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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I think we need to talk…

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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.

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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
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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!

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 19th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions
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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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Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the Beef Cattle Research Council. To see the full article and others go to BeefResearch.ca

Jean L Clavelle

 

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Antimicrobial resistance has become a highly charged issue.  Headlines appear in the news on a regular basis suggesting that antibiotics are becoming less effective in humans and farmers are to blame.

Some concerns have been raised that antimicrobial use in livestock leads to antimicrobial resistance and that some of the products used in food animals are closely related to antimicrobials that are important in human health. It’s also been questioned whether antimicrobial resistance can be transferred among bacteria, which may reduce effectiveness of drugs used in human medicine.

Of course the Canadian beef industry is also concerned about antimicrobial resistance.  Cattlemen depend on the effectiveness of animal health products, and on consumers’ confidence in how beef is raised and the safety of the beef they consume.  And just like the rest of the society, farmers need human drugs to be effective too.

We’re all in agreement on the seriousness of antimicrobial use and resistance.

Several nations around the world have surveillance programs in place to monitor trends in antimicrobial use and resistance.  In Canada, this is led by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS). In the United States, surveillance is conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  These programs test for antimicrobial resistance in healthy animals arriving at slaughter plants as well as retail meat samples. In addition, various groups including the Beef Cattle Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada collect more detailed antimicrobial use and resistance information in a broader range of microbes and locations (e.g. feedlots, manure, soil, water).

To date, scientific surveillance has indicated that:graph 1 antibiotic resistance PIC

  • Resistance to antimicrobials that are most important in human health is extremely uncommon in healthy North American cattle and beef.
  • Multi-drug resistance is similarly low, and is not increasing.
  • In cattle, the vast majority of antimicrobials used are not used in human health at all.

Let’s look more closely at the last point. The vast majority of antimicrobials used in cattle are ionophores.   Ionophores act on rumen microbes; they selectively inhibit methanogenic bacteria and allow beneficial rumen bacteria to make more feed energy available to the animal, thereby improving feed efficiency and weight gain.  Ionophores also prevent diseases like coccidiosis.

Ionophores have no benefit to, nor are they licensed for use in humans. Even if microbes developed resistance to ionophores, this would not make them resistant to classes of antimicrobials that are used in human medicine.

Eliminating antimicrobial growth promotants, including ionophores, in cattle production would substantially reduce the overall use of antimicrobials, but would that reduce concerns about antimicrobial resistance?

Denmark phased out the use of those products in livestock production between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2001, we can see a clear trend of increased use of prescribed veterinary antimicrobials. The decrease in antimicrobial use has happened in the “medium importance” category, antimicrobials rarely used in human medicine anymore.  Without the use of growth promoting antimicrobials, the need for antimicrobials that are important to human health increased. In addition, there has been no clear trend towards decreased antimicrobial resistance in Danish cattle or beef.

Canadian research has repeatedly shown that antimicrobials are used responsibly by Canadian beef producers, and resistance to the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine remains extremely rare in beef cattle. Antimicrobial resistance will continue to be a research priority in Canada’s beef industry to maintain or improve current prudence.

Continued use of antimicrobials of no importance to human health in Canadian beef production will be critical to the future competitiveness of and reduced environmental impacts by Canada’s beef sector due to improved feed efficiency and reduced animal disease.  Furthermore, the consequences of a ban on ionophores in Denmark suggest that discontinuing the use of such products would not lead to lower antimicrobial resistance, and may increase the use of antimicrobials that are important in human medicine.

To learn more about antimicrobial use and resistance in Canadian cattle and beef, visit http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/antimicrobial-resistance-11

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Posted by FACS on April 28th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Research,Uncategorized
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The Distance from Farm to Plate

 

be Jean L Clavelle

Since becoming involved with social media over the last year I have begun to take note of people’s attitudes, opinions and knowledge as it pertains to agriculture and food production.  I grew up on a farm, attended an ag college and subsequently worked in agriculture so I’ve been surrounded by like-minded people my entire life.  However, agvocating has opened my eyes to the realization of just how little the From AgricultureMoreThanEver.cageneral public knows about where food comes from.  It is fascinating (not to mention a little scary) to delve into the general public’s belief system and knowledge base in this area.

To clarify I am pro conventional agriculture, organic farming and alternative production practices.  I believe in new technologies and in providing the consumer with what they desire and believe there is room for multiple types of systems.   It is surprising though at how little understanding there is of contemporary food production practices by the general public regardless of what type of system we discuss.

Now, at every chance available I ask questions.  Whether it is on Facebook, Twitter or in an actual real life face to face conversation (I know, how old school).  This is not to be antagonistic, just to understand an individual’s perspective - and sometimes position - on food production and possibly to dispel some misconceptions or false information that seems to be endemic in the populous.  I also ask so as to understand why and how they developed their beliefs.  Where did we fail in our society that such a basic life necessity is so distanced from that of every other day to day need?

A recent conversation of animal welfare versus animal rights included a discussion about what happens at a slaughter plant.  Surprisingly I was asked if I understood what “actually” happens there.  Now, I do not object even the slightest to someone’s choice of being vegan though I was thoroughly astounded about the question of whether or not I’d considered what happens at a slaughter plant.  We raise animals to eat and with that comes the understanding that the death of those are animals are inevitable and it is our responsibility to be respectful of and honour that animal’s life.  For this person the thought of that many animals dying on a daily basis was just too overwhelming and simply too much to bear so adopted a vegan lifestyle.  Despite the intrinsically dark nature of animal slaughter it never occurred to me that this essential step in getting meat from the farm to the plate should come as a surprise to anyone.

Stats Canada stated that almost a third of Canadians lived on farms in 1931 and in 2006 that dropped to 2%1.  How did we go in one or two generations to be intimately involved in supplying our own food to now having so little idea as to be completely oblivious.  And that is only going to become more evident in future generations.  My cousin told me a few years ago that her young daughter wanted to take the “wrapping” off of her peas – she wanted to take the shell off the pea pod.  If we are so distanced in garden vegetables how shocking must a barn filled with thousands and thousands of laying hens seem?

So in conclusion, my friends, I offer no suggestions here.  I only request that we all continue to speak out in an honest and respectful way.  To seek out what really drives a person’s belief system so that we can help to dispel those myths and to continue to keep producing food in the best way possible.   Because it is essential that our customers and our society understand what it means to do so.  That we are not forced to do it in a way that would not be beneficial for our children, environment or our future.

  1. Found at statcan.gc.ca
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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 31st, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media,Speaking out
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Dear Wayne Pacelle

Guest blog by Carrie Mess, Wisconsin Dairy Farmer (www.dairycarrie.com)

Reprinted with permission

Dear Wayne,

I hope you’re not offended by my calling you Wayne. You don’t know me but my name is Carrie Mess and I am a Wisconsin Dairy Farmer. A few weeks ago you posted an open letter to Agriculture Journalists and Leaders. While I’m just a blogger and don’t consider myself anywhere near a journalist, I do think of myself as a leader in my community, so I am taking your letter to be directed towards me and my peers.

After reading your open letter, I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share in response. I like your format so I figured an open letter back would work well. Your letter is pretty long winded so I’m just going to pull out a few bullet points to discuss.

  • It’s quite obvious that you don’t care for Rick Berman and Humane Watch. If I was in your current  position after years of being fast and loose with the facts and I suddenly had a group calling my organization out, I wouldn’t like them much either.  I find it funny that you call out Rick Berman for being a lobbyist when HSUS spends millions on lobbying each year.
  • You state that the HSUS is governed by a 27 person board of directors and that those  directors are unpaid volunteers. That sounds about right for a nonprofit  organization to me. However, according to the HSUS      2012 tax filing you make $347,000 a year. Your organization has  another 38 people making over $100,000 a year. I know that my local human society  would be able to make a world of difference with just a fraction of your  salary. How many animals would be helped if you took a pay cut and sent that money on to local shelters?
  • You claim that HSUS has the highest charity rating from the Better Business Bureau  and Charity Navigator. Never mind that the Better Business Bureau is Pass/Fail and seems      to have serious issues with your organization. In the last 12 years, HSUS has only been ranked at the top of Charity Navigator’s scale 50% of time. You also leave out your D grade from Charity Watch.

To read the rest visit http://dairycarrie.com/2014/02/10/dear-wayne-pacelle/

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 24th, 2014 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Misconceptions
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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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Lets Get Talking!

Jean L Clavelle

Alright.  I believe it is time to dust off the old soap box and step back on.

Many organizations reporters and marketing programs recently have expressed opinions about what is the “ideal” regarding animal production in Canada.  “Better Beef” from A&W, the W5 report regarding egg layer operations, PETA, HSUS throw around ideas and words intended to pluck at the strings of the consumer’s heart to show that they are better, that they care, that they are not the enemy while big business – agriculture – is trying to simply make an extra buck.  Phrases such as environmentally friendly, sustainable, humane, antibiotic free are tossed around like so much feed in a pig barn.

Although I group these organizations together, their underlining intent is often not the same.  PETA and HSUS want to eliminate the use of animals altogether, A&W wants to drive sales, W5 well I’m not entirely sure why a “news” organization would publish such a one-sided sensationalized commentary other than to increase viewers.  The common denominator is that they are all focused on currying the favour of society and the consumer at the expense of producers and livestock.

Deep down my dirty little secret is that I truly don’t have a problem with a company creating a marketing campaign that targets the needs and wants of the consumer or when a news article provides a balanced article detailing the pitfalls of a production system.  Where I do draw the line is when an organization does not support the Canadian producers that are purchasing their product, the people that have reliably supplied them with a safe healthy food product for decades.  For example the A&W campaign that openly sourced product from suppliers outside of Canada.  I suspect that had the lines of communication been open, Canadian beef producers would have happily agreed to provide whatever beef product A&W requested.  However to imply that the beef industry is not willing to adapt or evolve or cannot supply what is needed is simply erroneous.

Now, that brings me to the point of this story.  Why are the lines of communication not open?  Why are we not telling our story?  Why are we not working with our consumers to identify new trends and supply that product?

I am at a loss as to why livestock agriculture is so afraid to seek out the needs and opinions of its consumers.  Is it because we are afraid that we will not stand up under scrutiny?  Is it because we are afraid we will have to eat humble pie and acknowledge maybe we might have to change?  Agriculture by its very nature is the epitomy of adaption and evolution.  This should be something we in livestock agriculture are excitedly engaged in!

So come on agriculture.  Step up.  Let’s figure out what consumers and society wants.  If that means seeking out consumer’s opinions, and asking questions well then lets get asking!  If that means changing then we may just have to change to meet their needs.  I fear that if we do not, we (and therefore animals and society in general) are going to lose out because the misguided and misinformed may force us to go down the wrong path.

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Posted by FACS on February 17th, 2014 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal care,Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Future of Farming,Misconceptions,Speaking out
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When the farm is no longer on the farm

By Carolyn MacLaren, General Manager, BC Farm Animal Care Council (BCFACC).

When I became involved in speaking about and explaining farm animal care a few years ago I had some ideas of what the issues were, where good things were happening and improvements were demonstrated, and where there were still gaps. I also had some familiarity of the “urban” issues from my university days in large Canadian centres where both schools I attended during my academic career had their share of “greenies” or “vegan” types as they were known. All of this I could deal with and I could reconcile, it was pretty easy for the most part so either I was good at it or I had the luck to not encounter too many disagreeable or militant types. Probably a combination of both, really.

I regularly meet very nice people who know absolutely nothing about farming and food production but have clearly been influenced by people and groups who aren’t telling our story as it really is, such as the PETAs (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) of the world. I have learned to take time to listen to those questions and understand what they are asking and what the issue or concern really is and then try to answer in the most direct and simplest way possible, citing examples and drawing on analogies, as I have been taught. For the most part this does the trick and people are appreciative that I took the time to discuss the issues and did not laugh at their lack of knowledge.

The computer game Hay Day may be fun but is a poor depiction of how farms really work.

The computer game Hay Day may be fun but is a poor depiction of how farms really work.

Now that I have children of my own, I make sure their perspective is imbued with a healthy dose of realism – “ … yes, calves do have their horns removed, it’s safer for them and the other calves, yes trimming a chicken’s beak is safer for them and the other chickens …”. We speak openly about what is on our dinner table and where it came from. It’s not unusual to hear my 8-year-old ask “So, Mommy, is this chicken or pig we are eating tonight?” before she happily and heartily digs in. When we drive out to the family dairy farm on a particularly aromatic day (usually when the spreading of manure is allowed again in the spring) our girls will tell their friends, who are loudly protesting the smell, that “that smell is actually very good because without it, there would be no cheese, no milk, no ice cream, no yogurt.” I have brought them to my side and it really wasn’t that hard. Or so I thought.

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Posted by BCFACC on January 16th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,PETA,Pigs,Urban Myths
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