How I fell in love with farming and farmers,

I started my little farm 3 years ago now, with an admitted lack of knowledge in farming. I’d been around lots of animals, even lived on a beef farm, but I knew my own farm was going to be a fantastic adventure. And was it ever.

Between the endless late nights checking in the barn for new life, the tender care rendered towards the ill or infirmed, and the learning curve even steeper then I had ever anticipated; I feel completely head-over heels for this work.

I enter the food production system with my own ideals of how animals should be raised, and a number of which I still hold; but what I found was a deeper respect for the people who give their entire lives over to farming, and the endless toil that comes with it.

Now don’t get me wrong, the work in amazing. To be outdoors in the fresh air and on soil you can stick your hand into and call your own, there isn’t anything like it in the world.  It’s not something I would give up for anything, to be able to raise my children with an intimate knowledge of where their food comes from and with such an integral connection to this community.

I have learned the sorrows of losing a favourite animal, the joys of seeing new life, the pride of putting well-received food on to tables, and the frustrations of dealing in bureaucracy.

What I never expected was to have forged indelible friendships with my “coworkers” across the country and beyond. Hardworking, humble, open, giving and welcoming; the pastoral vision of the farm may no longer be a reality, but it lives on in the hearts of those who grow our food. From the smallest farms, to the largest commercial animal operations, no one does this for the pay-cheque; they do it because it’s in their blood.

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Predatory Bingo


I
n life, and perhaps especially in the up and down world of farming, you’ve got to maintain your sense of humour or you’re never going to last. So, I would like to present Predatory Bingo:

predatory-bingo

These are all the animals, looking to eat our animals (as most successfully), that have shown up on the farm since we moved in.

Only missing a few!

predatory_bingo_cardGet your own and join in the fun!

A perfect storm for horse slaughter in Ontario. Thoughts on the state of racing in Ontario.

In response to an article on the state of Ontario horse racing published on the 2nd of September in the Toronto Star entitled “13,000 horses could be destroyed in 2013 if Ontario horse racing industry collapses”, as well as some small insight into the issues faced by Ontario horse racing today. 

Before I spout off, I want to mention I work with a feedlot rescue group (Need You Now Equine), as well as living in an area with a lot of standardbred breeders. The crew behind Need You Now Equine have been dealing with the fall-out of government decision this for months, as well, I have spoken to a number of breeders, trainers & people involved in the industry about their futures. 

If you are not familiar with the issues facing racing in Ontario, the Ontario horse racing industry had several years ago formed a deal with the province to introduce slots to the tracks. The income from those slots was then shared with the province as well as going to the purses won at those tracks, supporting the racing industry. Recently the Ontario government has chosen to pull the slots out of the tracks and instead focus gaming in casinos. There is a private members bill that was recently introduced to re-examine pulling out the slots; of course, if it passes, it will be after the smaller tracks have closed. Many Ontario racing jobs have already been terminated.

Personally, I don’t worry as much about the Thoroughbreds. They certainly go to slaughter, but there is more acceptance in the equine-community that they can be re-trained as pleasure horses and do very well in second careers. There are too many horses to find homes for all of them, but there are also several large rescues in Ontario that focus on Thoroughbreds alone. As well, some of the Qc slaughter houses are “no longer accepting thoroughbreds” (and I mean “no longer accepting”). Neither of these are true for Standardbreds.

Standardbreds are a much bigger hurdle. They can just as easily be re-trained as pleasure horses, and many excel in dressage; but they don’t have that public understanding of the potential of their second careers.

Need You Now Equine has 2 Standardbred stud colts right now that need homes. They’ve been pulled out of the feedlot, we’ve found people who want to loan the money to buy them, but they have nowhere to go. They’re both under 2 and one has been track-broke but not raced. If they were Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses, I’m sure they would have found homes already. Even if the slots were staying at the tracks, I’m positive these two would still have been sold to meat; there is very little market for them outside racing.

Many smaller breeders did not breed this year, for lots of reasons, before the slots became an issue (just general downturn in the economy being a big one) so any wave of unwanted foals this winter/spring will be muted. People have already been dumping horses for months, as soon as this story first hit the media, it is the lower end trainers who started getting out. Higher end trainers have already shipped (or have plans to) their good horses from tracks that are closing to other tracks down south or to Woodbine.

So I want to point out a very important part of the article from the Toronto Star.

“A government panel…has forecast…up to 13,000 thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses by early next year should the industry collapse completely.”

That would include Woodbine closing (Ontario’s largest track) and this is unlikely to happen in the next year, no matter what happens with the slots or the other tracks. There is a major problem in Ontario horse racing, but hyperbole is not necessary to get this point across. 7,500, or 2,000 for that matter, healthy and sound horses being slaughtered, either are big enough numbers that we should all be outraged.

(I also feel people should be outraged that horses who won their owners $20k, $50k, $100,000 are turned into steaks for over-seas export; but I digress.)

All sporting events have an ebb and flow of popularity; that we should lose one that has been ingrained in our history and culture, as well as employs so many Ontarians, because of a seemingly nonsensical decision of the Mcguinty government, is mystifying.

Our racing industry had been the envy of the world for the innovative way we were generating income & interest in racing; which could only lead to greater income for the province and jobs for rural Ontarians.

This decision will cripple our racing industry in more ways than may be immediately seen. Those smaller tracks are used as a stepping stone for trainers, jockeys & drivers on their way to Woodbine and beyond, with these track closures we are loosing that crucial step. It put it in Canadian terms, they are cancelling Peewee Hockey.

The annual Ontario Thoroughbred & Standard bred yearling sales are held in September.

“If a $20,000 horse becomes a $10,000 horse, then the horse that used to bring $10,000 is now a giveaway,” says Sikura, who estimates it costs about $33,000 to care for a horse that races regularly each year.”

At Need You Now Equine we routinely see horses who were $20k,30k,50k as yearlings who end up being sold for meat after a few years of racing. Irregardless of what happens at the coming sale, to say a horse that was worth $10,000 being a giveaway, this was already true before any problems with the slots.

On top of these issues with the future of Ontario horse-racing, we have had a record-setting drought in many areas of the province and owners have been unable to keep their horses. So we don’t just have too many horses to re-home from the racing industry, there are too many horses who need homes in general. In addition, those people who might otherwise have space for another horse, are facing hay-shortages or increased prices on everything from feed to services.

In a 2008 it was reported as many as 100,000 horses were slaughtered in Canada (unfortunately it is very difficult to find updated & accurate statistics on horse slaughter in Canada). To say we are adding 13,000 from the Ontario racing industry, belittles the fact horses were already headed that way from the industry. This year, and the next, there were be a few more than there were in past years.

There are no simple solutions to the problems facing the horse industry, and Ontario Racing microcosm of the of the horse-community in Ontario. To concentrate on those horses that will be sent to slaughter would be short-sighted, because loosing these horses is the smallest part of this issue. The closing of tracks will gut vast swaths of rural Ontario, ending a living part of our history, and terminating a program that has been envied the world over.

We were already facing a perfect storm for horse slaughter in Ontario, and with the decision to pull these gambling revenues from the track, we are loosing a great industry as well.


If you are looking for a horse, and you have the expertise (or have it available to you) to handle a rescue, please consider one of the horses from Need You Now Equine. Since December 2011 we’ve been working to network horses, that are in feedlots around Ottawa, so that they can find new homes before they are shipped for slaughter. As of September 2012 we’ve already found homes for over 130 horses facing that deal sentence.

Where are we going? What are we bringing with us? Thoughts on breeds for the small farm.

There is on inalienable truth about our current population, we are heading to the city. Regardless of your beliefs about climate change, or peak oil, or even your environmental leaning, you can not deny that as a population, people are moving from rural to urban environments. So how does this effect what you should be breeding?

Animal hobbyism (and by this I mean keeping & breeding specific breeds of animals for hobby raising) is on a downward spiral. As beautiful as some breeds of chickens or exotic some breeds of goat, people aren’t going to keep them in their yard in city. Some people do try, but they are in the vast minority, and probably the same people who will eventually move to the country to live out a more suitable lifestyle.

When choosing a bred to bring into your small farm, you need to look are you practical needs for the animal, the climate and conditions (especially space requirements) you want to keep them in, as well as the usefulness of the animal in the future.

I speak specifically of the “pet” and “fancy” breeds of animals. You can not eat poofy hair or feathers, and no one wants an expensive crap-machine in their backyard. Before throwing your heart in soul into a breed, you need to ask yourself, honestly, is this breed going to be around in 100 years? Should it?

If all small farms followed the lead of industrial agriculture we’d be in a whole heap more trouble then we are now. I especially don’t want to dissuade people from keeping rare ‘heritage’ breeds, I think it is very important to maintain the genetic diversity of these breeds. Most of those breeds were bred for practical purposes and are especially suited to small farms. It is the breeds have either come into being for a colour or look, or drifted away from any actual purpose towards a pretty form, which will not stand the test of time.

If you want to practice animal hobbyism, that’s your own perogitory, but keep in mind the future of your craft, and that one day, possibly quite soon, you may find there is no one left interested in purchasing your fancy stock. What small farmers want is the old-style dual-purpose heritage animals that existed for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, one those still have function bred into them.

Animals should be bred for practicality, health, and thriftiness before colour or body form (not related to conformation); and if you want your breed, your hard-work to live on into the future, that is the direction you must go. If you’ve bred something that needs to be artificially inseminated, raised or incubated, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Industrial agriculture cares for nothing but feed conversion, health for the purposes of production and productivity of the animal, you do not breed for these same ideals when breeding for small stock.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a crazy coloured cow that is also a great meat or milk producer, but it must have been bred for purpose and the colour is an afterthought.

Chicken Feet

One thing that really ticks is me off is when people blather on & on about how your typically bred meat chickens develop all these leg problems, and isn’t it terrible everyone is so cruel to raise them.

Bullshit.

Maybe if you stick them in a tiny box and pump them full of high protein feeds you’re going to have a big problem, but I’d like to introduce you to my 4 & 6 week old meat birds. They’ve been indoors mostly for the last few weeks because of the fox problem, but in the last week I’ve been trying to get them out for at least a few hours a day.

Meaties out in the sun

The only ones who do have issues with their feet were caused by either the fox, or Andy stepping on them when he broke into the chicken coop when they were about a week old…

Some of them can even lift they’re fat butts off the ground and fly a little.

One disparaging thing I will say about the meat birds is they eat and poop a whole lot! Actually that’s pretty much all they do!

When a dual purpose take me 3-4 months to grow out to a good size, and these guys take 8-10 weeks. The money savings is not worth it for me to go for the dual purpose.

However, if anyone wants to pay $15/Kg for chicken I would be MORE then happy to go to an all dual-purpose operation!

It hit the fan in PA & Horse Professionals.

For those of you who haven’t read the s*** hitting the fan all over the horse world Kelsey Lefever link & full affidavit link.

Basically this woman promised trainers that she’d find homes for lots of OTTBs which were given to her for free (number undetermined, she allegedly claimed more then 120) then turned around and sold them to slaughter for a profit.

I think most horse-lovers are well aware of the slaughter debate and firmly sit on one side or another, but everyone agrees that what this person did was despicable. She is facing criminal charges for her actions.

Having personally taken on a to-a-good-home kinda horse, and fully understanding how much his former-owner loves him, and cares for him, and cares where he ended up (and keeps up with his highly uneventful new life, Hi Sarah!) I can not comprehend Lefever’s actions.

I get that there are too many horses out there for them all to find good homes in our current economy/culture. But to look someone in the eyes, promise them you’ll find the horse a good home, then in cold-blood do the exact opposite, it is inconceivable to me.

So, I’d like to re-post my article “HK 101: Is my equine professional a real professional?”; remember I got duped by someone I thought I could trust (thankfully everyone is fine & none the worse for wear).

As well as, again, encourage everyone visit Need You Now Equine, even if you’re not currently looking for a rescue/project horse, maybe someone you know is.

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Eat it or Love it?

The debate has been brought up again recently with ads like these:

Appearing in the TTC, what is the difference between eating a dog when we all eat pigs? (The creators of the ads are promoting vegan lifestyles).

May I offer this as an explanation?
Yes, the pot-bellies are very cute, now, while they are young. So were the tiny little meat chickens, very “cute”. Human beings are not going to all switch over to a vegan diet tomorrow, so my argument is that in the mean time we need to push for better education of consumers and welfare for the animals we eat.

You want to live a vegan lifestyle go for it! But be aware that our omnivorous lifestyle may be far more environmentally sustainable. We produce our own organic foods, breed the animals here & slaughter locally. Do your research for yourself before climbing on your high-horse. You can’t listen to the propaganda the big “animal welfare” groups are spitting out, because it is as bad as the propaganda from the big meat sellers.

So why should be eat pigs when we don’t eat dogs? Because a dog isn’t going to eat you if you knock yourself unconscious and fall in their pen.

A pig is a pig is a PIG. And while I don’t actually like pork all that much, we still eat it on occasion. Is it better that it’s coming from a huge factory farm kilometers away? Or from a small breeding group in our backyard?

While our two still don’t have names, we aren’t planning on eating them. Pot bellies do make good meat pigs because they are very lean, and easy to raise on small amounts of land.

http://www.windridgefarm.us/potbellypigs.htm

Has great info all about raising pot bellies for meat, and what the differences in the meat are.

I hope I never come off as being up on my high-horse, I really don’t judge anyone who chooses to buy their meat at big grocery chains. We used to do it, and between supply still would. If you compare prices you may be very surprised that buying conventional farm-gate meat can be a lot cheaper then buying from the store.

I am very passionate about our farm, so I will talk your ear off about why I think all meat/production animals should be cared for with respect and under organic principals.

Big, Small, Hobby?

So what kind of farmer are you? Are you a hobby farmer? Or a small-scale farmer? What’s the difference?

Hobby Farmer
Means you don’t make a profit. You’re probably not sinking too much money into the farm (or hopefully you’re not!), you may be selling a few animals, but mostly you keep what you like to have around. You may or may not have a balance sheet but if you do it’s most likely in the red. You’re growing things for fun & your family.

If you keep a pair of chickens in your urban backyard or have some patio potatoes, you’re a hobby farmer.

Small Scale
Made a profit last year? Welcome to small-scale farming! Whether you focus on one animal or have lots, small scale farmers care about a bottom line. You may not be living off the farm, but you should be making something even if it only covers hydro. If you’re trying to make a profit, but loosing your shirt, it still counts.

You may have show animals or not, be more of a breeder then a farmer, or not; but if you’ve got livestock you’re a small-scale farmer.

Medium Scale
Quit your day job? You’re a medium scale farmer! You should no only be clearing income, but should be able to keep yourself employed above the poverty line ($25k a year in Canada). You may have lots of money invested in your business, but the size of your land does not dictate where you sit. So you can be a medium scale farmer on 5 acres of land, or 200 acres.

Large Scale
Living more then a little comfortably off the farm? Supplying grocery chains? More then one farm? Hundreds of head? You’re a large scale farmer. And maybe that’s just me sitting here on my little tiny farm, but I’d say if you’re clearing more then 100k a year. This is the big times.

And large scale farming does not equate to “Big Ag”.

Big Ag
Control inputs for more then a hundred thousand food producers?
Create so much waste that the back end of your production can be called a natural disaster?
Been featured, legitimately, on some animal rights group’s propaganda with your normal practices?

We don’t like you.

Bio Security

 I start on another rant, here is something the OMFARA is getting really right.
You can get a biosecurity booklet with all their info at: www.agbiosecurity.ca or www.healthybirds.ca.
I tried printing & posting my own sign from
the site, it lasted one rainstorm despite
the protective sleeve
Most of the information is already available on heathybirds.ca (which is really worth checking out of general bird health information, even if you don’t live in Ontario). The booklet is a nice reference, although I’m not sure how long the “weatherproof” sign is going to last. 
Biosecurity is really important to the backyard flock owner for a few reasons, not the least of which are
  • Even though BigAg productions pose a far greater threat of producing and spreading big scary anti-biotic resistant diseases, we don’t want to be passing around avian flu or west nile either, and those are ones small flock keepers are good at spreading around.
  • You don’t want to your birds getting sick & loosing your time and money investment into them
  • It’s the law. As I mentioned before, it’s illegal to free-range in Ontario because you need to limit access of wild birds (and other animals) to your flock. (Of course there are ways to limit wild birds when your birds are ranging)
Most of the bio-security stuff you’re probably already adhering to because it’s common sense. Other things are as simple as having a hand-sanitizer bottle in your chicken coop (you can pick up a pretty big bottle at the dollar store). The log book is just in case there is an outbreak, so they can track back who has come to visit, and you only need people who have chickens (or who have recently been around chickens) to sign it.
Keeping your coop, waterers, feeders, and bedding clean will keep your birds healthy and make your job a whole lot more enjoyable. I also really believe in the principal of making the inspectors (should they ever show up) happy by showing we’re making the effort and they are going to leave us alone. 

Are you sure those are meat chickens?

If I had a dollar for everyone person that had asked that, well, maybe that would be the best way to make money farming.
Our birds grew more slowly then your typical meat birds. It wasn’t a mix up at the hatchery as we first suspected, although it’s possible we weren’t feeding them enough around the 4 week mark (my bad!). Quite simply the reason our meat birds don’t look like meat birds, is because we let them live.
Out scrounging around
They had a chance to run around, enjoy the sunshine, scratch in the dirt, get into the cow poo, and choose whether or not they wanted to interact with any of the other chickens at any given moment. In return I have a whole lot of chicken poo to clean up around the farm when they are gone, but the grass is richer for it. We lost none to heart-attacks and broken legs despite them getting far older then they are supposed to. They greatly reduced the fly population around the farm, and provided tons of soil aeration to a few spots that really needed it. As well as entertainment for the kids.
For next year we are going to confine them to certain areas, probably with electric netting, just to keep the poo off the lawn. We also have to do this so that we can get a better feed conversion rate, unless everyone wants to pay $10/Kg. I hope we never have to go to an indoor system, to me this seems a far fairer way to raise chickens.
Following me into the barn for dinner

Their date is set for Wednesday. We’re all very excited and should be enjoying our first roast chicken from the farm within just a few days. We’ve already had a ton of friends and family asking for chickens, in fact I doubt we’re going to have enough as everyone would like. I certainly hope they all enjoy them too.

Quite honestly I think I’m going to miss those feathery little white bowling balls running all over the place. When they weren’t getting directly in my way, or the cockerels trying to bite at my legs, they were quite a nice animal to have around. I’m looking forward to next April when we’ll have a fresh crop of little yellow fuzzy bums.