“Our lives revolve around our animals”

Doesn’t every chicken have a nutritionist? Isn’t the morning rush only in cities? Well, maybe not. These appear to be some of the secrets to success on the Wiens farm (part of the Fehr family farm) near Hague.

At seven weeks old, Jackson Wiens is happily swinging in the kitchen—it’s early days for this fourth-generation farmer. Jackson has decided that for a few years yet, it will still be his Mommy and Daddy, Kaylin and Tyler, working the family farm.

Kaylin and Tyler farm with Kaylin’s parents, her two brothers and their families. Together they have 60,000 laying hens and raise chickens for themselves and for sale. They also farm 3,000 acres of land and raise about 80 beef cattle.

What does a typical day look like working in their hen barn?

“Usually, I get to the farm at about 8:00 a.m. and collect eggs for the first two and half hours,” says Kaylin. Note that Kaylin is talking about the morning rush, when about 25,000 eggs are collected. “The birds’ houses are designed so that the eggs roll onto a moving belt. The system is automated to bring the eggs to the front of the barn where a packer puts them into trays. When I’m collecting eggs, I’m actually putting stacks of trays filled with eggs onto a pallet.”

“We check everything. We have a system that will call us and tell us if our power goes out because that is a huge deal for us. We have backup generators that power the whole barn in the event that the power went out. It keeps the fans running and the lights on so our chickens are always protected.”

After the morning egg rush, Kaylin makes food for the hens. Feed is made every day of the week so that there is enough to get through the weekend. The diet is largely wheat, canola, and soy oil, calcium and for protein they add peas and soy. “We work with a nutritionist who determines the recipes for our feed,” Kaylin explains. “The nutritionist makes a recipe based on the weight of the hens, the weight of the eggs, and how many eggs our birds are producing. The rations are adjusted based on the chickens’ needs. The micro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals, we add by hand. We are in constant contact with the nutritionist to ensure our hens are getting the nutrition they require.”

After lunch, Kaylin does the farm’s bookkeeping for an hour or two, followed by the afternoon chores. Then there is another hour and a half of egg collection, but only 10 to 15, 000 this time. Cleaning the barn wraps up Kaylin’s day by about 6:00 p.m.

Sometimes Kaylin is discouraged by the portrayal of farmers in the media.

“There are so many misconceptions about farming. We are often painted as not caring for our animals and that is very frustrating. Our lives revolve around our birds. That is our number one priority to make sure they are cared for every single day of the year. It doesn’t matter if we have plans. If something is wrong with our hens, they always come first. If we didn’t treat our animals well, it just would not work.”

“In order for our farm to be sustainable we have to care for our flock; it is a symbiotic relationship.” – Kaylin Wiens

Every day, the Wiens family works hard to care for their chickens.

“We closely monitor everything in our barns from the daily production of eggs to how much water the hens drink, how much feed they consume, the temperatures in the barn, the humidity… We check everything. We have a system that will call us and tell us if our power goes out because that is a huge deal for us. We have backup generators that power the whole barn in the event that the power went out. It keeps the fans running and the lights on so our chickens are always protected.”

Kaylin & Tyler farm with the Fehr Family near Hague, SK.

Kaylin really loves farming. “I look forward to going to work every day. I was born into farming and that is what I am familiar with, but it is also where my passion lies,” she says. “I love that it is different every day. It is great to see the industry constantly change and improve for the better. I like working with my family—it is such a blessing that we can work together. We are so thankful that we can bring our son Jackson into the family farm. That is really cool.”

A turkey farmer’s voice: How much do you want to know about turkey farming?

By Clair Doan, turkey farmer

As a turkey farmer it is important to be able to share our family farm story. Talking about how we grow and care for our turkeys is important to me because I am proud of what we do and, most of all, love eating turkey with my family. With the likes of social media,  it is not hard to be a part of the conversation or see the many posts about our birds and farm. However, last night I took the opportunity to view the W5 program on CTV called “Fowl Business” where our industry has been criticized for our handling of live turkeys from the farm to plate, mostly through the shackling and live stunning process at slaughter. My initial reaction was more mixed than I had anticipated, given our industry is directly impacted by consumer perceptions and influenced by media — perhaps there was some truth to this story.

I encourage you to watch this footage where the program relies on a “whistle blower” from Mercy for Animals, an organization whose main purpose is to convert people to veganism. I could focus on the inaccuracies and clear bias presented by this organization (as there were many). W5 counterbalanced this with the famous Temple Grandin. I could focus on the food itself and how consumers connect to their meals which I think is more effective, long term. As a farmer, the company implicated in the report was Lilydale, a Sofina Foods owned company, a sister firm to the buyer of most of our birds.

To clarify a couple of points first: I take great issue with undercover employees, with direct motives to identify irregularities in meat processing systems while knowingly being supported by Mercy For Animals. As well, the Lilydale employee, who was referenced a number of times, should most certainly be reprimanded and I am sure no longer works for the firm based on his actions and general lack of concern for the animals. However, in reality, we are always looking for the exception where rules are broken and people are not respecting the care and compassion for the animals.

Photo credit: Clair Doan

Photo credit: Clair Doan

The reality is the entire meat sector suffers from a similar crisis — their business of transforming a living animal into food, which for most part, people, is not a nice process to watch! Sure, we all love the end product on the BBQ, but connecting consumers to where their food comes from stops short of the animal leaving the farm.

Even as a farmer, after my turkeys are loaded off the truck, it is truly not my responsibility to what happens to them afterwards. What I do consider is ensuring that as close to 100% of the birds and meat were of superior quality as possible. As turkey farmers, I have personally undergone safe handling and loading of turkeys. We employ on-farm food safety protocols, which include all animals be respected and those suffering must be immediately and humanly euthanized on farm.

Recently, farm commodity boards have asked farmers to share their stories, to bring consumers, the media and influencers to their farm to share real stories of the people that truly care about our food system. I truly believe that we have a great story to tell on farm, but it begs the question, how much information is enough and how much is too much?

As a farmer, my primary goal is to raise healthy and productive turkeys. I do everything possible to maintain a positive environment for them including, fine-tuned nutrition, safe housing, ample bedding and medication, if it is required. The last thing I like seeing on my farm are sick or dead birds. So when it comes to slaughtering the turkeys, it is a difficult sight to watch. I don’t like blood in general and there are different sights, smells, movement and noises that come with the slaughter and processing of livestock. So like other consumers, the slaughter part of food production is never talked about, let alone seeing video footage of this stage. To me, the “Fowl Business” highlights the fact that living animals die for us to eat them, regardless of the perceived mishandling.

This past April, I had the privilege of visiting the largest turkey processors in Germany. It is estimated that 60,000 turkeys are handled per day, which equates to the entire Canadian production in about seven months at this one facility. Through using controlled atmospheric stunning, the facilities operated with utmost efficiency. When I spoke to the marketing manager, I asked “What message do you want me leaving the visit with?” His response was simple, that we value animal welfare from farm to plate and that their facility employs the latest technology which promotes efficient output of quality meat products. The visit in Germany left me with one on the most positive feelings regarding turkey meat, in that it was not a stomach turning, ethically questioning experience!

As an industry, I am interested to learn how Lilydale/Sofina will react to this news report, at the same time look forward to an overall industry reaction as I do believe it may be turkey today, but can easily be hogs or beef or chicken tomorrow. Yet at the same time, as a farmer, I am proud of our accomplishments on farm, yet we will only be successful in the future if we are part of an entire value chain that is effective at communicating our standards and expectations to all consumers, at the same time respecting their potential views on humane treatment of animals through the entire lifecycle.

The CTV show W5 called “Fowl Business” continues to irritate me by relying animal rights group spies and unfortunate employees that either lack training and demonstrate unacceptable behaviours to speak about the humane issues of turkey. At the same time there are reasons we pay for Canadian Food Inspection Agency, work within organized marketing boards, and abide by every increasing animal welfare protocols on farm that must work as succinct systems. I willingly continue to share our farm story in efforts of helping connect people with their food. Unfortunately delivering the message around the transformation from alive to dead is a difficult story to comprehend, but we must remember our food story does not end at the farm nor start at the grocery store.

This blog post first appeared on www.clairdoan.com

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.

A Day in the Life of…Crooked Lake Farm

My name is Jill Burkhardt and I am a mixed farmer (small grains, such as wheat, and beef cattle) from Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Today on the farm, we are moving yearling heifers out to summer pasture. What’s a heifer? A heifer refers to female cattle that have never had a calf.

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Our farm is a 5th generation family farm. My husband’s family homesteaded just a half-mile up the road from our house in 1901 and have lived in the area ever since. Our land was purchased by his great-grandfather in 1915, and the original homestead is still in the yard. Although the house is uninhabitable, the artifacts remain.

We had our third baby in April. I do most of the calving work on the farm, while my husband, Kelly, is busy preparing for and seeding the crop. Well, this year, I had added challenge of taking care of a newborn human, in addition to newborn calves. It seems like everything is delayed on the farm because I’m busy with our new little guy and not able to help as much as I’m used to.

This year we are a little late moving cattle out to summer pasture. This is due to a few factors…

Last year, 2015, was a drought year for us in north central Alberta, and we had a drier than usual winter and early spring. Rain for us didn’t come until the May Long weekend and fortunately it hasn’t stopped since! We have delayed turn-out to allow the grass to grow up with some good moisture. This allows the grass to “de-stress,” put down good roots for the year, and grow. If we were to turn the cows out on the grass earlier, the grass may have still been in survival mode and stressed and would have decreased grass growth, preventing us to keep our cattle out on pasture later in the fall.

Thankfully, we had feed to use up. Last year, although it was a drought, the rains came later. These later rains landed right during haying season. To bale good hay, we need dry conditions to allow the hay to cure (be dry enough to store properly). Since it was raining, we made the decision to bag our hay turning it into haylage (fermented grass & alfalfa—similar to making pickles!). The haylage doesn’t keep well, so to keep from wasting it, we had to feed it all, and we just ran out in late June. 

IMG_0622 (1)Before we take the heifers out to pasture, we have to sort them in to two groups. One group will go out to pasture, breed with a bull, become pregnant (hopefully!), have a calf next spring and join our cow herd. The other group will be sold as open (not pregnant) heifers.

After we sorted and got our two groups, we loaded the group going out to pasture into a trailer and drove them to their summer pasture. We always trailer the cows out to summer pasture, rather than “push” them out on horseback because our area has a lot of crop fields, a few houses, and not many fences. It’s safe and efficient. 

When the cows were unloaded on their summer pasture they are always happy. Kicking and bucking usually happens—and then they go off to graze for the summer!

Want to learn more? Have questions for Jill? You can follow Crooked Lake Farm on social media: on Facebook and Instagram as @CrookedLakeFarm, and on Twitter as @crookedlakecows, and through their website and blog: www.crookedlakefarm.com

Yes, There’s an App for Farm Animal Care

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

The days of carrying a notepad around the farm still exist, but there’s a new kid in the barn and field that carries a lot more functionality than a farmer’s well-worn pad of paper.

Farmers love technology and have embraced it willingly, from GPS-equipped tractors, to radio frequency eartags, to robotic milking machines. Maybe some generations have adopted it faster than others, and certainly some forms more than others, but farming and technology go hand-in-hand.

Thinking back to where mobile tech was just a few years ago when I picked up my first cell phone. I was a late bloomer for a millennial. I distinctly remember a conversation with my dad about texting that went something like this…

“Why would you text anyone? If I want something I’m going to pick up the phone and talk to a person. Who needs texting?” My siblings and I just shook our heads thinking that dad will never get it.

Fast forward to today, most of my communications with dad are through text messaging. We kids had it wrong. Now dad sends me pictures from the farm, uses abbreviations like lol (properly!) and populates his messages with emojis. And I love it.

Usually he has a newer phone than me, carries it everywhere with him and is always asking me if I’ve downloaded the latest app. But the guy doesn’t use Facebook. Or that tweetagram thing, as he calls it. But, like many other farmers, he recognizes that some apps have made farming more innovative, efficient, informed, and sometimes even easier.  

IMPACT 2Whatever you can dream up, there is probably an app for that. And now with Farm & Food Care’s IMPACT program there’s an app for animal care information.

Accessing info on animal care has never been easier from the barn, field or beside the chute.

The multi-species app offers information on euthanasia, procedures, handling, transport and other general care. Videos, articles, decision trees, loading density calculator are all at your fingertips and in your pocket. It’s not your grandpa’s factsheet!

Don’t want to read an article or watch a video on your phone screen? You can email it to yourself and watch it later. You can also bookmark what is important to you and share it between your employees, colleagues, and fellow farmers.

The app is available for download for Apple and Android devices, and is free. Have a new employee starting on your farm? Use it as part of your training program or implement it into on-going training.

Download it today. If you don’t have a smart phone, not to worry. IMPACT resources are available online by visiting www.farmIMPACT.ca.

Technology can be great but if you regularly experience a slow internet, let the Farm & Food Care office know. A USB stick with videos and content can be sent to your farm. There are options, no matter your circumstances.

Regardless of how you prefer to access information today — apps, websites, carrier pigeons — there is no doubt that we live in the age of endless information and technology has played a large roll in this. Farmers know the value of continually learning the best practices for today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

An egg farmer examines hen housing

By Ian McKillop, egg farmer and vice chairman of Farm & Food Care Canada

Hen HousingGrowing up in the 1960’s, I’ve fond memories of my brother and me helping collect eggs. We had a small flock of several hundred hens in chicken coops. We’d reach into nests for eggs, put them in a basket and wash any dirt or manure off. Often the hens would peck us – or each other, sometimes causing death. If they became scared, they’d flock to a corner and could even suffocate themselves.

In the 1960’s, conventional cages became popular, providing a healthier and safer environment for hens and the farmers caring for them. So in 1967, my parents built a new barn with conventional cages.

The barn held 6,000 hens, large by 1967 standards, with three hens per cage. Pecking and suffocation were virtually eliminated. Gathering eggs by hand was easier, plus the eggs were seldom in contact with manure anymore. Overall, the cages allowed a safer way of housing our hens with fewer deaths, improving the quality and food safety of the eggs, while keeping costs down. The birds were content and so were we. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Canadian Women in Ag

International Womens DayWe’re celebrating International Women’s Day 2016 with a nod to all the awesome women in Canadian agriculture.

Did You Know: The latest census from Statistics Canada reported more than 27 per cent of farmers are female. Women can be found in agriculture at every step from farm to fork!

Here are the stories of seven women in Canadian agriculture: Continue reading

Sustainably raising crops and cattle

By: Matt McIntosh

2010 calendar(Ripley) – Wanda Snobelen has had a stake in agriculture and the beef business ever since she bought her first Charolais cow at 12 years old. Since then she has significantly expanded her beef herd, and delved further into a diverse farm life.

The third-generation to be raised on her family’s Ripley-area beef farm, Wanda took her first foray into raising beef cattle as part of a 4-H beef club project. Now she helps harvest nearly 5,000 acres of farmland — and raises 120 Charolais cattle of her own – on her husband’s family farm in Ripley. She is also the new face for March in Farm & Food Care Ontario’s 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by DeKalb Canada.

“We moved to Ripley in 2000. My in-laws had a business in Tiverton that I worked at for a few years, but [my husband] Sam and I have farmed full-time ever since,” says Wanda. “When I moved, the beef cattle came with me.” Continue reading

Barn fires are devastating to all involved

By John Maaskant, chicken farmer and chair of Farm & Food Care Ontario

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Stock photo

There have been a lot of news stories lately about barn fires in Ontario. Without exception, the stories have been tragic and the incidents devastating to these farm families in so many ways – with the loss of animals being at the very top of that list. Often, a barn fire affects an entire community with neighbours joining together to support each other and help clean up the terrible aftermath. Economic concerns, while very real, are always secondary to the loss of farm animals that these farmers have raised and nurtured.

And it doesn’t matter what type of farm animals are involved. The dairy farmer who milks his or her barn full of cows every morning and night – and knows each of their individual traits – is as emotionally affected as a pig farmer, horse owner or chicken farmer like me. Continue reading

Farming with a focus on learning

By: Matt McIntosh

2010 calendarWalt Freeman loves to learn and has no doubt that farming has been one of the most engaging educational opportunities he has ever had.

Walt and Heather – his wife of 35 years – are the owners of a Battersea-area mink farm. The farm backs up to a small lake and was built on land originally purchased by his grandfather in 1921. The couple still live in the original farmhouse, and currently produce an average of 15,000 fur pelts every year. Continue reading