Growing up we can all remember those times when your mother yelled at you “stop eating like a pig”. Although she may have been referring to the mess you were making, pig farmers like me know exactly what it takes to eat like one.
Pig feed is one of the most important aspects of a hog operation. On my farm we make our own feed to ensure high quality products are being fed to keep our animals healthy and happy. With the help of a professional swine nutritionist, we are able to make custom recipes (rations), including exactly what the pigs need at each growth stage.
The ingredients my farm uses to make feed are all sourced in Ontario. The main ingredients included in our pig feed are corn, soybean meal and a premix which is specially formulated with vitamins and minerals to meet all of the needs of the pigs at each of their specific growth stages. Depending on what age of animals the feed is going to, our farm may also include soy hulls, wheat shorts, dried distiller grains with solubles, bakery meal, and roasted soybeans.
|Corn||Grown on our own fields or neighbours fields|
|Soybean Meal||Hamilton, a byproduct of crushing soybeans for oil|
|Premix||Cambridge and Exeter, specifically formulated for each growth stage|
|Soy Hulls||Hamilton, skin of the soybeans after crushing for oil|
|Wheat Shorts||Mississauga, byproduct from flour mills|
|Dried Distiller Grains with Solubles||Alymer, byproduct of ethanol plant|
|Bakery Meal||St. Petersberg, byproduct from donuts, buns, cookies, timbits etc. that do not meet the requirements for human consumption|
|Roasted Soybeans||Grown on our own fields, roasted as pigs cannot digest them raw|
Our farm makes feed 2-3 times a week with an automated system. To make feed we first log-on to our computer feed mixer program and put in an order by telling it how much feed we want made. The computer figures out how many batches of feed it needs to blend to make the total amount needed. After the order is planned, we hit the send button and the feed system starts.
The ingredients are held in separate bins and are automatically weighed by the computer as they get augured into the mixer which can hold up to 2000kg at one time. Before the corn and roasted soybeans are added to the mixer, they get ground by the hammer mill. This increases the surface area and allows for better digestion by the pig. Once each ingredient is added, the mixer will mix for 2 minutes to ensure everything is blended. After fully mixed, the feed goes to a storage bin which allows for the next batch to start.
Once the computer has completed the order and all the feed is in the overhead storage bin we load our feed truck.
We back the truck under the bin and open a slide and the feed falls in.
This truck will haul the load to one of our farms and unload it with a pneumatic blower into an unloading pipe which goes into the feed bin.
There is a feed auger that goes from the feed bin and fills the feeders in the barn. The auger is on a timer and runs three times a day. When the feed fills the last feeder up, a sensor turns the auger off. The pigs eat from the opening at the bottom of the feeder. They also can grab a drink of water while they are there.
So there we have it folks, an overview of the processing of making feed, delivering it and feeding to the pigs. I hope you learned a thing or two from it. Feel free to ask any questions.
Toffee on snow is by far one of the most popular things you can do with maple syrup, especially at maple syrup festivals that’re in full swing right now. It’s sticky, chewy, rolls right up into a lollipop in front of you and is full of that oh so delicious maple flavour.
Whenever we have visitors at our farm for our annual Maplefest, they’re often amazed at all of the great things we can do with maple syrup. Between soft maple sugar, hard maple candies, candy floss from stirred maple sugar and all of the other goodies we can make – maple syrup is truly a versatile and fun food that is great for adding some science to in the kitchen!
Though it may seem tricky – making your own toffee on snow is actually a pretty simple process that you can do at home fairly easily!
How to make homemade toffee on snow
What you’ll need:
- Pure Maple Syrup
- Popsicle sticks (or something that you can use to “roll up” and use as a lollipop stick for your maple treat!)
- A Candy Thermometer (easily found at hardware stores, kitchen stores or kitchen sections of department stores – retails around $5)
- A small or medium sized pot
- A ladle
- Some sort of vegetable oil/butter/margarine/etc.
- Snow or ice
- A willing taste tester!
What to do:
- Step One: Put the desired amount of syrup into the pot on the burner with a thermometer in it.
- Step Two: Turn the stove on with the pot of syrup on it! . Should be about medium/medium high heat. You don’t want to burn it, but it needs to be at a rolling boil.
- Step Three: Do not stir! This is the really serious part. Our automatic reaction when something starts boiling a lot is to start stirring so that something boils over but this is a big no no when it comes to candy making…if you stir it sugar crystals start to form and if sugar crystals start to form, they’ll keep forming and you’ll end up with a big pile of gritty sugar stuck to the bottom of your pot. So I’m serious here: Do. Not. Stir. If it’s starting to boil and/or foam up a lot and you want to stir it – add some of your oil product. A small dab of oil/butter/margarine (think: pea sized or smaller) will bring the foam back down and “defoam” the sugar so it won’t boil over. Add more if it foams up a lot again, but a small amount should keep it under control. You can also just take off the heat if it’s foaming up too quickly and you feel panicked. After you add a littler defoamer just put it back on the heat and turn it down a little if needed.
- Step Four: Keep an eye on it! It will take the syrup a while to get up to temperature, but the hotter it gets, the more water that has evaporated from the syrup and the faster the temperature will rise. For toffee on snow you need to reach 255°F/125°C. If you don’t boil it enough, your syrup will be runny and not stick to your popsicle sticks. If this happens, put it back on the burner quickly and make sure it gets up to 255°F. (You can always take a ladle full and test it out – if it starts to roll, it’s ready. If it’s still really gooey and goopy – it’s not hot enough!) If it’s boiled too high, it will get sugary and start to try and turn to candy – you want to catch it as close to the correct temperature as possible for making toffee on snow.
- Step Five: Take it off the heat, and move directly to your snow/ice, where you’ll pour the hot liquid syrup onto the snow with your ladle. Pour it in lines, so that you can place your popsicle stick horizontally to the line of syrup you’ve poured and roll it up. As you place your popsicle stick into the syrup, it will have cooled enough so start to grip to your stick and you can roll up all of the candy into a perfectly sweet maple toffee on snow treat! If it seems a little gooey still once you’ve rolled it, let it cool in the snow for a few seconds and let it harden.
- Step Six: Enjoy enjoy enjoy! Make toffee on snow for a crew, or for a few of you..but know that it only stays liquid to turn into toffee form for a few short minutes (5-10 minutes max) before it starts to cool down and harden in the pot – you’ve gotta work fast and pour it out for everyone before the syrup starts to try and set! Then you just need to soak your pot in some warm water to help loosen any stuck on syrup and dream of the next time you get to make toffee on snow!
Easy peasy! If you have any questions, let me know – otherwise…enjoy this easy, fun, delicious, oh-so-Canadian treat!!
Spring in Ontario means a few things: Snow is beginning to melt while the mud appears, farm animals are prancing around enjoying warmer temperatures and all across the north eastern parts of North America…maple syrup producers are out in full force tapping trees, collecting sap and boiling it down to make it into the sweet delicacy that is fresh maple syrup!
On our farm we mix the goodness technology affords us with the knowledge from our past and this is definitely present in our sugarbush. On our farm we’re a little more old fashioned than some when it comes to making maple syrup. Our sugarbush has no pipeline, it is entirely buckets (around 1000 this year!). We collect everything by hand and bring it back to our evaporator – which is wood burning and sits down just outside of our sugarbush. This is the way we’ve always made maple syrup, and it works for us, so it’s the way that we continue to make it, enjoying the sweet smell of spring each year as the sap boils down into a golden liquid nectar.
Making maple syrup is actually a pretty fascinating and complex process…here are five of my favourite things you (probably) didn’t know about maple syrup!
5) There are different grades of maple syrup…most commonly light, medium and amber. Light has the most delicate maple flavour, is very light brown. Medium is a little stronger in maple flavour, and is slightly darker. Amber has the strongest maple flavour and is the darkest, with a deep brown colour. All grades actually all have the same sugar content and sweetness, it’s just the actual MAPLE flavour that changes. Here’s the kicker though: Maple syrup producers don’t get the choose what grade of syrup they get to make! Whatever the trees give them, is what they get! In the beginning of the season the sugar content of the sap is higher, so we don’t have to boil it as long and we make light maple syrup. As we continue throughthe season, the sugar content in the sap drops and we have to boil it longer to reach the same sugar content of syrup, which makes a different grade of syrup. All are equally delicious and great for eating, baking and enjoying in any way you can, though if you’re baking or cooking, I’d recommend using Amber syrup as the maple flavour comes through the best with it. Like a lot of things, that grades are actually on a spectrum, and not cut and dry…so you can have a very light light, a light that’s almost medium, or an medium that’s almost amber, an amber that’s lighter or an amber that’s very dark – it all just depends on the sap you started out with.
4) You can make a TON of things from pure maple syrup without adding anything to it! You can make hard candy, soft sugar, stirred sugar, toffee on snow, maple butter and so much more from maple syrup! You don’t have to add any fancy ingredients and all you need is a pot, a spoon, a candy thermometre, a willing taste tester and some pure maple syrup! By adding heat, removing more of the water from the syrup and adding movement and friction, we can create a TON of awesome maple products without using anything else! (Science is AWESOME!)
3) Tapping a tree and taking sap from it doesn’t hurt it! Like all things in farming, maple syrup producers take great care in making sure that their sugar bushes are healthy and well looked after. No matter what method they’re using…whether they have pipelines or buckets, a wood evaporator or an electric one, whether they choose to use reverse osmosis to remove some of the water before boiling or not – they take great care to ensure their sugar bush health. This means that each year special consideration is taken when tapping the tree to tap in a new location that hasn’t been tapped before, so that the tree can continue to heal any taps from previous years. Taps are put in a tree based on it’s size, to make sure that we’re not taking away too many of the nutrients that it needs in order to survive, and we take the taps out after each syrup season is over so that the tree can easily heal the hole where the spile once was. It’s actually a lot like donating blood – we don’t take away enough of the sap to hurt the tree, but can take a little bit and do something good with it! Like on every aspect of the farm, best management practices are used so that we can continue to farm and produce syrup for years to come!
2) Sap flows UP. It goes against basically everything we’re taught about gravity in public school but it’s true! During the summer, the trees leaves use photosynthesis to turn sunlight into food and energy. It starts collecting these and storing them in it’s roots, where they are stored all winter long. In the spring, the stored nutrients begin to thaw, and the tree beings to come out of its dormancy and absorb water and take the nutrients it has up to the different branches and parts of the tree. When we have a warm spring day, the sap begins to make it’s way up the tree. (The ideal temperature for sap to flow is about -6C at night and +6C during the day.) As the temperature drops, the sap retreats. It is during this process of the sap going up and down the trunk of the tree all spring (attempting to get sap to the different parts of the tree so that it can take nutrients to different branches and start the process of making buds and leaves) that we can collect a small amount of sap from the maple tree. Once the sap has made it’s way all the way up and buds start to come out, you can’t collect sap anymore because the sap will be bitter.
1) Sap is almost ENTIRELY water when it comes from the maple tree. It’s usually about 97-99% water, with only around 1-3% sugar content. That’s why it’s clear and looks and tastes a lot like water…and that means we have to boil it A LOT to evaporate the water and concentrate the sugar. You need approximately 40 litres of sap to make only 1 litre of syrup!
Have you ever wondered what farmers do in the winter? And I’m not saying we don’t have anything to do – we still check the barns, take care of our animals, gather eggs, clean and sweep, keep our records up to date, maintain equipment, grade eggs to sell to customers, and much more – but things are a little bit slower. There is a lot less outdoor work we can do and there are no crops in the fields to worry about, so we have a little bit of free time.
Many farmers will use some of this time to learn. From Soil and Crop to Dairy Expos to Farm Safety Training, there are many meetings that go on through the winter that help us farmers stay up to date on new technologies and new ideas that we can apply on our farms.
This past week I had the opportunity to go to the Canadian Young Farmers Forum. It is an event that takes place each year and is attended by young farmers ages 18 to 40. On the first day of the event I was able to meet with 13 other egg farmers from across the country to learn about how our industry interacts with the government and how different trade deals can affect eggs in Canada. It is amazing to see how much our industry does for us and Canadians. We also learned about Social Responsibility and how the Egg Farmers of Canada are doing their part. They are planning to build a chicken barn on a farm in Swaziland to help support an orphanage, and in turn help the local economy. This farm not only creates jobs for local people but also food and income for the orphanage.
The topics spoken about at the conference also included business planning, political predictions, new technologies and apps, and tips on agriculture education. While I learned a lot in each session that I attended, the most beneficial information I took away was from talking with other young farmers from across the country. I met dairy farmers from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, potato farmers from PEI, grape growers from Niagara Falls, chicken and berry farmers from BC, grain farmers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and egg farmers from the North West Territories. Each farmer had a different story of how they got where they are, and also a different way of doing things. I gained a lot of new ideas from these conversations that I can apply on my farm, including things as simple as a new way to streamline record keeping in my barn.
Farmers are not afraid to share their ideas with each other, and it helps build a stronger agricultural sector throughout the country. The community that this creates is one of the many reasons I am so proud to be able to call myself a farmer 🙂
It’s a great job to be able to produce high quality milk, but what good is it if it doesn’t make it to you? Well, that isn’t something we have to worry about, in part thanks to our very loyal and very important milk truck.
Our milk truck backs up to the barn every other day and can pick up as much as 34 000 litres from area farms.
Every other day, the milk truck backs up to the barn, ready to take another load of milk. The driver (usually Dennis or Chris for us) takes a look inside the milk tank to make sure it looks like good, wholesome milk.
Next, they turn on the agitator which is a big paddle inside the tank that stirs the milk up. They’ll also check to make sure the temperature of the milk is nice and cool, make sure the milk and milking system has been working properly over the last 48 hours (with the help of monitoring systems that make sure the milk was always cool and the equipment was washed). Next, they take another look inside the tank to make sure the milk looks like it should.
Our milk tank has worked to keep the milk at a cool 3 degrees the last 48 hours, spinning every hour to make sure the cream doesn’t seperate.
Once the agitator stops stirring the milk, they measure how much milk is in the tank using a long pole that looks like a big ruler. That ruler is calibrated for our tank to tell the driver how many litres we have. Dennis or Chris then take a sample of the milk that is used to test for quality and make sure that nothing but pure milk is present. (If antibiotics were present, we would face enormous financial penalties and the entire truck load would be dumped)
The next big step is the big one: use a hose from the truck to hook up to the milk tank and pump the milk into the truck. This truck can hold 34 000 litres of milk collected from a number of area dairy farms. It will then be off to a processor to be made into a number of dairy products like yogurt, cheese, or even ice cream!. Most commonly, our milk heads off to Neilson Dairy in Georgetown, Ontario and can be found in all kinds of stores in bags and cartons labeled ‘milk’.
When our on-farm tank is empty and all the milk is on the truck, a wash system is turned on that will make sure the tank is sparkling by the time we are ready to milk the cows in the evening.
So, if you see a big milk truck heading down the road – give a wave to the driver who has an important step in making sure the milk gets from the farm to your fridge.
And as a note on some interesting numbers: In 2013 there were 207 milk trucks in Ontario picking up milk from 3980 dairy farms and delivering it to 71 processing plants.
Keeping cows happy is one of the most important jobs of a dairy farmer. After all, did you know that happy and comfortable cows give more milk? It’s true! If a cow isn’t feeling well or isn’t comfortable, they just won’t give as much milk as those that are happy, comfortable, well fed and well watered. It is why we are making a huge investment into the long term health of all of our girls with a new addition. The addition will mean more room for more cows, but will also feature some new comforts. Come for a tour!
A floor so clean you can eat off of it!
One of our changes is new, ceramic tile for the cows to eat off. Yes – the same tile that may be in your kitchen or bathroom is what our cows eat off of! Because cement can be hard for a cow to lick, the tile means a smooth surface for the cows to lick every last bit of feed up.
Daylight at night?
We may like a nice dimly lit room for a romantic dinner once in a while, but cows don’t. They are more comfortable eating with lots of light. It is why we’ve added lots of bright, white lights to help them see. The lights are even on timers, to make sure these winter nights when the sun goes down early, doesn’t cut into supper time. Then, the lights go out on their own to make it nice and dark for them to have a good night’s rest.
Big, big fans!
As a kid, I was always happy to sit in front of a fan on a hot summer day. Cows kind of like it too. But instead of getting a little fan for everyone, we’ve got several big fans (up to 5 feet wide) that will pull in fresh air at one end of the barn, and blow the stuffy, hot air out of the other end. It means the air in our 240′ long barn will change every 30 seconds in the summer. In the winter, to keep things from getting too stuffy, we’ve added ceiling vents that will open and close on the command of a thermostat. It means that when it is a cold winter night, the cows will be kept warm; and when it is a warmer winter day, new air will easily keep the barn fresh.
Mattresses for cows.
You sleep on a mattress – so do the cows! While you might like it plush, cows like a bit firmer cushion underneath them. That’s why we have a layer of recycled, shredder rubber underneath foam, underneath a tough cover that can stand up to all a cow delivers. This picture is from when construction was still on-going, because now we’ve also added a layer of fresh straw on top of the mattress that covers it up! It makes being a cow, pretty comfy.
So here’s just a quick post. I thought I’d share a video of me discing a field before I put up my post regarding tillage. For those that don’t know, a disc is used for residue management. By mechanically breaking up residue from a previous crop, rate of decomposition increases and it enables more organic matter to be incorporated in the soil. With that, the soil is richer and ready to grow a crop the next season!
As Canadians, we are good at many things – but one of the things we’re best at is talking about the weather. Especially our dislike of the weather. It always seems to be able to be too hot, too cold, too wet, too something. This is always extremely evident once we start getting snow and it’s been on the ground for a while. It’s wet, it’s cold and if you’re not tobogganing, skiing or snowshoeing – most tend to find it more bothersome than exciting.
Unless of course, you’re a farmer.
If you’re a farmer like us? We love snow. Love love love it.
For one? Snow has great insulating properties. It covers up perennial plants like strawberries and keeps them from being damaged by the cold weather, or short term changes we see between the warmth and the cold. It allows them to have a better winter, stay healthier and produce a better crop the following season. Every year we put strawberries “to bed” by covering them up with a layer of straw to help them survive the harsh Canadian winters filled with cold and wind. The plants are much healthier when this layer of straw is covered with healthy layer of snow. (And it’s the straw that helps collect the snow to keep on top of the plants!) Years where there is little or no snow cover often means that the plants and the fruit will struggle to produce the next spring and summer because they exerted so much energy trying to survive the winter and build themselves back up into healthy plants once spring arrives. If there is not enough straw or snow cover, the crowns of the plants can be damaged both temporarily or permanently.
Spreading straw, trying to get it done before there’s too much snow cover!
Snow is also great for farmers because it adds moisture to the soil. As farmers, we rely a lot on mother nature to give us enough water in the soil to grow our crops. If there has been a lot of snow over the winter, then when that snow melts, the excess water will drain into the fields and add moisture to the ground. Starting off a season with a healthy amount of water in the soil means that plants and trees are better able to grow the next summer. For us on our farm, it also usually amounts to being able to harvest a better maple syrup crop, because the trees have more water that they are able to turn into sap.
And one of the biggest reasons we love snow though? It gives us a little time to slow down, catch up on work, catch up with family, and possibly even get in a small vacation or two.
Vacations various family members have been able to take over the years in our off season!
…When we’re lucky!
When you have livestock, you’re bound to have manure – or with any animal for that matter! Because we keep all our pigs indoors, it means that they also defecate indoors; and as you can imagine, that means work for us!
In our farrowing rooms, all our sows are kept in farrowing crates (I will talk more about these in the future!), which have a slated floor (meaning the floor has narrow holes in it – similar to a concrete grate you might see on a city sidewalk). The slated floor allows the manure to drop between the slates and into themanure pit beneath the barn. The slates keep the farrowing crates free of manure, and much cleaner for the sow and her piglets.
However, before the pregnant sow even enters the farrowing rooms, the crates and entire room must be washed and sanitized completely. Washing and sanitizing properly is extremely important to reduce the risk of spreading any diseases or bugs that may have been in the room. Think about it like going to a hotel; after someone’s stay is over, the towels and bed sheets are replaced. Essential, that is what we are doing. We are cleaning and disinfecting the farrowing crate for the new sow, just like the hotel staff would have done for you!
To wash and disinfect the farrowing rooms, we use a high powered pressure washer, much like one you may use for washing your vehicle with – but much stronger! The pressure washer allows us to get off all the dust and manure as quickly and easily as possible. While washing, we are sure to wash the top, bottom, sides, floor, walls, feed trough, and every little inch of each farrowing crate! It is essential to be very thorough, otherwise you run the risk of the sow or piglets getting sick with something that the sow or piglets who had previously been in that crate had. One good example of this is a case of scours (diarrhea). If a litter of piglets has scours, and the crate is not properly cleaned and sanitized, the next litter of piglets that areborn in that crate will likely get scours; the cleaner, the better!
Pigs are clean animals, much to the contraire of what most people think, and we do our best to ensure that they are kept that way. A clean crate to farrow in and a clean trough to eat and drink out of are extremely important – it’s our job to make sure each sow’s need for a clean environment is met.