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!

February’s Book Review…In March – The Paris Architect

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfour

The Paris Architect

Book Synopsis: In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money – and maybe get him killed. But if he’s clever enough, he’ll avoid any trouble. All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won’t find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can’t resist.

But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes terribly personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what’s at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we’ll go to make things right.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book and read it fairly quickly as it was very engaging. I like the character development and the themes in the book. It did make me think about how one may have chosen to act if one were in WWII Paris. The writing wasn’t amazing though and the ending I felt was very abrupt. Overall though I’d still give it a solid 3.5/5 Rating.

Weekends – How we balance farm & family time

We just had Family Day Weekend in Saskatchewan. I thought I would share how we balance farm and family time. We work during the week, so weekends are our big farm time and a chance to get some quality time with the kids. Here’s the run down.

When it comes to morning chores, we all get up as a family and do them together. Usually, we split the kids between ourselves to better manage their safety and our efficiency. This weekend, I had my daughter with me doing feed and cleaning chores while my husband had my son in the tractor feeding and bedding the cattle. We have a two seater tractors, which are are a God-send for us.  Elise and I fed mineral to the cows, were gate gophers and then the kids hung out in the truck outside the pens while the adults sorted cattle. The kids love to come and be part of the team.

My enthusiastic helper

My enthusiastic helper

Then Elise and I boogied home to make lunch for the crew. Most weekends my mother in-law and I split lunch duties for the crew, which is a treat. This weekend, the in-laws were away for short and very well deserved break and I covered lunch duty both days. I try to keep lunches moderately healthy while meeting the calories needs to the men that are working outside all day. Saturday’s lunch was simple half way home made tomato soup (I added in extra veggies, pasta and diced tomatoes), home made bunwiches and veggies. Sunday was pancakes & bacon (turkey and regular) as a pre-Shrove Tuesday celebration.

Afternoons are quiet time for the kids on Saturday, I get some house work done and try to sneak in a bit of time for myself to read or relax as well. My husband and in-laws are out working for the afternoon and usually do the PM chores solo. Saturday nights we try to have a movie or craft night and a wee bit later bed time for the kids. Many time the extended family comes for supper and we hang out together.

Sundays we do some chores together in the morning, but we have an early lunch, a short quiet time for the kids and then family time after that. This winter we had speed skating in the afternoons. Now that skating is over, we’ll be heading the pool for a swim. Physical activity and family time together is a big thing for us. In the summer, it’s biking lessons, playing on the swings or soccer practice in the front yard for us.

skating 1 skating 2

Sunday nights we try to keep for solo family time. I generally make up a big supper so we have left overs for during the week and prep for the rest of the week.

It’s a bit of a delicate dance to manage kids, work, farming and the house. My house is messier than I’d like, but my kids are happy and our farm business is developing, so I say 2 out 3 is a win.

Why I married a Farmer…He and She Said Edition

Family Pic 2014Seeing as it’s the week of love, I have seen a pile of “X Reasons I’m glad I married a Farmer” posts by ladies out and about in social media. Mostly these posts have been from ladies that didn’t come from a farm background. I love hearing their stories of how they came to love being involved on the farm and in agriculture. These posts are interesting to me as I have always been a farmer. Born on a dairy farm with 5 brothers and a sister, I was the serious tom boy of the family. I have been referred to as the “6th brother” by my siblings on a regular basis since I spent so much time in the barn with them.

I have been involved a farm operation of one sort or another my entire life. My husband I both have always wanted to farm and worked together for this fantastic common goal. I realize there are fewer “born and raised on a farm” farming females, so I feel a strong need to share our story as well: Why my husband and I married each other and why we love being a team in life and business:

  1. Lifestyle. We love being able to feel a deep connection to the land and our family. We are a true family farm with my husband parents and brother and ourselves farming together. Our kids get to grow up with their family and they are learning some of the greatest life lesson I believe I can give them: how to work and a great understanding of how nature works. We both love working outside and cherish the time we get to do so together.
  2. Teamwork. Nothing says team building like herding a set of mature bulls back into their pen at 10:00 at night by flashlight in the spring mud. We have learned to trust each other implicitly and most of the time, we can anticipate each other’s thoughts and actions.
  3. Having each other’s back. We are a team, when one falters, the other ponies up, no questions asked. Last year my husband hurt his back during late calving and early breeding season. We immediately adapted our roles so he was more the home bound care taker and I was out checking cows and helping with breeding. Now, that I’m pregnant and not feeling so well, my husband has stepped up his game in the house, I do what I can and our extended family helps out. On weekend, the kids are dispersed to whoever has a job outside that is appropriate to have the kids with and we all do our best.
  4. Common Goals. We are each other’s cheer leaders, because we have very common goals. We worked for 10 years in order to save enough to get back to the farm. Pay off the farm truck? Hurrah!! Made our goal for sale day averages? Everybody wins. Working together make us better people, we learn how to leverage each other’s strengths and work on developing our weaknesses
  5. We make each other better. Funny story, I was in the sales industry for 10 years and still hated calling strangers. Yep, it took a lot of pep talks from my husband to get past the fear of the phone (I’m great at face to face convos). It’s helped me professionally at my off farm jobs and personally for our farm business ventures. On the flip side, my experience with dairy has been pretty handy to up our game with our purebred operation, we’ve improved our sanitation and calf management immensely and our bottom line has rewarded us.
  6. Kindness and tolerance. Having a business and a marriage with the same person does lend itself to some chances to get grumpy but don’t stay that way for long. Having a farm business means conflict needs to be dealt with head on and quickly. A festering argument doesn’t help anyone; the cows can tell when your attitude is off and we don’t want to risk any farm accidents because anger or distraction. It’s simply not worth the risk.
  7. Passion for the industry. We are both all in when it comes to agriculture. We are both fortunate that we didn’t have some of the growing pains that many farm families have when our person has to adapt to farm life from a more urban upbringing. We both grew up with the understanding that farm work needs to get done and crews need to be fed and both are important pieces of the farm business. So we are pretty much both farm fanatics, so a day working together is a great date for us.
  8. We have lots to talk about. Any long drive is a great time for us to discuss of farm goals, where are with the kids, how the crops are growing, what to contract, what bulls we need to replace. No end of conversation. Yes, we talk about non-farm stuff too, but usually it ties back to ag in some way or another 🙂

P.S. If Hub’s had written this, a man of fewer words, it would have been much shorter.

When consumers reach out.

Last week I had the rare occasion where our farm had a consumer reach out to us looking for beef. We don’t sell beef off the farm and we likely weren’t quite the type of producer she was looking for. Her message and my reply are below. It’s scary to reach out to the unknown public. I had no idea about her motive or how she would reply. I drafted my responses, my husband and I both reviewed in multiple times and then with great trepidation, I hit the send button. So far there has been no response, but I feel I did my best to sell my Ag story and we opened up our farm doors to this person. I’d love to hear what what anyone thinks of the exchange as consumer or farmer.

Consumer looking for Beef

The Inquiry

Hello I’m looking to find local famers that can help me with providing real, wholesome foods for my family. I’m looking for organic GMO free foods of all types (meat, eggs, milk, fruit and veggies). It is also very important to me that the animals used to produce the foods were treated with care and dignity before slaughter and fed a proper diet ( cows were fed grass etc.) If there is anyone that can help me find more information about this kind of thing I would be so greatful! I’m looking to make a drastic change in mine and my family’s diet for our physical/mental health, as well as to support a healthy and moral food system in our world. Please comment or inbox me if you are able to help. 🙂

My Reply 

Hi XXXX;

I’m Julie-Anne from the Howe Family Farm page. We generally do not sell beef directly off the farm. We are a purebred breeder selling our cattle to other ranchers. However, we do manage our cattle in a pretty typical manner for cow calf producers that sell into to the commercial beef supply chain. Our cattle spend May-November on pasture and are fed hay and a bit of grain we produced on our land and a mineral/vitamin supplement. We have the diet specifically formulated by a cattle nutritionist and work closely with our veterinarian on our herd health practices. When an animal is sick, we treat it and do our best to make them better. We see it as the ethical way to treat our animals, if they are sick they need medication. We have our vet prescribe an antibiotic or other medicines. The withdrawal times on the medicines are noted and respected. This means animal that have been treated are not sent for slaughter until they are healthy and all of the medication is cleared from their body. So although we are not organic farmers, we believe our beef absolutely a safe nutritious product.

We also have an Environmental Farm Plan developed through the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, for our farm to manage and reduce our environmental foot print. This is our home and we have every intention to preserve the land and ecosystem. There are many native species that peacefully co-exist with our cattle: deer, owls, badgers, ducks etc.

On our farm, I have a Master’s in Cattle Nutrition and Microbiology, as well, we have an agriculture degree and a vet all in the family. We are passionate about caring for our stock in the best way possible. If you want to learn about our farm operation, I am more than happy to answer more questions. I also am a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition and Wellness Specialist certified by Can Fit Pro. I also run a personal blog about farming and food at www.fit2farm.ca.

My family eats the beef we raise and I am 100% confident in the food production system in Canada. I applaud your commitment to healthy eating, and understand there is a lot fear surrounding food and agricultural technology. We have an amazing regulatory system for food safety through Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Did you know that ALL beef is tested to ensure there are no residues from any medicines that were given to cattle are in our food? I’m a mom and I get the amount of fearful messaging about food that is out in media and online. My kids eat the beef and food products from the grains that produce and I feel very safe about it. If you want specifics, I’d be happy to answer any further questions.
I am sorry that it appears that you don’t feel that farmers are doing the right thing. As with all industries most are doing the best job they can and the few bad apples ruin the whole bunch. Our barn doors are always open and I encourage to reach out ask any questions you may have.

Cheers;
Julie-Anne Howe

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.

Two good reads.

One of my goals this year is to read a book a month. Reading has been a passion of mine for years, but somehow last year I lost track of my joy for books as I over-committed to continuing education (it happens). I deeply miss my book club days from before I moved the farm. I’m happy to report I have read not one but TWO books this month. Here are my reviews:

The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashmi

pearl-that-broke-its-shell

I loved this book. It’s captivating and a wee bit horrifying at the same time. It a multi-generational tale of women coming of age in Afghanistan. The first character is a young woman growing up in Post 9/11 Afghanistan Raised as a boy until 13 and then abruptly married to a warlord, Rahima’s story is gut-wrenching, illustrating the lack of choice and female oppression in other countries. The second, Shekuba is raised in early 20th century Afghanistan when women’s rights were improving/evolving. She is Rahima’s great grandmother. I have to admit, the jumping back and forth between characters left me a wee bit impatient and 3/4 of the way through the book, I cheated on Rahima and read all of Shekuba’s story and then went back for Rahima’s story. This book has stayed with me for weeks. I keep thinking about the plight of women in other countries in the world. It blows my mind how fortunate I am to be raised in Canada. It also stays with me because the strength of character of these women who refused to let their spirits be broken. I am sure I will re-read the story again to see what nuances I missed in my greed to get the book finished. I’m a binge reader and finished the entire book in 7 hours.

The Silver Star: A Novel by Jeanette Walls

The silver star

This Jeanette Wall’s third major book and runs very similar to her memoir “The Glass Castle” and “Half Broke Horses” the story of her grandmother. It’s a coming of age story of two sisters, Bean and Liz, more or less abandoned by their mentally ill mother and taken in by their uncle in the 1970’s.The story highlights Bean and Liz’s struggles adapting to life in the South. There are interesting themes of racial and social class discrimination, and the usual down on their luck tale that Wall is known for. I was disappointed by the ending which is abrupt and largely unbelievable in my eyes. If you like Jeanette’s other books you may like it, but I found it too predictable as it seems her style is lacking diversity.

If you have read either of these stories, I’d love to hear what your reviews are and I’m looking for a great book for February!

Bell Let’s Talk Mental Health Day.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Mental Health Day.icon_1

Did you know that 20% of farmers have talked to health care professionals about stress and mental heath? Farming can be a volatile, stressful business where self care can easily be neglected. We put in long hours with much of financial uncertainty. Mix in the emotional investment we have in our land & livestock and things can get out of hand. Mental health challenges are very real and I believe everyone needs to be more open and pro-active in caring for ALL aspects of our health.

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I have experience with depression and mental health challenges and I can say this: Mental health is a big deal. Take care of yourself, reach out to others. I have experienced loved ones that have been very resistant to reaching out for help. My philosophy is that if you broke your arm, you would go to the doctor and get a cast. If you are experience mental health issues, you need to reach out for professional help and take the appropriate actions for self care. Keep silent and suffering hurts the individual, their family and very likely the farm business.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has great information and resources about many mental health issues.

Cow therapy can do a lot for a farmer, but be real with yourself and others, please reach out for help.

Money can't buy happiness...