An egg farmer examines hen housing

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

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

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

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

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Canadian Women in Ag

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

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

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

Touring Ontario’s Hills of the Headwaters region

collage one Landman farmGuest blog by Carol Harrison, Registered Dietitian

Pigs. They are as cute as a button then smack, that Eau De Pig Cologne hits you. It’s a linger on your nostril hair smell that should do anything but conjure up fond childhood memories.

Here I was on a sunny day in May at Landman Gardens and Bakery in Grand Valley just one hour north of Toronto with a media tour in the Hills of the Headwaters region and I had completely forgotten until this stinky pig poop moment that an older cousin of mine once had a pig farm in this very region, Orangeville to be exact.

While others marched on towards the chicken coop tweeting away, I stood still, my mind miles and years away smelling the hay we played in, remembering how cool it was to see vegetables still on the plants, gorging from a table crowded blue and white Corningware casserole dishes while listening to the Irish brogue of my aunts and uncles tell stories.

chicken coop shot - headwatersOne smell and it all came back. And as corny as this sounds, the tourism campaign slogan, The Headwaters, where Ontario gets real, rang true. This was for me where I got real rural experiences as a kid and I had completely forgotten I had any connection to this part of the province.

If you have an on-farm market or agri-tourism business you likely offer people similar unexpected joyful experiences. It’s offering experiences that connect people to where and how their food is produced that drove 25 year old Rebecca Landman to start Landman Gardens and Bakery. She also wanted to be close to home to support her mom during cancer treatments. Continue reading

Barn fires are devastating to all involved

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

barn fire 4a

Stock photo

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

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

Farming with a focus on learning

By: Matt McIntosh

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

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

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.

The Top 6 Roundup

We thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on The Real Dirt on Farming Blog in 2015. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#6: Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Hi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn. Today on our farm…READ MORE Continue reading

Different areas, same challenges

By Matt McIntosh

In September, I had a chance to visit Alberta for the first time since I was a child, and while there, I visited a few farms in conjunction with the annual conference of the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation.

I come from farm country in Southwestern Ontario, and the diversity between farms in my own province is staggering; the level of diversity between farms at home and out west is even more intriguing. The funny thing is, farmers all seem to encounter similar problems and find similar solutions despite what they produce, where they produce it and on what scale. 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