Earrings are one word for them – but around the farm, those things in a cow’s ears are actually called ‘ear tags’. Continue reading
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
Wheat is one of the grain crops we grow around our farm. It is all sold with an intention of going to the food market to be used as flour for something like cookies or pastry. But harvesting that grain is only the beginning for the crop, as we also want to harvest the stalk of the dried up wheat plant. Continue reading
As we head into spring, one of the big jobs for the next few months is going to be to harvest, haul & store the feed for the next year for the cows.
One of my favourite YouTubers is Geoffrey, a dairy farmer in Saskatchewan. He has put together a great video on some of the ways his family harvests forages (like hay, pea & barley silage) that will be fed to their cows.
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)
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.
Written by Kim Waalderbos of Farm & Food Care
For farm kids, there’s one thing that stands between them and their Christmas celebrations – farm chores. That’s right, farm animals take no holidays. However, Christmas day is far from an ordinary day for these Dinner Starts Here bloggers.
For Ontario dairy farmers Justin Williams and Andrew Campbell, Christmas morning starts long before the sun rises while so many others are still snuggled in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.
“Christmas morning starts at 4:30 a.m. when we wake up and head to the barn for milking,” says Justin, adding that despite the early hour the barn has a festive spirit. “Christmas morning always seems to be more cheerful in the barn.”
Across the province, at Andrew’s family farm, it’s all hands on deck too. “Christmas around here is pretty wild!” says Andrew. With everyone in the barn, chores go by very quickly with some milking cows, some feeding them, and others laying down a fresh bedding of straw. “It’s the chores we do every morning, but because the whole family is out, we get done much faster.” Then it’s in for coffee, breakfast snacks and of course – opening presents.
On Christmas morning you’ll also find sheep farmer Sarah Brien in the barn. “Christmas morning is a busy time,” she says. “I think it is for every family, but especially when you have 150 animals in the barn that you have to feed before you eat, open presents and visit family.”
It’s divide and conquer for Stephanie Campbell’s farm family. “First dad goes out and does his early barn chores in the hen barn while mom and I start to get things ready in the house.” Stephanie squeezes in a trip to town to pick up her Grandma just in time for the family to gather and open presents. Then it’s back to the barn to gather eggs and finish up chores before the extended family arrives for Christmas dinner.
“Our chickens still need to be taken care of on Christmas morning, and so they are part of our routine,” Stephanie says. “I have great memories of doing chores around Christmas time because everyone pitches in and helps.”
The wait on Christmas morning for the food and presents is almost unbearable most farm kids will tell you. “My sisters and I would be vibrating with the excitement of Christmas morning being so close,” says beef farmer Scott Snyder. “Overall though, Christmas morning is likely my favorite morning because it is relaxed, filled with family and the atmosphere it creates is just plain peaceful”.
For many farm families, Christmas dinner takes place mid-day. “Because we have to head back to the barn late in the afternoon for another round of milking and feeding cows, we’ll have our Christmas dinner at noon,” says Andrew.
“You don’t really get to take a day off and relax when you farm, but I think everyone would agree that we don’t mind it,” Sarah says.
Last week we had a calf die.
She was about 5 days old, was looking bright and cheerful when she ate her supper, and we found her very weak early the next morning as we brought out breakfast.
We treated her with antibiotics, knowing that it was a long shot for how ill she was. She died a few hours later.
That day sucked.
But, you’ve got to pick yourself up quickly in order to keep it from happening again. Step one if getting our veterinarian involved. Our hope was that the vet could help cure the calf. Their job on our farm is to try to prevent illness on the farm in the first place, instead of always trying to cure it (although they are very good at the curing part too when needed). Call it preventative medicine versus reactionary medicine. You do the same thing by eating well, washing your hands regularly during cold season, or get a physical. Because of how quickly the calf was going downhill, nothing could be done.
Once the calf died, the vet performed a quick autopsy. This involved an inspection of vital organs to see if it could have been something the calf was born with. With nothing standing out, samples were taken of the kidneys, liver, stomach, bowels, and stool. All of these are going to a lab to be examined and tested for a slate of bacteria and viruses to see just what could have happened. Luckily, another of our newborn calves has shown no signs of illness and is doing well.
Whether this was a rarity that is hard to explain, similar to other cases in human or animal health – or something that can be prevented, we will do our best to get to the bottom of it. Strong, healthy calves mean everything to us, not just because we want to see them that way – but because they’ll grow into the cows we need to provide milk for all of us.
Farm life is a great life – but it isn’t perfect and some days, like this one, are hard to take. Good thing they don’t come very often.
This week we finished one of the most important jobs of the year, harvesting corn that will be used as feed for the cows. (There is a video on YouTube on how we fill the silo)
Now that the silo is full, how are we going to get all of it out? When my grandfather put his first silo up, he had to climb up each day with a pitchfork and pitch it out. Talk about labour intensive! Then, along came a helpful workhorse – the Silo Unloader.
This machine makes emptying the silo a fast and easy job.
Hanging from the top of the silo, the unloader is gradually lowered as it eats away at the corn silage. An auger slowly spins around, bringing the feed from the outside of the silo, into the centre of it. From the centre, three strong paddles spin so quickly, that it blows the feed up into the air, hitting the hood that directs the feed an opening in the side of the silo.
From that opening, the feed runs down a clear plastic chute – and into the motorized feed cart waiting to take the feed to the cows. (A blog on that isn’t far away)