You know it’s a slow summer news week when the tiresome Canadian media trots out their anti supply management rhetoric masquerading as “facts”. Rather than delve into true food issues, they rely on the notion that dairy farmers make too much money at the expense of poor people. As a twitter friend pointed out, we’re basically Mr. Burns.

 

 

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Glenna I never wanted to write this post. Sadly, I must address the recent undercover video by Mercy for Animals on a British Columbia dairy farm.

As an animal lover, I am disgusted and horrified by abuse or mistreatment of any kind. As a dairy farmer, I am sickened that anyone would hurt cows and calves.

I often say jokingly, my cows are my kids. But it’s the truth; they are treated with love and respect from birth until their time on the farm ends. It’s a terrible fact, but some parents abuse their children. Does that make all parents abusers? NO. Same is true for every industry. There are bad teachers, doctors, cops, priests, and yes, some farmers. However, this video is absolutely NOT indicative of how the majority of Canadian cows are treated.

There is absolutely no excuse for the abuse shown. None. Zero. Charges have been laid and I hope they are prosecuted to the full extent. Imagining someone treating my cows in such a manner makes me cry. My cows and calves got extra hugs and chin scratches this morning. How could anyone hurt such a loving creature?

Want to take video of me and my cows? Go ahead. The craziest thing you’ll record is how I talk to animals like they’re people. Oh and dress them up at holidays. I guess that could count as animal cruelty?

Please take the time to talk to farmers who care. My barn doors are always open.

 

 

 

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Why do I farm?

Spoiler alert- It’s not to get rich.

I farm because


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…a newborn calf is filled with hope and promise.

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…I love watching cows on pasture.

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…sunrises and sunsets can brighten a long day in the field.

 

I will not apologize for enjoying my life as a dairy farmer. If this makes me inefficient, as the Conference Board of Canada claims, so be it.

We farm because our cows are not only our income, but our family. Our money is reinvested into the farm rather than on personal expenditures. My beach vacation? A few days in PEI. I buy top quality bulls to improve my herd genetics instead of expensive shoes. A prettier fence in the front of the pasture rather than a new deck for my house. My cows enjoy a brush that was $3000…I cut my own hair. An unexpected emergency vet call can quickly wipe out our monthly entertainment budget.

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So I could save thousands a year on “unnecessary” expenses like registering calves to track pedigrees, classifying cows to assess their strengths, milk testing, and buying high quality feed & equipment. I could spend the savings on a lavish European tour every year – that would be better for the economy and Canadian consumers, right? Economists would say yes, this is the “efficient” way to farm. In either scenario, the retail price of milk would continue to be dictated by processors and retailers.

Life is short. Farmers have to make a living, but farming must be a life WORTH living.

 

 

 

 

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It’s every farmers least favourite time of year…Daylight Saving Time. Yet there’s a pervasive myth DST is related to farmers wanting more daylight.DST was actually implemented to conserve energy (you can read the entire history here).

The notion that a farmer’s day starts and ends with the sun is hysterical. I wish that was the case in the winter, let me tell you! My cows are milked at 6am and 6pm, whether it’s light or dark. Cows are creatures of habit, and know when it’s milking time without looking at the clock. The rare occasion that we are late for milking due to equipment breakdowns, power outages etc. are painful. Two years ago we replaced our milk pipeline and were *2 hours* late. To say the cows were pissed off is a vast understatement!

Time changes twice a year are actually detrimental to both the cows and the humans. We adjust slowly so we don’t jump into the new time all at once. So tomorrow morning, we will milk at 6:30am (which would be 5:30am on Standard Time). This means we get less sleep, cows will have less milk, and all of us will be somewhat cranky at the change in routine. Sleep is a precious part of our life, and it’s not always feasible to have a nap to “catch up” (guarantee cow I’m waiting on will calve!). A recent study suggested that the sleep disturbances linger longer than commonly thought.

The start of daylight saving time in the spring is thought to lead to the relatively inconsequential loss of 1 h of sleep on the night of the transition, but data suggests that increased sleep fragmentation and sleep latency present a cumulative effect of sleep loss, at least across the following week, perhaps longer.

-Harrison, Y. (2013). The impact of daylight saving time on sleep and related behaviours. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 7(4). pp.285-292. Retrieved from http://www.smrv-journal.com/article/S1087-0792(12)00114-1/abstract

So please, when complaining about losing sleep, don’t blame the farmers. We’re suffering too! Time to move to Saskatchewan?

1-You can feed them the same thing every day, and they won’t complain!
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2- If you don’t like a cow, you can sell her at any age

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Consider this part 2 of Why I’m not an Agvocate

Small versus large
Conventional versus Organic
GMOs vs non GMOs

Pick a side, and promote it by bashing the opposite. Sound productive? Or like political ad campaigns?

Every week there’s a new study, article, or commercial to attack. “Look at how HORRIBLE Chipotle is, playing on emotions to sell a product” cry the farmers, still praising Dodge for “So God made a Farmer” over a year later. The glee over organic produce containing minute pesticide residues. Accusations of fear mongering over a label that tries to differentiate their product.

Before you yell at me, yes, I have issues with a lot of the food marketing tactics and how misleading and inaccurate they can be. However, I have a bigger issue with how we respond. First reactions to anything that is not in line with our way of thinking are often inflammatory and unproductive. We’re all guilty, simply human nature. It’s recognizing how our responses appear to non farmers that we need to work on.

Agriculture has a lot of problems. Period. If you think we’re perfect, you must be new. Many are steadfastly holding on to beliefs that we know everything and aren’t looking for criticism from the peanut gallery. Valid questions can be taken from consumer fears. Yet, raising concerns can get you labeled anti-science or a shill. Questioning whether Golden Rice is the answer means you obviously want children to go blind, conversely suggesting organic yields are low means you hate the planet.

Look at the proliferation of farmers markets, CSAs, buy local movements. Our major grocery chains in Canada are offering new choices- Sobeys carrying a wide range of “Certified Humane” products and Loblaws has a “Free From” line.
Are we spending too much time and energy blasting the labels and companies for providing information the consumer is demanding? Let’s face it, we’re a solid 5 years behind on promoting how our food is produced. It should be common knowledge that milk contains zero antibiotics and added growth hormones, that chickens are grain fed, and tomatoes aren’t GMO. But it’s not. Ever consider how it might seem “the farmer doth protest too much, methinks”?

So how DO we combat the constant negativity? Open, honest, transparent conversations. It’s not enough to say trust me, I’m a farmer. Trust and respect aren’t demanded, they’re earned. Stop the shouting and listen for a change.

 

There are a number of myths and misconceptions about dairy farming. Have questions or want me to address concerns? Comment below!

“Cows are pumped full of growth hormones”

The big one! Probably the myth that annoys me the most, as it continues to persist.

rBST NEVER HAS AND NEVER WILL BE APPROVED IN CANADA!

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Fat

Nothing to do with their own weight or others. Dairy farmers in Canada are paid based on the “components” of milk-butterfat, protein, and other solids such as lactose. Butterfat is the moneymaker, and every farmer I know loves to compare their results. Fun fact-whole milk is only 3.25% fat! My herd is currently averaging 4.3%. Low butterfat can indicate illness. Diet, genetics, and cow comfort all contribute to how much fat a cow will produce.

Semen 

Bull semen, that is. Choosing a bull that fits with your herd goals-improving looks, milk yield, or health traits is a never ending task. Probably my favourite topic to discuss. It’s not uncommon to get really excited about new semen in the tank. Some farmers would qualify for an episode of Hoarders with how many straws they have. EastGen, a member of Semex, is even running a felfie (farmer selfie) contest to win Windbrook semen!

Straws of semen

2 straws of bull semen. The pink straw had sexed semen (sorted to contain primarily X chromosome sperm)

Pregnancy

Of course, we hope the aforementioned semen leads to pregnant cows! Cows don’t produce milk until they have a calf. It might sound like an episode of Teen Mom, but the goal is to have heifers breeding size by 13-15 months old.

Norene has 13 months until she is bred!

Norene has 13 months until she is bred!

Once they have calved, they get a mini vacation before they are bred back again. Optimally, they will calve every 365 days, typical gestation of 280 days. Sometimes it takes multiple breedings, and this interval is much longer (eg Jersey cross named Fran who was bred 9 times and had 672 days between calvings. She did have a heifer!).

There’s a lot of ways to measure breeding success that I will talk about in a future post.

Weather
Canadians in general LOVE to talk about the weather, but farmers take it to a whole different level. Weather impacts everything on the farm.

During winter, freezing temperatures pose many challenges. From frozen water, to snow filled driveways, to keeping calves warm, there’s always something to complain about. I even dreamt about putting up and fixing pasture fences on a sunny spring day (an arduous, not always fun task).

Summer ramps up the weather talk even more. Heat and precipitation, or lack thereof, essentially determines when you will plant, harvest and the quality/yield of your crops. Pretty much always want the opposite conditions to what you have!

Today we culled a pet cow named Iona. “Culled” means she is removed from the milking herd and sent to be slaughtered as beef.

It hurts. And yes, I cried, as I always do. On our farm, we spend a great deal of time with the cows and consider them our family. Iona loved to follow me around, licking me and resting her chin on my shoulder. She was a pain in the ass who you couldn’t help but love.

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Advocating for agriculture is a worthwhile goal, no doubt. But who knows what being an agvocate means? Other agvocates. Your typical non farmer thinks you just spelt advocate wrong. The label serves only to identify yourself to others in the industry, most often those who farm the same way you do.

Lately, I’ve become frustrated and disillusioned with where I see agvocacy heading, primarily on twitter. Calling consumers ignorant, stupid, uneducated, brain dead, or scientifically illiterate for not understanding the industry is common. For many farmers, it’s the only life they’ve known. It makes it easy to forget that not everyone lives and breathes agriculture and food issues on a daily basis! I’ve lived both sides, and remember how difficult it was to cut through all the “facts” and “evidence”. We’re experts in our own field, but do you know every facet of the oil or aviation or whatever industries?!

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