Young farmers talk about raising veal

Tom and Paul Oudshoorn are veal farmers in OntarioThey’re young, they’re educated and they’re passionate about their future as veal farmers in Ontario.

Tom Oudshoorn and his brother Paul raise about 2,000 grain-fed veal calves on their home farm in the Auburn area near Goderich and on a second farm near Kincardine, where Paul now lives.

They were still in high school – Tom, age 14, and Paul, age 16, – when they started raising their first 20 calves after a barn had become empty on their family’s farm.

Both have since graduated from the agriculture program at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus, with Tom finishing his diploma in June 2012, and are now full-time farmers keen to continue to expand their farming business.

“Every day is a bit different when you’re farming and I really like being my own boss,” explains Tom, adding both he and Paul enjoy making their own decisions, a benefit that comes with being self-employed. “As well, there are always ways you can improve and get better.”

Thanks to the support of their family, the brothers were able to balance both school and farming while first Paul and then Tom completed their post-secondary educations.

Today, Tom looks after the younger calves and Paul’s main responsibility is for the older animals, although they both pitch in to help each other out when needed.

Attending school was extremely beneficial, says Tom, as it helped them get a better understanding of the business side of veal farming, make connections with others in the industry and gain ideas they could apply to their business, particularly when it comes to farm management and record-keeping.

Tom and Paul regularly participate in educational workshops and seminars offered by the Ontario Veal Association (OVA), the industry association that represents veal farmers in province, where they also take the opportunity to network with fellow farmers who are willing to share helpful production tips with the young brothers.

In Ontario, veal calves – the male offspring from dairy cows – can be raised in one of two ways: fed on a milk-based or on a grain-based diet. Milk fed calves are ready for market when they weigh approximately 500 pounds and grain-fed calves when they reach approximately 700 pounds.

Meat from the Oudshoorns’ animals is sold at Longo’s as well as through butcher shops across the province. There are many different ways to enjoy veal and for Tom, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one – he likes them all.

“Stew is really good but we also grill it or eat it as a roast – it’s so versatile you can eat it year-round,” he says.

Veal farming is one of the smaller sectors of Ontario agriculture and many people don’t know a lot about it.

Even other farmers, says Tom, will ask him questions about the industry when they find out he’s a veal farmer – although their questions are a bit different than those he gets from urban consumers.

“Even dairy producers don’t know where their bull calves go sometimes. Farmers always ask how long it takes to feed the young ones on milk,” he explains. “Most city people always want to know how big they actually are and I give them a quick rundown on what they eat and how long it takes to go to market.”

Tom and Paul’s future plans include continuing to grow their veal business as well as adding cash crops to their farm operation.

Note: This story is one I wrote as part of a series produced by Farm & Food Care featuring Ontario farmers. It was originally published at www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca.

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