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.

Cloudy skies? No worries. Farmers use technology to take bad weather in stride

By Matt McIntosh

Cloudy skies- No worries.Not so long ago, the beginning of the spring planting season was upon us, and many farmers in Southwestern Ontario were gearing up to plant corn as soon as they could. Weeks later and much to their disappointment, though, some farmers still don’t have any seeds in the ground.

Yes, it’s been one of those years for some farm families; although not particularly disastrous, cool and wet weather in various parts of the province this spring meant some grain farmers were not able to plant their corn crop at the most ideal time. That means a shorter growing season, or a smaller window of time for plants to grow and mature before the return of our famous –and infamous – Canadian winter.

Less-than-ideal weather is an age-old problem for farmers, however, and we’ve learned how to use modern technology to adapt to changing environments.

Corn, for example, comes in many varieties, each with different traits making it better at different things. Using our modern understanding of genetics, some farmers – when faced with the prospect of a shorter growing season due to cold, wet spring weather – trade the seeds they originally wanted to plant with other varieties that requires less time to grow.

It’s all about “Crop Heat Units” and “Growing Degree Days,” you see.

Crop Heat Units and Growing Degree Days, in a roundabout way, refer to the amount of time a plant needs at a specific temperature to grow and mature properly. Different crops, and different varieties of the same crop, can require different temperatures for a different number of days. In the case of this year’s corn crop, for example, a farmer planning on sowing a corn variety requiring lots of time at a higher temperature might have decided to trade his seeds for one needing less time at a lower temperature.

The trade-off, however, is that varieties requiring less time and heat to grow have a tendency to not produce as much grain. That is to say, if a variety requiring fewer hot days was compared in ideal growing conditions to one that required more hot days, the former would produce smaller corn cobs or fewer kernels.

Given how many things factor into successfully growing crops, though, it’s still possible for varieties requiring a shorter growth period to produce more. Indeed, if the growing conditions are ideal, it’s very possible the more cold-hardy plant will out-produce its more warmth-inclined cousins.

However, it’s impossible for farmers to know exactly what will happen weather-wise. Every grower is a weatherman in some form or another, and as we all know, even the professionals on television make wrong predictions every now and again.

When it comes down to it, growing grains, vegetables, fruits and other crops really is a gamble with Mother Nature, but technology helps minimize risk in a number of ways. Take examples like climate controlled environments in greenhouses, the use of fungicide to control leaf blight, or the incorporation of giant orchard fans to help fruit farmers try to keep deadly spring frosts at bay. All these things, and so many more, help give farmers an edge in creating a more beneficial growing environment for their crops.

Regardless of what Southwestern Ontario grain farmers have thrown at them, though, something always grows. While some years are definitely better than others, technology helps us ensure there’s always a crop of some kind – and that’s an important thing to remember when planting prospects still look cloudy.

The old adage often repeated – so I’m told – by my great grandmother Isabelle might be a useful reminder here. Indeed, “there’s always a planting season.”

Old man winter is coming – are you and your animals ready?

by Jean L Clavelle

Here in the west, most people feel cheated by this year’s short summer.  Snow arrived early last fall and then stuck around far longer than we all felt it should have this spring.  However, whether we like it or not , winter is fast approaching!  For the average Joe this means blowing out the sprinklers, finding those extension cords, and winterizing your house.  Not only do producers need to do all of those things, they also need to worry about getting their animals ready for winter too.Winter Cows PIC

There are a few key items on producers’ checklist each fall to ensure they optimize herd health and reproduction in the winter.

Continue reading

Livestock on the road – how you can help in an accident

By Jean Clavelle

Wtransport PICell, it’s that time of year.  Cattle are coming home from pasture, calves are being weaned and sent to feedlot and horse enthusiasts are enjoying the last few pleasant riding days left of the season.  No one plans to have one, but accidents do happen especially when animals are involved.  And whether you are the one involved in a motor vehicle accident or an innocent bystander it’s important to know what to do and how you can help when livestock are on the loose.

The top 5 things you need to know about livestock in an emergency:

  1. Livestock do not understand lights and sirens mean pullover.  This will definitely not make them stop.
  2. When an animal feels cornered, it will fight or try to run.
  3. Livestock view us as predators and their natural instinct is to flee from predators.
  4. Prey animals are herd animals and become extremely agitated when isolated or separated from other animals.  Single animals are extremely dangerous animals.
  5. Once livestock are excited or scared it will take at least 20 to 30 minutes to calm them back down. Continue reading

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

by Kim Waalderbos

Winter season on a farm adds a different dynamic to daily chores. Just like we get bundled up for outdoor adventures, the colder temperatures mean farmers must pay extra attention to animals, barns and equipment to keep everything warm and comfortable.

When the thermometer starts to dip, farmers can be found topping up stalls and pens with extra snuggly bedding, adding more food and milk in the pails and feed bunks, or adjusting their barn ventilation to keep fresh – but not cold – air circulating.

Winter on a farm brings with it a need to take extra precautions with the animals living on it – including maintaining comfortable temperatures inside barns on cold, snowy days.

Farm machinery and plumbing isn’t immune to cold weather. When the cold winds start howling there are farmers out thawing frozen water pipes, chipping off stubborn strings to open feed bales, and coaxing along tractors and silo unloaders that aren’t cold friendly. Animals still need to be fed and watered, and possibly milked, despite the temperature outside.

Snow is inevitable in a Canadian winter. For animals that enjoy getting their exercise outdoors on warmer days and frolicking in the snow, farmers will often build windbreaks with trees or wooden fences to keep the wind at bay. Farmers might dress newborn animals up in warm ‘coats’ or add muffs to cover ears to prevent frost bite. Snow is like the gift that keeps on giving as farmers clear laneways with each new dumping of white stuff. Even if schools and offices are closed, farmers still need to get the milk truck, feed truck and other time-sensitive deliveries to and from the farm regardless of weather conditions.

With winter storms comes a higher risk of power outages. On the farm, someone is likely headed out to dig out and hook up a generator in the dark all in an effort to keep water pumps running for the animals, ensure fans, heaters and automatic feeders are on (especially for smaller animals like chickens), and the milk stays cold in the tank.

Once the chores are done, it’s fun to enjoy winter’s wonderland on the farm – whether it’s sledding across fields, building snowmen or other snow-critters, or enjoying a hot chocolate while watching the sun come up over a snow-capped barn with critters nestled warm inside.

The Woes of Heavy Clay

By Patricia Grotenhuis

When you are on a farm, there are good days, bad days, and days that look like they might turn bad but in the end are good.  In a job that is completely dependent on weather, animals, and crops, things do not always go as planned.

I had a several-day stretch recently where I was supposed to be helping my parents take photos of their dairy and veal farm, my brother’s beef farm, and my sister’s sheep farm. The goal was to make a nice presentation that they can use to explain their farming practices to customers.  Things went well at the dairy and sheep farms.  I was happy with the photographs I had taken, and was thinking the hardest part of the job would be selecting my favourites.  Then, I arrived at my brother’s farm. Continue reading

Temperature fluctuations a worry for livestock farmers

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

This winter we are experiencing unseasonal temperatures and large temperature fluctuations in our area.  People often comment on how variable temperatures can affect their health.  Did you know the same is true for animals? Continue reading

Christmas on the farm as a child

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Christmas morning. The kids wake up early, rush downstairs, see the presents and stockings that appeared through the night and promptly…walk right past, bundle up and head for the barn. Okay, we may have stopped for a quick peek in our stocking and to read Santa’s note, but that was it. To farm kids, waiting to open presents is a way of life. Continue reading

Fall season on the farm

 By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Fall is a great time to be on the farm.  The smells, the colours and the activity of harvest and preparing the seed bed for the winter make every day different. 

After months of work, it is finally time to harvest the crops. The animals born during the winter and spring months are also either ready to be sold, or are strong and hardy for winter.  Everyone waits expectantly for that first frost (now past) that signals the end of the growing season and the start of harvest.  It also serves as a friendly reminder from Mother Nature to begin readying barns for winter.  Continue reading

Hot summer days on the farm

by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Hot summer days are part of the routine for all of us.  For some, it means a chance to relax by a pool, or to enjoy it from the comfort of air conditioning.  Those options do not work for our farm animals, so what do farmers do to help them?  Continue reading