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

What it Takes to Create Success for a Small Dairy

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

Keeping a diverse portfolio isn’t a bad thing in the business world, and agriculture is no different. For Rob and Julie Eby, for example, diversification is the cornerstone of their farm business.

The couple live on a small dairy farm near Ayr, Ont., called Pleasant Nook Jerseys on a property near the dairy farm that Rob grew up on. In 2009 Julie’s parents decided it was time to retire, and passed ownership of their dairy herd to Julie and Rob, who are the farm’s fourth generation.

Rob and Julie have three children, Rilee (age 6), Presley (age 4), and Brinkleigh (age 2), and along with their daughters, are the featured faces for the month of December in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar.

 Their dairy herd consists of a mix of 30 Jersey and Holstein cows, a smaller herd by Ontario and Canadian standards, and they maintain 25 acres for hay and pasture land.

The cows are housed in a pack and box-stall barn – the ones located in Ayr, anyway. Pleasant Nook, you see, is actually divided between two locations, one in Ayr and the other further south in Fisherville. Rob explains that, while the farm was originally located in Fisherville, he and Julie are currently discussing moving the entire farm to their Ayr location.

Julie attended Ridgetown College for a general agriculture diploma before taking over the farm, and now she takes care of the farm’s day-to-day operations. Similarly, Rob went to the University of Guelph for agribusiness. And, despite also working as the owner and manager of a nearby farm equipment dealership, he spends a considerable amount of time with their cows during mornings, evenings and weekends.

Milk production, however, is only one part of Pleasant Nook. As Rob explains, his family and Julie’s family are well-known for both dairy cow genetics, and for producing top-notch show cattle.

“We’ve always been involved in showing cattle,” says Rob. “Cattle shows are a hobby, as well as a way to merchandize and get your farm name out there.”

When Rob says his family has “always been involved” with showing cattle, he certainly means it. Just a quick visit to the farm’s website – www.pleasantnook.com  – illustrates that point. They have received numerous awards and countless nominations at a wide range of events – from Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair and the New York Spring Dairy Carousel to smaller local events and 4-H competitions.

The root of the Ebys’ success at shows and other competitions, though, is good genetics. According to Rob, studying bloodlines and pedigrees, as well as good animal husbandry, is what helps his family achieve many of their goals. Rob and Julie incorporate this into their farm business through two methods; striving to make their cattle as attractive and productive as possible, as well as selling embryos and genetic stock to other farmers.

“Small farms can still survive, but sometimes you have to be a little more creative,” says Rob. “You can’t always just rely on milk production.”

As for future plans, both Rob and Julie say they would like to continue moving all the cattle to their Ayr farm, while simultaneously expanding their acreage.

Their children are very involved in figure skating, dance and gymnastics. Because of their involvement with cattle shows, the Ebys have a long tradition of involvement with 4-H as both team members and club leaders. Julie also, when time permits, volunteers at their local preschool.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the couple’s favourite pastime is still spending time with their family on the farm.

“Watching how animals develop is fascinating to us,” says Rob.  “Everything we do is for the love of cattle and the farm life.”

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.

 

 

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.

Family of Nine Featured as June’s Faces of Farming

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care Ontario

Farming has been on Andrew Henderson’s mind for most of his life — or at least since high school. It was at that relatively early point that Andrew realized farming was the career for him. Now, almost 25 years later, Andrew is busy running a successful, enterprising farm while raising a large family.

“After high school I went to Kemptville College for agriculture,” says Andrew. “I graduated in 1998 and have been farming ever since.”

Andrew and his wife Tracey are the sixth generation owners and operators of Kenora Farms — a Spencerville-area dairy farm named after Andrew’s grandparents Ken and Nora. The couple married in 1998, and have seven children: Anna (age 13), Sam (age 11), Lily (age 9), Grace (age 8), and triplets Claire, Kate, and Luke (age 5). Andrew works on the farm full-time, while Tracey, an engineering graduate from Queen’s University, works off the farm as a math and science teacher at a local high school.

Andrew Henderson

Andrew, and his farming family, is featured for the month of June in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar. Now going into its eleventh year, the calendar is published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, and the Henderson’s page is sponsored by Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited.

Kenora Farms has seen a lot of changes and expansions over the years, particularly since Andrew moved home after completing his post-secondary education. At that time, the farm housed 50 Holstein cows in a free-stall barn, and included 300 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture. Since then the number of dairy cows has steadily grown to 160,  as did the farm’s acreage; now, there are about 900 acres of alfalfa, corn and beans under the Kenora Farms banner.

See more about the Faces of Farming calendar here

Kenora Farms has a number of characteristics that help Andrew keep things running smoothly. Andrew’s father Paul is still very involved in the farm’s day-to-day operations, and works on the human resources aspect of the business. In terms of facilities and equipment, a new heifer barn was constructed in 2010, and a robotic milking system was added to the main dairy barn last year. This milking system allows the cows in Andrew’s barn to walk into a stall and be milked – by a robot – whenever they want.

The robot may have been an expensive investment, but it has proven quite valuable to the Henderson family. As Tracey explains, “It frees up more time for [them] to do more things together.”

In the same year the new heifer barn was built, Andrew and his family incorporated a soybean crushing system into their farm. This system crushes and separates soybean seeds into oil and meal, allowing Andrew to supplement some of his cows’ food, and consequently, reduce the amount of money spend on purchasing feed. The leftover soybean oil can also be sold, adding even more value to his family’s soybean crop.

The construction of the new heifer barn and the incorporation of soybean processing machinery even helped Kenora Farms earn a “Producer of the Year” award at the Canadian International Farm Show in 2011.

As a business, Kenora farms has also expanded vertically through the supply chain. It is, for example, one of 1,200 farm companies behind Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. – which is the second-largest dairy co-operative company in Canada – with Andrew himself acting as one of 60 producer delegates. Andrew and his family have also been a part owner of a milk-trucking company for the last few years. Overall, this means they are involved in the production, transportation and processing of their cows’ milk.

0D4A0148aBoxThe Henderson family are also very involved with their local county milk producer committee and Holstein club. All of Andrew and Tracey’s children downhill ski, and play soccer and hockey.

Andrew and Tracey also say they are not too focused on succession planning at this point in time, but will be paying close attention to how the next decade proceeds; that is, they will be looking to see which family members start expressing interest in being the seventh generation of Kenora Farms

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.

A Day in the Life: How a Dairy Farmer Trains for Marathons

By Tom Hoogendoorn, dairy farmer

I am a dairy farmer in British Columbia who decided to take up running. But not just any running — marathon running.

Tom Hoogendoorn1Being a busy dairy guy I thought I had no time to exercise until one day I looked in the mirror and decided I didn’t want to continue to be out of shape. Life is hard enough with out packing extra weight along. So, I started running.

Of course, no self respecting dairy farmer ran in those days (this was 12 years ago). At first, I ran places where no one would see me. I got found out and started running on the local roads. My friends would tease me about it, but in the meantime they secretly admired me. Actually, I think I inspired a few people to take up running. I even had a few farmers run with me over the years.

Being a farmer and an active board member of various organizations I had to make time to run. We milk our cows twice a day at 5 a.m. and 4 p.m . Every morning is also spent doing chores related to caring for our cows and calves. My schedule works best if I run after lunch in the afternoons so I can get back in time for the afternoon milkings. I also will train after milkings in the summer with the longer days and warmer weather. Only problem then is being hungry running by houses and smelling the barbecue!

Tom Hoogendoorn's Farm in British Columbia

Tom Hoogendoorn’s Farm in British Columbia

I dedicate time to my industry as a B.C. milk board member.  We tend to have two board meetings a month as well as a lot of committee meetings, plus meetings in other provinces, so I never go to meetings without my running gear, and try to make time around meetings to get out and run. My motto is NO EXCUSES.

I have seen many beautiful places in the world because of running. I have many great stories about all the people I’ve met during my runs no matter where they are.

I found I love running and being around runners. We are a crazy fun-loving, in-your-face bunch. I feel great, and think it has helped my farming and political career by making my focus much stronger. You need focus to run 26 miles in bad weather all the while smiling through the pain! 

I’d urge all farmers young and old to do something that they enjoy that helps them stay in shape for the long haul. No one has to take running to extremes to enjoy it but everyone benefits by staying in shape. And your kids will love you for it.

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

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

Blogger Spotlight: Jess Campbell of Run, Farm Girl! Run!

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

Jess CampbellMeet Jess Campbell of Bellson Farms near Strathroy, Ontario. She blogs at: runfarmgirlrun.wordpress.com and is also on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.

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

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?
Jess: I began blogging in October 2014. A writer by nature and at heart, I had wanted to start a blog for a long time to foster my writing and create a consistent space to hone my craft. I spent months thinking of the perfect name, the perfect topics to blog about, etc. – basically, a lot of time thinking and planning and no time actually blogging! Then one day, I just jumped in. I took the time to create my blog and set it up the way I wanted so I could start writing again – and I haven’t stopped since.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.
Jess: My husband Andrew and I are proud third generation dairy farmers. We have been farming full time since 2012 with my mother and father-in-law at Bellson Farms, just outside Strathroy, Ontario. We milk 50 Holstein cows twice daily in a newly renovated tie stall barn, and farm about 450 acres of oats, wheat, corn, hay and soybeans. Most of that turns into feed for the cows but a small portion gets sold as cash crop.

IMG_5655_smRealDirt: What brought you into farming?
Jess: Andrew and I began farming full time in 2012. Before then, we had been living in Wingham and then in London, Ontario, working full time – me in Human Resources and Andrew in marketing and communications. Andrew was born and raised on the farm but had initially pursued a career in radio (which is where we met). But after Andrew and I had been working and doing our own thing for a couple of years, we started considering the possibility of moving back to his home to farm. We had been helping out on weekends now and again, and it was just really great to get out of the city, be around the family and the cows, etc. Now, I should tell you that I am not a born-and-raised farm girl. I lived in the country as a kid and was in the local 4-H horse club but I didn’t grow up on a large scale farming operation like my husband did. So when we started talking seriously about moving back to the farm, I was excited – and more than a bit nervous. I had no idea what it took to be a farmer and, to be honest, wasn’t sure I could do it! But I trusted in what I knew and in my husband and his family, and in the fall of 2009, we moved back to the farm and began the process of succession planning. We’ve since created a strong partnership, one that benefits and supports the farm and our families.

RealDirt: Who do you farm with and what is everyone’s role?
Jess: As I mentioned, Andrew and I farm with my mother and father-in-law, Phyllis and Wayne Campbell. They started Bellson Farms back when Andrew was just a baby, having purchased the farm from Phyllis’ parents, Alex and Reta Johnson. We live in the same house that both my husband and my mother-in-law grew up in!

Bellson Farms consists of 450 acres across three different farms. A year and a half ago, Andrew, myself (very pregnant with our second child) and our daughter Isabella moved from the dry cow and heifer farm to the main farm where our dairy barn and cows are located, and where Wayne and Phyllis had lived for almost 30 years. This was a very big deal, switching houses – it’s not often that you have to move two families into the opposite house, in one day, for each to have a place to sleep at the end of it all! Moving day was a little wild but, with many helping hands of family and friends, it went better than we could have expected.

Since moving to the main farm, we have undergone a major barn renovation and addition. We added a new tie stall barn onto the existing barn (which is over 100 years old) that is 180 feet long. Where we had room for only 30 cows before, we now have room for 60 cows, and are currently milking about 50.

Andrew gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to start chores. This includes feeding and milking cows plus feeding calves, and takes about four hours to complete from start to finish. Wayne and Phyllis come from their farm to ours each morning to help with chores; but first, they do their own chores, which involve feeding dry cows and heifers.

Wayne and Andrew run our cow program and are responsible for breeding, vet care, foot care, nutrition, milking, etc. As well, they do much of the field work – cultivating, planting, harvesting, etc. With this, they also get help from Phyllis and from Grampa Johnson. Grampa, who is Phyllis’ father, is 85 years young and farms with us three days a week doing things like spreading manure, bedding cows or working ground. Phyllis is responsible for our calf program and is in charge of the feeding and nutrition of our calves as well as breeding and genetics. Phyllis also does the farm’s books with help from our chartered accountants.

I help out anywhere I can. I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because of my daily responsibilities in the house (cooking, cleaning, etc.), and of course, caring for and raising our two children. Isabella is three and Cash is one, and as any mother knows, that’s a full time job in itself! Often, the kids and I will go out to the barn during evening chores so I can help with small, quick items that need to be done and the kids can help Gramma, Grampa or Daddy with their chores. For example, it’s Bella’s job to feed the barn cats and so that’s the first thing she does when she gets to the barn. Cash is still pretty new to walking and so toddles along with me or one of the other adults, “overseeing” the work being done. 

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: Farming is hard work. That may seem obvious to some but until you are actually farming, it’s difficult to understand what that really means. Our cows have to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Our calves, heifers and dry cows must be fed and tended to as well, each and every day. That’s a big commitment, and we definitely have to plan our lives around it. But I love that. I love having that commitment and that schedule to guide us every day. I love the rhythm and the structure that exists when milking cows.

What I love the most about farming, though, is that it teaches great lessons. Responsibility. Respect. Time management. Humility. Hard work. Commitment. Trust. Whether you’re working land as a cash crop farmer, raising beef, pork, chicken or eggs, milking cows or goats or something else in between – farming will teach you these lessons whether you want to learn them or not. But you become a better farmer, and a better person, because of them.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: The biggest challenge for me, personally, is feeling like a contributing member of the farm. As I mentioned, I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because I am the caretaker for our two young children. And while I truly cherish my time with the kids, I sometimes feel badly that I can’t help out more. I’m sure other farm moms will understand this feeling!

The biggest challenge for us as a farm business varies depending on the time of year, really. During planting and harvest, the challenge is weather. Other times, the challenge is quota and whether we were able to purchase any that month or not (this is important given that we are still in a growth stage and want to milk more cows). It was quite a challenging time during the barn renovations but now, the cows love the barn and are very comfortable there, as are we.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?
Jess: When I’m not farming or blogging, I’m either writing or running. I am a freelance writer and have written all types of pieces geared to many different industries (i.e. fitness, business, technology, music). The other part of my blog, Run, Farm Girl! Run, is to speak to my experiences as a runner. I have been running on and off for over 10 years, and I really do love it. So I run as much as I can, given our chores and family schedules, and write about the both the challenges and miracles of running and being a runner.
I also love to bake (I have award-winning bread, cookie, brownie and lemon bar recipes to my name), get lost in a great book (I’m a member of my library’s book club), or keep up with the Kardashians on the PVR (yes, it’s my guilty pleasure, I’ll admit it!).

IMG_5634_smRealDirt: What is one message you’d like to share about what you do?
Jess: My blog is still fairly new and so to keep it consistent, I’ve developed a weekly feature post that I call Farm Fridays. Every Friday, I blog about something to do with our farm or with agriculture in general. I’ve covered topics ranging from our farm dog, Winnie, to how Monsanto and sunshine is essentially the same thing. The overall message that I try to include in every Farm Friday post, however, is for the consumer to educate themselves about both sides of the farming/ag story before making a decision about what they think they know. There is SO much inaccurate, sensationalized misinformation out there, all geared towards scaring consumers into boycotting this or only buying that. It can be difficult for consumers to sift through all of that and find solid, science-based, factual information about where their food comes from and what’s in it. So I encourage people to ask questions and make as informed a decision as possible, no matter whether that decision is to go vegan or drink milk or not eat hot dogs. Knowledge is power, as they say, and that’s no different when it comes to knowing about your food and where it comes from.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?
Jess: To new farmers, I would encourage them to be the kind of farmer who consumers can ask question of and learn good lessons from. Consumers care about their food, the treatment of animals and how their food is grown so it is imperative for farmers to be ready, willing and able to answer questions about those things.

Be sure to check out Jess’ blog: runfarmgirlrun.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.