A turkey farmer’s voice: How much do you want to know about turkey farming?

By Clair Doan, turkey farmer

As a turkey farmer it is important to be able to share our family farm story. Talking about how we grow and care for our turkeys is important to me because I am proud of what we do and, most of all, love eating turkey with my family. With the likes of social media,  it is not hard to be a part of the conversation or see the many posts about our birds and farm. However, last night I took the opportunity to view the W5 program on CTV called “Fowl Business” where our industry has been criticized for our handling of live turkeys from the farm to plate, mostly through the shackling and live stunning process at slaughter. My initial reaction was more mixed than I had anticipated, given our industry is directly impacted by consumer perceptions and influenced by media — perhaps there was some truth to this story.

I encourage you to watch this footage where the program relies on a “whistle blower” from Mercy for Animals, an organization whose main purpose is to convert people to veganism. I could focus on the inaccuracies and clear bias presented by this organization (as there were many). W5 counterbalanced this with the famous Temple Grandin. I could focus on the food itself and how consumers connect to their meals which I think is more effective, long term. As a farmer, the company implicated in the report was Lilydale, a Sofina Foods owned company, a sister firm to the buyer of most of our birds.

To clarify a couple of points first: I take great issue with undercover employees, with direct motives to identify irregularities in meat processing systems while knowingly being supported by Mercy For Animals. As well, the Lilydale employee, who was referenced a number of times, should most certainly be reprimanded and I am sure no longer works for the firm based on his actions and general lack of concern for the animals. However, in reality, we are always looking for the exception where rules are broken and people are not respecting the care and compassion for the animals.

Photo credit: Clair Doan

Photo credit: Clair Doan

The reality is the entire meat sector suffers from a similar crisis — their business of transforming a living animal into food, which for most part, people, is not a nice process to watch! Sure, we all love the end product on the BBQ, but connecting consumers to where their food comes from stops short of the animal leaving the farm.

Even as a farmer, after my turkeys are loaded off the truck, it is truly not my responsibility to what happens to them afterwards. What I do consider is ensuring that as close to 100% of the birds and meat were of superior quality as possible. As turkey farmers, I have personally undergone safe handling and loading of turkeys. We employ on-farm food safety protocols, which include all animals be respected and those suffering must be immediately and humanly euthanized on farm.

Recently, farm commodity boards have asked farmers to share their stories, to bring consumers, the media and influencers to their farm to share real stories of the people that truly care about our food system. I truly believe that we have a great story to tell on farm, but it begs the question, how much information is enough and how much is too much?

As a farmer, my primary goal is to raise healthy and productive turkeys. I do everything possible to maintain a positive environment for them including, fine-tuned nutrition, safe housing, ample bedding and medication, if it is required. The last thing I like seeing on my farm are sick or dead birds. So when it comes to slaughtering the turkeys, it is a difficult sight to watch. I don’t like blood in general and there are different sights, smells, movement and noises that come with the slaughter and processing of livestock. So like other consumers, the slaughter part of food production is never talked about, let alone seeing video footage of this stage. To me, the “Fowl Business” highlights the fact that living animals die for us to eat them, regardless of the perceived mishandling.

This past April, I had the privilege of visiting the largest turkey processors in Germany. It is estimated that 60,000 turkeys are handled per day, which equates to the entire Canadian production in about seven months at this one facility. Through using controlled atmospheric stunning, the facilities operated with utmost efficiency. When I spoke to the marketing manager, I asked “What message do you want me leaving the visit with?” His response was simple, that we value animal welfare from farm to plate and that their facility employs the latest technology which promotes efficient output of quality meat products. The visit in Germany left me with one on the most positive feelings regarding turkey meat, in that it was not a stomach turning, ethically questioning experience!

As an industry, I am interested to learn how Lilydale/Sofina will react to this news report, at the same time look forward to an overall industry reaction as I do believe it may be turkey today, but can easily be hogs or beef or chicken tomorrow. Yet at the same time, as a farmer, I am proud of our accomplishments on farm, yet we will only be successful in the future if we are part of an entire value chain that is effective at communicating our standards and expectations to all consumers, at the same time respecting their potential views on humane treatment of animals through the entire lifecycle.

The CTV show W5 called “Fowl Business” continues to irritate me by relying animal rights group spies and unfortunate employees that either lack training and demonstrate unacceptable behaviours to speak about the humane issues of turkey. At the same time there are reasons we pay for Canadian Food Inspection Agency, work within organized marketing boards, and abide by every increasing animal welfare protocols on farm that must work as succinct systems. I willingly continue to share our farm story in efforts of helping connect people with their food. Unfortunately delivering the message around the transformation from alive to dead is a difficult story to comprehend, but we must remember our food story does not end at the farm nor start at the grocery store.

This blog post first appeared on www.clairdoan.com

2015 Faces of Farming calendar features Dunnville turkey farmer for July

By Resi Walt

Brian, Silken, Theo, and Eli Ricker’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Brian, Silken, Theo, and Eli Ricker’s Faces of Farming calendar page

(Dunnville) – If you ask Brian Ricker’s children what they want to be when they grow up, they will tell you without hesitation, “A farmer, just like my dad.” It’s easy to see how much they look up to their father, and that Brian Ricker is a farmer with a big heart.

In 2015, Brian and his three youngest children, Silken, Theo and Eli appear in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page (July) is sponsored by the Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Although raised on a dairy farm, Brian credits his start in turkey farming to his friend and mentor – John Delane. The two met in the early 1990’s and Brian eventually bought John’s turkey farm from him. Continue reading

Drawing parallels: farm methods and human health

By Brent Royce, Guest blogger

For those who have followed me on Twitter (@brfarms09) you might have heard me complain over the last few years about my neck issues. This problem has given me the ability to draw many comparisons between our two different approaches to medicine in Ontario, that being the conventional system and the naturopathic one, and how we care for our livestock and land.

The first time I was convinced to try alternative medicine I said “yeah right” but went because of the ‘yes dear’ syndrome. I came home with a different perspective about it because their approach is basically the same as I farm…

Whether in the field or the barn, I look at the big picture of what is going on and if something doesn’t seem quite right I fix the issue and then figure out why it happened. I guess you could also call this a proactive approach. This starts long before I place a flock of birds in my barn or put a seed in the ground. Continue reading

Questions about animal and food production – answered!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Food Care Saskatchewan

 

I was really excited to take part in Farm and Food Care Ontario’s twitter party a few weeks ago to promote the launch of their latest venture – ”Real Dirt on Farming”.  This is a booklet designed to answer all of your questions about farming and food production in Canada.  It is the real dirt so to speak on everything from livestock to crops to horticulture. It was great to see so many questions from all of you and how interested you were in how your food is grown.  The sad part was that it ended way too soon, and there was so much more to share!  On that note I would like to answer some questions about food production to make your decisions about food purchases easier.

Eggs with darker coloured yolks are healthier.  There are actually no nutritional differences between eggs with different coloured yolks.  The colour of the yolk is dependent on what a hen eats.  Any diet for hens that includes a compound called xanthophylls will result in a darker yolk. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet (more common in western Canada and low in xanthophylls) will produce an egg that has a pale yellow yolk. Hens that eat a corn-based diet (most common in Ontario and higher in xanthophylls) will produce eggs with darker yellow yolks.  This is also why free range eggs tend to be darker in the summer because hens will eat grasses or alfalfa which have higher xanthophyll levels.

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

Eggs with brown shells are better because they are more expensive!  Ummm, no.  There are no nutritional differences between eggs with white shells and eggs with brown shells.  Eggs with brown shells come from different breeds of chickens.  But then why do brown eggs cost more?  Well that’s because the breed that produces brown eggs is a larger bird and requires more feed to lay one egg.  Brown eggs are more expensive simply because it costs more to grow them.

Conventional milk produced in Canada is raised with hormones.  Not so!  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle.  It regulates growth and lactation in cattle and has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST otherwise known as rBST is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10 to 15%.  The problem however is that it may also increase the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows which is why Health Canada has not approved it for use in dairy production here.  So what that means for you is that no milk, cheese or yogurt (conventional or organic) comes from cows given rBST. Continue reading

Faces of Farming – July

By Kelly Daynard

Deslippe familyFarming is one of the few careers that often spans generations of family members all sharing an unwavering commitment to the land and their livestock. Rochelle Deslippe of Amherstburg, in Essex County, is one such example.

Their family farm was started by her grandfather, Earl, in the 1930′s when he began a small hatchery raising turkeys. The farm was eventually taken over by Earl’s two sons, Jerome and Paul. Today, Jerome’s daughter Rochelle and her three children are the third and fourth generations of the family to be raising turkeys and crops on the farm, and Rochelle wouldn’t have it any other way. Continue reading

Farming with family members requires give and take

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey farmer

Sometimes determination takes a while to prove itself. This week I was able to tell my dad, “I told you so” with only a 10 year waiting period!

As with any business, there will be disagreements with partners involved. In a family farm business it is amplified by the fact that those partners are also parents or siblings with whom you sit down with for normal family time like Christmas.  During the time of transfer of responsibility for decisions, this becomes more of a challenge, as everyone on both sides of the process will agree.

Even though I got to say I was right, somehow dad managed to leave me thinking about the issue and realized he still was able to reinforce management ideas that I already knew.  When I look back over 10 years, I quickly realized how agriculture has changed and developed. No longer can we plan for just the next few years. Instead, we have to look at all the options and possibilities that are available and make sure that all decisions are made knowing that anything might happen.  Lots of farmers now run their farms as a true business with far more time spent looking at all details than their predecessors did. As a result, some of the old sayings like “a penny saved is a penny earned” don’t always hold water anymore. Times have changed. 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

When you're a farmer, sick days aren't really an option

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey and sheep farmer

Recently, a local woman ran 108 km in two days to raise money for Ronald McDonald house of London. Great job!   I found myself wondering why someone would put themselves through that much pain and agony.  Suddenly the question turned around to me and I asked why have I pushed myself past that point of pain.

We raise turkeys and sheep along with about 500 acres of crops.  About a year ago, I started having chest and arm pains, which resulted from three bad discs in my neck and several pinched nerves. So why have I made my family suffer by watching me work myself into more and more pain? Why wasn’t I smart enough to stop and walk away from it?  The bottom line was that I have livestock that need cared for and fields that need planted and maintained.  I have committed myself to contributing to the food chain at the primary level as a farmer. Farming is my dream, my passion, and my drive.  Pain and discomfort came second.

Ronald McDonald house gave this runner a home and a place of comfort when she most needed it.  I get that. The fields, the barns, the animals reward me all the time and provide a place to put life in perspective.  I see life created and given. I see death and sickness which I can treat, but most of all at the end of the day I know I have done my best to provide families with good quality affordable food.

To make my family suffer watching me work through my pain is something I didn’t realize I was doing at the time and isn’t fair, but they know the animals must be cared for.
As of now I wait to see a surgeon; trying to fill my days while someone else does my work for me.  The truth is slowly sinking in to us all that, in my early 40’s, I could be limited to what I will be able to do for the rest of my life.

We have been lucky enough to sell the sheep and all their feeding equipment to someone that is passionate about the livestock and has the same commitment to agriculture as we do. The sheep have yet to leave our farm and that will be a real reality check.  We also have had to sell our combine due to the fact I won’t be able to operate it again without creating undue pain.

We have been fortunate enough to do what we love for 20 plus years and hope to be able to carry on by next spring.

A family that I respect very much has put me up to the challenge of blogging about farming as I know it. So this is my first attempt at it and perhaps we will have more to come on the challenges that have happened and will happen on this farm.

The one thing I can guarantee is that long term injuries in a self-employed business bring with them a lot of emotional rides. Thankfully we have great neighbours and friends that are willing to help out to get things done. After all, that is what rural Ontario is about.

Meet the faces of April in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

By Kelly Daynard

The connection between turkey farming and riding motorcycles isn’t an obvious one for most people. But for the Vanderzanden family of St. Ann’s, Ontario, both are important parts of their lives.

The multi generation family of Harry, Paul, Steven and Evan are featured in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario and they’re the first fourth generation family to ever appear in the calendar’s pages in its eight year history.

The four generation turkey-farming family of Harry, Paul, Steven and Evan Vanderzanden are the faces of April – and the cover image – on the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

Continue reading

Meet the farmers of January from the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar

by Patricia Grotenhuis

Three Ontario turkey farmers, the father/sons team of Heiko, Wayne and Mike Oegema, are featured in the 2012 Faces of Farming Calendar published by the Farm Care Foundation. Their page was sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

These turkey farmers are the faces of January in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar

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Heiko Oegema’s family established a turkey farm in 1959, shortly after emigrating from Holland.  He said that it was the opportunities available to Canadian farm families that brought his family to their chosen country.

As Heiko’s own family grew, so did their farm business. A retail store was added when his son Mike returned to the farm.  Heiko recently retired and the farm and store are now being run by his twin sons, Mike and Wayne.

“The transition has gone smoothly.  I used to farm with my brother, and then we phased the boys in,” says Heiko.

The store, called “The Turkey Shoppe”, opened to diversify the farm in December of 1992, after Mike graduated with his business degree.  It started out small, expanded in 1996 when Wayne returned, and has been growing ever since.

“We’ve had to expand over the years, and we’re raising more birds annually to meet seasonal needs,” says Mike.

The farm has changed its production schedules slightly since opening the store to make sure it will have enough fresh birds for Thanksgiving and Christmas to meet their customers’ needs.  The Oegemas have also built a licensed free-standing meat processing plant to process their turkey meat into products such as pies, sausages, burgers, and schnitzel.

Although the store is important to the farm, the family’s main focus is on ensuring the birds’ welfare.  Heiko was on the committee that originally developed the Recommended Codes of Practice for turkey producers.  The Codes are national guidelines for the care and handling of the different species of farm animals. They promote sound management and welfare practices through recommendations and requirements for housing, care, transportation, processing and other animal husbandry practices.  The farm implemented the codes immediately, and has been following them and making improvements ever since.

Currently, the farm is undergoing barn renovations.  Work includes making the barns more energy efficient, more comfortable for the birds and improving the ventilation system.

Even with so much work to do on the farm and in the store, the Oegemas are active in their community.

Heiko is the church organist, sits on church council, and enjoys time at the family cottage with his wife, Helen.  He is also a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.  In the past, Heiko was on the Soil and Crop Improvement Association, served as chair of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario, the organization that represents Ontario’s 190 turkey farm families. He was also an executive committee member on Turkey Farmers of Canada.

Mike and his wife, Annie, have three sons.  Mike served on the local fire department for eight years, and is on church council.  In what free time he has, he enjoys golf, soccer and hockey.

Wayne is chair of the local church council and likes to hunt, fish and bicycle.  He and his wife Jeanna have a five-year-old son.  Before returning to the farm, Wayne worked as a licensed diesel mechanic for 10 years (a skill that comes in handy on the farm). Today, though, he is happy to be home farming again.

 “It’s more peaceful than the garage.  You’re tied to it but there’s a freedom and an independent lifestyle.  That’s what I love,” says Wayne.
To view the rest of the 2012 calendar, visit http://www.farmfoodcare.org/index.php/news/calendar-2012