let's talk farm animals

When environmentalism and science face off

By Lisa McLean, Agricultural writer

Destruction of GMO crops (also called genetically modified organisms) is a common form of protest, particularly in the EU where public acceptance of biotechnology is low. Activists dress in their best white garb and face masks to make the most of a photo opportunity while they wade into fields and haul out healthy plants by their roots.

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Posted by FFC on May 14th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Crops,Environment,Innovation and technology,Research
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Waiting to make poop power pay

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Alternative energy is becoming increasingly important in our oil-limited world.  Record high gas prices at the pump and creeping hydro bills are just signs of things to  come.  Farm equipment manufacturers are saying that farmers need more incentives to generate alternative energy from sources such as livestock manure.

Although the technology to turn poop (and other food and farm wastes) into clean energy has been commercially available in Canada for more than a decade, it hasn’t taken off the way I think it should. I got involved in the development of bio-diesel about ten years ago. The livestock and poultry farmers I worked for at the time saw the technology as a way to deal with shrinking markets and opportunities to recycle animal by-products. The technology has improved since then but the costs have not.

For example, one company, Bio-Terre Systems, has developed a low temperature anaerobic digestion system for processing farm manure and other organic wastes. The new system operates at lower temperatures than conventional systems cutting operating costs. Other companies have come-up with a new generation of extractors to improve the quality of bio-fuels that can be used in our vehicles. Farmers can use the energy to power their farms or sell it back to the electricity grid.

So what is holding it back? Right now although the technology is available the business incentives are not. Farm engineer Dennis Hodgkinson says environmental regulators in Canada have been slow to embrace anaerobic digestion and he believes that is slowing the advancement of the technology.

Mr Hodgkinson says the Europeans have built hundreds of conventional anaerobic digesters on farms but that development has been supported by preferential treatment. In Canada these business incentives, tax incentives and preferential green energy rates, don’t exist in our every day business, he says.

Right now, he explains, it is individual farmers that are choosing to make personal investments to adopt the technology because they believe in its potential.  Eventually he predicts  the economic circumstances will develop to make it attractive to both farmers and energy buyers.

This is a good technology, it can make real environmental improvements and it already has in a limited way. Now it is a matter of waiting for the economic circumstances to be right. That means waiting for even higher prices at the pump.

Until the next BLOG.

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Posted by FFC on April 9th, 2012 :: Filed under animal by-products,Innovation and technology,Sustainability
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Introducing the farmers of March in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar

 by Patricia Grotenhuis

Research and development are critical components of Rob and Jim Judge’s work as hog farmers.  They have been working to improve pig genetics in Ontario and shipped a group of pigs with their improved genetics to Korea recently.

The father/son team of Jim and Rob are the faces of March in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar

The father-son team is featured in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar, which is published by the Farm Care Foundation. Their page in the calendar was sponsored by New Life Mills, a supplier to their business.  Their Simcoe-area farm family has a “farrow to finish” type of hog farm which means that the pigs are born on the farm and raised there until they go to market. The family also raises chickens and crops in addition to the pigs. 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 15th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,Canada,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Innovation and technology,Pigs,Sustainability of the family farm
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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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I Occupy Our Food Supply everyday

Guest blog: I farm with my father and grandfather on 2,300 acres of land in northwest Indiana. Scott Farms grow corn, soybeans, popcorn, and wheat. I graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Soil and Crop Management in 2003.

Today is the day.  The Occupy movement is going to occupy the food supply.  According to the occupiers and Farm Aid president Willie Nelson large corporations have too much control over our food.  I won’t deny that there has been a lot of consolidation in the food and seed markets over the years, but that seems pretty common and big does not equal bad as some occupiers would have you think.

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Posted by FFC on March 6th, 2012 :: Filed under Crops,Environment,Food,Innovation and technology,Regulations
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Meet farming’s face of February – Cathy McKay

by Patricia Grotenhuis

A summer job for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food during university led to a life-long love and a diverse business for Cathy McKay. McKay is featured in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar published by the Farm Care Foundation.

Cathy McKay

McKay’s page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. She’s the first apple grower to ever appear in the annual calendar that features the faces and stories of some of Ontario’s farmers.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 22nd, 2012 :: Filed under Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Innovation and technology,Uncategorized
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A teachable moment on fur applies to agriculture too

By Leslie Ballentine, Farm and food commentator

As anyone who knows a teenager is probably aware this year’s hot ticket items for Christmas receiving (or any other occasion) included real UGG boots (not the synthetic copies) and Canada Goose jackets.  The price of these natural fibre clothing items put them in the “not happening” category in my household and that of many of my friends. But both items are hot sellers among the under-30 crowd. So it should come as no surprise that they are also receiving negative attention by the “don’t use animals” crowd.

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Posted by FFC on January 16th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,animal by-products,Animal cruelty,Innovation and technology,PETA,Wildlife

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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Things you should know before criticizing food production

By Leslie Ballentine, farming and food commentator

This past year, a University of Manitoba student was inspired by a campus talk she heard by the Ontario Farm Animal Council.  So inspired, in fact, that she wrote a thought-provoking article in the student newspaper. Titled: Things you should know before criticizing food production, the article is directed to the students on campus. But I think it should be directed to everyone. And it is food for thought to start the year.

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Posted by FFC on January 3rd, 2012 :: Filed under Environment,Family vs factory farming,Food safety,Housing,Innovation and technology,Misconceptions
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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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