Cattle-farming sisters featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar

Sisters Patricia Taber, Jennifer Smith and Sylvia Megens

(Uxbridge) – Sisters Patricia Taber (30), Jennifer Smith (28) and Sylvia Megens (22) got involved with their local 4-H beef club when they were each 10 years old, and have been around big bovines ever since. Cattle are, indeed, a central part of their lives, and part of a common interest that keeps them together personally as well as professionally.

Together, the three sisters are the owners and operators of Megens’ Cattle Company; it’s a small farm business consisting of approximately 15 purebred Angus and Simmental cattle raised as replacement females, and for competition in livestock shows. With sponsorship from The Regional Municipality of Durham, the three sisters and one of their prize-winning Angus show steers grace the cover of the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. The sisters are also featured in the month of January.

“We started with just two animals and focused on commercial as well as show cattle,” says Jennifer. “We’ve had a lot of luck over the years.”

The three sisters compete in over 20 spring and autumn fairs across Ontario annually. They use the time competing in smaller events, though, to hone both their handling skills and the look of their animals for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which is the largest agricultural event of the year. While many of their animals have performed very well at different times, Jennifer says the first Simmental cow ever purchased by her and her sisters has been particularly successful, winning many awards over the last four years. The steer on the front page of the calendar went on to win the prestigious Queen’s Guineas competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November of 2015, and was shown by Sylvia in the competition.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar's cover image also featured the sisters.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar’s cover image also featured the sisters.

Right now, Jennifer describes Megens’ Cattle Company as more of a “hobby farm” than a full-time business venture, though that is not to say they don’t plan on developing the business further. The business originated as a small livestock farm run by their parents John and Debbie. John had emigrated from the Netherlands as a young boy and eventually became a livestock drover – a profession he shared with Debbie. After settling down on a small farm and introducing the three sisters to 4-H, Patricia says their herd evolved from a handful of market animals to a mix of purebred Simmental and Angus replacement heifers – young female cattle that have not reproduced.

“Our herd is currently a mix of bought and bred cattle,” says Patricia. “We would like to develop our own breeding program so we can have control over everything in the herd.”

Small though it may be, Megens’ Cattle Company does take up quite a bit of the sisters’ time. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full time too. Sylvia is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, and currently works as a research associate for a company specializing in the research and production of turf grass and forage crops.

Patricia lives and works alongside her husband and his family on their beef feedlot farm, where they raise about 2,500 cattle at a time, and have 1,600 acres of cropland. She also works for Grober Nutrition – a livestock nutrition company – but is currently on maternity leave with Brooke, her infant daughter. Jennifer works as a large animal veterinarian with a mobile practice, and helps her husband on their strawberry farm in between visits.

According to Patricia, Jennifer’s veterinarian background – and her experience working on a number of other livestock farms – is a big asset to their entire family.

“She’s our resident health management professional,” says Patricia.

With cattle weaving such a strong theme through their lives, it’s perhaps no surprise that the three sisters’ hobbies also sport a bit of beef flavour. Sylvia, for instance, is part of Durham West Junior Farmer association, and is a volunteer club leader with her local 4-H group. She also sits on the provincial board for the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, and, more generally, says showing beef cattle is the “passion” which takes up most of her year. Patricia and Jennifer, too, say showing and working with beef cattle is their favorite way to spend spare time.

There’s yet more to it for Jennifer, however. More specifically, she and her husband keep a small flock of sheep, and have been planning on converting about 30 acres into pasture for the animals. On top of that, Jennifer works with Patricia as a leader in the York-region 4-H beef club, and is part of her regional Ploughman’s Association where she helps run the annual “Queen of the Furrow” competition.

When asked why they farm, the sisters are also of one mind. Agriculture, they say, has allowed them to stay close despite busy lives, and enjoy many opportunities in the process.

“We’ve been fortunate that, even as we start our families we are still close; we still get to work together and it’s a great way to raise a family,” says Patricia.

The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org.

More than a hobby

By Resi Walt

More than just a hobbyI first joined a 4-H club when I was 10 years old. My brothers had encouraged me to try it and even though I was nervous at first, it was the best decision I could have made.

The 4-H program started in the United States in 1901, when one gentleman offered a group of local boys a bag of corn seed and challenged them to grow it and show it at their State Fair. And so the concept of a youth-focused program in agriculture began. The concept spread north, with the first Canadian 4-H club beginning in Manitoba in 1913.

Today, 4-H Canada is one of the most highly respected youth organizations in Canada, with 25,000 members and over 7,000 volunteers.

When you sign up for 4-H, you can join any of the clubs offered by your local organization. There all kinds of different clubs revolving around agriculture, food or the environment, as well as clubs with non-agriculture topics. For example, you could join a club to learn about beef cows, goats, woodworking, outdoor living or plowing.

Fundamental to the 4-H organization is the motto, “Learn To Do By Doing”. Every club you join will be based upon hands-on learning. That’s the beauty of 4-H. Continue reading

Thinking like a cow is harder than you think

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

Thinking like a cow is harder than you think. (2)

Dylan Biggs works to get cattle to go through a gate one at a time by pressuring into the group of cattle.

The morning starts out the same each day. Staff wake early, drive to a small town meeting hall, unpack supplies, set up the projector and flip chart and try not to forget the ever important coffee and doughnuts.

After coffee cups are filled and neighbours enjoy a quick catch up with each other, everyone settles into their seats for the morning.

We begin.

Recently I had the opportunity to travel around with Alberta rancher and cattle handling expert Dylan Biggs, his father Tom, and ranch employee Elizabeth in a series of handling workshops for Ontario beef farmers. These workshops were put on through Farm & Food Care’s IMPACT animal care program.

After a week of workshops, I’ve become familiar with the content, but each day is a little bit different and they’re certainly never boring. Continue reading

The real dirt on hen housing

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

The Real Dirt on Hen HousingHaving recently become a new homeowner, it’s amazing how many different housing options there are are out there. You might be a high rise condo dweller living in one of the many buildings that populate the horizon or maybe in a single detached family home that is more your style.

Townhomes, executive penthouse lofts, cottage living – the options are endless with each choice presenting different benefits and amenities. If you’re anything like me, the only restriction is your bank account!

It’s not that different when it comes to housing options for farm animals. Modern barns today offer many benefits that the traditional red bank barn of our grandparents’ age would never be able to provide. New advancements in technology have allowed the reconstruction of modern barns to provide things like climate-controlled environments, enriched amenities, access to feed and water 24 hours a day, smart phone alerts if an issue arises in the barn and much more.

But how do we know what good and what bad environments for farm animals actually are? Science helps to tell us this. There has been a lot of research around the globe on housing of farm animals and on how different environments affect them. Many researchers have dedicated their entire careers to this area of science: studying animal behaviour, environmental impacts, natural behaviours and many more aspects of how housing influences an animal’s life.

Let’s talk about laying hen housing – housing for the birds that lay the eggs that you enjoy for breakfast. Continue reading

A large animal veterinarian – and Herd health calls

Each summer veterinary students from the Ontario Veterinary College delve into that practical experience at veterinary clinics across Ontario and additional locales. These blog posts are an opportunity to tag along with nine of them this summer.

By Sarah Pechmann

Sarah_herdHealthAs my time at Port Perry Veterinary Services continues, I am starting to develop a routine for myself. Each morning one of the first things I am sure to do is scan the daily appointment schedule. The calendar is always packed with a wide array of interesting calls which each present a unique and exciting learning opportunity for me.

A common appointment that I find on the schedule almost each and every day is known as a herd health call. I remember being a little puzzled by this term when I first heard it. I have quickly come to realize that these herd health visits are some of the most important responsibilities a large animal veterinarian has and a great chance for me to grow as a veterinarian in the making.

Most dairy and meat producers will actively participate in a herd health program. This means that these producers will have a veterinarian visit their farm on a regular basis to evaluate how the herd is doing, and help make suggestions on ways to improve and maintain the health of the animals within that herd. Rather than focusing on sick animals, the entire herd is examined and the focus is on healthy animals and preventive measures that can maintain their health and well being. Continue reading

Sweat like a pig – Fact or Fiction?

FactFictonpigletFICTION: Forget what you’ve heard about that expression. Pigs like to keep clean and they can’t sweat to cool off. So, barns provide a clean environment and have ventilation systems, like fans, to maintain an optimum temperature. Some barns even have sprinklers to keep the animals cool in the summer.

Did you know…the expression “sweat like a pig” actually comes from the smelting process of iron? After the iron has cooled off, it resembles piglets and a sow, and as it cools, beads of moisture – like sweat – form on its surface. This means it has cooled enough to be moved safely.

So, sweat like a pig? It’s not likely, since pigs can’t sweat!

Now you know!

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

Methodical motions make moving dairy cattle easier

By Matt McIntosh

3K6A6122If you’ve ever had a large dog as a pet, you know how frustrating it can be to move it somewhere it doesn’t want to go, or do something it doesn’t particularly want to do. Indeed, getting it to stand still for even a moment when other dogs are afoot, just as an example, can be downright strenuous.

Now imagine if that dog weighed about 1,300 pounds. That’s the size of an average dairy cow, and as any dairy farmer knows, cows don’t always want to cooperate either. But just like dogs, dairy cows will go where you want and when you want if the right methods are applied.

“Animals learn the same way, and dairy cattle are no different,” says Dr. Don Hoglund, an expert on dairy stockmanship the facilitator of a recent workshop series for Ontario’s dairy farmers.

“Successfully controlling their movements starts with understanding their behaviour.” Continue reading

What about hormones and food?

What about hormones and food-The very word ‘hormones’ conjures up a lot of concern for many people. Hormones occur naturally in people, plants and animals. Here are some important facts and examples for you to consider.

1. Are there hormones in poultry?

One of the biggest myths we hear in agriculture is that of the use of hormones in poultry. No chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens are ever fed hormones. Today’s farm animals grow faster because we’ve learned how to feed them exactly what they need and through choosing animals for their good genetics over many generations.

2. Are there growth hormones used in milk production?

Continue reading

The Real Dirt on the Codes of Practice

The Real Dirt on the Codes of PracticeBy Kristen Kelderman, Farm & Food Care’s Farm Animal Care Coordinator

As Canadians, we are very fortunate to have many privileges that others do not. Our great nation boasts the luxuries of real maple syrup, moose sightings, caffeinated beverages from Tim Hortons and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to name a few.

But did you know that Canada also stands out on the world stage when it comes to farm animal care? In Canada, we have Codes of Practice for 14 different farm animal species. They are often referred to in the farming community as the Codes.

So what are these Codes? They act as our standards for farm animal care and handling across Canada.

The first Code was developed in 1980. All are now the responsibility of the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).

Each Code has requirements and recommendations within each document and contains other useful information on caring for farm animals.

I like to say that if you wanted to become a farmer tomorrow, the Code could serve as your guide book for what you needed to know for animal care. The Code won’t teach you how to milk a cow or how to formulate a diet for your pigs, but it explains what is expected for the health and welfare of the farm animals.

Many countries have standards and rules around animal care, so what makes the Codes so special? It’s actually the unique development process and group of people involved.

Each Code is updated by a Code Development committee of industry stakeholders. They include veterinarians, scientists and academics, transporters, the food and restaurant industries, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, government and farmers. It’s quite a diverse group of industry experts and professionals that has yet to be replicated in other parts of the world.

But before the Code development committee even meets, a scientific committee is organized to compile a collection of all the research and academic information available globally on farm animal care related to that species. This information is used as the basis for developing content for the Code.

Once the scientific committee has completed its review, the code development committee presents a first round draft. This first draft is then open to a public comment period. During this allotted time period anyone can submit comments for review on the content of the Code. The number of comment submissions has ranged from 120 to over 4,700.

The Code development committee then meets to discuss the comments they’ve received and how to move forward with the collected comments. Based on this information, they work to produce a finalized document.

According to NFACC, the end result “is a Code that is scientifically informed, practical, and reflects societal expectations for responsible farm animal care.”

The whole process takes about two years. It’s not a quick process, but it’s a thorough one.

Final decisions are consensus-based meaning that every member of the development committee must agree. You can imagine that it could take some time for everyone to agree on each requirement and recommendation within the Code.

Because of this process, our Canadian Codes of Practice are recognized around the world.

To find more information or to see the full version of each Code visit www.nfacc.ca and look under the Codes of Practice tab.

Bringing the Codes into the 21st century.

If you’ve ever picked up a copy of any Code of Practice or scrolled through the pdf version online, you’ll quickly see that that they are large and extremely detailed.

In an effort to help present information in the Code in a unique and novel way, Farm & Food Care’s IMPACT program (Innovative Management and Practical Animal Care Training) is currently developing interactive modules for each updated Code. Each module covers the requirements in each section of the Code and has supplemental questions and activities that users must complete related to the recommendations outlined in the Code.

Users must complete all the questions and activities to receive their certificate indicating that they are competent and understand the content of the Code. It takes about an hour or two to complete the full module.

If a farmer hires a new employee or needs a refresher on the Code content, they can log in and navigate through the module at their own speed. The intent of these modules is to increase the reach of the Codes and provide alternative ways for people to understand them and their content.

To learn more about IMPACT visit www.farmIMPACT.ca.

Farmers continue to invest in the best practices for their animals and do the right thing on their farms every day. The Codes are a great example of that.

Veterinarians play an important role in farm biosecurity

Each summer veterinary students from the Ontario Veterinary College delve into that practical experience at veterinary clinics across Ontario and additional locales. These blog posts are an opportunity to tag along with nine of them this summer.

By Ed Metzger

Ed Metzger, Ontario Veterinary College class of 2016

Ed Metzger, Ontario Veterinary College class of 2016

Veterinarians play important role in upholding high biosecurity standards.

Basically, biosecurity encompasses everything we do to keep the existing “bugs” on a farm contained, and keep other bad bugs out; it’s a way of confining avenues of disease such as viruses and bacteria to one place and limiting their spread. Biosecurity is an issue swine veterinarians deal with on a daily basis, and has been a cornerstone of practice during my time at South West.

So how do you reduce or stop the spread of disease from farm to farm? This can sometimes be a very tricky task. Some of the main ways that viruses spread from farm to farm are on animals themselves when a producer brings new animals to his farm, and on people: their boots, clothes, and the vehicles they are driving. Some common viruses such as PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) can even become aerosolized and spread through the air – this presents a major challenge! Because of this, there has been an overwhelming response and acceptance, from producers and industry personnel, to adopt practices to reduce the spread of disease. Continue reading