The excitement of a new calf never gets old for me. Whether a cow has the calf on her own (about 75% of the time) or needs some help (because the calf is big, the cow isn’t interested in pushing or something more serious like a breach) watching that calf get up on it’s own legs within minutes of being born is simply cool to see. Every time. Continue reading
It is a job that needs to be done at least twice a day, every day, so it has to be done well. (some farms even do it three times a day) Here are the steps we go through to milk our cows.
Step one: Get your dip to clean each of the four teats & then get a paper towel.
This box takes a spin around the barn every time we milk, holding the clean paper towels. Using the dipper hanging from the side, we coat the teat in a disinfecting iodine solution. After waiting 15 or 30 seconds we wipe the solution clean.
Step Two: Check the milk.
Before we place the milking unit on, we want to check to make sure the milk quality is exactly as it was 12 hours ago. If we ever see something abnormal, the cow is milked into a bucket until we figure out what might be wrong. To find abnormal milk isn’t common & not the case here – so on goes the milker!
Step 3: Milkers On.
With the teats clean and the milk quality good, this milking unit is put on. A soft suction keeps it from falling off, while it gently squeezes the teats making a similar action to what you & I would have to do if we were milking her by hand. (Start at the top of the teat near the udder, gently squeeze, and pull down to the bottom of the teat)
Step 4: Wait for her to finish & then give a final dip.
Each of our milking units record how much milk flows through, and at what rate. That way, when the cow is finished it can pull the milking unit off automatically so as to not over milk the cow. When this is finished, we come along with another iodine based solution that will coat each teat again to protect against bacteria for the next 12 hours before we start the job all over again!
All of this needs to be done with calmly & patiently as cows have the ability to hold their milk. If they aren’t comfortable – they won’t give their milk. Luckily, they are quite happy with our twice-daily routine and milk flows freely! Celine chews her cud while she is milked. (an action required by cows to digest their food – something they do several hours a day)
I recently spent a week at home on the farm over the summer which finally gave me a chance to get my hands dirty again after spending far too long at university. One of the things I got to do while at home was look after our chickens. We raise chickens for meat, which are known as broilers.
Compared to other livestock such as dairy cows or pigs, chickens can be a relatively lower maintenance animal, but they still do require proper attention and care. The most laborious part of the job is preparing the barns to receive new baby chickens. This preparation involves cleaning out all the litter from the previous group of chickens, disinfecting and sanitizing the barns, then laying down new fresh bedding for the baby chicks. We use straw for bedding, but other farmers use wood shavings instead. Straw is the part of the wheat plant which isn’t harvested as grain. Since my family also grows wheat, we can easily collect the straw from the fields which means we don’t have to pay for bedding like some other farmers.
Once the barn is prepared, we heat the barn up nice and warm to 34 degrees Celsius. It might feel pretty warm for us, but the day old chickens absolutely love it. From there, we raise the chickens until they are 2.8 kilograms, which takes about 6 weeks from the time they arrive at the barn. Over those 6 weeks, we walk through the barns two or three times a day to check that they are receiving adequate feed and water and to ensure that they are healthy. We try hard to make sure the chickens are happy and comfortable, so if something is wrong we correct the issue immediately.
After the 6 weeks are up, the chickens are loaded onto specially designed trucks and taken to a processing plant. When this happens, it means the barns are empty and the cycle starts again!
The photo in this story is of what my barns at home look like. The chickens are about 5 weeks old at this point and are calm, quiet, and enjoying the warmth of the barn.
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.
When you walk into a hospital, the first thing you do is wipe your hands down with hand sanitizer, right? Well, essentially, that’s biosecurity.
The reason you use hand sanitizer when you go into a hospital, is so you don’t bring in new bugs into the hospital. As pig farmers, we take the same sort of steps to insure that our pigs stay healthy and no new bugs or illnesses are brought into the barn.
Most pig farms require that you shower in before entering the barn. By removing all outside clothing, showering and putting on clothes that do not leave the barn, means that the chance that new bugs or diseases will enter the barn is low. It’s very important that anyone entering the barn shower and change into barn clothes, whether they have been around pigs before or not.
Another step in our biosecurity protocols is that all vehicles must park at least 15 feet from the perimeter of the barn. This also helps keep any bugs or dirt that may have been picked up by tires on the roadway, away from the barn. Vehicles that have been to another pig barn are recommended to be washed prior to visiting just as an added step of protection.
One last very important step that all visitors must take, is signing into the barn and guaranteeing they have not been around any other pigs within the past 48hours. By waiting 48 hours, it ensures that any bugs you may have brought from another barn are no longer lingering on your skin. It’s also very important that you do not wear any clothes that you may have worn to another barn.
Besides all the steps that we as people take to ensure proper biosecurity in the barn, we also need to worry about what animals & rodents are bringing into the barn! No cats or dogs are allowed in the barn, because unlike people, they do not follow all our biosecurity protocols each time they enter the barn! We set and bait rodent traps on a regular basis, as rodents are a major carrier of disease (no one said they couldn’t go in that pig barn down the road this morning before coming to visit us!).
By having such strict biosecurity, we as pig farmers can be sure that we keep the pigs as healthy as possible. No farmer likes to give their animals medication, and the best way to keep from doing that is preventing illness in the barn in the first place. Prevention is key to healthy animals! Even with such strict biosecurity, most pig farms welcome visitors, so long as you follow all biosecurity protocols.
Spring is moving along nicely, our crops are all in and with that task done comes… more work! Like most egg farms in Ontario, we keep each flock of chickens for only one year at a time. The reason for this is mainly because as a hen ages, the shell quality of the eggs that she lays decreases. By the time the year period is over, the egg shells are very fragile which means the eggs are not strong enough to put into cartons and ship to the grocery store, so they are typically sent to a breaking plant to go into commercial use. The fragile shells also mean quite a bit more cracks and more mess for farmers to clean up every day at the end of gathering.
The transition between our flocks is a week long process. Once the chickens go out with the help of a catching crew, we must clean the barn very thoroughly. On the first day we pressure wash the whole barn in order to remove any dirt. This means I get to spend the day in a rain suit which, as they only come in large men’s sizes in our small town Canadian Tire store, means that I am actually wearing a rain dress and trying not to trip over my too long of rain pants while I wash everything. We wash the cages, the walls, the ceilings, the belts, the escalators, the fans, and everything else you can imagine.
The next day, once everything has dried, I get into a clean rain dress, this time to disinfect the barn. This ensures that everything is clean and bio-secure for the incoming flock. The rest of the week the barn is left alone to let the disinfectant work and to let everything fully dry before turning on equipment again and receiving the new flock. This week is a mandatory time period set up by the Egg Board (a provincial and national group that helps regulate egg farmers) in order to ensure bio-security remains tight. This 5 day period with no eggs to gather is my family’s “vacation”. We were able to spend these few days finishing up other work on the farm that had been put on hold during cropping. This year it included splitting wood, planting our garden, outdoor clean-up and various other jobs.
Then early one morning in comes the new flock who, at 19 weeks of age, are ready to start laying and I get to go back to being an egg farmer for another year.
When lambing season comes on our farm, it is all hands on deck. Lambing season is a month-long period when all are ewes are having their lambs. It can be a hectic time on the farm, filled with late nights, early mornings and many, many trips to the barn.
A typical day starts with someone (and I’ll admit it’s usually my dad) getting up at 6a.m to go to the barn and make sure that if any lambs had been born through the night, that they are content in their surroundings and healthy.
We take the lambs and their mothers and put them in a pen by themselves so they can bond and have their own space so the lamb can learn to eat, walk and get to know what their mother smells like.
Knowing their mother’s smell is important because when they are turned in with other lambs and ewes they need to know who their mother is. Lastly we give them a shot of Nutri-Drench or “Wonder Juice” as we call it on our farm. It’s a liquid molasses mixture filled with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, it really works wonders on the lambs, hence the name! The lamb should be up and trying to drink within ten minutes.
Their first steps are always a bit shaky, but they get the hang of it in no time. This picture was taken about 10 minutes after he was born.
We also check that there are no ewes giving birth then, if they are then we’ll usually help with the birth (called “pulling”). Pulling a lamb doesn’t hurt the mother; it just speeds up the process. This also allows us to check and make sure there are no complications with the birthing process. Just like in humans, lambs can be positioned incorrectly inside the mother, which means they need a little bit of help.
Lastly, you take a look for and ewes that look like they will lamb soon, there are a few signs we look for when doing this. If she stop eating, or is off in a corner by herself, or even her skin colour can get brighter pink. These animals are the ones that we watch when we come to the barn in the future.
Once everyone is content we go on with our day but be sure to check the barn every few hours even in the middle of the night. It means long days on the farm when the lambs come, but completely worth it, especially when you see how cute they are! J