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.”

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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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Walking with my girlies

wp-1457838889697.jpgSpring seems to have sprung very early this year- I hope I’m not jinxing anything by this post! Our winter has been crazy mild and we are looking ahead to this year’s pasture season.  Our yearling heifers are currently on grass at on our home quarter and will likely stay here all summer.  I started my evening walks to see these girlies. I love their curiousity and frisky demeanour. Heifers are naturally super curious and the spring air gives them lots of energy for frolicking.  Check out this video of us strolling about together and some geese flying back home to prove my point that spring is here.

 

It has fallen upon myself and the kids to gentle the heifers; getting them calmer around people every spring/summer. We go out to visit them multiple times a week. Sometimes we will bring a pail of grain as a treat. By the end of summer, they gentled down to be quiet at minimum and many get quite tame. It makes it much easier  and safer to handle them when we need to do any health work for the cows and around calving season. It’s really important to me to quiet animals that my kids can be around them and I love getting to “know” my girls. I know the mama’s of many of the girls in this group and a good number of them I “remember” from when they were baby calves and in the yard at my in-laws. This year is my third summer on the farm and it’s so heartwarming to see the first generations of cattle now growing up that I have known from birth. I look forward to seeing these girls develop over the summer!

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Old and new- some long retired machinery out to pasture and the future matriarchs of the herd.

 

Bull Sale Wrap Up

The sale in action

The sale in action.

It’s been nearly a week since our sale. I am happy to report that the sale went very well. We were fortunate to have excellent weather leading up to the sale in order to prep the yard and shops for the sale. Everyone pitched in, including my kids. Sale day came and so did the crowd. We had a very full house. If you’re curious, this is how we sell the bulls. As I mentioned in my last post, this sale brings in 80% of our income for the year. Our sale was up significantly from last year. The overall prices of cattle is up considerably, so that was a large reason for the increase, but we also worked hard to improve our cattle as well. The set of bulls we sold were overall a better package compared to the year prior and we invested a lot of time and money into promotion this year to make the sale a success.

One of our boys travelled 1000 km to his new home

One of our boys traveled 1,000 km to his new home

Now comes the task of delivering our bulls to their new homes.  It’s a service that most purebred breeders offer to their clients. We map out our plans to take the boys to their homes in an efficient and timely manner possible.  Most of our customers are local, but we have a few bulls travelling a fair distance to their new home. One is headed to South Dakota to a long time friend and client.  Another bull went all the way to Sangudo, AB which is just shy of 1,000 km away. In a great show of cooperation between breeders, he hitched a ride with a fellow breeder that was headed to Lloydminster, then was transferred to another farmer who took him from Lloydminster to Westlock. In Westlock, he stayed for a couple of nights until his new owner could bring him the rest of the way home. In our industry, with a couple of phone calls and a community of people who want to help, organizing travel for cattle is pretty common place. We cooperate in order for everyone to save the most amount of time and fuel while getting all the bulls delivered.

In the next week we will have all the boys delivered or arranged to be cared for at our farm and we will look to next year. We are planning our breeding season to match herds sires with cows on pasture. We will assess our finances and build our business plans for the year. It’s a fantastic time to be in the cattle industry and I’m proud to be part of this incredible industry.

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!

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 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.