion was prompted by a CBC radio commentary on egg production but quickly moved into animal farming and food practices in general and the need to eat animal products in the first place. Illustrating how agriculture crosses into so many issues.


Posted by FFC on October 24th, 2011 :: Filed under Activism,Housing,Misconceptions,Speaking out,Vegetarian
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You were asking about…housing for pigs

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Many people wonder why pigs are in individual pens on many farms.  There are a variety of reasons.

Pigs are omnivores, and can be quite aggressive, especially at feeding time.  While competing for food, pigs have been known to bite each other.  Individual pens protect against this by removing competition for food and water.


Posted by FFC on September 1st, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal health,Housing,Innovation and technology,Pigs
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Hot summer days on the farm

by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Hot summer days are part of the routine for all of us.  For some, it means a chance to relax by a pool, or to enjoy it from the comfort of air conditioning.  Those options do not work for our farm animals, so what do farmers do to help them? 


Posted by FFC on August 11th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Barns,Housing,Innovation and technology,Ventilation,Weather
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I expect better from the New York Times

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Not being a foodie, I never knew who U.S. food writer Mark Bittman was until he broke out of the food world into the mainstream with his 2009 bestselling book Food Matters, “a look at the links among meat production and obesity, global warming, and other nasty features of modern life.” According to his bio, “[i]t has good recipes, too.” Since then he has garnered a strong following of those who share his conspiracy theories and impractical opinions on the way farming and food production should be. He also says he has been a journalist since 1968.

So when I read his July 6 New York Times opinion piece, Banned from the Barn, I thought I was reading something from a cheap tabloid not a highly regarded newspaper.


Posted by FFC on August 8th, 2011 :: Filed under Housing,Letters to the Editor,Media,Pigs
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Camels have it over farm animals

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

The Dog Days of Summer are tough on most living things; people, plants and animals. But with this summer’s record breaking-temperatures  in many parts of the country, the heat and humidity are especially bad news. Hot weather can take a toll.

Camels obviously can tolerate heat, but livestock and poultry are not so fortunate. Many types of farm animals can’t regulate their body temperatures as well as people can- pigs can’t sweat for example- and even a slight prolonged rise in body temperature can heat stress cattle. Just as with people, heat exhaustion can kill. So it’s up to the farmer to get them through the ‘Dog Days’.


Posted by FFC on July 25th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Housing,Transportation,Weather
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Dealing with the Wile E. Coyote

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Over the past year or two, coyotes have gained a lot of media and therefore public attention. Reports of attacks on pets and even people have become common in the news and at town and city council meetings across the country. For the farm community coyote attacks are nothing new. They are killers. It’s what they do. They’re wild animals. They are not, as some like to argue, misunderstood and unloved wild dogs.

But in recent years farmers, just as with urbanites, have found that predator problems are getting worse. And just as for urbanites, there are no easy solutions for farmers and rural landowners in dealing with the Wile E. Coyote.


Posted by FFC on July 18th, 2011 :: Filed under Farm life,Housing,Media,Sheep,Wildlife
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Household air purifiers move into the barn

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Many of us have air purifiers in our homes or workplaces. They seem to be a big seller in the city where I live.  Well here’s a news flash. This technology is now moving to the barn.


Posted by FFC on May 29th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal health,Housing,Innovation and technology
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