let's talk farm animals

Do goats really eat tin cans?

 By Patricia Grotenhuis

Many storybooks show goats eating everything around them, including tin cans.  It’s a common myth.

When I was 9, I bought my first goat, and had my own herd for 14 years.  I did see the goats eat a number of things over those years, but they had a very definite eating pattern – which didn’t include tin cans.

If they did come across a tin can, they would probably get much more enjoyment out of stepping on it and listening to the sound of the tin crinkling than anything else.

In this barn, goats are eating from a fresh bale of hay

Goats are browsing animals, not grazers like cattle and sheep, so goats like treats of leaves, cedar branches, and weeds in their pasture, much like a deer. They take a lot of time to search out the best snacks. They will often stand on their hind legs to reach the best part of foliage that may be out of reach to other types of livestock like sheep.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 16th, 2012 :: Filed under animal handling,Farm life,Goat,Misconceptions
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Animals on the loose

by Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator

During the past five years living away from home, I have travelled the notorious 401 highway back to Eastern Ontario too many times to count.

Through blistering heat waves and slippery icy pavement, I have endured the three and a half hour drive often thinking how dull, boring and monotonous it has become. It was brought to my attention recently that, in reality, the hustle and bustle of the highway is anything but humdrum. In a matter of seconds all chaos can break out; it’s a special concoction of travelling at high speeds with little focus and numerous distractions. Add in a pinch of road rage and you’ve got the potential for a ticking time bomb.

Accidents are no new reality for those who use the highway to commute to work every day. We share the roads with other commuters, school buses, taxis, vacationers, transport trucks, police and farm animals…yes that’s right folks, farm animals.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on April 26th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Barn fires
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Trimming to Perfection

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator

As the spring breeze starts to warm and winter wheat fields showcase a lavish bright green hue across the countryside, I begin to notice myself missing the farm more and more. Summer is my absolute favourite time of the year to work and visit my home farm; it’s a whole different world… with an endless to do list. While it is not every day that I get to enjoy this anymore, I had the pleasure of accompanying hoof trimmer Vic Daniel to a family dairy farm in Ontario, recently. 

Hoof trimmer Vic gives a dairy cow's feet some close attention and care

Vic invited me to tag along to a farm with him, after we met at Eastern Ontario Dairy Days, where he presented a wealth of knowledge on dairy cow lameness.  On average, a dairy farmer will ensure their cows” hooves are trimmed twice a year. Proper foot care is an important component of a farmer’s herd health program.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on April 12th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,careers,Dairy cattle,Farm life,Research,Uncategorized
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Technology on the modern farm

 by Patricia Grotenhuis

So many people seem to look back at the “good old days” as the way things should be now on farms.  That would, however, put an end to the tremendous growth and development we have seen recently.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 9th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Innovation and technology
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Animal rights vs. religious freedoms

By Leslie Ballentine, Farm and Food commentator

In December a plan for an outright ban on ritual slaughter methods in the Netherlands failed to pass the Dutch Senate. The bill and the issues surrounding it garnered world-wide attention by Jewish and Islamic communities, the meat processing and retail sectors, and animal activists. Government diplomats also became involved.

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Posted by FFC on February 13th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,animal handling,Food,Meat/slaughter plants,Regulations
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If slaughterhouses had glass walls…

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farm and Food Commentator

There is a common saying among vegetarians that “If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian”.  Having been to all types of meat plants I disagree.  And so did one of North America’s largest processing companies.

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Posted by FFC on November 21st, 2011 :: Filed under animal handling,Beef cattle,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Meat/slaughter plants,Media,Vegetarian
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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.

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Posted by FFC on June 24th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Animal health,Beef cattle,Canada,Dairy cattle,Farm life,Sheep,Weather
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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.

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Posted by FFC on April 26th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Farm life,Sheep,spring
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A different kind of spring on the farm

Guest Blog by Jeanine Moyer Jeanine was raised on a pig, beef cattle and crop farm in Ontario

Spring comes to our farm early. We don’t wait for the green grass or baby calves, the annual spring bull sale is enough for us. Each year a catalogue of potential sires is mailed out to our farm marking the onset of the spring season. Dad and Uncle spend hours pouring over the pictures, details and genetic makeup of each animal before settling on their select few they would like to purchase at the upcoming sale.

Sale day often dawns on a chilly Saturday and once chores are finished we pile into the farm pickup and head for Listowel, ON with trailer in tow. You’re never guaranteed to bring anything home but Dad always hitches up the trailer just in case. Any farm gathering, whether it be a local auction sale, farm tour or in this case, a bull sale offers donuts and coffee and as kids this was a great opportunity to eat our fill.

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Posted by FFC on April 4th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Auction sales,Beef cattle,Canada,Farm life,Transportation
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She’s no “typical” farmer!

Vet tech turned pig farmer in the 2011 Faces of Farming calendar

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Pigs have captured the interest of Katherine Zurczak, a registered Veterinary Technician and city girl turned farmer.

Zurczak had her first encounter with pigs while studying to be a veterinary technician at Ridgetown College.  She was quickly fascinated by her work with the animals, and after graduating in June of 2009, began working at Hog-Wild Farms Ltd. in Ontario.

The face of November in the 2011 calendar

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Posted by FFC on March 8th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Misconceptions,Pigs,Pork
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