Happy cows don’t make headlines
Another undercover video of farm animal abuse – this time on a BC dairy farm – means another black eye for farmers in the media.
Those of us in farming know these terrible incidents are by far the exception and not the norm – but the many millions who see or read the bad news stories don’t.
What never makes headlines are the thousands of Canadian farmers who do the right things every day when it comes to raising their livestock.
I had the chance to visit one such farmer recently (whose barn is pictured above) as part of the Farm & Food Care annual media tour for food writers, bloggers and culinary professionals.
Ken Schaus and his father Wally own Schaus Land and Cattle Company, and they welcomed us to their Allison, Ontario area feedlot where they have capacity for 3000 finishing cattle (that’s industry speak for raising beef animals to their final weight to go to market).
As someone who grew up on a farm and now works for and with farmers, I’ve seen my share of cattle and barns – and rarely have I seen barns as beautiful and clean as these, and cattle that were as calm and restful as the Schaus animals when their space was invaded by a group of noisy strangers clicking cameras.
The facilities are bright and airy, with curtained sides that can be raised during the warm months to let the air and sunshine in. The animals were healthy and well-fed, and showed a natural curiousity in their visitors.
The farm is so much a poster child of all that is right about raising livestock that Ken told us the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has had its inspectors tour the Schaus barns to educate them on what to look for in a good cattle feeding operation.
“Our number one strength is our team,” said Schaus. “We have good employees, good facilities and good cattle.”
The animals arrive on his farm at approximately 12 – 16 months of age. They’ll gain about 600 pounds in the 150 days or so they spend at the feedlot, and eat a diet that is high in grains and protein, including corn from Schaus’ steam flaking mill, which is the only one of its kind in Canada. All the corn used is sourced locally.
Schaus markets about 700 cattle a week, all into the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program, which is a branded meat program of all Ontario beef that is sold primarily through the Loblaws chain as well as some other retail outlets.
He’s justifiably proud of his farm and his animals, telling us that Ontario can compete with the best cattle farmers in the world when it comes to producing top quality beef.
“We have a worldwide reputation for having some of the best genetics anywhere. There is a difference in beef from Kansas and beef from Ontario,” he stated. “It can be done here just as good as anywhere, you don’t need U.S certified Angus.”
What does raise his ire is marketing programs like Sobey’s new “humanely raised” label, which he said sources cattle from a large feedlot in Colorado, with the only difference between what is done there and what farmers do in Canada being that someone has come up with a label for it.
“They don’t do anything different than what we do here, and if Sobey’s really wanted to do a program, they could have done one here, with Canadian beef,” he said.