Guest blog by Rudi Spruit, dairy farmer
Rudi Spruit is a student at the University of Guelph and wrote this response to an article that appeared in the university’s newspaper, The Ontarion.
About four weeks ago, I read an article in The Ontarion about Meatless Monday. As an agriculture student at the University of Guelph, I take a keen interest in anything agriculture-related, especially if it is published in the University of Guelph’s independent student newspaper.
I can see some reasoning behind Meatless Monday, including some health benefits. I don’t know this for a fact, but with the obesity rate where it is in the United States, I can see how eating less protein and more veggies might help the North American diet.
The concern I have is in some of the wording used. The one problem that set me off with this article was the writer’s lack of understanding about farming in Ontario, evidenced when she mentions, “Others are concerned with animal cruelty; by opting for a vegetarian diet, individuals show they no longer support the conditions many factory farm animals are raised in.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Meatless Monday campaign does nothing to help animal welfare. The concern with animal cruelty is great to everyone, especially farmers. Farmers choose to work with animals because they enjoy it. Caring for animals properly is a matter of doing the right thing. Contented animals are also more productive animals and lead to higher quality food products. Like any animal owners, farmers must also follow laws for humane treatment, and neglect and abuse of animals of any kind (pets or livestock) is against the law.
In Canada, 98 per cent of all farms are still family owned and operated. It is true that farms are bigger than they used to be, but they’ve had to accommodate a growing world population and a declining farm population.
Fifty years ago, one in three Canadians farmed. Today, it’s one in 47, yet Canadians still want affordable, local food, so we need to produce more – and more efficiently – if we’re going to feed our growing population.
Let me tell you about my family’s dairy farm. We’re the proud caretakers of 370 cows who live in the barn throughout most of the year. There is a reason for that – and that reason will hit us all in about two months: winter. Cows don’t like it. We keep them in the barn for the same reason your pets live in the house: for comfort, fresh feed, fresh water, and safety.
In the summer, cows are often too hot and a lot of them, if outside, could risk facing heat stress and death. So our barn is designed to cool those animals down. Even when they are given a choice of going outside, they pick the barn 98 per cent of the time.
Larger farms came about because approximately 100 years ago, half of the population farmed, whilst now only two per cent do. That means two per cent of the population feeds the remaining 98 per cent. To do that, farms have to get more efficient at producing quality product in large quantities with minimal labor input.
My grandfather milked 60 cows with the help of his family of nine, which created enough income for one family. Today, my dad milks 200 cows with my mom and no other help except for the occasional weekend assistance by me, which creates enough income for all of us.
Today, there are tens of thousands of Canadian farmers like my dad, providing the same amount of care, with the same amount of detail and the same amount of animal welfare. Most farmers care greatly for their animals and take the utmost pride and care in their animals. If you have any questions about the modern food system and animal agriculture do not hesitate to contact Farm & Food Care Ontario. It’s an organization created to answer the public’s questions about their food and farming supplies.
Also, if you want to enter a modern farm facility without leaving your desk, just visit Farm & Food Care’s website at www.virtualfarmtours.ca to tour a number of Ontario farms, including dairy farms like mine.