The special care nursery

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Sometimes when an animal is born, it may need a little bit of extra care to get going, just like some babies need more care than others.  For whatever reason (they may have been born early, been a multiple birth, or been slow to nurse), they end up needing extra attention, and sometimes, extra warmth.

Since we had a mixture of dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep and goats on our farm growing up, we also had a variety of experiences with these special animals.  During a barn check, we would go out, and occasionally notice a newborn animal that was weaker than the others.  Since the weak ones always seem to be born during cold weather, the barn that other newborn animals found comfortable was too cold for the weak newborns.

We had a system at our house to nurse these animals back to health.  During the late winter and early spring, we would create a special care area where we knew the small, young animals would be warm and watched very carefully.  As soon as we had one which we were worried about, we would wrap it in blankets, towels, our coats, or anything else that was handy, and off we would go.  To where?  The kitchen, of course!

Our house was divided years ago, and actually has two kitchens: one for Grandma and one for us.  Our kitchen had a wood stove which kept it nice and toasty warm, while Grandma’s kitchen was always warm from the oven and stove being on.  We would find a cardboard box in the basement which was the right size for our newest addition to the farm, and fill it with blankets and towels.  Then, we would dutifully place the box in one of the two kitchens, and the family would be notified about our house guest. 

Since Grandma was semi-retired and later then retired, she would take care of the animals while we were in the barn.  When we were in the house, all of us would take turns.  We kept colostrum in the freezer in different sized containers, so there was always some ready to be thawed and warmed.  Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mammary gland of a cow after calving. It is a rich source of nutrients, fats and antibodies. Feeding colostrum to the calf is critical in the first hours of life as it provides essential nutrients and infection-fighting antibodies to the newborn. If the animal was strong enough to drink on its own, we would feed it using a bottle.  If not, we used a syringe to squirt small amounts of milk at a time into the animal’s mouth. 

Besides feeding the animals milk, we would move them around in the box and rub them with blankets, towels, or our hands from time to time to make sure their circulation was okay.  It was a big job whenever one of these needy animals was born, but it had to be done, and we did not complain.  We would even set our alarms to go off in the middle of the night when the animals would need more milk.

At one time, I remember there being several lambs who were from multiple births and whose mothers did not have enough milk for and a tiny, premature calf in Grandma’s kitchen.  This was not a common thing…most of the animals born are healthy, and their mothers can care for them from the start.  Often there were no animals in the house at all.
We would always become quite attached to these animals, and they would become attached to us, too.  In most cases, within a few days they were strong enough to rejoin the herd.  Sometimes, the animals would not make it.  Whenever this happened, the whole family would try and think of what more we could have done.  We always hated those days.  We had tried as hard as we could, but that specific little one just was not strong enough.

Farming is full of good days and bad.  We never know what to expect when we wake up in the morning, but some of the best days are when you see the special nursing and attention given to an animal pay off, and a formerly sick animal become healthy again.

A taste of farm freshness

Guest Blog by Jeanine Moyer

Jeanine was raised on a pig, beef cattle and crop farm in Ontario

Each seasonal change evokes an awakening of the senses. And nothing beats the arrival of spring and summer to make a person salivate over fresh spring greens and sweet berries. I never realized how lucky I was to grow up on a farm where we grew most of our own fruit and vegetables until I didn’t have a garden of my own to enjoy. Continue reading

Power's out!

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Storms have always filled me with awe.  I love sitting, safe and secure, in my house or in the barn while the wind howls around us,  snow or rain coming down with no end in sight.  There is always one big fear with storms, though:  what if the power goes out?

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Spring on the farm

by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong dairy farmer and agricultural advocate

I always found, growing up, one of the hardest questions to answer was “what’s your favourite season?”  I loved them all!  As each change in the seasons came, I would look forward to the change with anticipation. 

Scenes like this may still be a few weeks away but we're already looking forward to them!

Spring, to me, meant a time for new life.  Not only in the barn, either.  Dairy cows have calves year round, which is why we have a steady supply of milk in the grocery stores.  Other animals, like beef cows, sheep and meat goats, have most of their young during the late winter and spring months.  I have always loved driving down the road in the spring, and seeing the young animals out on pasture.  It is a sight that will make me smile every time, no matter how often I see it. Continue reading

Late winter days on the farm

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Although it seems there is not much to do in the winter on a farm, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work which people don’t think about.  Many people realize the animals still need to be cared for…that is a given.  But, as winter draws to a close, it is the start of calving season for many beef farmers, kidding season for goat farmers, and lambing season for sheep farmers.  Winter days in the barn can bring some extra jobs, as well.  Water bowls can freeze, straw can become wet even faster than normal because of the snow and animals that graze at other times during the year need supplemental feed. Continue reading

Sweat like a Pig? Not likely!

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

It’s a hot, sunny summer day, and pigs are all out wallowing in the mud, happy as could be.  Or are they? 

Pigs, when housed outdoors, will use mud to keep cool if necessary.  They lack sweat glands (making it impossible to “sweat like a pig”), so the only way they can cool themselves is by getting moisture on their skin which can than evaporate and create a cooling effect.  Mud would work for this cooling effect, as does water.

Although pigs are normally associated with messes (“your room is a pig sty” probably being the most common example), they actually like clean environments to live in.  Pigs are quite comfortable living in a clean, dry barn with adequate supplies of food and water. Continue reading

Winter – farm style

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Winters are hard, no matter what your job is.  Growing up on a farm, winter meant being outside even on the nastiest of days.  We always knew there would be extra chores in the barn that could include such “glamorous” tasks as thawing out water lines, chipping ice off of the free stall floors so cows didn’t slip and putting extra straw down for the animals who were outside.  Sometimes it was lunch time before we even got in for breakfast, or we would have to go in when there were still a few jobs to do to thaw out and find warmer or drier clothes, then leave the comfort of the house to brave the elements again.

Continue reading

A Sad Day on Haley Farms – guest blog

Today, with permission from Mike Haley of West Salem, Ohio, we’re reprinting a piece he just recently posted on his blog titled “A Sad Day on Haley Farms” .  The blog gives a great insite into the work that livestock farmers do, daily, to care for their animals – although as the piece so poignantly tells, sometimes even a family’s best efforts aren’t enough.

On a related note, this week we were also impressed to see a lot of Facebook postings related to the crazy, cold Canadian winter weather we’ve been experiencing. The status updates of many of our farmer friends read: “BREAKING NEWS: There will be no farms closed/shut down due to the ongoing BLIZZARD. Each and every farmer will be out in the blistery, cold, blowing wind and heavy snowfall tending to their livestock. They will be praying for machinery to work and non-frozen water pipes. If you know or LOVE a farmer, re-post!” Amen to that.

You can read more of Mike’s blogs at or you can follow him on Twitter at @farmerhaley. Again, thanks to him for permission to reprint this blog.

A Sad Day on Haley Farms
Posted on February 3, 2011 by Mike Haley

Sorry to say but this blog post will have no smiles or happy pictures as I am writing it on a sad note.  On our farm we strive to keep our cattle content, happy and healthy.  People ask at times about how we feel about the livestock in our care and today’s experience is a good illustration even if this is tough to put down on the blog. If there is a calf that appears to be feeling under the weather, we know that we need to take action right away to make him/her feel better otherwise the calf’s health may continue to go downhill and reach a point that we can no longer help it. Continue reading

Why do many farm animals live indoors?

 By Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

I have heard a lot of questions about why farm animals are housed indoors, and mention that it would be more natural for them to be housed outside.  There are a lot of reasons why animals are housed indoors, and all have welfare implications.

Barns provide a controlled climate for animals and birds.  There are significant weather variations in Canada from one season to the next, and not all animals will thrive at all temperatures.  Beef cows can be quite content outdoors in the middle of winter, provided they have a windbreak and shelter to use during storms, and a food source available. 

Pigs, on the other hand, would not do well outside at these temperatures.  Even in the hardiest species, piglets born outdoors during the winter would be at high risk for injuries due to cold such as frostbite.  The high summer temperatures some regions of Canada experience are also uncomfortable for many animals.

Barns protect farm animals during extreme cold or warm weather conditions.