Merry Christmas!

Here are a few fun facts about Christmas and Ontario’s farms. Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas and all the best in 2015.



Christmas on Ontario farms

Inside Farming: View from an Iowa Farm

By: Brendan Louwagie, CanACT Member, University of Guelph

Misconceptions in agriculture in choosing seeds, ‘I’m no pawn of Monsanto’

Farm & Food Care Ontario photo

Winter allows a bit of downtime for most farmers. We use it to look back on the prior year and to make plans for the next. We learn from mistakes, failures, and successes, and attempt to make sense of it all. Personally, I think of each growing season as a clean slate to test out theories and debunk some popular myths about how a corn or soybean plant creates maximum yield. It’s also a time when we get to make choices about what to plant, where to plant it, and what seed to use in each situation. It’s often a very personal and private decision. Continue reading

The farm does not sleep

By: Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

Corn stalks stand in a no-till field during winter

Winter winds howl and snow is so deep in the fields we can barely see the fence posts in places. The tractors and equipment (other than the snow blower and the tractor that runs it) are tucked away in the shed. Field work seems a long way off, but it is always on the minds of farmers.

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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.

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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.

Keeping on their toes

by Kim Waalderbos

The winter season may keep farmers from tending their land – but it doesn’t keep them from learning and planning. For farmers, winter is prime season for catching up on reading, going over machinery, and attending meetings and shows. By the time the snow starts flying most farmers will have piled high a stack of farm newspapers and magazines to catch up on.

Farm magazines waiting for winter reading time

While it’s not the latest home decorating colours or unveiling the five pieces of clothing every wardrobe should have, these magazines are filled cover-to-cover with the latest information on new seed types, machinery, cropping techniques and technologies. It’s the farmer equivalent for what the tips and trends will be for the coming year. Continue reading

What do farmers do in the winter?

by Patricia Grotenhuis

Winter on a crop farm is a time to plan ahead for the coming season.

Many people think farms slow down in the winter.  Even though the crops are off and most animals are inside, there is still a lot to do.  As far as the crops, it is not as simple as just going into the seed store and picking out what you will plant right before planting.

Farmers are researching the many different options to make sure they buy seed that is right for them.  They review data on many different varieties of the crops they grow to make sure they make a sound decision.  Some varieties perform better in the heat, while others are more tolerant to drought conditions.  Some perform better in a specific soil type.  Then, of course, there are the insect resistant or herbicide resistant varieties in the mix. Continue reading

A pony for Christmas

by Patricia Grotenhuis

A lot of children want ponies for Christmas at some point in their lives.  They keep hinting about it, write letters to Santa, and think “if I’m really, REALLY good, maybe I’ll get it”.  I was one of those children.

When I was six, the only thing I wanted was a pony or a horse.  Maybe it was from Dad’s stories of having ponies when he was growing up, maybe it was just because it would be neat.  Regardless, it was all I thought about.

When the time came for us to write our annual letters to Santa, I’m pretty sure mine said something along the lines of: “Dear Santa How are you and Mrs. Claus?  How are the reindeer?  I’m 6 years old now, and I’ve been trying really hard to be good this year.  All I want for Christmas is a pony…

I also convinced my brother, who was 10, and sister, eight, to add a pony to their Christmas letters.  It did not take a lot of convincing.  We were farm kids and loved animals – it was just natural to want another one in the mix to love and care for.

I was extra nervous and excited as Christmas Eve approached.  We made sure Dad remembered to leave a bale of hay for the reindeer, which was an annual tradition.  Not the small bales, either, one of the big round bales so all of them could get enough to eat.

We helped Mom make a batch of peanut brittle, because Santa had told us in past years it was his favourite.  And, like all years, we all tried to stay awake to see Santa, even though we were exhausted.

Eventually we drifted off, and the next morning we woke up and ran downstairs to open stockings with our parents and grandma before chores began.  The rest of the presents always had to wait until the animals were taken care of, but we knew the routine and we were okay with that. Santa had indeed visited while we were sleeping!

There were some extra presents under the tree, and overflowing stockings.  There was also a note from Santa, thanking us for the peanut brittle and for the hay.  His reindeer loved having something to eat to keep them going that night.  Santa also mentioned we should check on the cow in the maternity pen.

We bundled ourselves up and went out to the barn.  The bale was completely gone, other than some loose hay scattered around the ground where it had been sitting.  The whole family went back to the maternity pens.

While we were in the maternity pen section of the barn, which gave the cows space and privacy during calving, my brother turned around.  A small horse was sticking its head over the gate of the second maternity pen!  We were so excited it was hard to concentrate on chores.

Eventually we did finish and opened our other presents after a delicious breakfast made by Mom, but that horse was on the top of our minds.  We decided to name her Noel in honour of the day she arrived.

Later that day, dad brought our new horse out so we could go for a little ride on her and I knew I was the luckiest girl in the world.

Out of all of my childhood Christmases, I remember that one with more clarity than any other.  To this day, when I hear someone say they want a pony for Christmas, I smile and take a trip down memory lane.  I know most will not get a live pony like we did, but will always be thankful for that magical Christmas when a little girl’s dream came true.

A green Christmas begins with the tree

By Lisa McLean
Everett, Ontario – This month, when Fred Somerville harvests Christmas trees on his farm, he’ll be harvesting a crop that was 14 Christmases in the making. That’s because it takes an average of 12 to 15 years to grow a Christmas tree from seed to its average height of six or seven feet.

John and Fred Somerville

Somerville grows pine, spruce and fir trees near Everett, Ontario, through a business his father started in 1950. At that time, most trees harvested in Canada were grown in forest settings. Today, 98 per cent of real trees sold are grown on Christmas tree farms, often on agricultural land which is not ideal for food crops.
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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