let's talk farm animals

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.

Share

Posted by FFC on October 6th, 2011 :: Filed under Activism,Beef cattle,Feeding the world,Global Warming,Meatless Monday,Misconceptions,Organics,Sheep,Vegetarian
Tags :: , , , , , , , , ,

Dealing with the Wile E. Coyote

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Over the past year or two, coyotes have gained a lot of media and therefore public attention. Reports of attacks on pets and even people have become common in the news and at town and city council meetings across the country. For the farm community coyote attacks are nothing new. They are killers. It’s what they do. They’re wild animals. They are not, as some like to argue, misunderstood and unloved wild dogs.

But in recent years farmers, just as with urbanites, have found that predator problems are getting worse. And just as for urbanites, there are no easy solutions for farmers and rural landowners in dealing with the Wile E. Coyote.

Share

Posted by FFC on July 18th, 2011 :: Filed under Farm life,Housing,Media,Sheep,Wildlife
Tags :: , , ,

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. 

Share

Posted by FFC on July 7th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Farm life,Sheep
Tags :: , , ,

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.

Share

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

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.

Share

Posted by FFC on April 26th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Farm life,Sheep,spring
Tags :: , , , ,