Monthly Archives: January 2013

And I’m Spent

My mental gas tank is almost on empty…in just over a month I have published 6 blogs containing 5475 words in total (and about 20,000 you never saw).  Within those words I have tried to shed some light on what really goes on at a Canadian hog farm instead of seeing it through the lens of an animal activist.  Beyond information, I have endeavoured to write these posts in a way that translates my passion for feeding people into word form.  It is the second part that has made this tough, pouring your soul on the screen of your desktop takes a lot out of a guy.  I struggled with how to best approach tough subjects, I agonized over the way that things were worded and all said it has been an arduous yet rewarding experience.  So here goes my final post…and folks, I kept my trump card for the last hand.

Manure, dung, poop, the world’s greatest skin moisturiser…call it what you will but at the end of the day I hold the Right Bauer in the game of food production. (I promise that is my last euchre reference).  Though I never got to meet him, the idioms of my grandfather in law, Murray Selves, will often pop up in conversations with Jess and my MIL, Joanne.  Murray was a brilliant man, he used computers for production records long before the Commodore 64 (only those born before 1990 will get that reference), he designed and built a biogas digester long before Dalton McGuinty dreamed up the Green Energy Act, but most impactful for me was the concept of “farming the circle”.  To Murray, the way we raised pigs in Ontario was the pinnacle of sustainable farming.  Our corn and soybeans capture solar energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil, we feed some of the grain to our animals and some to humans, and then we replenish the soil for next year’s crop by applying the manure from our animals.

This simple concept is the backbone of our food system, if soil nutrients are not provided by manure then they must come from some other source.  Nitrogen and Phosphorus are the two most important nutrients when talking about plant life.  While nitrogen can be produced synthetically through the Haber-Bosch process, this requires a non-renewable like natural gas. Phosphorus is a little scarier; there is no way other than to mine it from the ground as there is no synthetic replacement.  The Global Phosphorus Initiative has estimated that peak phosphorus could occur as soon as 2030.  I guess peak phosphorus just isn’t as sexy as peak oil but it is just as threatening for humans.  Without nitrogen and phosphorus, you can’t grow food, period.  Livestock manure provides adequate levels of both that can sustain plant growth without the application of inorganic mined phosphorus or synthetic nitrogen.

Manure and soil enjoy a symbiotic relationship that goes far beyond nitrogen and phosphorus.  Soil is not a renewable resource; it can take thousands of years for soil to form.  However, unlike other non-renewables like oil or coal, soil can be reused year after year if properly maintained. The application of manure is the best possible way to meet the diverse needs of the soil.  Organic matter (old dead stuff, kind of like oil in the sense that is takes millions of years to form) is what makes soil fertile, without organic matter plants cannot grow even if there is nitrogen and phosphorus available.  Here is an analogy for you:  Many of you readers probably take some sort of multivitamin supplement to ‘ensure’ that you are getting all of your nutrients but you know that the multivitamin cannot sustain you on its own, you still need to eat.  In the case of plant growth, organic matter is the food and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are the multivitamin.  Manure is the only thing that can rebuild the organic matter in soil, thus maintaining the non-renewable resource. Without animal production the circle is broken…you simply cannot have sustained food production without out livestock agriculture.  Our food producing system has evolved (or has been designed) to include animal production.

I want you to picture something; I want you to picture the vegan world animal rights activists so desperately want.  It is a picture of hunger.  It is a picture of desolate exhausted soil, unable to keep producing food for HUMANS or animals because it has been mined to the point of collapse.  It will not matter if you are a vegan or meat eater when the soil loses its capacity to grow a carrot.  We will all starve.

Today groups like Mercy for Animals Canada are trying to sell you an agenda of caring for animals; they are actively trying to discredit farmers like me in hopes of convincing the public that they are the champions of the common animal.  Well sorry folks, I, and farmers like me, are going to be champions of humans.  We are going to do everything in our power to try and eliminate human hunger while ensuring that we preserve our ability to feed future inhabitants of our planet. We feed people; it’s why we signed up for this job.

#FarmProud my friends

Switching Gears

I have broken a golden rule of communications…I’m still talking about a stale story.  Long after popular media has moved on Stewart is still sitting at his desk trying to respond to the undercover video shown by CTV’s W5 report that aired on December 8th of 2012.  So why did I break the rules? Because I’m a farmer…I have to do chores, animals depend on me to go to the barn and feed them, they depend on me to keep a roof over their head, and when I have to choose between carrying out my duty as a farmer or trying to educate the public about farming I am obligated to choose my animals. To me, this is the most telling point about why more farmers are not telling their side of the story.  We are too busy farming!!!

That being said, many of my farming colleagues do not understand we are at war with an enemy that wants to destroy family farms.  There was a telling statement made by the undercover operative/cameraman from Mercy for Animals Canada (MFAC) that exposed the real intentions of the animal activists.  He alluded to the fact that even if gestation stalls were removed, even if we stopped castrating, even if we let every pig roam free outside, that he would still not be satisfied.  These activists don’t really care about gestation stalls, their real goal is to try and create a vegan society where no one consumes animal products and they are completely oblivious (maybe they don’t care) to the human costs that would come about in their vegan fantasy. The final two posts of my response are going to try and give you some insight to the unintended costs of the misguided animal rights movement.

On December 3rd 2012 a report was released by the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) stating that food bank use here in my home province of Ontario has hit an all-time high.  Every month, over 400’000 Ontarians have needed to access food assistance. Bill Laidlaw, Executive Director of OAFB highlighted key areas of concern, “The largest group of food bank users are children… some of the largest growing groups of food bank users are single parent households, the working poor, senior citizens, university students, and recent graduates.”

As a famer I am saddened that in Canada, a country that grows far more than it can eat, there are people who are going hungry.  I am saddened, but not surprised.  We are witnessing a period of great decline for the middle class and the cruel reality is that there are people being dropped off at the bottom end of the scale. The vast majority of people simply cannot afford to pay more for their food let alone incur the added costs associated with a vegan diet.

I found this blog post by Virginia Messina, a professional dietician and passionate vegan, about the added cost of a vegan diet.  She hits on some great points, most notably about the need for quick and easy meals.  A family of 4 with both parents working full time does not have time in the day to “soak the pinto beans”; they need food to be ready in a hurry in hopes that they can eat together before heading to hockey practice.  Vegan convenience food products are incredibly expensive and are simply unattainable for low income households. Simply put, the vegan diet is a luxury good and millions of Canadian families just can’t afford to not eat meat. At a time when the ranks of the working poor are growing at an alarming rate we cannot afford to impose the costly standards of a misguided minority of the population.

As I farmer, I am proud to say that I am doing my part; I produce safe, nutritious pork (not to mention delicious) and I do it as economically as anyone else in the world while still respecting and caring for my animals. Hunger has a devastating impact on our most venerable, how can a child focus on his math problems when he doesn’t know if there will be supper tonight? Farmers know that the key to a vibrant society is a full stomach, animal activists ignore the fact that their vegan fantasy would lead to an ugly future for our world.

I end with this rather abrupt quote from Pearl Bailey, a famous actress and singer from the 20th century. “Hungry people cannot be good at learning or producing anything, except perhaps violence.”

#FarmProud my friends

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Getting Back To It

I needed to let my brain have a break, the flurry of writing a couple weeks ago was waylaid by a few nights of seasonal celebrations and a party in honour of my brother Donald who successfully defended his M. Sc. in Swine Nutrition.  In the new year Donald will become a member of the professional workforce as a Swine Nutritionist at Molesworth Farm Supply in…you guessed it Molesworth.  Oh ya, there was that whole Christmas thing in there too.

Now back to business…

This is the last post that I am going to be writing about a specific production related issue that was highlighted in the undercover video shot by a Mercy for Animals Canada (MFAC) operative and aired by CTV’s W5 on December 8th.

Euthanasia is not an easy topic to address.  Personally I think that the uncomfortable feelings for most people stem from the fact that we have become utterly terrified of death as a society.  We are in an age that worships living while abhorring death.  This fear of death has impacted our perception of how we should treat suffering living beings, pig, person or otherwise. Given the sensitive nature of the topic and the wide range of philosophical views that people may hold I wasn’t sure what direction to take with this blog.  My wife, Jessica and I had a couple conversations about the best approach and out of these discussions we came up with the following statement together.

“In some instances when animals are extremely ill or injured and experiencing undue pain and suffering they are better off being euthanized.  A common agreement and understanding of this statement must be developed in order to move forward.

If you disagree with this statement and believe that euthanasia is NEVER appropriate, then we have fundamentally different opinions.  In fact, you might as well stop reading, as nothing I’m about to say will matter to you.

Now that we have established that euthanasia is sometimes appropriate there is one very important point I must make. For a farmer, euthanizing pigs is, by far, the worst part of the job. Yet still I believe it is the farmer’s responsibility to end instances of extreme animal suffering.”

I want to reiterate one incredibly important part of that statement…euthanizing pigs is by far the worst part of our job.  I do not enjoy having to do it but I understand why euthanasia is important.  When people started tweeting statements like the one below I knew that I had to address the topic.

 

Mandy ‏@MandyUnivera

@Kendra_PigLove This happens a lot more than you think..a lot of sick twisted hillbillies work at pig farms. They’re the ones to blame

 

(Twitter guide for non-twitter users: the statement was being made by the user @MandyUnivera and directed at @Kendra_PigLove. Kendra is an employee at an Ontario swine farm and was very active in trying to address the misinformation about our industry being spread on Twitter)

To me this is an interesting statement coming from someone who has most likely has never met a pig farmer. To my readers, I am yet to meet a pig farmer who meets her description…and I know a lot of pig farmers.

There were 2 methods shown in the MFAC video, blunt trauma, also referred to as ‘thumping’, and a captive bolt pistol.  Both are commonly used methods and if done correctly, are humane in my opinion.  The captive bolt method is more operator friendly because it is easy to perform in a correct manner however it cannot be performed on small piglets.  Thumping is less precise and there are higher incidences of an improper procedure that results in suffering for the piglet.  This has a large physiological toll on the farmer; we are wired to keep our animals alive so in the rare case we have to do it, we want it to be as painless as possible.

Thanks to the University of Guelph, farmers may soon have a tool that greatly improves the process for euthanizing small piglets.  The Zephyr is a non-penetrating captive bolt pistol that creates the blunt force required for euthanasia and preliminary research has shown it to be 100% effective. The development of the Zephyr is just one more example of how farmers never stop trying to improve the welfare of their animals. Here are a couple links talking about this new technology:

The Pig Site

Farmscape

Farm and Food Care (farmfoodcare.org) has an online resource for producers that give an overview of approved methods and if you want to learn more about this subject it is a good place to start, you can find it here.

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