Meet the faces of January in the 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

Sarah Brien is a farm girl at heart. Raised on a sheep farm in Ridgetown, ON, she is a fourth generation farmer who naturally inherited her love for the land and animals as well as her sense of community spirit and involvement from her parents.

Erin McLean’s family moved to a farm north of Peterborough when she was five years old. Today, the farm’s offerings include strawberries, peas and raspberries, squash and potatoes, maple syrup and jams and more. They also sell at at local farmers markets and their own two stores.

Erin McLean (left) and Sarah Brien appear in the 2014 Faces of Farming calendar.

Erin McLean (left) and Sarah Brien appear in the 2014 Faces of Farming calendar.

And, while these two come from different types of farms in different parts of Ontario, they share a common passion for farming – and for sharing their farm stories with the public.

Both are members of a group of 10 young Ontario farmers sharing day to day experiences from their farms through the newly created Dinner Starts Here on-line initiative (www.dinnerstartshere.ca) And, they share a page in the 2014 Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. They appear on the month of January, 2014 on a page sponsored by the Farmers Feed Cities program.

You can watch a video interview with the two women at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hb5SVBRXxs&list=PLxl8ycqu125dgviFG5XoLXP_QPJTJD3IN or follow them on twitter @Mcleanberryfarm and @sarahlee516

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Decking the halls – on the farm

by Kim Waalderbos

For farm kids, there’s one thing that stands between them and their Christmas celebrations – farm chores. That’s right, farm animals take no holidays. However, Christmas day is far from an ordinary day for these Dinner Starts Here bloggers.

For Ontario dairy farmers Justin Williams and Andrew Campbell, Christmas morning starts long before the sun rises while so many others are still snuggled in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

“Christmas morning starts at 4:30 a.m. when we wake up and head to the barn for milking,” says Justin, adding that despite the early hour the barn has a festive spirit. “Christmas morning always seems to be more cheerful in the barn.”

Across the province, at Andrew’s family farm, it’s all hands on deck too. “Christmas around here is pretty wild!” says Andrew. With everyone in the barn, chores go by very quickly with some milking cows, some feeding them, and others laying down a fresh bedding of straw. “It’s the chores we do every morning, but because the whole family is out, we get done much faster.” Then it’s in for coffee, breakfast snacks and of course – opening presents.

On Christmas morning you’ll also find sheep farmer Sarah Brien in the barn. “Christmas morning is a busy time,” she says. “I think it is for every family, but especially when you have 150 animals in the barn that you have to feed before you eat, open presents and visit family.”

It’s divide and conquer for Stephanie Campbell’s farm family. “First dad goes out and does his early barn chores in the hen barn while mom and I start to get things ready in the house.” Stephanie squeezes in a trip to town to pick up her Grandma just in time for the family to gather and open presents. Then it’s back to the barn to gather eggs and finish up chores before the extended family arrives for Christmas dinner.

 

“Our chickens still need to be taken care of on Christmas morning, and so they are part of our routine,” Stephanie says. “I have great memories of doing chores around Christmas time because everyone pitches in and helps.”

The wait on Christmas morning for the food and presents is almost unbearable most farm kids will tell you. “My sisters and I would be vibrating with the excitement of Christmas morning being so close,” says beef farmer Scott Snyder. “Overall though, Christmas morning is likely my favorite morning because it is relaxed, filled with family and the atmosphere it creates is just plain peaceful”.

For many farm families, Christmas dinner takes place mid-day. “Because we have to head back to the barn late in the afternoon for another round of milking and feeding cows, we’ll have our Christmas dinner at noon,” says Andrew.

“You don’t really get to take a day off and relax when you farm, but I think everyone would agree that we don’t mind it,” Sarah says.

To follow more in the lives of these Ontario farmers, visit www.dinnerstartshere.ca

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.

Environmental cost share program supports rotational grazing by sheep

By Nancy Tilt for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Just north of Fenelon Falls there are 160 acres of rolling land; more than 100 acres are pasture and hayfields, the rest a network of creeks, wetlands and woods. The land had been in Janice Craig’s family until several decades ago, and about 12 years ago, she and her husband Peter bought it, bringing it back into the family. This is a story of stewardship, not only of family roots, but also of the land.

The Craigs, along with their daughter Jillian, manage a 250-ewe sheep operation. Peter and Janice tend a commercial Rideau-Arcott x Dorset flock. Jillian manages purebred Rideau-Arcott and Dorset sheep.

The Craigs completed the Third Edition Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in 2012. “All farmers are stewards and want to do the best for their land,“ says Craig. “The EFP process really raises awareness of environmental issues surrounding farming. It gave us the chance to better know our issues and learn how to deal with them.” Continue reading

Young sheep farmer prefers her rubber boots …and a little bling

By Jeanine Moyer

Ridgetown – Sarah Brien is a farm girl at heart. But when the farm work is done, she’s quick to trade in her rubber boots for heels and in an industry dominated by men, her stylish dress isn’t the only thing that makes Brien stand out – it’s her passion for sheep farming and desire to run her own farm that makes heads turn.

Raised on a sheep farm in Ridgetown, ON, Brien confesses she didn’t always want to farm. In fact, it was a last-minute decision to attend the University of Guelph for agriculture that changed her future. “Something told me agriculture is what I should do, and I haven’t looked back,” she says. In an industry with 3,800 sheep farms in the province, Brien and her family knew they had to differentiate themselves to be successful. The family has been proactive importing and exporting sheep genetics, and is part of a progressive purebred sheep breeders’ group interested in international trade.

Sarah Brien with her family’s flock of sheep (Photo by Lee Brien)

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Sustainability and stewardship at the heart of fifth generation family farm

By Lilian Schaer

(Haliburton Highlands) – If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. That’s the philosophy of Godfrey and Jean Tyler who farm their family’s fifth generation century farm in the rocky Haliburton Highlands.

With no off-farm income, the Tylers use all four seasons to grow and sustain their small farming business.

The Tyler farm family includes (from left) Sam, Jean, Joanie and Godfrey Tyler

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The Myth of Meatless Mondays – Alleviating the consumer's conscience without affecting climate change

The following is reprinted with permission from the Animal Agriculture Alliance in the United States (www.animalalliance.org). For its full collection of Meatless Monday resources, visit  http://animalagalliance.org/current/home.cfm?Section=Meatless_Monday&Category=Current_Issues.

The Myth of Meatless Mondays – Alleviating the Consumer’s Conscience Without Affecting Climate Change
Judith L. Capper, PhD, Washington State University

In July, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report claiming that everybody should eat less meatand dairy products in order to mitigate climate change. It was an interesting report, not least because it recommended that if consumers were going to eat meat, they should choose “meat, eggs and dairy products that are certified organic, humane and/or grass-fed as they are generally the least environmentally damaging”. Working within the sustainability arena, I firmly believe that any production system has a role within agriculture provided that it is environmentally conscientious, economically viable and socially acceptable. However, the EWG’s promotion of organic or grass-fed systems as having a low environmental impact is ironic given that such systems actually have a greater carbon footprint per unit of meat or milk produced compared to their conventional counterparts. Continue reading

A day in the life of a sheep farmer

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Previously I have written blogs showing what dairy farmers do during the day.  This one focuses on what happens at a sheep farm…specifically, my sister Barb’s sheep farm.  Barb has a flock of Oxford breed ewes and rams, and does most of the work with them on her own.

Ewes with their young lambs

The busiest time of year for a sheep farmer is lambing season, which stretches from January to April or May, depending on the flock.  Continue reading

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.

Sheep shearing in the spring

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

When people think about careers in agriculture, they normally think of farmers. It is much more than that, though. There are many jobs within agriculture which you may not think about.

A great example is the sheep shearer. Sheep must be shorn in the late winter or early spring so they will be comfortable during the warm weather. Shearing a sheep a few weeks before it gives birth also makes it easier for lambs to find their mother’s udders to nurse.

Karen shears an alpaca

Sheep shearing is very labour intensive – so many sheep farmers will hire someone who specializes in shearing to visit each year.

My sister, a sheep farmer, hires an old friend named Karen for the job. Karen had been shearing sheep since she was 12 years old, and decided she could shear while in university as a spring and summer job. She even began shearing alpacas in 2002.

Karen works full time as a pedorthist (foot care specialist). However, on weekends Karen still travels to farms shearing sheep and alpacas. “I’m not in a place where I can have a farm of my own, and I think I would miss it too much if I didn’t get out,” says Karen.

Shearing a sheep

Sheep shearing season for Karen begins in February, and carries through to the end of June. Work with alpacas begins in April, and the season ends in June. Karen also shears a few flocks of sheep in the fall. The size of sheep flocks that she is responsible for range from two to 150 sheep.

Because there are not many professional alpaca shearers, Karen travels long distances to shear them, and herds range in size from two to just under 100 animals.

In the course of an hour, Karen can shear between 12 and 14 sheep, or four alpacas. Alpacas take a lot longer because of the difference in technique. They have to be held on their side on a table, and several people are involved in holding them down. Once the alpacas are shorn, they also have their hooves trimmed.

Karen enjoys the shearing. For her, it is like coming home when she gets out on the farm again, working alongside the farmers and helping them care for their animals. “I can’t imagine giving it up. I like being able to get away from the office, and back on the farm” says Karen.

Karen’s love for the animals is what brings her back to farms year after year, working in a job which is very physically demanding. “I really feel blessed to be able to travel around the province and work with so many different people. In the spring I work seven days a week, from the beginning of April until the end of June – but because it is two different jobs, so completely different, it doesn’t usually feel like real work,” says Karen.

Having someone like Karen, who specializes in shearing, come out to the farm, it allows the shearing process to be done quickly and efficiently. With the job being completed faster, there is less stress on the animals.

Shearing is a necessity for the well-being of sheep and alpacas, and people like Karen make it easier for farmers to complete the task.

To watch a video of another sheep shearer at work, visit www.virtualfarmtours.ca and click on the Sheep Farm Tour. In the third video box at the top, you can watch Farmer Bill shear one of his sheep – a process that only takes a few minutes.