let's talk farm animals

We can all make a difference – one farming story at a time

Stacy and Troy Hadrick

 By Patricia Grotenhuis (with tips from Lilian Schaer)

Everyone has a story to tell, and for Troy and Stacy Hadrick, sharing their story through social media has taken them around the world.

The ranching couple from South Dakota found out the hard way that relying on someone else to tell your story can have unintended consequences.  Since an early media experience in 2002, where an interview with food activist Michael Pollan saw Troy – and the conventional beef industry -  vilified in a feature article, they have vowed to do a better job telling their own story so misunderstandings do not happen again.

“Every single one of us involved in agriculture is a spokesperson,” says Stacy.

Over the years, the couple has found themselves sharing their story with people in the agriculture industry and also with consumers, businesses, activist groups and more.  They are examples of how much one person can do, especially with social media’s ability to allow people to reach so many.
The Hadricks encourage all farmers and ranchers to tell their story.  They stress the importance of bringing your connection to agriculture up when you introduce yourself to someone, opening the gate for conversations.

“Take a couple of minutes to answer questions.  If you’re not excited about the stories you’re telling, they won’t be,” says Troy.

The couple gave both a workshop and a keynote address at the Farm & Food Care Ontario AGM in Waterloo during the month of April.  Speaking to the conference topic, “Building Better Bridges”, they shared a number of stories about how they began advocating for agriculture on a large scale, and the experiences they have had since they began.

Troy and Stacy are daily examples of what they advocate – talking about how important it is to speak up when you hear information being shared which is not factual.  One of the examples of how they have made a difference includes Yellowtail Wine and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Upon hearing that Yellowtail donated $100,000 to the HSUS, an animal activist organization (which fronts as a humane society but spends less than half of one per cent of its total budget to help animals, according to Humane Watch) Troy took action.  He began by posting on Yellowtail’s facebook page, simply stating he was an American farmer and the donation would impact his family negatively, as HSUS strives to end animal agriculture.  Troy encouraged family and friends to do the same.

Further reflection reminded Troy that he had a bottle of Yellowtail wine in his cupboard.  He proceeded to create a 54 second video of him dumping the wine on the frozen ground while some of his beef cattle look on, explaining why he is dumping the wine and what impact the Yellowtail donation will have on many American families. You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA

The video was uploaded to YouTube and the number of views began accumulating. Troy also started receiving attention from both  Australian media and the Australian government.  Unknown to Troy until this point, Yellowtail’s initial donation was part of a larger commitment to donate $300 000 over a three-year period.  Through his short video and the use of social media, Troy prevented an additional $200 000 from being donated and resulted in an apology to the industry from the company. A response from Yellowtail to the negative publicity said that the feedback “was very helpful to us — in fact, it prompted us to specifically choose the areas where we’d most like to celebrate animals. …We hope that you will understand that this allocation of money is a direct result of hearing your concerns.”

“We changed the future course of donations from a multinational company with social media.  That’s the power of social media,” says Troy.

Food and farming story telling tips- written by Lilian Schaer

Prepare a 30-second elevator speech – a quick description of who you are and what you do. Keep it simple by using words and concepts people will understand. Avoid using industry jargon and lingo, be prepared for the questions people will ask once they hear what you do and be aware of the criticism people have of your industry.

“For most people, meeting a farmer is like meeting Big Foot – they’ve heard it exists but have never met one,” says Stacy. “You only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure you adapt your elevator speech to your audience.”

Build a message map. If you’re asked to do an interview or answer questions about what you do, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Pick your topic or key point and support it with three key messages and supporting arguments. This technique also works for writing a letter to the editor, talking to your school board or meeting with politicians. Be careful not to overwhelm your audience with complicated messages or too many numbers, but if you don’t have any statistics handy, don’t make them up

“Always take a few minutes to compose yourself and get some points together,” advises Troy. “You can do this anywhere, in the dust on the dash of your pickup, on a napkin, anywhere – and don’t be afraid to have it sitting right in front of you.”

Stay informed. Know what consumers are seeing and hearing and what some of the common myths are about agriculture. To consumers, a farmer is a farmer regardless of what commodity you produce so you’re likely to be asked questions about all sorts of things people hear or see in the news. Be enthusiastic about what you do – if you’re not excited about what you do, no one else will be either.

“Talk with emotion, not fact and science,” says Stacy. “As farmers we’re not used to being emotional but activists and those who are against agriculture use emotion all the time.”

Become involved. Join the groups in your area. This can be a local chamber of commerce, business association or other organization so you can meet people who aren’t part of your regular agricultural world. These venues provide opportunities for you to speak up about who you are and what you do to produce food. The Hadricks also advise farmers to be active in the farm organizations they belong to.

“Take part in setting policy and be there when they need people to do things,” says Stacy. “We’re all busy but think about what you can do to squeeze a little bit more time to do your advocacy.”

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 7th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Education and public awareness,Family vs factory farming,Farm life
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The Woes of Heavy Clay

By Patricia Grotenhuis

When you are on a farm, there are good days, bad days, and days that look like they might turn bad but in the end are good.  In a job that is completely dependent on weather, animals, and crops, things do not always go as planned.

I had a several-day stretch recently where I was supposed to be helping my parents take photos of their dairy and veal farm, my brother’s beef farm, and my sister’s sheep farm. The goal was to make a nice presentation that they can use to explain their farming practices to customers.  Things went well at the dairy and sheep farms.  I was happy with the photographs I had taken, and was thinking the hardest part of the job would be selecting my favourites.  Then, I arrived at my brother’s farm.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 24th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Beef cattle,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Weather
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Are grass-fed cows better for the earth?

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

It’s no wonder there’s a growing perception that farms which feed cattle on grass for their entire lives, are better for the environment than farms that finish their pasture-raised cattle in feedlots with grain. The image is that the grass is always lush and plentiful and the cattle self feed themselves with little dependence on machinery or other energy consuming equipment. Whether or not science has confirmed this perception is another story.

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Posted by FFC on March 13th, 2012 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Environment,Food,Misconceptions,Retailers,Sustainability
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The Ick Factor

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

A Toronto hospital is asking for donations of human placenta to repair and reconstruct damaged eyes.  I’m sure most non-doctors would consider this disgusting and give it high marks for the Ick Factor. Superficial communications can often create the Ick Factor and the Ick Factor often influences our opinions. Agriculture and food production can be subject to the Ick Factor too.

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Posted by FFC on January 31st, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Food,Misconceptions,Urban Myths
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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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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.

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

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Farmers see some strange things on their farms.  Sometimes things will happen that are completely unexpected – yet absolutely beautiful reminding us,  first-hand, what nature can do.

One day, while I was at university studying agricultural science, I got a call from my mom at home on our farm.  The call wasn’t unusual -  but the story she was about to tell me certainly was. 

One day, while out checking the beef cattle, they noticed a young fawn in the same pasture as the cattle.  Over the next few days, my family noticed the fawn was always within sight of the cattle – but never too close.  They never saw a doe, and were wondering who was caring for this little fawn.

Bambi in the field with the cows.

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Posted by FFC on May 19th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Uncategorized,Wildlife,winter
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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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If you missed Oprah this week, another inside look at meat processing

 

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Some 10 million viewers got a unique opportunity to see inside a large US meat plant this week when The Oprah Show aired a guided tour of one of the world’s largest meat packing plants.  The tour and the Cargill company staff helped to de-mystify a process that is largely mis-understood and maligned.  I have been to many slaughter plants over my agriculture career, but here is a report on the experiences of one first- time visitor at another Cargill meat plant. The author is a nutritionist and not from a farm. Cargill operates plants in Canada as well as the U.S….

I just got back from west Texas where I toured a big industrial beef processing plant and I am still in shock by what I witnessed there. But I am not shocked in the way you might expect based on the negative portrayals of the beef industry that seem so rampant in the media. Rather, I am stunned by how humanely the animals were treated and by the detailed attention given to food safety at every stage of the process.

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Posted by FFC on February 2nd, 2011 :: Filed under animal handling,Beef cattle,Consumers,Food safety,Meat/slaughter plants
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