What’s the deal with hormones?

By Jean L. Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

I’m just going to say it — grocery shopping is complicated business. You are bombarded by confusing marketing campaigns and it seems everywhere you turn there is another ‘dangerous’ food item you should avoid.

Take hormones, for example. You see chicken, turkey, and dairy products with stickers that say “hormone free” or “raised without the use of added hormones” and then around the corner, cattle ranchers ask us to buy their “grown with hormones” beef! What’s the deal?

It’s true. Chicken and turkey farmers do not use hormones. The truth is they just don’t need to. Animal scientists have done a pretty good job of selecting the breeds of birds that grow the fastest. They have figured out the best feeds that the birds require, and farmers hire animal nutritionists that develop food specifically for their birds. Farmers are particularly aware of the environmental factors that will slow growth, such as changes in air temperature, humidity extremes and lighting and they do their utmost to ensure those are controlled or eliminated. Not only that, but they limit barn access to everyone but family and farm employees to prevent exposure to diseases or stressful situations. Basically, these birds are already growing under peak physiological conditions.

If a farmer wanted to, though, could he or she still use hormones? The answer is no. You might be surprised to know that the use of hormones in poultry farming was actually made illegal in Canada in 1963.

dyk-chicken-1However, there’s another reason, too. Hormones are naturally occurring and necessary for biological function. In poultry, for added hormones to be effective in improving growth, they would need to be administered in sequence with the peaks in their existing hormone pattern (which occur several times daily) and they would need to be injected intravenously. Given the current scale of poultry farms (most farms have several thousand birds), the cost to administer and the stress to the animal, the impracticalities are just too significant for this to be a plausible management strategy. So, NO CHICKENS are ever raised with added hormones.

The same is true of dairy cattle. It is illegal for Canadian farmers to use hormones in dairy cattle farming. But, this is not due to human health concerns. In fact, the U.S. does allow hormones to be used in dairy cattle — a hormone called recombinant bovine somatotropin (or rBST for short). So why don’t Canadian dairy farmers use rBST in milk production?

Because the advances in dairy farming are astonishing! There are now robotic milkers which allow cows to decide when and how often they wish to be milked, waterbeds for cow comfort, and we even have scientists who devote their entire careers to studying cow welfare. Canadian farmers have a national dairy herd that is considered among the highest level of genetic quality in the world to optimize animal production. Dairy farmers use nutritionists who balance the cows’ diets using the best of the best food ingredients. All in all, Canadian farmers are dedicated to ensuring healthy, stress free cows, promoting efficient milking and prioritizing cow comfort and welfare, which means dairy cattle have reached peak milk production without the need for added hormones.

Research has shown that using hormones to increase milk production in dairy cattle that are already milking at a high rate can result in health problems for the cows. Wisely, Canada decided this was not a necessary practice and banned its use due to animal welfare concerns – not because of fears regarding human health impacts.

But why do beef farmers use hormones? Hormones for beef cattle are administered via very small (2 mm in diameter), slow-release capsules placed under the skin in an animal’s ear where they dissolve over a period of months. These hormones work by enhancing the production of naturally-occuring hormones, by directing growth towards muscle and away from fat. Growing muscle takes much less energy (and is more efficient) than growing fat (which is less efficient). As a result beef cattle given hormones grow faster, have leaner compositions, and make more efficient use of the feed that they eat. These are important and environmentally beneficial things.

Now, it is true there are differences in hormone levels between beef raised with hormones and beef raised without hormones. That difference is about one nanogram or less. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram. For context, that is the equivalent of one second in 32 years, one foot in a trip to the moon, or one blade of grass in a football field. So, yes, technically there is a measurable difference in hormone levels found in beef raised with added hormones, but one that is minuscule.

Major governing health organizations (including Health Canada, World Health Organization, and United Nations) agree that this tiny difference is of no significance to human health. I should also point out that no peer-reviewed scientific studies exist to indicate eating beef produced with hormones has any negative impact on human health.

It might be surprising to learn that hormones are in all living things and that the relative amount of hormone in beef, either with added hormones or without, is much less when compared to many other food items regularly consumed in North American diets. For example, a 355 ml glass of beer contains nearly 8 times the amount of estrogen than a serving of beef grown with hormones, and a serving of cabbage contains over 1,000 times the amount of estrogen than an equivalent serving of hormone-raised beef. A pre-pubertal boy would have to eat over 8 cows’ worth of beef produced using hormones PER DAY to match his own daily production of estrogen. Please keep in mind though that even at higher levels, like those found in cabbage, and regardless of the food source they come from, hormones are proteins and are simply broken down into amino acids during digestion just as any other protein.

My take home message? Please do not be frightened of your food. Canadian farmers, scientists and government health organizations have our best interests at heart when it comes to the health, safety and affordability of our food supply. Continue to make nutritious choices, keep asking questions, and get to know a farmer so you have someone to talk to about your concerns!

READ MORE IN THE REAL DIRT ON FARMING, PAGE 23

Farming is Big Business with a Big Heart

By Serra McSymytz, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Throughout October, we have been celebrating Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, a province whose primary goods-producing sector is agriculture. The theme “Our Food Has a Story” has encouraged many farmers, ranchers, and industry employees to speak up and tell their farm stories. I grew up in the farming world and have worked in the industry and even I must admit I’ve been blown away by the caring and compassion laced through every tweet, post, and picture.

The people in this industry rely on the earth, plants, and animals to support their families, futures, and freedoms. Yes, agriculture has evolved over the last fifty years. Yes, fewer farmers are managing more land. Yes, when size dictates, it makes economic sense to incorporate your operation, but that doesn’t mean the family farm has been lost to history. 97% of all Canadian farms are still family owned and operated.1

big-business-image-2-farmingfood4uHere’s an alarming statistic: there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.2 That’s just within our borders, not to mention the hundreds of millions of tonnes of product we export to developing countries each year to help feed their people too. Talk about pressure to perform!

“…there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.”

Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where science and innovation are encouraged and explored. Where farmers and ranchers have the knowledge, tools and technology to grow and raise safe, healthy and affordable food in an environmentally responsible manner. Today’s farming is big business, not the simple lifestyle our grandparents grew up with. Yet, Ben Parker had it right, with great power comes great responsibility.

big-business-image-1-a-iveyWe live in the age of science and technology, where information travels far and wide and everyone has access to the latest diet craze or scientific study. Unfortunately, despite agriculture’s enormous technological advancements in the last quarter century, we haven’t put much time or energy into promoting our impressive new tools and now we need to defend them.

To the 98% of our population that has no direct connection to the farm and no way of understanding what a Flexi-Coil 5000-57FT Air Drill is, why we use ivermectin on our livestock, or spray our crops with unpronounceable chemicals like difenoconazole or saflufenacil, farming sounds scary. But, to the remaining 2%, it means no top soil loss, healthy animals, higher yields and a cleaner environment!

You’d be hard pressed to find a cattle rancher who doesn’t feed their family with meat from their herd, or a farmer who doesn’t bring his children along to check crops for disease and pests. That’s because farmers believe in the technology and production practices they use to grow our food and they want consumers to have confidence in them too.

When asked what they would like to say to non-farmers, the consensus was, “We care about our livestock, land and about producing safe food for you and your family. Wherever you’re from and whatever you do, everyone is dependent on food, so take the time to learn about how your food is really produced, from many different sources. Appreciate the efforts of farmers everywhere.”

Despite the new state of agriculture and the ever-evolving landscape of farming, our food still comes from families who care about their animals, land and growing safe, healthy, and affordable food.

1, 2 The Real Dirt on Farming, (Toronto: Farm & Food Care Foundation, 2014), 2-3.

More Than Farming — Managing a Dairy Herd

By Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

MorethanFarmingAgriculture is much more than farming. It’s a diverse community of people who work closely with and support those farmers who grow our food, and without this supporting network, farming would not be what and where it is today.

This month, RealDirt spoke with Morgan Hobin who is the Manager at the Rayner Dairy Research and Teaching Unit at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The Center boasts one voluntary milking system (robotic) and a parlour (or conventional milking system), and is currently milking 104 cows with an additional 150 calves and cows that are not producing milk.

Hobin explains that although they are a commercial facility, they are not a conventional dairy. Among the requirements to produce milk that you will buy in the grocery store, they have extra space to allow for teaching dairy production to students and have two different milking systems which allows for different kinds of research.  “We also have the interactive cow walk suspended above the dairy so consumers, farmers and anyone, really, can observe the cows in their day-to-day life and to see where their milk comes from. And the other unique thing is that we are a commercial dairy in the city, which is quite rare.”

Morgan acts as the liaison between the barn operations, the research faculty (from the department of Animal and Poultry Science and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine) and the public and teaches dairy management labs to Animal Science students.

“It’s a very quiet and calm environment and you don’t hear banging or yelling or animals in distress. The animals get to take their time. It’s a pretty relaxed place.”

RealDirt: What do you feel are your most important responsibilities?

morgan-hobin-dairy-manager-1Morgan: My number one most important responsibility is taking care of the cows. This includes making sure the staff is on board for the day’s activities and goals for the week. I make sure the cows are fed the right diets, calves are taken care of, and cow’s reproductive systems stay healthy. We are a commercial facility but we have research responsibilities on top of the general day to day management so all of the team needs to be on the same page.

The second is to make sure that the research that is being done is high quality resulting in publishable data. And under that scope the most important thing goes back to the cows being taken care of. Our ultimate goal is that the research that happens here directly transfers and is practical for Saskatchewan farmers and their animals.

RealDirt: What does a typical day entail?

Morgan: I get to the barn around 7:45 am and I do my rounds. I see how much feed is left over in the bunks, and then I make adjustments for that day’s feeding schedule based on how much is left over from the day before. I look at the cows and the manure (which is important because manure tells you if they are healthy or not) and make sure that all of the cows are doing well. A healthy manure patty has good consistency, piles firmly and is a brownish colour. Manure that is too runny, too firm, has gas bubbles or grain in it, indicates a problem! Then I check the notebook – these are the notes that tell us if there were any issues from the night shift (we have people here from four in the morning until 11 at night) and deal with anything that has come up. This is followed by a team meeting so everyone can get up to speed about what is happening in the barn that day and if anything out of the ordinary is happening like a tour, or a special research project that might be starting. Then it’s all up in the air from there! I usually have a plan but every day is different.

There are a lot of tasks that happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. An important one is to make sure to look at our computer programs which provide specific info about each animal from the day before and a snapshot of the previous week which is another indicator of how the cows are doing and their health and well being. I look at animals that are due to calve and determine if any cow needs special attention or if we need to bring them in if they are getting close to  their due date.

And then there are all of the regular dairy farm duties. I need to pay bills, order feed, make feed sheets based on the morning bunk checks and check the bulk tank (the stored milk that will eventually go to the grocery store) to make sure we are on track for our quota (the amount of milk expected to be produced each month). And of course there’s scheduling all of the workers (we have six full-time, five casual employees, and four students).

In the afternoon, I often have meetings with faculty and researchers to hash out and schedule upcoming research projects. I also go to check on the calves in the calf barn and on the heifers and the rest of the animals outside, to see if they are doing well, body condition wise. Every second week we have “herd health” where the vet and several fourth year vet students come to check for pregnancies and do general post-calving checks on each cow to make sure they are all healthy. And, because we are a teaching centre, I teach dairy management to Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine students.

RealDirt: What do you love most about your job?

I love the fact that when I come to work I know that every day is going to be different. I love the combination of office work and caring for the animals and getting to be a part of the neat research we do.

RealDirt: What is the most challenging part?

Finding the sweet spot between meeting the demands of research and teaching while still being a productive and profitable herd.

RealDirt: What has changed since you started doing your job?

I’ve been here for two years and in that time, we’ve seen an increase in the technology that is available to help us on a cow-by-cow basis and for overall herd management. Everything is constantly evolving and improving.

RealDirt: What kind of training and education do you have to do this job?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a Master of Science in dairy nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan. To do this job, I think it is important to have practical experience. I went to Australia and milked cows there for a year, so I understand and can work better with the team that’s out in the barn because I understand what they are doing. And having management experience definitely helps.

RealDirt: How do you interact with farmers?

Our researchers work with the provincial dairy industry so we can link the research with industry priorities which is the ultimate goal. Often farmers will stop by to view our facilities or they might have a guided tour. Farmers want to know the research that’s happening here so they can understand what’s new and what they may be changing in the future. They also want to see how our facilities work and often compare their own to ours.

RealDirt: What is the biggest misconception you encounter in your job?

I think it’s just general animal care and how cows are housed. I think visitors’ minds change when they tour our facility. For example, we have brushes in each pen, that lets the cows brush themselves and you can see how happy the cows look while getting scratched. I think visitors are surprised at how easily cows come to see you when you are on the floor which is a clear indicator to me that they aren’t scared or being mistreated – they want nothing more than to lick you. Plus we milk three times a day and people can come in (most of the time without us even knowing they are there) and see us moving the cows. It’s a very quiet and calm environment and you don’t hear banging or yelling or animals in distress. The animals get to take their time. It’s a pretty relaxed place.

RealDirt: What do you wish consumers knew about the dairy industry?

I guess I wish consumers knew producers respect the animals and the consumers. It takes commitment and attention to detail to make sure that there’s a high quality product coming out of the farm. And we wouldn’t pay attention to detail and try to constantly improve if we didn’t care. We want to make sure the consumers are getting a high quality, safe product because we care about them.

RealDirt: What do you think surprises visitors the most when they come to visit the Rayner dairy facility?

The biggest thing is that most people are surprised how much cows produce in a day: our cows produce about 40 kg of milk per day.  That’s the “holy cow” moment. There is a lot of work behind milk production like this and we need to pay attention to every detail of the cow’s life to help them be this productive. Stressed, sick, or unhappy cows do not produce milk like that. We also like showing people the robotic milker. A voluntary milking system is a great tool because you can have a 400 cow dairy and seven milking stations and it can be managed by one person. Voluntary systems are also good for animal welfare because cows can choose to be milked three or four a times day if they want, while others may choose not to be milked more than twice, so it gives them an option.

Robots can improve welfare for the animal and improve welfare for the farmer, too. These days in the dairy industry we work hard to find staff that we can trust our animals with. People ask me do you have kids? And I say “yes, 250 of them”. I can’t trust their health and comfort to just anyone. So having robots lets farmers provide great care to the cows and allows the farmer to have a quality of life too.

RealDirt: Is there a way for interested readers to connect with you (blog, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)?

Visitors are welcome at the barn between 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm,  seven days a week, or you can contact the Dean’s office to arrange a personalized tour at 1-306.966.4058

We’re blogging about Canadians working in agriculture. Each month, we’ll feature someone different on www.realdirtblog.ca to show how diverse our Canadian agriculture industry is! Know someone that we should feature? Send us a note at info@farmfoodcare.org.

 

 

Animal Care Specialists Focus on Care in Transport

By Jennifer Woods, animal care specialist

Over the past 10 years, the agriculture industry, along with government, has invested significant time, brain-power, and research dollars into improving livestock transport. From environmental management and protection, to welfare indicators, to ideal time in transit, to handling and finally trailer design, all aspects of animal transport have been reviewed in our quest for constant improvement of animal welfare.

Bison are loaded and headed to the U.S. Photo credit: Robert Johnson

Bison are loaded and headed to the U.S. Photo credit: Robert Johnson

Canada is the only country that has a livestock transport training program (Canadian Livestock Transport Certification) that allows livestock transporters, handlers, and producers to become certified in transport of five species: cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, and poultry. To date, over 2,000 people are currently CLT certified.

Animals arriving at slaughter plants and departing or arriving at feedlots are audited to insure animal welfare standards are being met. Loads are also regularly inspected by CFIA for compliance to our animal transportation regulations.

Did you know? There’s an app for Farm Animal Care! It includes information on best practices for animal transport. Read about that, here.

All of the major commodity groups in Canada (cattle, sheep, dairy, pigs, horses, and poultry) have developed guidelines and decision trees to insure all animals being transported are fit for the ride. These tools provide farmers, ranchers, and drivers with direction and guidance on what animals can be transported.

First responders, enforcement personnel, and transporters across Canada have been provided opportunities for training in Livestock Emergency Response for motor vehicle accidents. They also have access to numerous rescue trailers specifically designed for response to emergency situations involving livestock.

Animal care specialists are continually working towards improvement in livestock transport through awareness, education, and management tools. Through training programs, transport auditing, research collaboration, and program development, farmers and transporters are provided many opportunities to expand their knowledge, develop their skills, and insure they are always doing what is best for the animals in their care.

Our Food Has a Story

By Serra McSymytz and Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

kids-and-vegetable-patchAs agribusiness professionals we’ve had the opportunity to talk to farmers about why and how they farm.

Just twenty five years ago, this wasn’t even a conversation. Farmers just got on with the business of working the land or tending to their animals.

Today it’s different. Consumers also want to know why and how farmers carry out their duties, growing and raising the food we sometimes take for granted. But how do you explain what farming is?

Well, there are a lot of things it isn’t.

It isn’t a 40 hour work week, sleeping in on the weekends or even through the night, at times. It isn’t a guaranteed paycheque. It isn’t easy or cheap, low risk, or low stress.

So why? Why would someone gladly raise their hand and say “I want to be a farmer”? Generation after generation?

farmers-by-the-tractorFor many, farming is a place to raise their children where they’ll learn the value of hard work, build strong principles, strengthen their character and intellect, and earn a sense of responsibility.

Farming is rewarding and challenging. It is the opportunity to give back, to do more and be better. Farming is often part of a family’s history and their children’s future. It is satisfaction, seeing something you have sewn and tended grow and thrive. It is reaping the reward of a nutritious meal prepared using ingredients you yourself have nurtured.

Farming is technical and constantly evolving; an industry always on the verge of the next advancement. It is the chance to earn a living from a passion rather than an employer. Farming is the fulfillment of feeding your family, your neighbours, and our world. Farming is a measure of who the farmer is.

The thing about farming though, is that its product is so much bigger than just one person, one family one cow, one field, one farm.

It is our food. It is our story.

farmer-in-the-tractorThere is a narrative woven through our long history. Each chapter is unique and told by the stewards who contribute to it. The rancher, beekeeper, miller, baker, berry picker, processor, butcher, grocer and, in the end, the consumer.

It is the food choices you make for yourself and your family. Farming touches each and every one of our lives because it provides one of the most basic necessities. Whether you buy local, conventional, organic, free range, with or without added hormones, we are all a part of the same story.

Join us in October during Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan and share your food story. #OurFoodHasAStory #AgMonth16

For more on events in Saskatchewan for Agriculture Month, click here.

10 Reasons to Love (and Trust) Your Food

Guest Post by Patricia Chuey

I always embrace any opportunity to visit my home province. In addition to getting back to see family a few times each year, every so often I’m fortunate that my work also takes me there.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an agricultural tour sponsored by Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and a number of groups representing many of the main foods grown or raised in Saskatchewan including flax, pulses, lentilsmustard (and Frenchs), barley, canola, chicken, eggs,beef, pork along with tourism Saskatchewan and Crop Life Canada. This type of tour came at a very important point in my professional life in regularly facing questions and grave concerns from consumers about quality in the food supply. I wish I could have magically had every person whose ever asked me about organic, free range, hormones, steroids, animal welfare, genetic modification and related issues by my side as our group of food writers, media dietitians and chefs from North America met many farmers on their farms, toured an egg processing plant, visited agriculture and bioresource greenhouses and the University of Saskatchewan Grains Innovation Laboratory. (We toured a prairie brewery too!) But, having them all join me wasn’t possible.

farm-collageBecause I couldn’t do that, I want to share 10 thoughts from many critical conversations on the tour. I left feeling renewed and more confident than ever in the quality of the food our Canadian farmers provide to the marketplace. Although I still feel heavy-hearted for the many people I’ve met who feel completely confused about what to eat or to safely feed their family, in many ways I felt both ‘cured’ of mass confusion and energized to continue sharing the truth of what I witnessed. Our group also left very well fed and richer in spirit for having experienced the passion and commitment these food producers put into the food they feed their families and share with Canada and the world.

There were countless reminders of the conscientious commitment farmers make to providing safe food to consumers and the challenges they face from often misinformed, yet vocal, adversaries. Here are few points I encourage thinking about:

  1. Less than 2% of Canadians are directly involved in farming to provide food for the remaining 98%. Typically, the more removed a person is from the farm, the more critical they are of farming. So unfortunate and a source of mass confusion and misinformation. It’s worth finding out the farm experience and background from the person who may be criticizing farming. Asking questions is great and very strongly encouraged. Unqualified folks scaring people about farm-raised food, isn’t.
  2. Canadian farmers are very open to talking about their operations and have nothing to hide. The industry is strictly regulated and uses the latest SAFE technology to produce food that is nutritious and affordable. Big corporations have NOT taken over Canadian farms. More than 97% of Canadian farms are family owned and operated.
  3. There is zero difference nutritionally between white and brown eggs. The difference lies in the feather colour of the hens they come from. Brown are perceived as healthier. What applies to brown bread or brown rice versus white with fibre content, is NOT relevant to eggs. If you buy free range or free run eggs and the shells happen to be brown, know that isn’t a characteristic indicating a free range egg, but simply a brown-feathered hen. Free range eggs also come in white shells. There’s actually more risk of contamination in free range eggs as the conditions in which the chickens are raised can’t be monitored quite as carefully as indoor operations. Egg farmers are committed to providing a variety of egg choices in the marketplace in response to consumer demand. I suggested the egg producers start selling a dozen odd-shaped or non-uniform eggs if we really want to see “natural” eggs. Consumers want ‘natural’ yet also want 12 eggs that look the same. Go figure?! Maybe someday NUeggs (Non-uniform eggs) will be a thing! #HeardItHereFirst
  4. Egg yolk colour is determined by the type of feed a hen eats. Wheat-based diets produce pale yolks while corn or alfalfa-based produce darker yellow. Yolk colour is not an indication of freshness or nutritional value. Organic eggs are fed certified organic grains which cost more.
  5. It is ILLEGAL in Canada to use hormones or antibiotics in chickens. “Ads promoting hormone-free chicken are like adds promoting water that is wet”. No pigs, chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens in our country are fed hormones. It has been illegal for decades. And they’re not used in milk production in Canada either. Some beef farmers do use approved hormones in cattle. Hormone levels in beef from cattle treated with hormones are virtually the same as beef from untreated cattle once in the food system. Any hormones are administered to cattle in safe time before they are made available for food. Calves are immunized for the same reasons we immunize children – to keep them healthy.
  6. Why the heck don’t we eat even more lentils and other pulses? If we are truly serious about food sustainability let’s eat more of these affordable, nutritious legumes from our home country – the world’s largest EXPORTER of pulses!
  7. Farmers follow strict federal laws for humane animal treatment. A Canadian farmer is not keeping you out of his or her egg operation housing 60,000 hens because anything controversial is going on, but rather for strict biosecurity to protect the chickens. Farmers are as shocked and enraged as everyone else, if not more so, when situations of animal cruelty happen. I chatted with passionate, professional egg farmers who are considering taking on the expense of having large viewing windows and video cameras in the next barns they build to reassure consumers. These kind of measures becoming standard will increase egg prices. (I don’t require a web cam on my dentist’s office or other professional I trust.)
  8. Farmers are the original active environmentalists. Their livelihood depends on healthy soil, water and air to grow crops and raise livestock. We met sixth generation farmers, farmers whose healthy 87 and 91 year old parents still live and work on the farm, rugged male farmers who tear up when talking about the damage misinformation is doing to food security in Canada, strong, young female farmers who wrangle cattle and much more. The common thread: a deep commitment to the environment, passion, hard work ethic and a safe, healthy food supply for all. We were humbled when the combine drivers actually stopped during active harvest to talk to us (VERY expensive to their operation to do so) and saddened to hear farmers say that MISINFORMATION IS MORE OF A THREAT and worry to today’s farmers than crop-destruction from pests or the weather conditions. Crazy and very disturbing. We should all be concerned about that.
  9. Canadians pay a mere 10% of their available income for food, one of the lowest percentages in the world yet for top quality domestic food. Without the use of APPROVED pesticides to prevent complete crop destruction we’d risk complete crop devastation and food shortages. If no approved, regulated pesticides and GMOs were ever used, Canadian farmers would need 37 million more acres to grow the same amount of food as today.
  10. There is more risk in food raised by people who “dabble” in farming as a sideline than food produced on regulated, inspected large farm operations. That said, farmers are very happy to share gardening tips and encourage us to use any available land to grow at least some of our own food.

We have a WORLD CLASS food system that is envied around the world. We need to understand it, celebrate and support it. Absolutely learn and make informed decisions about crop spraying, GMOs, organic vs conventional and where food comes from but avoid information from unreliable, misinformed people that is negatively impacting the very food system that feeds us and many others on our planet.  I remain 100% confident that it makes more sense to question unrecognizable ingredients in packaged food (even the organic ones) with lengthy ingredients lists and long shelf lives than the wholesome home grown WHOLE food from Canadian farms.

Thank you Saskatchewan!

(Sincere thanks also to the chefs and hosts at the Delta Bessborough, Wilbar Farms, Wilbar Cattle Company, Agar’s Corner, Riverside Country Club, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Boffins Public House and the University of Saskatchewan)

Reference: The Real Dirt on Farming

 

This post first appeared on Patricia Chuey’s blog, and is used with permission.

Fact or Fiction? Canola oil is the same from GM and non-GM crops

FactFictonYou might be surprised to know that canola is a distinctly “Made in Canada” crop. It was developed by researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Manitoba in the 1970s, using traditional plant breeding techniques. It is derived from rapeseed, an oilseed plant already used in ancient civilization as a fuel. Rapeseed is not fit for human consumption so Dr. Richard Downey and Dr. Baldur Stefannson, through breeding, lowered the erucic acid and glucosinolates thus creating a new plant — canola! The name canola is a contraction of Canadian and ola, meaning oil.

Did you know? Glucosinolates are what makes mustard spicy

Canola belongs to the Brassica genus, the botanical family that includes turnips, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard, and cauliflower. Brassica oilseed varieties are some of the oldest plants cultivated by humanity, with documentation of its use in India 4,000 years ago, and use in China and Japan 2,000 years ago.

While canola was developed using traditional plant breeding techniques, about 80% of the canola grown in Canada has now been modified using biotechnology to make it tolerant to certain herbicides. Using these specific herbicides has reduced the amount of chemical needed for weed control in the fields. Remember: the canola plant has been modified, not the oil, oo canola oil from the herbicide tolerant plant is exactly the same safe and healthy oil as canola oil from conventional plants. The modification has been made to only one canola gene, and it is a protein. Processing removes all proteins from canola oil. That means canola oil made from genetically modified seed is conventional canola oil.

Did you know? Herbicide tolerance also occurs as a traditionally bred trait in canola, wheat, and lentils

In Canada, the largest producer of genetically modified (GM) canola, GM crops are regulated by Health Canada, under the Food and Drugs Act, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are responsible for evaluating the safety and nutritional value of GM foods. Since the dawn of canola, approximately 20 years ago (over 3 trillion meals), there are no documented cases of harm correlated to human consumption of canola oil.

FACT: Canola oil from GM crops is the same as canola oil from conventional crops!

Sources: Canola Council of Canada, CropLife Canada, Health Canada, Wikipedia, and SaskCanola

Blogger Spotlight: Adrienne Ivey’s View From the Ranch Porch

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

Adrienne IveyMeet Adrienne Ivey of Evergreen Cattle Co., located near Ituna, Saskatchewan. She blogs at www.viewfromtheranchporch.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter @adrienneivey and Instagram @aderivey

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

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?

Adrienne: Growing up on a grain farm in northeast Saskatchewan, and now owning and operating a cattle ranch have helped me to see that I love all parts of agriculture — from canola to cattle. I started blogging about a year ago to share my passion for all things ag with those not fortunate enough to live this life. Although I had been sharing my story frequently on social media, I needed more space! Blogging also helped me share another passion of mine: amateur photography. Life on the ranch is beautiful, and I love being able to share that beauty with those not as lucky as myself.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.

Adrienne: Our farm consists of an 1,100 pair cow-calf herd, a 1,000 head yearling grasser program, and a 2,500 head feedlot. For all of these animals, we manage over 9,000 acres of land.

Our cattle are intensively grazed, and are out on pasture 365 days per year. Forages are the heart of our operation, in fact we like to say that we are not cattle farmers, we are grass farmers and the cattle are a tool to harvest that grass.

Our cows calve in late spring and early summer. The pairs are moved every few days onto fresh grass through a grazing plan that is set out at the beginning of the year. The calves stay with the cows until around February when they are weaned. After weaning, calves are fed in our feedlot until they can be turned out in early spring. Those calves are grazed as yearlings, or “grassers” for the summer. At fall, they are fed in a feedlot until they reach a finished weight.

Our farm is very much a family operation. Nothing makes me more proud then to be raising two small ranchers. Our children are actively involved in the daily chores of the farm, and even own their own goat herd. We like to say that we do not use our children to raise cattle; we use our cattle to raise better children.

Adrienne Ivey 2RealDirt: What is the biggest misconception about your type of farming?

Adrienne: I think that non-ranching people don’t realize just how well ranchers care for their animals. We lay awake at night thinking of ways to improve our herd health, and create a whole-farm system that keeps every animal both healthy and happy. Ranchers are often portrayed in the media in two ways, as uneducated country bumpkins (dusty cowboy hats and manure-stained boots), or as money-hungry corporate types that have little to do with daily ranch operations. The reality is that ranchers are highly-educated (we have over 12 years of post-secondary education on our ranch alone) business people that choose to get their hands and boots dirty on a daily basis. We truly love working with animals.

RealDirt: What is your greatest achievement thus far?  What are your goals? 

Adrienne: It is really difficult to choose our greatest achievement, because most days just being able to live this life seems like the highest possible achievement. One moment that really stands out was being named 2014 Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmers. Saskatchewan is full of really amazing farms and farmers, so being chosen for this award was a huge honour.

Going forward we really only have one goal: to build a ranch that is sustainable both environmentally and economically, while bringing the best and most delicious beef to the marketplace.

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?

Adrienne: I absolutely love that cattle ranching is the art of combining nature and human will. Our vast grasslands are home to so many species of wildlife and birds. We are fortunate to be able to spend the majority of our days surrounded by that kind of beauty. As ranchers, it is our job to take the power of nature and use it to produce delicious and nutritious food. 

As for challenges in farming, there are too many to count! Cash flow and business planning are a constant juggle. Like many entrepreneurs, we are tied to our farm on a daily basis. Whether it’s Christmas Day or our child’s first birthday, our cattle must be fed, and their daily needs come first. To be a rancher you need to be a jack of all trades: accountant, veterinarian, mechanic, mathematician, animal nutritionist, sales manager, teacher, plant pathologist, and much more. Even though we take every opportunity to learn more about all parts of ranching, sometimes it is overwhelming to try to know everything about it all. 


Adrienne Ivey Family Barn
RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Adrienne: I am a mom first, and a rancher second. I spend the majority of my time off the farm hauling kids to their activities. Most of my winter is spent in a hockey rink or volunteering at the arena’s kitchen. Summers will find me hooked to a horse trailer hauling my daughter and her mare to horse shows. We are fortunate that our ranch life allows us to make horses a part of our lives.

Because we live in a very small rural community, volunteering is a way of life. We like to spend as much time as possible helping out at the local skating and curling rinks, leading 4-H, or being part of the local school or daycare boards. We also feel that it’s our responsibility as farmers to be active in our industry. I like to spend time with organizations such as Farm & Food Care, Agriculture in the Classroom, and most recently I have been acting as a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program.

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do?

Adrienne: Ranching is a complex business, and there is no one right way to ranch. Every single cattle ranch is different — from when calves are born, to what breeds are used, to what medicines are needed. Ranchers are highly educated, passionate people that ranch for only one reason: they love every part of what they do.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?

Adrienne: Farming and ranching takes more than just passion — it takes dedication, drive, intellect, and involves so much risk. You need to be comfortable to put everything on the line every single day, and roll the dice that Mother Nature, the markets, and the animals you are caring for will all work in your favour.

Farming is an open community — we love newcomers — but to succeed you must be willing to learn new things every day, work endless hours, and put yourself last. I like to think that farming is like parenting: the moment you think you have it all figured out, everything changes!

Be sure to check out Adrienne’s blog: viewfromtheranchporch.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @adrienneivey and Instagram @aderivey

Now and Then – Beef ranching in Saskatchewan

By Tara Davidson

My family and I run a beef cow-calf ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan, raising cows with their calves. The things that I love about ranching are too numerous of course to list! I love working alongside my husband, our three children, and other family members. I like the challenges that come with raising cattle, and I enjoy working in nature daily.

An interesting thing about our ranch is that we try to implement new technologies in several capacities. Yet in many ways, we still run our cow herd the way ranchers did decades ago.

Figure 1 The author’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

Tara’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

One “old school” method that still applies to our ranch today is the use of horses to check our cattle, to move cattle from one pasture to another, and to treat sick animals. Our cattle graze in large, remote fields with rugged topography that isn’t always accessible by vehicle. Using horses allows us to get cattle where we need them to go in a quiet, albeit old-fashioned, way.

Cattle respond to our movements on horseback a bit differently than when we approach them on foot or with a vehicle. As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and moving cattle is no different. We try to use our presence on horseback in relation to a cow’s “flight zone,” causing them to move in the direction we need them to go simply by moving ourselves (or our dog). It’s a subtle, yet effective way to achieve results. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to work as a team and have a horse’s additional set of eyes and another brain than solely relying on your own! Continue reading

Fear of needles? Not on this farm.

LeighYes. That is a syringe in my hand. Yes. I am injecting every calf!!*$?!

Before you scream “EXACTLY! This is exactly what I am worried about!” just let me explain.

I hear your concerns about how medications are used in farm animals. You’ve read about ‘factory-farms’ and ‘intensive-livestock’ operations. These labels conjure up images of a johnny-appleseed-like farmer gleefully running around with a needle injecting animals so that they grow big, fast and well…. just unnatural. Am I right?

Some of you might be concerned about certain medications: steroids, hormones, or antibiotics. I hope to deal with those specifics in other blogs soon. But a lot of people are concerned about all pharmaceutical use in livestock.

So what on earth am I thinking injecting every calf?! I’m vaccinating. Continue reading