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

Bringing better beef to local buyers

By Matt McIntosh 

Brian Hyland (2)With the welfare of his animals and customer demands in mind, Brian Hyland, a beef farmer from Essex Ontario, has built a business around selling quality, home-grown beef directly to the consumer.

Brian owns and operates Father Wants Beef, a farm and marketing business where he raises 40 beef cattle and red veal (slightly younger beef cattle that go to market at 700 to 800 pounds, or about 300 pounds below regular market weight). Though not a large farm, Brian has found that there is a demand for meat straight from the farm, and he prides himself on filing that demand from his on-site shop and cold storage facility.

“The majority of our meat is sold by pre-order and custom cut, but we do have some people that stop in for individual steaks,” says Brian. “Most are appointment sales; I can get phone calls at all times of the day.” Continue reading

Girl-next-door turned beef cattle farmer and calendar model

Shelia Sheard’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Shelia Sheard’s Faces of Farming calendar page

By Resi Walt

(Brampton) – Sheila Sheard can’t imagine herself living anywhere other than home on her family’s beef farm just north of the city limits of Brampton.

In 2015, she appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Her page is sponsored by Beef Farmers of Ontario and the Ontario Corn Fed Beef Program. She is featured for the month of August.

Sheila was literally the girl-next-door when she met her husband Bill in 1984. Sheila had studied business cosmetics at Seneca College and then went to work for in Florida for a year. While she was gone, her parents had moved into a home beside Bill’s family. Continue reading

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

Buis Beef: A whole-farm approach to beef and the environment

By Blair Andrews, Farm and Food Care

(Chatham ) – Mike and Joanne Buis knew they had to make some big changes if their family’s beef farm near Chatham was going to survive. Thanks to an innovative management approach and leading-edge technology, they have grown beyond their feedlot business to include a retail store that sells their own brand of Buis Beef.

Mike and Joanne Buis hold a few examples of the frozen beef products that they sell from their on-farm store.

Mike and Joanne Buis hold a few examples of the frozen beef products that they sell from their on-farm store.

The days of running a feedlot that finished calves from western Canada were numbered when cattle prices plummeted in 2003 because of the BSE crisis.

“We started out as finding a way to stay in the beef business in general, and we needed to figure out how we are going to make it sustainable,” says Mike.

In a move aimed at becoming more vertically integrated, they decided to get into the cow-calf business and raise their own calves to be finished in their feed yard. Following some trial and error, they worked out a system in which the cows spend the summer in the barn and graze in the fields during winter.

In essence, it runs opposite to the way most cow-calf businesses are managed in Ontario.
“We flipped the whole thing on its ear,” says Mike. Continue reading

A Saskatchewan Farm(er)

By Laura Reiter

I am involved in one of the over 36,000 farms in Saskatchewan. Now if you are like most folks, a picture or two will have popped into your head when you hear “Saskatchewan farms”.
This …

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Or maybe this …

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

You’d be right in thinking that grain and cattle operations make up the majority of the farms in Saskatchewan. But there is so much more!

Continue reading

Cow tipping – Fact or Fiction?

FactFictonFICTION: A researcher at the University of British Columbia concluded it would take five people to push a cow over, and that’s if the cow was willing to be tipped. Most cows do not sleep standing up and are startled easily by noise and strangers.

Now you know!

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out

Christmas traditions on the farm

family photoAhhh Christmas tradition.  It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?   In our family we go to my aunts Christmas Eve to see my cousins and a portion of the rest of the 50 members of our extended family.  After a brief interlude for Mass, we catch up on the year, share a wine (or two) and enjoy good food.  Then its back home to wait for Santa to arrive!  Christmas Day we get up early and open presents then feast on breakfast and coffee followed by games, sledding and a massive turkey dinner.

And that is exactly the way it goes every year single year.  Even the getting up Early bit (and yes that was an Early with a capital E).  When we were younger, my uncle or cousins or brothers would go feed the cattle.  This usually started around 7 and took the morning.  Another uncle would need to go and check the feed bunks before that to see which cattle needed to have their feed rations adjusted and give the animals a quick look over.  Our hired employees would check pens (which meant they looked over each and every  single animal) to make sure they were healthy and if someone was sick they would be taken to the treatment facilities or “hospital” to be cared for.  Someone else would also need to put fresh straw out and make sure each of the water bowls was free of ice and clean of debris (and sometimes this could take awhile in Saskatchewan with -30 Celsius temperatures).  Of course on other days there would be more chores and tasks but for Christmas this was enough.

In the end this meant that if we wanted to open presents and have breakfast together then we had to wake up early so the animals could get fed on time.  The farm has recently sold so it is no longer necessary to get up Early (with a capital E) but we still continue to do so.  After all tradition is important.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and a wonderful safe healthy holidays to all!

Ontario farmer uses barcodes to raise the bar on beef

By Jeanine Moyer

(Simcoe and Stoney Creek) – Ontario beef farmer Cory Van Groningen knows what’s important to his customers – quality

Cory Van Groningen

Cory Van Groningen

and trust. And he’s found a way to increase meat tenderness while tracing every single cut of beef from the farm, directly into the hands of his customer. All this is achieved by using barcodes and innovative tracking systems that begin at the animal’s birth, and follow right through to placing prime beef cuts in the grocery store cooler.

As co-owner of the family business, VG Meats, Van Groningen is responsible for keeping the supply chain short by raising cattle for their own processing plant and retail stores. He and his wife Heidi run a 400 cross-bred cow herd, producing beef for VG Meats and other retailers. Raising cattle directly for their own market means Van Groningen has complete control over the product through every stage, beginning at birth, to ensure health, quality and traceability.

Keeping with a 40-year family tradition of processing and retailing meat, Van Groningen also works alongside his parents and three brothers, managing and operating a processing plant and two retail locations. Selling directly to customers through two retail locations in Simcoe and Stoney Creek, ON, means Van Groningen and his family can talk directly to their customers, determining exactly what they want and what’s important to them.

“We’ve learned customers want to trust the people packaging their meat,” says Van Groningen. “They often ask questions as a way to learn more about products and test a retailer’s competency. Traceability is a way to earn their trust and help them verify they’ve made the right choice in choosing our meat products.”

As a farmer, food processor and retailer, Van Groningen knows consumer trust means the family business needs to be accountable for the products they sell. And that means product traceability right from the farm to the customer’s plate. Continue reading