let's talk farm animals

Battle of the sexes

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Just when I thought I had heard it all, the Globe and Mail recently carried a feature on “gendered meat”. What you ask (as did I) is such a thing? Well apparently there is a demand by some Canadian consumers for selecting their meat based on whether the animal is male or female.

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Posted by FFC on April 23rd, 2012 :: Filed under Chickens,Consumers,Food,Misconceptions,Pork,Retailers
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Barn changes over the generations

 Barn changes over the generations

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Sometimes I sit and think about all of the changes that have happened from the time my great-grandfather bought his farm until now, when my parents run it with the help of my siblings.

Back in 1934, Canada was in the middle of the Great Depression.  That seems to be a strange time to buy a farm, but Great Grandpa did it.  Some of the original buildings are still on that farm, with new buildings and additions  over the past 77 years.  These changes, in some ways, show the timeline of how agriculture has been evolving.
Take the original bank barn for example.  It is still large and impressive, but there have been noticeable changes made to it.  Different areas of the barn reflect different times.  There are the old stanchions which used to be used for the cows.  They’re rather small, and most have been removed.  In one corner, they are still intact, but are rarely used as stanchions anymore.  The rest of the barn has tie stalls now, which were used for the cows when I was young, before the milking parlour was put in.  Now, the tie stalls are used for calves before they are big enough to be in group pens.

In another corner of the barn, there is a track hanging from the ceiling.  At one time, that track was used to remove manure from the barn.  Eventually, it was replaced by a more modern gutter cleaner system.  The gutter cleaner was recessed into the floor and brought manure to a pump.  The pump would send the manure through a pipe into the manure storage pit outside of the barn.

Underneath the barn hill was once the milk house.  It was where all of the milk was stored before the milk truck picked it up.  This area was added on to, and later became a series of three loose housing pens.  When I was young, the pens were used for maternity pens and, in some cases, as sick pens.  Those pens changed and became housing for a wide variety of animals over the years.  In my lifetime, they have been used for veal calves, horses, sheep and goats.  If a pen was empty, it also housed rabbits when we were younger.

The freestall structure which my grandpa added to the barn, has been used for beef cattle, veal, heifers, and is now strictly used for milking cows.  Part of it was converted into the milking parlour.  During the summer, one end of the freestall is blocked off, and the dry cows (cows that are not being milked because they are close to calving) use it for shelter and for water access.  Both the dry cows and milking cows have pasture access from spring to fall.

The mow in the barn has always been partially used for hay and straw storage.  One area of it was also used for livestock housing a long time ago.  I remember being told there were chickens in one part of the mow when my grandparents were farming and my dad was young.  The floor was pulled up from one section of the mow, and used to make a wall so that one half has two storeys, although only half of a floor between them.  That section is used for cut straw in the main part of the barn.

The other part of the barn mow is wide open.  It was used for bale storage for years.  Right now, it is mainly storage of small tools and equipment, as rolling the large round bales into the mow is very hard to do with a limited number of people and we do not have small square bales any more.  In the mow, it is obvious that the barn is old.  Wooden pegs hold the beams in place, rather than nails.  In several places, you can see evidence of how the hay and straw used to be unloaded, although the equipment itself was removed long ago. 

That barn has seen changes from no electricity to electricity. It went from being a mixed farm (with several kinds of animals being raised on the property) to being a more specialized dairy farm. The farm has also gone from raising animals mainly to feed the family and some neighbours to producing enough for larger numbers of people
The treasured farm photographs that we have, dating back to the 1940s, tell a story when they are lined up…a story about Canada.  They show how farms used to be small, subsistence-style farms supporting low numbers of people.  In those days, there was a much larger percentage of the population who farmed, and almost everything eaten was local food. 

Now, the farm is modern and is larger.  The average Canadian farm produces enough food for 120 people, and only two per cent of Canadians are farmers.  Technology is needed to make the farm more efficient, allowing farmers to feed so many people.

The improvements made have led to a more safe food supply for Canada, and have made it possible for so many people to work in other jobs now.  I am sure if my great grandpa were here today and could walk around the farm today, and see how it has changed, he would be proud to see what it has become.

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Posted by FFC on January 12th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,Barns,Beef cattle,Canada,Chickens,Dairy cattle,Farm life,Feeding the world,Innovation and technology,Manure,Sustainability of the family farm
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Eco-friendly plastic: a new use for chicken feathers

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Turning chicken feathers into ‘green’ plastic is not a new idea. Government and university scientists in the U.S. first began serious research into the possibility years ago. The goal for researchers and plastic manufacturers has been to develop a substitute for petroleum in some plastic products. This year, some technical hurdles have been over-come and this bio-degradable plastic is now being produced commercially.

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Posted by FFC on November 7th, 2011 :: Filed under animal by-products,Chickens,Environment,Innovation and technology,PETA,Research
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Why hormone-free labels and other claims don’t really tell the story

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

I just read a news feature by a Vancouver Sun reporter who, for personal reasons, has looked into the food labels that appear on our grocery shelves.

His story arose after seeing a milk carton labeled “hormone free” and purchasing local organic chickens, “worth the premium, my wife said, because, among other things, they were hormone free.” He wanted to check it out for himself and so went onto Google and into stores to do some research of his own. By his own admission his research confirmed both his suspicion and his “ignorance”.

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Posted by FFC on October 10th, 2011 :: Filed under Chickens,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Food,Misconceptions,Organics,Turkeys
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Bill Gates gets it right on biotechnology

By Leslie Ballentine, Farm and food commentator

Genomics is a touchy subject, whether we are talking human or plant and animal. That is why the biotechnology debate can get so heated. In my opinion, and in the opinion of most in the farm and food sector, biotechnology gets a bad rap in these debates.

To use an old cliché, biotechnology is just one tool in the tool box whether it is used for food production, medical advances or to help the planet. It isn’t perfect all of the time but in my experience, the end results are rarely dangerous and usually beneficial.

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Posted by FFC on August 2nd, 2011 :: Filed under Animal health,Chickens,Feeding the world,Innovation and technology,Research
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Changing markets for changing times

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate
In recent years, interest in local foods and what farming practices are being used has created a shift.  Consumers are starting to seek out farmers who sell direct through farmers’ markets and on-farm stores, and farmers are spending more time connecting with consumers.

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Posted by FFC on July 22nd, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Chickens,Consumers,Farm life,Feeding the world,Turkeys,Wildlife
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Guest blog: Ballot measures scuttled

Dan Murphy  

(Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator in the United States)

Updated: July 11, 2011 -  Both sides are carefully calling the agreement between the nation’s egg producers and HSUS leadership a “victory.” For industry, that means that two ballot measures set for November that would have asked Oregon and Washington voters to ban the use of cages in egg production will now be withdrawn.

Why? Mostly because the odds of victory were looking less certain for HSUS.

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Posted by FFC on July 13th, 2011 :: Filed under Activism,Animal care,Chickens,eggs,HSUS,Regulations,Uncategorized
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Laying hen housing not all it’s cracked up to be

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

I just finished reading some more animal science studies out of Europe (a sure cure for insomnia) on what “free range” and “free run” laying hens are up against. And it’s a bit of a buyer-beware scenario too. Although it is a small niche market here in North America, so-called “cage-free” egg production in the UK has steadily grown in the last 20 years. That is where egg laying hens can move around within the confines of a pasture or barn. But the health and animal welfare news isn’t all good.

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Posted by FFC on May 12th, 2011 :: Filed under Chickens,eggs,Housing,Poultry,Research
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Perception marketing takes advantage of consumers and farmers

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

When it comes to food marketing, I’m starting to believe that both consumers and farmers may be getting the short end of the stick.

Perhaps farmers have been too focused on what they do best; producing an abundant and generally safe supply of food at a reasonable price to consumers, to worry about misleading advertising.  Perhaps consumers don’t know enough about farm practices to see past the marketing hype to be able to make an informed purchasing choice.

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Posted by FFC on May 5th, 2011 :: Filed under Chickens,Consumers,Misconceptions,Poultry,Sustainability,Urban Myths
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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.

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Posted by FFC on January 25th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Canada,Chickens,Farm life,Pigs,Uncategorized,Weather