Would the real factory farm owner, please stand up

Would the real factory farm owners please stand up 2By Kim Waalderbos

I must confess: I’m a word and math nerd. I’ve been intrigued by how letters and numbers puzzle together for as long as I can remember. Yet, one puzzle has me stumped.

Factory farming.

You see, in my three decades (and counting) in agriculture, I’ve never heard anyone in farming actually use this term to describe themselves, or a fellow farmer. In fact, I’ve only heard the term used in media and by anti-farming activists.

So, I consulted my word books and found these dictionary definitions: Continue reading

Coded eggs stand out from most others produced in Ontario

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care

(St-Isidore) It’s easy to tell a Ferme Avicole Laviolette egg from others being sold in Ontario. Each one has an alphanumeric code that signifies the date of packaging, batch date and producer. Every time their customers see the stamp, they are reminded that Laviolettes take quality and accountability very seriously. The code is also an important food safety measure, helping make any product recall both fast and accurate. For being the first in the province to implement traceability that goes beyond the carton, Marcel Laviolette recently won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

By 2012, the year Marcel implemented the automated egg stamping system, his business’s sales territory was quite large, including dozens of grocery stores, restaurants and food wholesalers in eastern Ontario and southwest Quebec. At that time, food safety and traceability were all over the media, and being discussed at dinner tables across the nation, within the government and within the food and agriculture industry. Marcel knew that his many customers would feel that much more comfortable if each egg was stamped, something that was being done in other jurisdictions. And for the local egg producers that use Laviolette’s grading station (and make up two thirds of his egg volume), stamping would provide added peace of mind. Lastly, having coded eggs should help increase sales, being a preferred product in terms of traceability and food safety concerns. “We wanted to stand out,” Marcel explained. Continue reading

Day in the Life – an Ontario egg farmer

DayintheLifeHi, my name is Megan and I’m an egg farmer who lives near Embro, Ontario. Along with my family, we raise 50,000 laying hens (female chickens that lay eggs for consumption) and 200,000 pullets (young female laying hen raised from one day old until 19 weeks) per year. We also grow crops on 1,500 acres of land.

Today on the farm…

Continue reading

Blogger Spotlight: Jess Campbell of Run, Farm Girl! Run!

We’re putting the spotlight on Canadian farmer bloggers. Each month, we’ll feature a different farmer blogger to uncover a bit about life behind the blog, on their family farm.

Jess CampbellMeet Jess Campbell of Bellson Farms near Strathroy, Ontario. She blogs at: runfarmgirlrun.wordpress.com and is also on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.

Here’s what Jess had to say about blogging and her family’s farm in our Q and A.

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?
Jess: I began blogging in October 2014. A writer by nature and at heart, I had wanted to start a blog for a long time to foster my writing and create a consistent space to hone my craft. I spent months thinking of the perfect name, the perfect topics to blog about, etc. – basically, a lot of time thinking and planning and no time actually blogging! Then one day, I just jumped in. I took the time to create my blog and set it up the way I wanted so I could start writing again – and I haven’t stopped since.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.
Jess: My husband Andrew and I are proud third generation dairy farmers. We have been farming full time since 2012 with my mother and father-in-law at Bellson Farms, just outside Strathroy, Ontario. We milk 50 Holstein cows twice daily in a newly renovated tie stall barn, and farm about 450 acres of oats, wheat, corn, hay and soybeans. Most of that turns into feed for the cows but a small portion gets sold as cash crop.

IMG_5655_smRealDirt: What brought you into farming?
Jess: Andrew and I began farming full time in 2012. Before then, we had been living in Wingham and then in London, Ontario, working full time – me in Human Resources and Andrew in marketing and communications. Andrew was born and raised on the farm but had initially pursued a career in radio (which is where we met). But after Andrew and I had been working and doing our own thing for a couple of years, we started considering the possibility of moving back to his home to farm. We had been helping out on weekends now and again, and it was just really great to get out of the city, be around the family and the cows, etc. Now, I should tell you that I am not a born-and-raised farm girl. I lived in the country as a kid and was in the local 4-H horse club but I didn’t grow up on a large scale farming operation like my husband did. So when we started talking seriously about moving back to the farm, I was excited – and more than a bit nervous. I had no idea what it took to be a farmer and, to be honest, wasn’t sure I could do it! But I trusted in what I knew and in my husband and his family, and in the fall of 2009, we moved back to the farm and began the process of succession planning. We’ve since created a strong partnership, one that benefits and supports the farm and our families.

RealDirt: Who do you farm with and what is everyone’s role?
Jess: As I mentioned, Andrew and I farm with my mother and father-in-law, Phyllis and Wayne Campbell. They started Bellson Farms back when Andrew was just a baby, having purchased the farm from Phyllis’ parents, Alex and Reta Johnson. We live in the same house that both my husband and my mother-in-law grew up in!

Bellson Farms consists of 450 acres across three different farms. A year and a half ago, Andrew, myself (very pregnant with our second child) and our daughter Isabella moved from the dry cow and heifer farm to the main farm where our dairy barn and cows are located, and where Wayne and Phyllis had lived for almost 30 years. This was a very big deal, switching houses – it’s not often that you have to move two families into the opposite house, in one day, for each to have a place to sleep at the end of it all! Moving day was a little wild but, with many helping hands of family and friends, it went better than we could have expected.

Since moving to the main farm, we have undergone a major barn renovation and addition. We added a new tie stall barn onto the existing barn (which is over 100 years old) that is 180 feet long. Where we had room for only 30 cows before, we now have room for 60 cows, and are currently milking about 50.

Andrew gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to start chores. This includes feeding and milking cows plus feeding calves, and takes about four hours to complete from start to finish. Wayne and Phyllis come from their farm to ours each morning to help with chores; but first, they do their own chores, which involve feeding dry cows and heifers.

Wayne and Andrew run our cow program and are responsible for breeding, vet care, foot care, nutrition, milking, etc. As well, they do much of the field work – cultivating, planting, harvesting, etc. With this, they also get help from Phyllis and from Grampa Johnson. Grampa, who is Phyllis’ father, is 85 years young and farms with us three days a week doing things like spreading manure, bedding cows or working ground. Phyllis is responsible for our calf program and is in charge of the feeding and nutrition of our calves as well as breeding and genetics. Phyllis also does the farm’s books with help from our chartered accountants.

I help out anywhere I can. I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because of my daily responsibilities in the house (cooking, cleaning, etc.), and of course, caring for and raising our two children. Isabella is three and Cash is one, and as any mother knows, that’s a full time job in itself! Often, the kids and I will go out to the barn during evening chores so I can help with small, quick items that need to be done and the kids can help Gramma, Grampa or Daddy with their chores. For example, it’s Bella’s job to feed the barn cats and so that’s the first thing she does when she gets to the barn. Cash is still pretty new to walking and so toddles along with me or one of the other adults, “overseeing” the work being done. 

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: Farming is hard work. That may seem obvious to some but until you are actually farming, it’s difficult to understand what that really means. Our cows have to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Our calves, heifers and dry cows must be fed and tended to as well, each and every day. That’s a big commitment, and we definitely have to plan our lives around it. But I love that. I love having that commitment and that schedule to guide us every day. I love the rhythm and the structure that exists when milking cows.

What I love the most about farming, though, is that it teaches great lessons. Responsibility. Respect. Time management. Humility. Hard work. Commitment. Trust. Whether you’re working land as a cash crop farmer, raising beef, pork, chicken or eggs, milking cows or goats or something else in between – farming will teach you these lessons whether you want to learn them or not. But you become a better farmer, and a better person, because of them.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: The biggest challenge for me, personally, is feeling like a contributing member of the farm. As I mentioned, I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because I am the caretaker for our two young children. And while I truly cherish my time with the kids, I sometimes feel badly that I can’t help out more. I’m sure other farm moms will understand this feeling!

The biggest challenge for us as a farm business varies depending on the time of year, really. During planting and harvest, the challenge is weather. Other times, the challenge is quota and whether we were able to purchase any that month or not (this is important given that we are still in a growth stage and want to milk more cows). It was quite a challenging time during the barn renovations but now, the cows love the barn and are very comfortable there, as are we.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?
Jess: When I’m not farming or blogging, I’m either writing or running. I am a freelance writer and have written all types of pieces geared to many different industries (i.e. fitness, business, technology, music). The other part of my blog, Run, Farm Girl! Run, is to speak to my experiences as a runner. I have been running on and off for over 10 years, and I really do love it. So I run as much as I can, given our chores and family schedules, and write about the both the challenges and miracles of running and being a runner.
I also love to bake (I have award-winning bread, cookie, brownie and lemon bar recipes to my name), get lost in a great book (I’m a member of my library’s book club), or keep up with the Kardashians on the PVR (yes, it’s my guilty pleasure, I’ll admit it!).

IMG_5634_smRealDirt: What is one message you’d like to share about what you do?
Jess: My blog is still fairly new and so to keep it consistent, I’ve developed a weekly feature post that I call Farm Fridays. Every Friday, I blog about something to do with our farm or with agriculture in general. I’ve covered topics ranging from our farm dog, Winnie, to how Monsanto and sunshine is essentially the same thing. The overall message that I try to include in every Farm Friday post, however, is for the consumer to educate themselves about both sides of the farming/ag story before making a decision about what they think they know. There is SO much inaccurate, sensationalized misinformation out there, all geared towards scaring consumers into boycotting this or only buying that. It can be difficult for consumers to sift through all of that and find solid, science-based, factual information about where their food comes from and what’s in it. So I encourage people to ask questions and make as informed a decision as possible, no matter whether that decision is to go vegan or drink milk or not eat hot dogs. Knowledge is power, as they say, and that’s no different when it comes to knowing about your food and where it comes from.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?
Jess: To new farmers, I would encourage them to be the kind of farmer who consumers can ask question of and learn good lessons from. Consumers care about their food, the treatment of animals and how their food is grown so it is imperative for farmers to be ready, willing and able to answer questions about those things.

Be sure to check out Jess’ blog: runfarmgirlrun.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.

From Pasture to Pond

by Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

(Mooretown) – Chad Anderson might not be an avid outdoorsman, but he has a definite appreciation for natural spaces and the wildlife they support. On his cow-calf farm near Mooretown in Lambton County, Chad has invested in both new pasture and a new pond in an effort to improve the environment for wild birds as well as his beef herd.

The view of the Anderson farm from the duck pond

The view of the Anderson farm from the duck pond

Last year, Chad’s farm was in the middle of a transition. A section of cropland was being converted to permanent pasture for his animals. However, his pasturing plans hit a roadblock when they encountered a stubbornly wet section of ground just behind his barn.

“Part of the area we were seeding down to pasture was always a really wet and low lying area,” says Chad. “Leaving it like that and making it into pasture would have been an issue. I didn’t want my cows to get in it because they could get stuck in the mud, or get sick from drinking the water.”

In the interests of his herd’s health, says Chad, the area was going to have to be drained before it could be used. Continue reading

Local company develops high tech, welfare-friendly pig feeding system

By Lilian Schaer, Farm & Food Care

(Brockville) – An Ontario-based company has developed a leading-edge electronic sow feeding system that it’s now selling across Canada – and it took just a little over a year to get from concept to market.

Curtiss Littlejohn is shown with Canarm’s new electronic sow feeding system

Curtiss Littlejohn is shown with Canarm’s new electronic sow feeding system

Curtiss Littlejohn, Swine Products Manager with Canarm, a privately owned company headquartered in Brockville, Ontario that produces ventilation and lighting systems, as well as livestock handling and management equipment, says the feeding system was inspired by information gathered from hog farmers across North America as part of a survey conducted last year.

“The survey showed that farmers in North America are looking for sow feeders that are built here, with durable components and integrated software, and by a company that has the depth to service them when something goes wrong,” explains Littlejohn. “Canarm had the ability to start to develop this and a year later, we had a functional unit on the show floor.”

More and more farmers are moving to loose housing for their sows – adult female breeding pigs – as the industry evolves to respond to consumer and food company demands.

This means farmers need new equipment to help them manage their animals in the barn. Continue reading

Enjoying local food in Eastern Ontario

By Resi Walt, Farm & Food Care Ontario

A taste of local food in eastern OntarioLike most people, I enjoy day trips and exploring new places – especially when those places specialize in food! Over the course of Ontario’s Local Food Week from June 1-7, I had many opportunities to celebrate the food that is grown and produce in Ontario. One highlight from the week was the trip I took to Eastern Ontario.

Farm & Food Care Ontario partnered with Foodland Ontario to offer a local food experience for food enthusiasts from the Ottawa-area. Farm & Food Care Ontario has been organizing these farm tours since 2006, and each year they grow in popularity. The goal is to showcase different commodities and types of farming every year, and the tour participants include chefs, recipe developers, food writers, culinary instructors, and professional home economists. The tour is always such a great learning experience and good fun too. Continue reading

2015 Faces of Farming calendar features Dunnville turkey farmer for July

By Resi Walt

Brian, Silken, Theo, and Eli Ricker’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Brian, Silken, Theo, and Eli Ricker’s Faces of Farming calendar page

(Dunnville) – If you ask Brian Ricker’s children what they want to be when they grow up, they will tell you without hesitation, “A farmer, just like my dad.” It’s easy to see how much they look up to their father, and that Brian Ricker is a farmer with a big heart.

In 2015, Brian and his three youngest children, Silken, Theo and Eli appear in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page (July) is sponsored by the Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Although raised on a dairy farm, Brian credits his start in turkey farming to his friend and mentor – John Delane. The two met in the early 1990’s and Brian eventually bought John’s turkey farm from him. Continue reading

More than Farming: Capturing farmers and moments with Farm Boy Productions

MorethanFarmingI still remember the sideways look my dad launched across the barn back in high school when I told him I wanted to study media. It was during a morning milking that he had asked me what university programs I had applied to.

My family runs a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario. We milk 50 Jersey cows in a tie stall barn. Our land is entirely for feed crops (corn, barley, oats and alfalfa) for the cows and grass pastures. Being that I was the eldest boy in the family, there were many assumptions that I would go on to take over the farm. And while I do miss farming some days, I know I am exactly where I should be and I can always go back home to help my brothers down the road.

Bruce Sargent in his element - on farm with photography gear.

Bruce Sargent in his element – on farm with photography gear.

To my dad’s delight, I ended up at the University of Guelph studying Marketing Management and soon started Farm Boy Productions – a multi-media company focused on agricultural photography and videography. When many were skeptical of a business making videos and websites for farms and agri-business, my dad was my first and biggest supporter.

In my first year, I started by creating a horse farm video and a dairy farm website. Returning to Guelph in the fall for school, I started building a client base in western Ontario.

Very early on I knew I loved my job. Traveling to many types of farms and getting to meet farmers and their families from across Ontario is a very rewarding experience.

Now that Farm Boy Productions is my full time job, I have had five years of exposure to every part of the industry – livestock, machinery, cropping and all types of farms. I get to promote products and programs to farmers and I get to promote this amazing industry to our neighbours in the city. Continue reading

Cloudy skies? No worries. Farmers use technology to take bad weather in stride

By Matt McIntosh

Cloudy skies- No worries.Not so long ago, the beginning of the spring planting season was upon us, and many farmers in Southwestern Ontario were gearing up to plant corn as soon as they could. Weeks later and much to their disappointment, though, some farmers still don’t have any seeds in the ground.

Yes, it’s been one of those years for some farm families; although not particularly disastrous, cool and wet weather in various parts of the province this spring meant some grain farmers were not able to plant their corn crop at the most ideal time. That means a shorter growing season, or a smaller window of time for plants to grow and mature before the return of our famous –and infamous – Canadian winter.

Less-than-ideal weather is an age-old problem for farmers, however, and we’ve learned how to use modern technology to adapt to changing environments.

Corn, for example, comes in many varieties, each with different traits making it better at different things. Using our modern understanding of genetics, some farmers – when faced with the prospect of a shorter growing season due to cold, wet spring weather – trade the seeds they originally wanted to plant with other varieties that requires less time to grow.

It’s all about “Crop Heat Units” and “Growing Degree Days,” you see.

Crop Heat Units and Growing Degree Days, in a roundabout way, refer to the amount of time a plant needs at a specific temperature to grow and mature properly. Different crops, and different varieties of the same crop, can require different temperatures for a different number of days. In the case of this year’s corn crop, for example, a farmer planning on sowing a corn variety requiring lots of time at a higher temperature might have decided to trade his seeds for one needing less time at a lower temperature.

The trade-off, however, is that varieties requiring less time and heat to grow have a tendency to not produce as much grain. That is to say, if a variety requiring fewer hot days was compared in ideal growing conditions to one that required more hot days, the former would produce smaller corn cobs or fewer kernels.

Given how many things factor into successfully growing crops, though, it’s still possible for varieties requiring a shorter growth period to produce more. Indeed, if the growing conditions are ideal, it’s very possible the more cold-hardy plant will out-produce its more warmth-inclined cousins.

However, it’s impossible for farmers to know exactly what will happen weather-wise. Every grower is a weatherman in some form or another, and as we all know, even the professionals on television make wrong predictions every now and again.

When it comes down to it, growing grains, vegetables, fruits and other crops really is a gamble with Mother Nature, but technology helps minimize risk in a number of ways. Take examples like climate controlled environments in greenhouses, the use of fungicide to control leaf blight, or the incorporation of giant orchard fans to help fruit farmers try to keep deadly spring frosts at bay. All these things, and so many more, help give farmers an edge in creating a more beneficial growing environment for their crops.

Regardless of what Southwestern Ontario grain farmers have thrown at them, though, something always grows. While some years are definitely better than others, technology helps us ensure there’s always a crop of some kind – and that’s an important thing to remember when planting prospects still look cloudy.

The old adage often repeated – so I’m told – by my great grandmother Isabelle might be a useful reminder here. Indeed, “there’s always a planting season.”