The Earl’s Conundrum.

Today Earl’s Restaurants announced that they are only serving what they call Certified Humane Beef through their Conscious Sourcing Program. Earl’s claim is: At Earls, we’re committed to conscious sourcing. That’s why all our beef comes from Certified Humane® farms and is raised without the use of antibiotics, added hormones or steroids. After all, it doesn’t just feel good to do the right thing — It tastes good, too.. This beef is not sourced from farmers in Canada. As a cattle farmer, my initial reaction is anger (how dare they infer that the beef I raise isn’t humane?) and then, introspection.

Am I, as a farmer, doing enough for my cattle and to tell people my story? My family spends hours researching new management techniques, how to improve the way we raise our cattle and care for our land. I have 2 degrees in animal agriculture. My husband has an agriculture degree. My sister-in-law is a mixed animal veterinarian. Our farm has an environmental farm plan. We take pride in our cattle and how we take of them and our land.  When we know better, we do better.  To tell others about farming, we have provided time and demo cattle to school events to talk about agriculture, we host groups to tour our farm, news interveiws, and more. On days like today, it seems our voice is not enough.  I encourage anyone that has questions about farming practices to talk to a real, live farmer. Ask me, or check out resources like Farm and Food Care Canada and Ask the Farmers. Talk to farmers and veterinarians about animal care, it’s our life’s passion.

Earls cut steak

Image source : Earls.ca

Why are consumers duped into these programs?  I’m guessing this sells for the same reason many other things do…fear…fear of things we don’t understand. So few people today are directly connect to livestock production, how can you know what is best? Food is a very emotional subject, so selling a fear of other food by inferring that it is “bad” makes a good sale.  Note on Earl’s site, they use the tag line “Cut Steaks, not Corners” to make it seem like anything less than their product is sub-par. As a farmer who cares deeply for my cattle, this is super offensive.

 

 

How is it ethical or humane to withold treatment to an animal that is sick? The Earl’s program is a “Never/Never” program that is stated to that these animal have never been treated with an antibiotic in their lifetime. As a farmer, I take my animal health very seriously. We manage our cattle very tightly, but inevitably, some cattle get sick and I see it as my duty of care to treat the animal as prescribed by my veterinarian to do my best to heal the calf. We also a very careful to follow the directions on withdrawal times to be sure that when an animal is sold, there is no antibiotic left in their system.

How is being less efficient by not using hormones or steroids better for the environment? Keeping producers from using these products is actually worse for the environment. Animals that are less efficient need more resources, feed, land and water, in order to produce the same amount of beef. How is that good for the planet? The safety of these products are clear. It’s safe. The difference between implanted and non-implanted beef is negligible and a drop in the bucket compared to many other things we eat, never mind if you are a woman who uses hormonal birth control.

More technically, I have many questions for Earl’s about how the program was specifically developed, with who (beyond the Creekstone Farm’s plug in the promo video), and how it the program audited? These are big claims for Earl’s to say they are using the Gold Standard in the industry. I am curious to know how they came to the nuts and bolts of the program.

I guess at the end of the day it is about trust. Do consumers trust me, as a farmer, that I am doing the best I can for my cattle and the environment? I’d be crazy not to.

Duty of care.

This week we were blessed with yet another drop off cat. Meet Jerry. He’s super sweet, neutered and most definitely was someone’s house pet not too long ago. Thankfully, we welcome cats and have a vet in the family to provide free care, so, we keep all drop offs as our pets. But, this weekend getting yet another cat got me kind of rant-y about the concept of “Duty of Care.”

wp-1459200779963.jpg

Jerry, our newest member of our feline family. They 7th (I think)  drop off cat we received this year.

I get my hackles up as I feel that farmers are sometimes portrayed as money grabbing tyrants that don’t care for their animals. I assure you we do.

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A Reflection of 2015

Howe Family with Charolais.jpg

A photo of my family from a  photo shoot we agreed to do for Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan whilst I was 38 weeks pregnant.

I have been pretty quiet this year. A trying pregnancy, work, farm, etc. all took priority over the blog. In my time away, I have learned, reflected and analyzed many things. Without further ado, here is my list of things I learned in 2015:

  1. I am a farmer. Not a farm wife. A farmer. My role currently is more in the background supporting the farm with website work, social media, a bit of admin work, behind the scenes organization and a lot food. My superpower seems to be cooking for a crew with ease. That’s okay; I am still a valuable part of the farm. It’s taken me a lot of time to get this space. I’d prefer to be outside working the cattle, but I have realized I need to value my role as it is now, not what I want it to be in the future.
  2. I know what I don’t know – this a big one for fitness/nutrition and agriculture. I have a few fitness and nutrition “designations” but I realize there is a LOT in the world about safe training and sound nutrition that I don’t know and am not qualified to comment on.  I wish there were more people that realized what speaking in scope meant.  As such I have kept my fitness and nutrition posts to a minimum.  I keep the same principal for agriculture. I’m a cattle farmer. My professional training is cattle nutrition & microbiology, so I won’t be spouting off any agronomy advice anytime soon.
  3. Advocating is tricky. I started the year off quite active on twitter and the #farm365 hashtag. Things got ugly on the hashtag quickly as vegan fanatics flooded the feed with animal rights propaganda. They’re still there. I took a pretty big break from social media advocacy.
  4. If can’t keep your cool, keep your hands off the keyboard. In addition to #3. I saw a lot of poor advocating out there. Farmers bashing farmers. Farmers cursing out vegans. There’s no place for that in my world. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, in front of your grandma.The internet never forgets and you never know who is watching -from  the mushy middle looking to learn about agriculture and infighting, to potential clients or employers checking you out on social media.
  5. One win in a week/month/year may make your work worthwhile. My best win this year was having an honest and constructive set of conversations with a lady that happened to be vegan over Twitter that was looking for a farmer’s real perspective of Earthlings the movie. I watched it, yelled at the screen many times and took copious notes, referenced current science and industry codes. It felt great realizing you can have a respective dialogue.
  6. On a personal note, I learned I am the queen of drafting posts and not hitting publish. So I haven’t published since April, but I have a few posts in my drafts waiting to pop up. 2016 Goal – Write, review, and go for it –  hit publish!!!
  7. Advocacy is simple: Speak your truth with conviction and relatability. Tell people what happens on your farm operation. Our farm has had inquiries from all walks of life asking about how we farm, what we do and why. From contacts over social media to consumers stopping at our stall at Agribition it’s all been great. I encourage all farmers to take more time to talk about the industry with our customers. Farm and Food Care SK has a great Real Dirt on Farming training program to get you more comfortable.

I’m looking forward to learning and growing in 2016.

It’s bull buying season.

We are a purebred bull operation. We purchase the elite bulls as we are breeding seed stock for the commercial cow calf producer that in turn producers the beef for the feedlot industry. On our farm we have one bull for every twenty-five cows. This means that they are a very vital part of our program. They are passing on their genetics at twenty-five times (give or take) the rate our females do. As such, we are very picky about the bulls we purchase as herd sires. We look for confirmation, pedigree and fertility. Bulls are sold in the spring time by auctions that are live or video sales across the country. We have countless sale catalogs and websites to comb through looking for the next great herd bull.

Cattle Industry

Overview of how purebred breeders fit in to the cattle industry. Each portion of the triangle feeds into to the level below in order to produce some the tastiest and safest beef in the world.

This year, we are looking to purchase three new bulls. Cattle markets are extremely strong and as a result the purebred bull market is very competitive. We expect to invest $100,000 on the bulls and another $10,000 or so to insure the bulls for death or injury. Yesterday was an exciting day as we were able to buy one our next herd bulls. He has most everything we want in a bull: power, great hair and good conformation. It’s always a thrill so see if you can purchase the bull you want for the budget you have set, the excitement of the sale as well as visiting with fellow breeders. Since the purebred industry is a small portion of the cattle industry, we are a tight knit bunch that enjoys each other’s company while still promoting our specific programs.

Our newest herd sire.

Our newest herd sire.

Next week we have our own bull sale. We manage our own sale and host the sale on farm. It is our major income event of the year. We sell a handful best of our bulls to other purebred breeders but the bulk majority goes to commercial cow calf producers to use in their cow herds. We put months of preparation into the sale developing the bulls properly through specific nutrition programs, marketing our cattle through local livestock shows, print and social media, as well as countless networking events. We will sell approximately 70 bulls this year. The next 5 days are a flurry of activity and excitement as we get our facilities and bulls ready for the big day.  On Wednesday, we will sell the bulls via video auction to avoid stressing them by putting through a loud and unfamiliar auction ring. In about two hours the entire sale will be complete. An accumulation of year’s work will be complete and we will analyze our year and start planning for next season.

My review of Earthlings the Movie.

Earthlings Commentary/Critique

I was asked by a friendly and respectful vegan on #farm365 to watch Earlings the movie and provide feedback.  It took me a while, but I finally put together my thoughts.

Overall, the movie is highly skewed and uses a lot of foreign footage to further the agenda of the producers: ending animal agriculture. The movie uses mostly footage from organizations such as PETA, HSUS, Humane Farmer’s Associations, Greenpeace and other animal rights organizations. There isn’t any balance in the footage with inputs from farmers, industry groups or agriculture scientists.

The film quite dated now as well as it was released in 2005 and much of the footage is from 1996-2001.

My comments go through Earthling chronologically. They are meant to brief. I encourage any disucssion or questions about them.

Opening Sequence

The opening comments about speciesism. Speciesism is part of nature.  Pretty much all species do protect themselves preferentially over other species. I though this blog was insightful to the speciesism argument  http://speakingofresearch.com/2014/03/20/speciesism-is-unavoidable/. I inherently believe humans are more sacred than animals.

The scene with the pig being killed by bludgeoning with a cinder block is unacceptable. I don’t agree with how the pig was put down. There are code of practice and huge national working groups on Humane Destruction and Disposal. I was part of one these for a role I had in the past and industry professionals, veterinarians and scientists take a lot of time and care to make sure the way animals are euthanized or slaughter is humane. In the case of pigs of the size shown the acceptable methods for euthanasia are overdose of anesthetics, captive bolt or gunshot to the head. Here is the code of practice for swine euthanasia https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#section6.

I disagree with the comment that animal are other nations-my personal belief.

The general principle that animal welfare considerations modelled are the 5 freedoms for animal welfare or Brambell’s Five Principles.

Five Freedoms for Animal Welfare

The welfare of an animal includes its physical and mental state and we consider that good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being. Any animal kept by man, must at least, be protected from unnecessary suffering.

We believe that an animal’s welfare, whether on farm, in transit, at market or at a place of slaughter should be considered in terms of ‘five freedoms’. These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysis of welfare within any system together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare within the proper constraints of an effective livestock industry.

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst– by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort– by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease– by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior– by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress– by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20121007104210/http:/www.fawc.org.uk/freedoms.htm

Part 1 Pets

The commentary on breeders, I agree that there is a distinct lack of regulation in the pet breeding industry.  The commentary about shelters and euthanasia rates are likely bang on. On a personal note, my sister in law is a veterinarian and does much of the veterinary services for our local humane society, it is sad to see the number of pet surrendered and abandoned. All our dogs and cats are rescues. In addition, we usually get 5 or so dropped off cats at our farm annually as we are close to town. Sadly, some we can’t catch or take care of until they are too sick or starved to live. We would much rather people came to our door with the cats so we can take of them properly instead of trying to coax a terrified cat to come to us so we can care for them.

100% agree with the commentary urging pet owners to spay and neuter their pets.

In terms of euthanasia for cats and dogs, this is the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Statement. http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/euthanasia

The footage of the dog being crushed in the garbage truck is sickening.

Part 2 Food

Beef Footage

The footage of the worker taunting is again not acceptable to industry. Like in all industries there are individuals who behave inappropriately.

The footage of branding. Most cattle in Canada are no longer branded (less than 10% according to NFAAC). In the 30+ years I have been around cattle, I have never seen animal branded on the head, it is illegal in Canada. Usually they are on the hip or shoulder. Branding is generally used for identification purposes. I admit that there are pain issues with branding. We brand our cattle either with a freeze brand for dark hair cattle or hot iron for our white haired cattle.  There a pain concerns with either method; hot irons cause more acute pain while freeze branding is a more chronic pain. We do so for ID purposed. Last fall we had 100 bull calves break through a fence after being chased by a predator. They had no brand and it took 2 months to find all our cattle. We also use ear tags and tattoos for identification, but those are easily removed in case of theft, tags fall off and tattoos are placed inside the ear so they are difficult to see.

Here is the code of practice for beef cattle.  ttps://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/beef_code_of_practice.pdf it covers recommended procedures and legal practice for animal care including branding, dehorning etc.

For the Dehorning footage, again more and more cattle are bred to be naturally polled (no horns). The National Standard for dehorning recommendations is:

The horns of beef cattle are routinely removed to decrease the risk of injuries to workers and other

Animals, and to minimize economic losses due to carcass bruising. The proportion of beef cattle with

horns has been steadily decreasing in recent years, as the availability and adoption of polled (hornless)

genetics has increased (39). Most common breeds of beef cattle have polled lines available, and the

use of homozygous polled genetics eliminates the need for disbudding or dehorning without affecting

productivity (3,40-42). Dehorning must be performed only by competent personnel using proper, well-maintained tools and accepted techniques. Seek guidance from your veterinarian on the availability and advisability of pain control for disbudding or dehorning beef cattle. Disbud calves as early as practically possible, while horn development is still at the horn bud stage (typically 2-3 months).

EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2016:

Use pain control, in consultation with your veterinarian to mitigate pain associated

With dehorning calves after horn bud attachment.

RECOMMENDED PRACTICES

  1. use homozygous polled bulls where practical to eliminate the need for disbudding or dehorning (3).
  2. avoid dehorning at the time of weaning to reduce stress (3).

 

Dairy cattle Footage

I grew up on a dairy farm, was part owner until 2009 and have 5 brothers that are actively dairy farming. This footage isn’t reflective of current farming practices.

For cows that are in tie stall barns, they generally go out for exercise and grazing.  The tie stall barns are less common now than loose housing barns where cows can choose when and to eat and lie down.

The comment about pesticide and antibiotics in milk is categorically false. Each tank of milk that is picked from a dairy farm is tested for residues, adequate storage temperature and cleanliness.

The revelation that dairy cows are slaughtered is true.  I feel that it is the proper thing to do in terms of reducing waste and dairy cows are a very lean source of protein.  The footage of the cows going to slaughter is very dated – 1996.

Downer cows. It is illegal to ship down cows for human meat consumption. An animal must be ambulatory in order to be slaughtered.  It’s illegal in Canada to transport downer cows. They are euthanized on farm and then are used for pet food. This is the same for downer beef cows.  Here is the link for the CFIA’s regulations http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/humane-transport/compromised-animals-policy/eng/1360016317589/1360016435110

The comments about meat production, if you are interested in slaughterhouse welfare, Temple Grandin www.templegrandin.com . This is footage from a slaughterhouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMqYYXswono.

The comments about harvesting blood. It has a number of great medical uses in terms of use for agar for culturing bacteria, using as a medium to grow vaccines and countless other uses for medicine. I believe if we are going to slaughter animals, we are obligated to use them to best extent we can.

The footage of stressed cattle is again distressing. It’s distressful for the animal and stressed animals end up as “dark cutters” or tough meat.

In Canada, we have meat inspection agencies at the Federal and Provincial level that oversee the slaughter and welfare of cattle.

The footage of Kosher Slaughter, I can’t comment too scientifically as I am not expert in this field, but on a personal not I disagree. These animals aren’t stunned before bleeding which to me, means they are in fear and pain. This a paper by Temple Grandin, regarding religous slaugher. http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.slaugh.html

Veal Calves

Again, I don’t have direct experience in this industry, but the footage is old and in Canada there are Codes of Practice for Veal Calves. The codes are older and currently under review. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/veal-calves.  Many to most of the bull calves marketed from dairy cows are raised as regular beef and not as veal in Western Canada.

Swine Production

Sows are not continually pregnant. They do have rest period. Sows traditionally have been raised in gestation crates as they have a tenancy to savage their pigs and/or sit on them.  As an industry, the swine industry has recognized this as an area they can improve upon.  As of July 1, 2014 any new facilities must have loose housing from sows and older facilities have time to renovate their barns to loose housing. From the NFACC  Codes of Practice: As of July 1, 2024, mated gilts and sows must be housed: in groups*; or in individual pens; or  in stalls, if they are provided with the opportunity to turn around or exercise periodically, or other means that allow greater freedom of movement. Suitable options will be clarified by the participating stakeholders by July 1, 2019, as informed by scientific evidence.

The footage of the hurt sows and abscesses, these pigs should be taken care of by veterinarian or trained animal health technician. It’s not acceptable to have animals like this, and we have a duty as livestock caretakers to treat sick and injured animals as quickly as possible

For the comments about cannibalism, it is a real problem in pigs and the major reason that tail docking occurs in swine.  As of July 1, 2016 all pigs are required to receive pain medication when tails are docked. Many producers proactively have adapted this practice.  Pigs that are being cannibalized should be separated, treated if possible or euthanized.

Teeth clipping in pigs aren’t common practice any more either.

For castration, any castrating of pigs over 10 days of age requires pain medication. As of July 1, 2016 pigs at any age will require pain meds for castration. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#section4

For the slaughter footage, electrocution is conditionally acceptable for a slaughter method, but not common in slaughterhouse. Most use a captive bolt. Then slit their throats after they are dead, and then scald the hair off.  There’s a code for this too!! https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#appendixn. Again for footage of pig slaughter, Temple Grandin has a video of that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsEbvwMipJI

Poultry Industry

Disclosure, I have severe asthma, so I have only been in a commercial poultry barn once or twice. Not my area of expertise.  Canada again has codes of practices for Poultry. They are currently under revision, but here is the current set of codes: https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/chickens-turkeys-and-breeders. The chicken farmers of Canada also have a manual for animal care http://www.chickenfarmers.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Animal-Care-Manual-2009-2011-printing.pdf

The footage of throwing chicks, again it’s unacceptable.

The debeaking footage is from 2002 and the footage from the barns is from 1995. If you are interested in seeing current layer barns, here is a neat set of videos from Saskatchewan Egg Farmers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kbs8d-H0Mt0&list=PLUYKr-aLNt4Z2qIXRhzuD2dX4WiPrc_Y8 .

Again, in chickens, cannibalism is a concern. I had a small flock of free range chickens growing up and even those hens would cannibalize each other given the chance. Hence the term “pecking order.” There are space, nutrition and management strategies that can help minimize cannibalism, but unfortunately, it also is part of the nature of the chicken as they are omnivores.

The footage of slaughter again was poor. I have never heard of a hang pen nor is clubbing acceptable. It’s not okay that these things have happened in the past, but modern slaughter practices are much different. Again, Temple Grandin has video of a poultry slaughterhouse here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ2fDX76Mmc.  I have seen smaller local poultry processing plants and they all have been equally well run.

Seafood and Fishing Industry

I have no expertise here at all so can’t comment professionally. Personally, I hate the idea of all the wasted/killed fish that are called “bycatch.”

Animal Disease

There codes of biosecurity for most livestock species are available here http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/biosecurity/standards-and-principles/eng/1344707905203/1344707981478.

The goal is to keep the livestock and us humans healthy. Also, in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tests all meat for microbial contamination at a very rigorous level.

Whaling and Dolphin Slaughter

Again I have no way to comment on this professionally. The methods of hunting and slaughter do not appear humane.

Part 3 Clothes

Indian Leather Industry

Again, here this is way out of my scope, but realize that the hide from cattle slaughtered in North America is used for leather and is valued at about $100/hide (http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/nw_ls441.txt)

Fur Industry

Again there are codes of practice for mink. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/mink

Personally, I am not a fan of the fur industry, as it seems pretty wasteful and there many other options for clothing. I have no problem with indigenous peoples using furs they hunt but don’t see the value otherwise.

Much of the footage shown in the movie is foreign.

Part 4 Entertainment

Rodeos

This absolutely is pure entertainment. Most bucking bulls are bred for performance, trained and cared for very well. Injuries do happen, they are more apt to happen to the calf roping and chuck racing than with the bucking bulls or bronc’s. Here is the Pro Rodeo Canada’s messaging on welfare: http://www.rodeocanada.com/animal_welfare.htm/

I personally again, do not enjoy commercial rodeo entertainment. I am more respectful of ranch rodeos that have more stringent guidelines on welfare and handling. It is more of a reflection of what a cowboy actually would do on a ranch and less focus on entertainment.

The footage of teasing animals again is disturbing and doesn’t happen to my knowledge in North America.

Hunting and Fishing

I am not a sportsman. On our farm we have a gun to euthanize animals if need be and we really don’t see the need for hunting. Personally, I don’t see any value in sport/trophy hunting or fishing. I can understand hunting/fishing if you intent eat the animal.  It is true that fish feel pain (no surprise). Here is a set of proceedings from an International Workshop on Fish Welfare. http://www.upm.es/sfs/E.T.S.I.%20Agronomos/ACTUALIDADES/Agenda/Documentos/Abstracts_01_02_2011.pdf

Circuses

I have no expertise in circus animal welfare but I am not interested in watching animals paraded for sport. The footage is older but again using animals for pure entertainment doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Zoos

I struggle with zoos as they provide excellent education opportunities for children and scientific research. Again, this is out of my scope of expertise. I do know that some are much better than others. For example in Winnipeg MB, the polar bear exhibit is 10 acres and designed extensively for the bears. The bear that are in the facility are bears that are trapped in Churchill repeatedly for coming to the town or in the case of Star and Blizzard, they are cubs that were found after their mother either abandoned them or perished. http://www.assiniboineparkzoo.ca/conservation-research/polar-bear-transition.php

Bullfighting

I don’t agree with killing for sport and can’t support this industry at all.

Vivisection

I believe using animals for medical research is acceptable if they are cared for appropriated. There are standards of care for lab animals. The Canadian Council for Animal Care set the regulatory guidelines for animals used for research in Canada http://www.ccac.ca/en_/standards/guidelines.

My final comments

This production was highly funded by animal rights organizations whose sole intent is cease animal agriculture.  The footage is old and much of it was from foreign countries. It is disturbing to see any animals treated poorly. I firmly believe in North America, there is small minority of livestock producers that are not caring for animals. I also believe that as a parent, if you followed me around for months at a time, you would see some time that I do not behave well, but that is not reflective of who I am as a parent. The same can be said of some of the animal rights footage in the media nowadays.

As a farmer, I believe in the concept of “Duty of Care.” I believe the livestock production is a solid component of our food system that utilizes inputs that are unfit for human consumption and convert them into high quality protein. On our farm we care and respect for our stock as best as possible while we raise them and then they are slaughtered using the most humane possible.

For more information on farming in Canada, I’d recommend the Real Dirt on Farming Resource from Farm and Food Care Canada:

http://www.farmfoodcare.org/

http://www.realdirtonfarming.ca/

Or visit a local farmer!

Why farm livestock and not just crops?

I’ve been involved in the Twitter hashtag #farm365 for the past month. It was developed by a dairy farmer in Ontario that comitted to posting a photo on twitter every day in 2015. There has been a lot of debate under the hashtag between vegans and farmers. I am a livestock producer and I believe in raising livestock for human consumption.  My biggest frustration is when they say “Why don’t you simply quit farming livestock and switch over to crop production?” It’s just not that simple. Where would the cattle go? Do vegans really believe cattle that are left free would be better off?  Nature can be very unforgiving, between predators and extreme weather, nature isn’t all Disney woodland creatures and bright verdant pastures.

Biological systems are extremely complex and ending animal agriculture would not end animal suffering.  Every time we displace habitats whether it be for crop production or to meet the housing requirements for growing cities we affect animals.

Not all farmland can produce crops. Some land is too hilly, dry, or doesn’t get enough rainfall produce a grain crop. Most of this land though is suitable for grazing.Globally grasslands comprise 26% of total land area and 80% of agriculturally productive land. In Saskatchewan there is 33 million acres of cropland and 15 million acres of forages and grasslands. Grazing land is amazing. Grasslands capture carbon, provide habitats for wildlife and are pretty darn beautiful. When we manage our grazing lands properly, they are very productive for cattle/sheep/bison as well.

Grasslands near Maple Creek, SK

Grasslands near Maple Creek, SK

Crop production is a very important part of agriculture as well, no question. However, many times crops that are grown for food production don’t make the quality requirements and these crops are fed to livestock; 80% of the barley that grown for malting fails to meet the quality grades and up in livestock feed. Livestock and cattle in particular, are amazing. We take low quality ingredients; use them as animal feed to produce high quality protein products.  How else could one ever convert fiber heavy grass into protein rich beef? Amazing.

Simple Land Nutrient Cycle (Source: Agriculture Canada)

Simple Land Nutrient Cycle (Source: Agriculture Canada)

Did you know cow eat all sort so food byproducts?Here as a list of a few examples:

  • Distillers grains – leftovers from beer production or ethanol production for fuel
  • Potato chips  byproduct- broken, overbaked/underbaked
  • Beet Pulp – byproduct from sugar production
  • Bakers Waste- bread products that are past date etc.
  • Citrus byprodocuts – The extra pulp from your morning glass of orange juice
  • Canola Meal – left over product after pressing out the oil for consumption
  • Screenings pellets – Uses the leftover products from when grains are cleaned for human consumption

These products are not fit for human consumption but are valuable ingredients for livestock. The rumen in cattle and sheep is an amazing organ. Bacteria in it convert fiber in sugars and protein that cows can use for growth and milk production.  Using these fibrous and off quality ingredients in feed products allows the entire food production cycle more efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing the amount of waste in landfill.

Livestock Production Helps Crops. Manure is a valuable fertilizer for crop production and one of the ONLY options for organic crop producers to fertilizer their land. Livestock systems also increase diversity in crops and crop rotations. Planting nitrogen fixing legumes such as alfalfa in a crop rotation helps maintain soil fertility and is an excellent feeds source for ruminants. In many developing countries, livestock are still used for draft power as well.

interactions crop livestock herrero_0

Main interactions in crop-livestock systems

This is why we need balanced system. Crop and livestock production are complementary systems that have very complex interactions. We need both for a sustainable system.

It’s Baby Time!!!

Oh the cuteness of the fuzzy baby bull calf!

Oh the cuteness of the fuzzy baby bull calf!

On our farm our cows have their babies starting in February until April, give or take a few early birds and stragglers. So what does that mean?? How does it work?

Cows have babies once a year. We breed our cows to have their in February or so.  The cows are taken care of over winter in a pasture that is close to home and fed a diet that is formulated by my husband and myself (we are cattle nutritionists) to provide all the nutrients they need to for themselves and their babies. We also work closely with our herd veterinarian to make sure their vaccinations are all up to date. This makes for healthy babies and moms.

We manage our cattle so the first time mom gives birth a few weeks earlier than the rest of the herd. This gives us time to pay special attention to them, the barn is the cleanest so they have the lowest disease threat and it gives them more time to recover before breeding time in the spring/summer and more time for the babies to be at their side before the calves are weaned in the fall.

We move the cows into specific groups – first time moms, special attention groups and by how close to calving they are. As they get closer to having their calves, we move these cows up to our yard into pen and when they are very close into our covered shed and barn to calving. We are very careful when moving the cows, a fall for a pregnant mom could be disastrous.

We monitor our cows by video surveillance 24 hours a day to check on the cows. If a cow needs assistance in birthing, we bring her into our barn and will assist or have the veterinarian come for more complicated cases.

The cow in the front has just calved (baby between her front legs) and was moved into the barn shortly after this was taken.

The cow in the front has just calved (baby between her front legs) and was moved into the barn shortly after this was taken.

Once baby arrives, we put the cow and calf into a maternity pen. Calves generally stand up very soon after birth (within 10 minutes) and cows lick off the calves. Licking the calf actually dries the calf and stimulate them to get moving. We make sure the calf nurses from the mother as soon as possible. A cows first milk is called colostrum and it is rich in nutrients and immune stimulating compounds that help the calf fend off illness until its own immune system further develops.  Cows and caves stay in the barn for a day or two until they pass health checks and we confident they are bonded.

Baby Calf Incubator. It has a heater, fan and vents to warm up a calf quickly so he can be reunited with mama ASAP.

Baby Calf Incubator. It has a heater, fan and vents to warm up a calf quickly so he can be reunited with mama ASAP.

We also have an incubator in our barn in case a calf is born out in the extreme cold. Calves are warmed up and dried off in this unit for about an hour and reunited with their mothers as soon as possible.

Cows and calves in  open front shed.

Cows and calves in open front shed.

Afterward the pairs are put into pens where we have  shelters for the calves to rest away from the elements. After about a month or so, the calves are big enough to head back out to our pasture field where we have wind fences and bedding for shelter. And finally in May they head out to pasture for grazing.