Tag Archives: farm

What Does a Hen Eat?

Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by Steph N

Have you ever wondered what a laying hen eats? I’m sure when this first comes to mind you picture a hen in a long ago farm yard foraging for insects in the grass or picking up grain that an old farmer has scattered in the dust. But as nutrition and technology has improved for people, it has when it comes to an animal’s diet as well. 

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Feed is stored on farm in bins and transported through an auger system into the barn.

 

In order to keep our hens happy and healthy and laying eggs we want to make sure that they get all the nutrients that they need. To ensure this happens, they have a specially formulated diet which they have access to at all times. This diet is put together by poultry nutritionists at the feed mill where we buy our feed and can be in the form of a mash or in pellets. On my farm, as well as most Ontario poultry farms the diets will be mostly corn and soy based, with many trace minerals and vitamins within the feed, catering to all the nutritional needs that the hen has. Laying hens also use a lot of calcium for egg shell production and so need a good calcium source in their feed. This typically is provided through limestone, but if a flock is having trouble with shell quality, the feed can be topped up with oyster shell to ensure that they are getting enough.   

In the grocery store you may have noticed that there are several different kinds of eggs such as Omega-3 or Omega-Pro. On my farm we produce Omega-3 eggs and this is all to do with the diet that the hen consumes. Our feed has flax seed in it which allows the hen to put Omega-3 into the eggs she lays. For Omega-Pro eggs, the feed has fish oils in it as well so that the hen deposits even more Omega-3 into the eggs.  

A fun things you may have noticed in traveling, is that eggs in different parts of the country can sometimes have different coloured yolks. In the Prairies they are typically paler than eggs in Ontario because of the availability of the crops for the feed. In western Canada, wheat is a much more available energy source and so the yolks are pale. In Ontario, where corn is a much more common crop, it is used as the energy source and so the eggs have darker yolks. And, if you want a fancy word to impress your friends with, the darker yolk is because corn has high levels of the pigment xanthophyll. 

So, the next time you are eating eggs, you can not only be sure that you are getting proper nutrition, but also that the hen who laid that egg is as well.

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It’s Harvest Time!

Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 by Steph N

 

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It’s that time of year again – school has started, the days are getting shorter and cooler, the leaves are changing, and the crops are almost ready! This means that it is time for farmers to switch things into high gear. While they have been working hard all year, harvest time is extra busy for everyone. On my farm, harvest is a little less hectic than on others though. Since we only crop 175 acres, as the hens are the main focus of our farm, we do not own our own combine and therefore get our soybeans and corn custom harvested by a neighbour. When our custom operator comes to harvest our soybeans, we must be ready with wagons in order to ensure he always has a place to unload when the combine is full. Web2ap3_thumbnail_soybean-RM-trial-283x640.jpg want everything to be as efficient as possible in order to get things done fast in case the weather changes and also because the custom operator has many other fields to harvest. 

The first crop that will be harvested on our farm is the soybeans – they will likely be ready at the end of this week if the weather stays good. As soybeans mature, they begin to drop their leaves and the pods and seeds dry down. A good way to tell if a field is ready is if the soybeans “pop”,  but a more scientific way to tell if the field is ready to harvest is if the soybeans are less than 15% moisture. This year, we did a bit of a trial on my farm where we planted two different varieties of soybeans that are in two different maturity categories to see if it would affect the yield. In soybeans, the maturity or relative maturity (RM) is categorized by numbers, with a lower RM soybean maturing faster than a high RM soybean. In our plot, we planted a 1.0 RM and a 1.5 RM soybean. There has been only a small difference in how mature the soybeans have been over the course of the growing season, but over the past few weeks, the small difference has been very easy to see. When we take off this plot, we will have a weigh wagon that we will use to measure the yield of the two different varieties to see if one is higher. Through my job as an agronomist, we also have a few other similar plots in collaboration with the local Soil and Crop Improvement Association comparing the RM of soybeans, so we can use these results to help determine if using a higher RM will give us higher yields. 

After our beans are harvested, it will be a little while before our corn is ready to harvest, and so we will get a bit of a break, but not for long! So as you are around the country side over the next little while and see all sorts of machinery in the fields and on the road as farmers harvest corn silage, and soybeans, and edible beans, and grain corn and more, drive safe and remember that farmers are in just as big a hurry to get things done as you 🙂

When the Premier Comes to Visit

Posted on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 by Steph N

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2066.JPGOn August 6 the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) put on an Eastern Ontario farm tour for Premier Kathleen Wynne, who on that day was acting in her second role as Ontario Agriculture Minister. This tour acted as a way not only for farmers to tell the Government of Ontario what is happening in agriculture, but also allowed many farmers in the region to showcase their amazing farms and hard-working families. Over the course of the day Premier Wynne visited beef, dairy, swine, vegetable and crop farms, and the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers before finishing the tour at my family’s egg and crop farm.

During her stop at my farm, my family was able to give a tour of our egg room where we gather our eggs, and even had Premier Wynne gathering a few on her own. This means that the dozen eggs you just bought last week may have been gathered by the Premier! Even though we had a few important people in our barn and got to showcase our facility, we still strictly followed bio-security practices as all farmers must to ensure the safety and the health of our animals. This meant that the press, the staff from the Premiers office, and the Premier had to put on plastic boots to avoid any contamination or bacteria coming into our barn from their shoes. It made for a great opportunity for learning, but not great for talking – plastic boots make lots of noise when walking!

We also had the opportunity to show the tour a few of the crops we grow including soybeans, an important crop for farmers in Ontario. I even taught the Premier how to check if the nodules on the roots (formed by a nitrogen fixing bacteria that can provide nitrogen to the plant) were still healthy by breaking them open to see the colour was a fleshy pink like it should be. As an agronomist as well as an egg farmer, it was great being able to teach people about both. 

The last part of the tour on our farm was an exciting opportunity for a few young farmers and myself to meet with the Premier. We were able to share the successes and struggles that young farmers experience in today’s changing agriculture industry. We are very optimistic about where agriculture is going and where it will take us, but are also cautious because of the challenges that lie ahead of us – including financials, societal perceptions, and labour availability. We want to ensure that consumers know that we have their and our animal’s best interests in mind and hope to have the chance to educate them more about what we do. It is a daunting but exciting job to farm and while there are many differences between farmers from beef to dairy to eggs to strawberries, the sentiment between us is the same – we all farm because we love it.

 

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Showing the Premier/Ag Minister a soybean plant

Double the Yolk, Double the Fun!

Posted on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 by Steph N

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Have you ever cracked open an egg and found not one, but two yolks? Don’t worry, the chicken that laid it is a-okay, she’s likely just fairly young. 

At 25 weeks of age, my flock is still fairly new. When we get our hens at 19 weeks of age, they are just starting to lay, and although our chickens are currently laying mostly small and medium sized eggs, many of the large and extra- large eggs that are laid are double-yolks. The reason this happens is because as a chicken is starting to lay, she still has irregularities in her reproductive system just like any other animal as they move into full maturity. So, a double-yolk egg simply occurs when two yolks rather than one are released in her cycle and then the membrane and shell form around both, giving you an egg with two yolks.

On my farm, we grade and sell some of our eggs to neighbours, and nearby stores and restaurants (the rest go to a large grading station about an hour away), and our customers LOVE double yolks. Not only does it provide more yolky flavour for breakfast and can make for fluffier pancakes, but it’s also a pretty cool way to impress and amaze breakfast guests. In my family we also love double yolks. My mom’s famous cookie recipe requires one double yolk egg and one large egg (please don’t tell her I told!) which makes the cookies a bit more moist and tasty. But unfortunately for my mom’s cookies, as our chickens get a little older and wiser, the amount of double-yolk eggs will begin to decrease as the hen’s reproductive system becomes more regular, but some still will be laid. As a hen ages, her egg size naturally increases as well, meaning that the doubles that are laid later on in her life are typically bigger. These eggs are usually called Jumbo size, which is any egg that is greater than 70 g (for more information on how eggs are sized, check out the DinnerStartsHere YouTube Channel). 

So next time you are in the grocery store and see Jumbo eggs, or crack open an egg and find two yolks, you now know how it got there. And you perhaps now also have my family’s secret to moist baking – sorry mom!

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A Farmer’s Vacation

Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 by Steph N

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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. 

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Spring-time Means Tractor-time!

Posted on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 by Stephanie K

It’s that time of the year again. Spring! Spring means it is time for farmers to get out on the land and start planting. This also means more equipment on the roadways when we go from field to field. It is important for everyone to be alert and safe around this equipment on the road. Here are some tips for drivers when they come across a tractor on the road.

– If you are following the equipment, keep a safe distance back- if you can’t see the operator, chances are they can’t see you!

– Watch for the lights near the top and sides of the tractor for turn signals- they are just like cars and have blinkers too.

– Most tractors have a top speed around 25-30 mph (~40 km/h) so be sure to slow down when approaching equipment.That is why farmers are required to have ‘slow moving vehicle’ signs on the back of their equipment (the orange triangle).

– It may be intimidating but there is lots of room on the road for both vehicles! Be courteous and move over safely when possible because the equipment operator is doing the same for you. 

– Be patient and think safely 🙂

Winter Harvest

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 by Erin M

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If you’ve visited a grocery store lately, you’re probably well aware that there aren’t a lot of things for sale in the produce section that are ‘Product of Ontario’ this time of year. If you’re lucky you’ll find a few Ontario apples from last fall, though after last year’s spring frost that badly damaged a large percent of Ontario’s apple crop they’ve been harder to find this winter. Otherwise you might be able to scoop some of last year’s garlic harvest or some greenhouse tomatoes or cucumbers. On the whole this time of year though most of the produce that we as Canadians have access to during the winter months is from far and wide across the globe. 

Just because your local fruit and vegetable farmer isn’t necessarily milking cows, collecting eggs or feeding animals day and night doesn’t mean we get to slack off in the winter though – there’s still lots to do on the farm even when we’re not growing delicious fruits and vegetables!

Here are just few of the things we’ve gotten done in our “down time” this winter while we weren’t growing on our farm:

*Cleaning – Winter is a time when we’re able to give things a big thorough going over. From cleaning and organizing workshops, scrubbing ovens in the markets and washing walls and much more – we have time in our off season to be able to check all sorts of cleaning and organizing jobs off our to-do list. Making improvements around the farm to buildings, roads and cleaning up inside and outside all need to be done to keep the farm in tip top shape! 

*Fixing machinery – The guys took apart (and luckily put back together!) tractors and anything else that wasn’t running *just* right. They needed to repair, replace and make sure they’re running smoothly for when we need them the rest of the year.

*Accounting – Definitely not a favourite job on the farm..but to help us farm better we keep full records of what we grew and what we sold so we have a better idea of what we need to grow the next year – plus – we have to submit our taxes (we have to do those too!) sooner rather than later so we can get it out of the way and move on to what we’re really interested in – farming!

*Paperwork – Another low key task that takes up more time than you would believe. From updating staff manuals and training tools to creating new brochures, ensuring we’re up to date with necessary government postings and everything in between – we could probably fill up an entire winter just with catching up on paperwork!

*Planning ahead – We do lots of planning during the winter…from debriefing and talking about our festivals and events, talking about changes we want to make and new ideas we have for the farm – we’re always making lists and plans of things we want to do for the day, the week, the year and beyond.

*More planning – After looking at our records, our field rotations, and figuring out where we’re going to plant what next in future years (yep – we always have to be looking at LEAST a few years ahead!) we can finally order our seeds, containers and any other farming equipment or supplies we might need for the spring, summer and fall. 

*Building things – I’m finally getting new display cupboards in our farm market!!! After ten years of asking for this to be a winter project…I’m so excited that it finally made its way up the winter list and got accomplished! 

*Making syrup – We make lots of maple syrup every spring so this takes up a large portion of our time…from tapping the bush, to boiling the sap and bottling the syrup…and of course our MapleFest – there’s lots for everyone to do!

*Growing as farmers – Every year we attend various conferences throughout Ontario to talk and network with other farmers, learn from experts in the field and learn about everything from new technologies, nematodes or new ways to use marketing – all things we can learn to help make our farm the best it can be! We also attend lots of different meetings, AGM’s, community groups and workshops to learn how our farm can contribute back to the community, events and organizations around us.

Even though it may not seem like it…there’s lots to do on a fruit and vegetable farm when it’s too cold outside to actually grow anything. There is ALWAYS lots to do – and this is only a small portion of the things we’ve been able to get done this winter – our own version of a winter harvest! As always we’ve been super busy getting ready for another summer season…so busy in fact that I think I need a nap just thinking about it. Except that it’s spring – which means that the farm is ACTUALLY getting busy and there is even MORE work to do now!

Next up…planting, picking and preparing – oh my! 

Springtime, Field Work, and Rock (& Roll)

Posted on Sunday, April 21, 2013 by Steph N

b2ap3_thumbnail_254f31fd7f.jpgFor any farmer spring is a busy, busy time. There is equipment to get ready, fields to work, animals to care for, fertilizer to order, manure to spread, barns to open up again, and, in some areas, there are even stones to pick. That’s right, picking stones. 

You might never have thought about this as a chore that farmers have to do, but in stony areas of Ontario it is a necessary and essential task. On my farm, especially when I was growing up, a regular family chore each spring was going over our fields and removing stones. We would all head out in our work boots, and warm layers, one person would get lucky and get to drive the tractor that day, and the rest of us would each get a fork to help load the stones into the tractor’s bucket. We would then go over the fields and pick any stone that was big enough to harm our equipment. 

Stones can cause big trouble with machinery, especially planters. There are many parts in planters such as disks and springs and packer wheels that can not only break on impact with a stone, but it can cause all the hard work that a farmer did to set his planter just right to come undone. This can lead to many other problems in the field because seed placement in the soil won’t be as accurate. 

Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older and busier, there are some solutions and other options to stone picking. For example, you can buy mechanical stone pickers that can be hooked up to a tractor and driven over a field in order to eliminate some of the labour needed. Another way that farmers have lessened the need for stone picking is through less and shallower tillage. For example, on my farm just like many others, we used to plow the field every year. This was a deep form of tillage and would bring many more stones to the surface resulting in lots of stone picking. Now we use no tillage in our soybeans, and only disc (a shallow form of tillage) for our corn. This means fewer rocks are brought to the surface, less time is spent picking rocks, and we have more time to focus on the many other spring tasks to be done around the farm. 

 

Spring is in the air

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2013 by Justin

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Spring is always a busy time on the farm. It is the time of year when the ground is thawing out, animals spend more time outside and spring planting kicks into high gear.  Many tasks need to be performed in a short period of time.  This includes spreading manure stocks (on livestock farms), tilling the land, planting, spraying and of course on dairy farms, as with every day of the year, the cows need to be milked on a regular routine. 

It is very important during the winter and early spring to be doing maintenance on the equipment. This includes tractors, wagons, planters and seed drills.  A tractor, just like a car, requires service at regular intervals. You need to change the engine oil as this is what keeps the engine lubricated and running smoothly. Just as important is the hydraulic oil which serves two purposes: this includes lubricating the transmission (a series of gears that transmits the engines power to turn the wheels) and is also used to control the equipment that is pulled by the tractor.  These are just two of the major areas where maintenance is very important but there are many others areas just as important to ensure a smooth and less frustrating spring planting.

Cows, pigs, sheep and other forms of livestock are always producing manure.  This manure is an excellent fertilizer to be spread on the fields.  The optimum time to do this is in the spring before planting crops such as corn that require a large amount of nitrogen, which allows for the most amount of the nutrients to be used by the plant.  Farmers are not allowed to spread manure on frozen ground or ground that is covered in snow; this is to minimize the amount of run-off getting into creeks and waterways.   Many farmers will do soil tests as well as manure sample tests to ensure the crop will receive all the required nutrients for optimum growth.  If the manure isn’t able to supply all the nutrients the plant requires, fertilizer many be spread on the soil to optimize the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K).

There are a few different ways to plant crops. One of the oldest methods of tillage is using the moldboard plow to turn the soil in the fall followed by a few passes in the spring with a cultivator or disk before planting the crop, to ensure a flat and even surface.  Many farmers are starting to use no-till planting, with this method no tillage is done in the fall. The farmer will plant directly into the field requiring no tillage.  An advantage to this method is there is less fuel being used because of the reduced number to passes over the field before planting.  There are many other combinations of tillage depending on different soils types and crop to be planted.

Once the crop has been planted it is very important to keep a constant watch on the crops.  One 25 kg bag of seed can cost the farmer upwards of $200. Things that are important to watch include: even germination across the field, pest/weed pressure.  If pests or weeds are spotted it in the field it is important to spray pesticides or herbicide quickly to minimize the crop loss and ensure the crop has optimum growing conditions.

Spring is a very busy time on the farm but a very rewarding time when you see your crops growing in the fields and harvest them in the fall.  Many pieces of farm equipment are larger than your families car so when you’re out on the road and see a tractor pulling a large piece of equipment with a slow moving vehicle sign in the back, slow down, give them space and of course wave to them, farmers love to wave at people.  If you’re driving by a field and see a farmer working take a minute to stop and watch what they are doing to produce the high quality that your family enjoys many times a day.

New Lambs on the Ground

Posted on Friday, April 12, 2013 by Sarah

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