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.

 

 

July Faces of Farming Features Modern Homesteaders

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

The farming lifestyle might not be for everyone, but for AmyBeth and Colin Brubacher, there’s nothing better. The Elmira, Ont., couple are turkey producers, and they see farming and family as their greatest passions.

“We absolutely love our lifestyle,” says AmyBeth. “It’s modern homesteading, living close to the land. There’s a lot of great things to learn.”

IMG_0236aBox2AmyBeth and Colin own and operate B & B Farms, where they raise turkeys for both large processors as well as for direct sale. They are an average sized turkey farm in Ontario, and also have 100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat which they share crop with their cousin who has the neighbouring farm.

With three children –   Zoe (age 11), Stella (age 7) and Mercedes (age 2) – AmyBeth and Colin are the third-generation of Brubachers to run the farm. AmyBeth is also the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar.

As part of their direct turkey sales, the Brubachers supply both whole fresh birds for holiday seasons – around Thanksgiving , Christmas and Easter – as well as value-added products like ground meat and sausages. The family markets their turkeys and value-added products under the brand “Scotch Line Turkey Co.”

“We love working with animals and the satisfaction you get from raising healthy turkeys,” says Colin. “It’s very rewarding being able to produce healthy, great tasting food and just being a part of the agricultural community.”

Colin and AmyBeth took over the farm management from Colin’s parents nine years ago, but actually started building a succession plan over 16 years ago. To help things run smoothly, the couple work alongside Colin’s dad, Landis, and employ local part-time students to help them on evenings and weekends. The extra help is particularly valuable since Colin also works off the farm as an insurance broker.

B & B Farms is also a green energy producer. On one of the farm’s smaller outbuildings, the main turkey barn and their house they have three 10-kilowatt  micro-fit solar systems. The family also has a contract to build a larger, 100 kilowatt solar project on a new turkey barn, which they plan on constructing in the near future.

“We are all about green energy,” says Colin.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Previously to raising turkeys, Colin worked as an auto mechanic, however, he insists that he always wanted and planned to be a farmer. AmyBeth, on the other hand, did not initially plan on having a farm-centred life. She went to Wilfrid Laurier University for a degree in music, and York University for a degree in education. She then worked as a teacher for seven years before deciding to stay home in favour of having more time with her family.

“We started home schooling the kids a few years ago. We have a good opportunity to educate our children right here at home” says AmyBeth.

Outside of the farm business, both AmyBeth and Colin are involved in their local church through various committees and programs. The family also likes to travel when time permits, visiting relatives who live as far away as Newfoundland, British Columbia, and many places in between. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the love of food also features prominently in their leisure activities – both AmyBeth and Colin enjoy canning and preserving together, as well as sharing their backyard and turkey products with friends and family.

“It’s the family aspect of this business that makes it special to us,” Colin says.

-30-

The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, 2016, 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. See more at facesoffarming.ca.

More Than Farming: Meet a Nutrient Analyst

MorethanFarming

By Stephanie Vickers, Farm & Food Care

When you want to make an informed decision about choosing a new camera, you go to an electronic store and talk to an expert. When choosing a car, you go to dealership. When making an informed decision about choosing a healthy recipe to make, though, you probably don’t check with an expert — you likely check the nutrition information yourself.

That leaves an information gap. What anonymous expert developed that nutrition information?

Katie Brunke is one of those experts. Her official title is nutrient analyst, and it’s one that Brunke stumbled into during her time at university. 

Brunke found her passion for food and cooking at a young age. Growing up with a twin who had Type I diabetes showed her the impact food can have on someone’s well-being. With that insight, she decided to pursue a career as a registered dietitian (RD).

Brunke started pursuing her career goal by attending Ryerson University in 2010. At the time, she had no idea what a nutrient analyst was, let alone that she would become one herself. During her time at Ryerson, Brunke was the Ryerson student liaison for the Ontario Home Economics Association where she met Mairlyn Smith, who also sat on the association. Mairlyn, a well known professional home economist and Canadian food writer, became Brunke’s mentor and introduced her to nutrient analysis.   

“I started to do nutrient analysis for [Mairlyn] and then through recommendations I gained more clients and it became a thing. I just fell into it really,” Brunke says.

KatieWhiskAs a nutrient analyst, Brunke receives recipes created by her clients to be published in cookbooks or other platforms and finds the nutritional breakdown for that recipe.

To find the nutrient value of a recipe, Brunke standardizes all ingredient measurements and compares them to the Canadian Nutrient File. This file contains the nutrient value for most food ingredients. If Brunke cannot find the ingredient in the Canadian File she will check the American equivalent or hit the grocery store for some product research. By adding together the nutrient value of all the ingredients for a recipe, Brunke comes up with the overall nutrient information. It takes approximately a half hour to an hour to find the nutrient breakdown for one recipe.

I want to inspire people to make healthy food choices, become excited about nutritious foods, as well as build cooking skills and food literacy skills — Brunke

“Sometimes it is really straight forward… and all I have to do is calculate the nutrients for it,” says Brunke. “Other times I could be making the recipe healthy, making adjustments or standardizing the recipe; it completely varies depending on the clients.”

Along with finding the nutrient information of recipes, Brunke also develops her own recipes. Her inspiration comes from fresh, seasonal ingredients and creating straight-forward healthy recipes. She particularly enjoys creating cookie recipes with the goal to making delicious, high-fiber, low sodium, and low fat baked goods.

She contributed two recipes to Homegrown, a cookbook published by Mairlyn, along with completing all of the nutrient analysis for the project.

This autumn, Brunke will move another step closer to becoming a registered dietitian. She has been accepted as an intern with Sunnybrook Hospital, but also hopes to publish her own cookbook in the future.

“I want to inspire people to make healthy food choices, become excited about nutritious foods, as well as build cooking skills and food literacy skills,” she says.

A Day in the Life of…Valleykirk Farms

Rob & Courtney and Courtney the Cow

Rob & Courtney and Courtney the Cow

A Day in the Life captures a morning, afternoon, or entire day of a Canadian farm. This entry highlights the Kirkconnell/Denard family’s day for June 21, 2016. Have a question about a particular farming type or practice? Leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to reach out and connect you!

My name is Courtney Denard and I am proud member of a farm family in Owen Sound, Ontario. Together with my husband Rob Kirkconnell, and his parents Bob and Mary Ann Kirkconnell, we run Valleykirk Farms, a 50-head dairy farm on 160 acres of land.

Rob and Mary Ann were up at 5:30 a.m. this morning (like every morning), and out in the barn milking the cows. It takes about two hours to milk our cows or “do chores” as we farmers like to say. Bob was in charge of delivering our bull calves to the Keady Market this morning so he left the farm around 8:00 a.m., and made his way to the sales barn where a livestock auction is held every Tuesday.

As a farm reporter and agricultural communications specialist, I work from home writing newspaper and magazine articles about the agriculture sector. This morning I had a phone interview about a new project that is placing giant wooden quilts on barns across our county. I’ll spend the rest of my day coming up with new story ideas, contacting people for interviews, and eventually writing articles for my weekly deadline. I might take a break or two to Tweet about our life on the farm or take our puppy, June, for a walk.

Rob came back to the house around 8:30 a.m. and spent some time working on the farm’s accounting books. Most farmers take care of their own financials so this is just one more job that needs to be done on a regular basis.

Rob and the new puppy, June

Rob and the new puppy, June

And because it’s summer, the farm is in its busy haying season so Rob made his way into the tractor at 11 a.m. where he will be cutting hay (kind of like mowing grass but with bigger machines, and we let it dry, then make it into bales) until 4:00 p.m. We’ll take up to three cuts of hay off our fields between June and August and use it to feed our livestock year round.

The cows will need to be milked again at 4:30 p.m., so it will be back to the barn at that time for two more hours. Dinner is usually at 7:00 p.m. but during the busy summer we really have no supper schedule. It could be a quick bite after evening chores or leftovers at 9:00 p.m. on a tailgate in the field. Bedtime at our house is around 11:00 p.m. but once again that depends on what needs to be done. Work trumps sleep when you’re making hay!

If you’d like to follow Rob or me on Twitter please do. Our Twitter handles are @Valleykirkfarms and @CowSpotComm.

Guest Blog: What a Dietetic Intern Learned at a Farm Conference

By Anna Van Osch, Dietetic Intern, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Farm & Food Care Ontario’s Annual Conference and Speaker series. Like everyone else in the room, I was there to learn more about the state of our food system, how to sustain it and what can be done to ensure consumer trust in it. Unlike most people in the audience though, I am not a farmer and have no direct link to the agriculture sector. I am a dietetic intern, working to gain experience so I can write my exam to become a registered dietitian (RD). I usually spend my days in hospitals, with family health teams or other healthcare facilities, so being surrounded by food producers was a change of scenery.

Michael Von MassowDr. Michael von Massow (pictured), with the University of Guelph, quickly made me realize why I was there.

Whether a producer, consumer or somewhere in-between, we all make choices every day that impact our food system. As consumers we have started paying more attention to our food system and asking tougher questions about how the food on our plates is produced.

Interacting with patients (a.k.a. food consumers) on a daily basis I get asked questions like: What’s the difference between conventional, organic and grass fed dairy; what effect will GMO foods or steroids have on my kids; and, why should I buy local?

There is a knowledge gap that exists regarding how we think food is produced and how food is actually produced. Sitting in a room full of farmers whose livelihood depends on having the most up to date knowledge and intimate understanding of farming practises, it may be hard to fathom that millions of Canadians don’t truly understand how their dinner makes it from the field to their fork.

Neither party is at fault for the miscommunication, rather it is a misunderstanding borne of different experiences. Farmers are experts in their field and therefore while they are trying to detail the benefits of antibiotic use in their livestock, some consumers don’t even know what that chicken’s life on the farm actually looks like.  As von Massow said “we’re trying to have a nuanced discussion… we have to start with the basics.”

Be it social media, activist groups, or friends, being aware of where consumers are getting their information can help producers to effectively share their knowledge. Von Massow encouraged producers to look for opportunities to engage with consumers and build a positive relationship so consumers feel comfortable coming to the experts (farmers!) when they have questions. Rather than an “us” and “them” mentality, we have to look for opportunities to engage with the other and listen to their concerns. At this point, I wanted to tell everyone in the room to “talk with me!”

The food production questions RDs are asked every day show that consumers are looking for information about their food system. The danger of the knowledge gap is that even without all the information, consumers can still form opinions. RDs are already providing evidence-based information about the health effects of food. So why not make all our jobs easier by providing RDs with the correct information about farming practises, so we can confidently answer questions about how food production methods impact our health? As von Massow said “a conversation can’t be two monologues,” so let’s close that knowledge gap by opening up the conversation between consumers, producers, and RDs, too.

More than Farming: What’s a crop science regulatory consultant?

By Matt McIntosh

MorethanFarmingWhat career possibilities were you indoctrinated with as a child? Did your parents or others suggest you become a lawyer? A tradesman? Perhaps even an engineer of trains or mechanical design? What about a crop science regulatory consultant?

To that last one, I suspect your answer is no.

I know that, for my own part, I never heard such a title in my younger days. Considering I grew up a farm kid and have been working in agricultural communications for years now, I’m willing to bet very few of my less-agricultural peers have heard of it either.

What is a crop science regulatory consultant you ask? In short, it’s an individual that assists companies in registering new products – insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides for instance – with the government. Governments, as we know, need to regulate things, and registering agricultural products for sale and use within a given political jurisdiction involves long, rigid certification processes – this is particularly true in Canada, which has some of the strictest food safety regulations in the world.

Someone has to know the process, after all, and be willing to complete the associated paperwork.

Continue reading

Day in the life of a dietitian: Common-sense consumption

By Matt McIntosh

MorethanFarmingWant to lose weight, ward off diseases, or avoid growing a third and rather grotesque limb? You’re in luck, because there are plenty of experts out there who would love to help you determine what specific food item is killing you.

The paleo-diet, extreme low-calorie diets, gluten-free choices, carbohydrate cycling, and many other ingestion regiments target specific food groups in an effort to – supposedly – improve your physical and mental longevity. For those not grappling with specific intolerances or food allergies though, such diets don’t necessarily work, and finding credible answers about food and its relation to your health can be a tough slog.

Fortunately, Canada’s 8000 registered dietitians are here to help cut the hogwash. It’s an important role to be sure, and one that Canada is celebrating today with National Dietitians Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jamaican-Canadian farm connection

Donald (Rocky) Deyer has helped bring in the vegetable harvest on this Canadian farm for almost three decades.

Jamaican native Donald (Rocky) Dyer has helped bring in the harvest on this Canadian vegetable farm for almost three decades.

Farmer profile : Jamaican native Donald (Rocky) Dyer started working on a southwestern Ontario vegetable farm when he was just 29 years old. Now 58, he has spent most of his adult life helping with harvest in Canada. Like many seasonal workers, Dyer arrives on the farm in late spring and remains throughout the growing season — about six to seven months each year. Continue reading