It’s a Ruckus in the Riparian Area!

Today’s guest post is from the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, also known as “Cows and Fish“. It is a non-profit society striving to foster a better understanding of how improvements in grazing and other management of riparian areas can enhance landscape health and productivity, for the benefit of landowners, agricultural producers, communities and others who use and value riparian areas. You can follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to come see us at Aggie Days TODAY and TOMORROW for FREE at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park! We are open from 10am  - 4pm!

The Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (more commonly known as Cows and Fish) brings to Aggie Days a fun, interactive, and sometimes crazy game show that creates a ruckus in the riparian area! Cows, Fish, Cattledogs & Kids! educates children and family audiences on the importance of healthy riparian areas, the green zones of water-loving vegetation next to streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. The game focuses on the links between healthy riparian areas and healthy and productive fish, wildlife, vegetation, water, cattle and the landscape or environment as a whole. Participants are divided into two teams and “moooove” their cow game pieces along the riparian zone after correctly answering a question posed by the game host in one of the following categories: vegetation, fish, wildlife, water, mother nature and cattle. The winner is the first team that reaches the “ranch”. Amandas Twins KPearson

Cows and Fish is working with landowners and their communities to foster a better understanding of how riparian areas function and how we can manage those areas to improve or maintain their health. The program is a partnership that includes both non-government and government partners. It involves producers, conservation organisations, and agricultural agencies. Funding is provided by that same diverse spectrum, primarily through grants. Initial and formal partnerships for Cows and Fish include Alberta Beef Producers and Trout Unlimited Canada. KCountry, AB, Headwall Lakes

The Alberta SPCA Booth is Expanding!

The Alberta SPCA is a registered charity dedicated to the welfare of animals.They encourage the humane treatment of animals through enforcement of animal protection legislation and through education programs throughout Alberta. You can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

The Alberta SPCA is returning to Aggie Days and we are excited to be a part of its 30th anniversary!

Domestic animals, including the livestock that you will see around Aggie Days, depend on people to meet their basic needs for food, water, shelter and care. Here at the Alberta SPCA, our mission is to protect, promote, and enhance the well-being of animals in Alberta. By educating people about their responsibilities and encouraging respect and compassion for animals we can help to improve animal welfare and prevent cruelty and neglect.

This year we have expanded our booth and are offering even more ways to learn about animals.
Students are welcome to challenge friends to a board game race by answering questions about farm animals, pets, and wildlife. Students can also play an interactive iPad quiz game to test their animal smarts. Those who play our game will get a “Kindness Counts” button to take home!

What’s more is that participants who visit the Alberta SPCA booth can get their picture taken in our “Kindness Counts” photo booth. We encourage everyone to share their pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr using the #kindnesscounts hashtag.
Swing by our booth and join in on the fun – we hope to see you there!

Aggie Days Bridges the Gap Between Farms and Food

Today’s blog is submitted by AdFarm, a marketing and communications agency focused in the agriculture industry. AdFarm spoke with Danielle and Debbie Lee about the upcoming Aggie Days and their commitment to agricultural education.

This week, Calgary Stampede Aggie Days volunteer Danielle Lee celebrates the event’s 30th year – shortly after her own 30th birthday. She hasn’t missed an Aggie Days yet, thanks to the influence of her mother, Debbie Lee. Debbie has been involved in Aggie Days since the very beginning, first bringing in Jersey calves and leading the cow milking demonstrations, which both Lee women still do today.

Operating a mixed livestock and hay farm near Springbank, Alta., the Lee family lives agriculture every day, and understands that very few people have the same level of exposure to food production.

Debbie Lee. Photo by Kim Taylor.

Debbie Lee. Photo by Kim Taylor.

“When we started Aggie Days, people were maybe one or two generations removed from the farm,” Debbie says. “Now, they’re two or three generations, and many don’t understand the connection between the farms and food in the grocery store.”

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Greenhouse Vegetables in Alberta

Today’s blog post is submitted by the Greenhouse Branch/Crop Research & Extension Division/Agriculture and Rural Development. They are a highly respected hub for applied research, production trials and training that is well known for being responsive and user friendly, collaborating with its clients and providing world class innovative services. Their mission is to provide greenhouse research and production resources that enhance Alberta Agri-business

Alberta has a thriving greenhouse vegetable industry with the majority of growers in the Red Cliff/Medicine Hat area. Currently there are approximately 152 acres in Alberta dedicated to greenhouse vegetable production with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuce being the main crops grown. You will find vegetables grown in Alberta greenhouses at your local grocery stores. Greenhouse sizes vary from 1 acre to 15 acres in size.


Commercial greenhouse structures are extremely technical highly automated systems. All environmental conditions are recorded by sensors and controlled by computer software.

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When we were approached to have a booth at Aggie Days, initially we were not sure what to showcase. Being our first year, we have chosen to showcase some different hydroponic systems. Urban gardening seems to be a hot topic these days and these systems are easily adapted for the home gardener or even for those living in small units such as apartments or condominiums. Be sure to stop by our booth and chat with us at Aggie Days!

Agrium Seed Survivor

Today’s blog post is about Agrium Seed Survivor and they will be at Aggie Days this year April 11 & 12, 2015 at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. Seed Survivor is a free curriculum-based program that teaches elementary children about plants and the importance of agriculture.

Seed Survivor Exhibit_2011 040

Agrium creates and sells nutrients that farmers and gardeners need to care for their soil and grow healthy plants. They also provide other helpful products to farmers and give advice on how to grow the best crop on the land they manage.

Seed Survivor Exhibit_2011 047
Seed Survivor was designed to teach youth that plants need water, light, healthy soil, and nutrients, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K), to survive.

At Aggie Days, children and parents get a chance to play a variety of fun, interactive educational games and plant their very own sunflower at our Exhibit – 35′ X 35′ display. Our Seed Survivor displays travels all over North America year round. On their website they have a “Just for Kids” section with colouring, videos, games and more! Be sure to come and plant a seed and learn about agriculture at Aggie Days.

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From Horse Power to HP – The Mechanization of Prairie Agriculture Part 2

Once again we have Terry James guest posting on our blog to finish our series on the mechanization of prairie agriculture! Terry is a mixed farmer who lives near Vegreville, Alberta, on the farm his grandfather first moved to in 1917. He studied agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and worked for a number of years in the crop supplies industry. Currently he is a full time farmer. Together with his brother and son, they farm about 2000 acres of grain land, and maintain a commercial herd of beef cattle. You can read Part 1 of this series here.

An early thrashing machine

An early thrashing machine

It is difficult to argue that one machine is more important than another on a farm as all are necessary, but for many years, the tractor was the machine that enabled the others to operate. The tractor began as a self-propelled steam engine, the “traction engine.” A pioneer in the manufacture of steam engines for farm use was a man by the name of J.I. Case. Early steam engines were used to provide power for the threshing machines, but were stationary. Case added wheels to some of his to make them easier to move and in 1876 he brought out a model was that suitable for pulling a plow. JI Case and the company he founded went on to manufacture many more tractors throughout the years and eventually merged with the International Harvest Company.

Another American entrepreneur was also very active at this time. In 1837 a young blacksmith name John Deere came up with the idea of using polished steel in a plow. His “self-scouring steel plow” was an almost instant success, and the company he founded continues to thrive today.

When a homesteader first arrived in Alberta his plow was probably pulled by a team of oxen. However as soon resources permitted, the oxen were replaced by draft horses similar to these. After World War II,  the replacement of draft animals with tractors proceeded quickly.

When a homesteader first arrived in Alberta his plow was probably pulled by a team of oxen. However as soon resources permitted, the oxen were replaced by draft horses similar to these. After World War II, the replacement of draft animals with tractors proceeded quickly.



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From Horse Power to HP – The Mechanization of Prairie Agriculture Part 1

I am so excited to have Terry James back guest posting on our blog. He has a passion and wealth of knowledge for agriculture. Terry is a mixed farmer who lives near Vegreville, Alberta, on the farm his grandfather first moved to in 1917. He studied agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and worked for a number of years in the crop supplies industry. Currently he is a full time farmer. Together with his brother and son, they farm about 2000 acres of grain land, and maintain a commercial herd of beef cattle. You can follow Terry on Twitter.

Anyone who has visited an Alberta farm, or been to one of the several agricultural shows that occur each year across Western Canada, has no doubt marveled at the size and complexity of today’s farm machinery. Even farmers are continually being surprised by the latest offerings from today’s agricultural engineers. Tractors with global positioning guidance systems, milking robots, and smartphone apps are just a few of the tools of the modern farmer.

Museums such as this one in Vegreville, can be found in small towns throughout the prairies. They highlight the changes that have occurred in Western agriculture over the years, and help connect current generations with their farming heritage.

Museums such as this one in Vegreville, can be found in small towns throughout the prairies. They highlight the changes that have occurred in Western agriculture over the years, and help connect current generations with their farming heritage.

Seed Drill

Jethro Tull’s seed drill

It has not always been so. As little as two generations ago, draft animals were a common sight in rural Alberta. The mechanical revolution in agriculture was well underway when the first farmers arrived in Alberta, but early settlers arrived with little money and little access to farm machinery. Some of the first crops were seeded and harvested by hand, as they had been for centuries. The first purchase for many settlers was probably a plow, and a team of oxen, which was used to turn over the virgin prairie soil. Seed was broadcast by hand, and lightly harrowed in. It was then up to Mother Nature to supply the rain and sun, until in the fall, the grain was harvested with a scythe, and manually thrashed.

The mechanical revolution in agriculture began in England at the start of the 18th century. There it is said, an ambitious man by the name of Jethro Tull, grew weary of admonishing his farm workers to pay more attention as they planted the crops. As one can imagine hand seeding often resulted in plant populations that were often too thick in spots and too thin in others. Tull was able to use his technical skills to develop a mechanical seed drill that used a fluted cylinder to meter the seed. The seed then fell into a tube that placed it at an appropriate depth in the soil, and it was then covered by a harrow like device attached to the drill. Many modern seed metering devices still operate using similar principles. With the plants growing in rows as a result of Tulll’s drill, another innovation was enabled. Mechanical cultivation to remove weeds was now a possibility.

Towards the end of the 18th century another invention was perfected and this one had serious social implications. In Scotland Andrew Meikle developed a machine that separated the grain from the stalks of cereals. He called it a thrashing machine. Prior to that flails had been used to beat the bundles of grain to free the seeds and the seeds were then winnowed from the chaff by hand. Thousands of men were employed to do this over the winter months, and when their livelihoods disappeared, they rioted, destroying thrashing machines and threatening farmers. These were referred to as the Swing Riots, after a name that was appended to some of the threatening letters. It did not end well for the rioters as 9 were hanged and 450 were sent off to Australia.


A volunteer at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton illustrates the use of a flail, a tool that was used by early pioneers to separate the grain from the straw.

North America was the scene of the next major development. Steam engines had made portable threshing machines possible, but the cutting of the grain was still done with scythes and cradles (a multi-bladed scythe). It is Cyrus McCormick who is generally credited with developing an effective reaper, although others were working on similar machines at the same time. However Cyrus McCormick’s design and manufacturing skill eventually won out and his McCormick harvesting company eventually went on to become part of the International Harvester Company. His machine used a reel to hold the grain against a reciprocating knife. The grain fell onto a platform, where two men raked and bundled it together into sheaves. Eventually that process was mechanized as well and with the addition of a mechanical knotting device, it became a binder. A number of years later an Australian was able to put together the reaping and threshing components into a single machine, a combine. The term has stuck, even though on many Alberta farms, the reaping function may be done by a swather.

Please come back for part 2 tomorrow!

Win a VIP Tour of Aggie Days!

It’s that time of year again—Aggie Days is getting close! Every year we host a family on a VIP behind the scenes tour with special accesses that only our VIP family gets to see! Last year’s family had a blast and we hope that you enter to win our giveaway to get the same experiences they did. The tour will be on Saturday April 11 and hosted by our volunteer, Teresa.

Enter To Win VIP Tour

Click here to enter

Good luck!

Supply Management – It’s A Good Thing

Today’s guest post is from Agatha Smykot. She is the Producer Services Administrator at the Egg Farmers of Alberta. She was born and raised in Edmonton and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Alberta. She has worked for a poultry processor and global animal health company and has a passion for agriculture and poultry production. Agatha is also an avid snowboarder, foodie, and indie music lover. She lives in Calgary with her boyfriend, their rambunctious dog, and a deaf cat. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

At the Egg Farmers of Alberta, I’m responsible for processing all quota transactions between registered egg producers in Alberta. It goes without saying that I have an intimate relationship with supply management. I believe in supply management, and I believe it benefits both consumers and producers.

First, let’s take a step back – what is supply management? Supply management is a uniquely Canadian system that balances demand and supply.

It operates on three pillars:

  1. Production discipline – the number of eggs produced matches demand to limit market fluctuations and maintain price stability
  2. Pricing mechanisms – ensures that Canadian egg producers receive a fair price for their products
  3. Import controls – borders are open to a predictable number of imported products

Supply management was first introduced in the late 1940’s, but it wasn’t fully implemented in the egg industry until 1967. For over four decades, producers have worked together to keep Canada’s egg industry stable and free of government subsidies. Canada’s egg industry is completely self-sufficient.

Supply management is good for consumers, because it ensures that consumers have access to fresh, locally-produced eggs and egg products. When you purchase eggs at the grocery store, you’re directly supporting a local farmer. If you ask me, that’s great news!

Supply management encourages producers to invest back into their farms. For example, a producer can suspend production for one year to build a new barn – producers earn quota credits and increase production for subsequent cycles to make up for lost time. This and other programs encourage producers to make continuous improvements to animal health and welfare. Alberta is a leader in this regard. In fact, a producer in Alberta was the first producer to install an enriched/furnished housing system in Canada, and one of our producers won the inaugural Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award.



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Alberta Chicken Producers – Who Are We?

Today’s guest post is from the Alberta Chicken Producers. Who are they? Read on to find out and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.


Alberta Chicken Producers is a provincial ‘farmer-run’ organization, representing our 245 registered chicken farmers in Alberta. Our chickens are raised for meat consumption.
Our farmers are local families who are passionately committed to providing consumers with safe, high quality, locally produced chicken, raised under the highest standards of animal care and food safety.

  • 100% of chicken farmers in Alberta are certified under national Animal Care and On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Programs as a condition of their licenses to market chicken.
  • Our farms are audited and certified annually by a third party auditors.
  • Our farms are 100% family owned and operated
  • By looking for the “Raised by a Canadian Farmer” label in your grocery store, you know you are getting fresh chicken. In fact, the majority of fresh chicken sold in Alberta was raised in Alberta.


Our industry is growing sustainably.

  • Our 245 farms produce over 128 million kg live weight of chicken annually, with a farm gate value of over $203 million. All of this is accomplished without subsidies or taxpayer dollars.
  • 69% of Alberta’s Chicken farmers are between the ages of 18 and 49. In 2013, Alberta saw 9 new entrants into the chicken industry.
  • Our unique combination of youth and experience has cemented our place in Alberta’s dynamic economic environment for years to come.

We place high value on the partnerships that define our industry.

  • We are part of a community, an integrated value chain, working closely with hatcheries, processors, feed companies, researchers, and agriculture boards at the provincial and national level.


Alberta Chicken Producers values our relationships with industry stakeholders, as exemplified by the Shared Industry Vision:

“To continue to grow, be profitable, and satisfy consumers by providing safe, high quality chicken products.”

In support of this Shared Industry Vision, Alberta Chicken Producer’s Mission is:

“To serve our producers by collaboratively providing an environment for profitable chicken production and encouraging a competitive, consumer-focused chicken industry.”

Our booth will be operated by the best experts in the chicken industry….our farmers!! We will have baby chicks, a chicken barn display unit and plenty of give-aways. Our farmers look forward to answering any of your questions.


Chicken is the most popular protein in Canada, and we look forward to sharing our story!

Agriculture in the Classroom

We are excited to have a new guest post on our blog today, especially because Aggie Days is all about teaching school kids about agriculture. Allison Ammeter is a grain farmer and Director with Alberta Pulse Growers.  Alongside her husband of 28 years, Michael, Allison operates a third-generation grain farm southwest of Sylvan Lake, Alberta. The Ammeters crop approximately 2,000 acres in a rotation of canola, wheat, barley, and peas, with occasional oats or hay in the mix, practicing minimum tillage and using variable rate seeding technology. Based in agricultural zone 2/3, with grey wooded soil, the farm experiences an extremely short growing season every year by North American standards. You can follow Allison on Twitter.

I was asked to write a blog post for Aggie Days about Agriculture in the Classroom, and my first thought was that of course I’d like to promote Ag in the Classroom, it’s an amazing program, but these readers would know all about it, right?  I mean, these are people who organize another amazing program, Aggie Days. My second thought was that maybe people reading this blog would just like to know what is being taught their children in school. I’m writing this for that second group. I’m a farmer – 100% of my yearly income comes from growing crops, and I’ve lived on a farm all but about 5 years of my life (single female years). I absolutely love agriculture and Canada’s ability to feed not only so many Canadians, but also so much of the hungry world. When I realized there was an opportunity to tell my story to 10 year olds who likely knew very little about the agriculture around them, I jumped at it. That is how I got involved in Ag in the Classroom.

The Classroom Agriculture Program (CAP) was started by Vickie King, a member of the Alberta Women in Support of Agriculture, with funds from the Alberta Cattle Commission. I got involved in 1987, was set to teach in a local school, and was given curriculum that told all about raising cattle and all the various consumer products that eventually come from the animal. I couldn’t do it – I felt like as a grain farmer, I was really not speaking about anything I knew, so I backed out. Flash forward 25 years, and I find out that CAP is now supported by the Alberta Beef producers, but also the Barley Commission, Canola Producers Commission, Chicken Producers, Egg Producers, Pulse Growers Commission, Veterinary Assoc, Irrigation Assocs, Olds College, and Agrium. Farmers of all types are encouraged to speak to children about what they, as producers, know and understand. I’m back in!

Classroom Agriculture Program
CAP’s mission is to provide students with quality, comprehensive agriculture learning experiences that lead to a greater understanding and support for the agriculture industry in Alberta. It is presented to Grade 4 students across Alberta at no charge. Volunteers deliver the program story-telling, engaging props and fun activities, and leave behind fun student booklets for the children to learn more about each of the main agricultural products in Alberta.

When I go into a classroom, I am prepared to talk to the kids about crops in our area, because that is what I know. When a chicken farmer goes in – they talk about raising poultry. When a vet goes in, they talk about their work. That’s the beauty of the program, the children (and their teachers) learn about agriculture from people who are doing it and loving it. So, what do I do when I go in? I take shoe boxes full of samples of all the main crops grown in Alberta – wheat, barley, oats, canola, peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. As I’m passing them around, I ask the kids what they had for lunch, and point out what they ate that is made from what I grow (always enlightening for them). I give each of the kids a small handful of wheat for them to “make wheat gum, just like a farm kid”. I get one of them to grind wheat for me (with a portable hand grinder), to show them how flour is made. I roll out canola and show them the oil and the meal, explaining its use and purpose. I take hummus and show them the chickpeas it started as. I narrate a YouTube video from a friend’s farm of the growing season, answering questions as it plays.

Above all, I spend the hour interacting with the class (teacher included), answering any and all questions that are thrown at me.  My goal is to be a link between them and agriculture, and I always leave my contact information, telling them I’m available any time they have any questions or need any information. So much of Alberta’s population is no longer directly connected to our critical industry of agriculture, and I truly want to be a resource in my community for the teachers!

Alberta Farm Animal Care

Today’s blog post is written by Kristen Mortensen of Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC). You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter.

Who are we?

Twenty-two years ago, Alberta Farm Animal Care was started by a livestock industry that recognized the need for moral consideration of farm animals in our care and, thus, is thoroughly grounded on ethical principles. We continue this tradition today by making animal welfare our main business as we develop into the collective voice of the livestock industry on matters of livestock care.

The value of AFAC lies in the focus on farm animals. Our staff have specialized in animal welfare and are skilled at understanding animal behavior, being able to interpret research, and providing expertise to our members on animal care or welfare issues/concerns.

So what are a few things that we have we been up to lately?

Well, coming up we have our annual Livestock Care Conference where members of the industry, researchers, students, government, and the public come together to address challenges and issues facing the livestock industry today. This year’s conference includes topics on social media, understanding animal welfare and consumer perceptions, and a cattle handling and body condition scoring workshop!

ALERT Line – A confidential call line for anyone to report livestock care concerns. We have a Resource Team that includes farmers and other rural community members who offer solutions to improve livestock care. As well we work with rural veterinarians, the Alberta SPCA and RCMP. The number is 1-800-506-2273.

So come by our booth and say hi! We have resources for kids, adults, and teachers on livestock welfare and care and are always happy to answer any questions!

AFAC Nenshi

Kristen Mortensen and Kristen Hall with Mayor Nenshi at Aggie Days 2014

The Importance of Irrigation in Alberta

Patrick FabianToday’s post is from Patrick Fabian. Patrick is a first-generation pedigreed seed producer who farms in Tilley, Alberta with his wife Brenda. He has a passion for agriculture, and realizes the importance of sending the right message to consumers how their food is produced in a safe, efficient manner. His experience as a food
producer for 29 years gives him the background to speak to a number of issues, as well as clarifying misconceptions about food production that are spread via social media. You can follow him on Twitter and visit Fabian Seed Farms.


With all the interest and concern about the environment, changing climate, the food we eat and how it is grown, there is one component that is often overlooked—the importance of irrigation in Alberta for the production of that food. It started back at the turn of the last century, when irrigation in Alberta was created by the Canadian Pacific Railway when they were constructing a railway line that would link all provinces from coast to coast.

There are many reasons irrigation is important. 40% of all food produced world-wide is produced on irrigation. In Alberta more specifically, almost 35 percent of the of the province’s gross domestic product in processing industries is directly tied to irrigated production. 20% of agricultural production is produced on irrigation, yet irrigated acres only account for 4% of the farmed acres. This will become more important as the farmer is called on to triple food production by 2050 to feed 9 billion people. This will be even more important as climate change affects us. The land form will remain the same, but the
presence of irrigation will ensure adaptability for growing crops for decades to come. This should enhance everyone’s level of comfort for food security more so than any other factor of agriculture present today.

For farmers, irrigation gives stability to control the most important factor in food production: water for the growing crops. It also provides flexibility—to be able to grow crops that are not possible without it. In Alberta, there are 45 different crops that are grown on irrigation, yet without only 10 different crops could be grown in the native climate we live in. So that speaks to the diversity of industries and employment that have been created and are directly attributed to irrigation, which impacts those who are not involved directly by agriculture, yet make their livelihoods as a result of it.

Irrigation Equipment

Aside from agriculture, there are other benefits to irrigation in Alberta. With the habitat for migratory birds being eroded due to city developments and other commercialized land uses, the creating of natural habitat through constructed wetlands (in excess of 89,000 acres) on reservoirs and lakes contributes immensely to the preservation and enhancement of balance to our ecosystem. Following that through, this opens doors to recreation areas that result from that healthy enhanced natural ecosystem; fishing from lakes, reservoirs and canals as well as camping, boating and water skiing to name a few. Have you ever been to Chestermere Lake, Lake Newell or Lake McGregor? If so, you too have enjoyed the benefits of irrigation in Alberta.

But what about “preserving our water”? After all, what happens when the glaciers are no longer feeding the major rivers like the Bow that runs through Calgary? Won’t we run out of water? After all, the major cities depend on that water. The truth is, glacier melt only comprises 1% of the river flow and supply. The majority of the water that comprises our rivers is predominantly fed by way of snow melt and rainfall. Rest assured, with the technological advancements of agriculture, we are irrigating the same acres on 2.5 times less water than was used 50 years ago! Thanks to irrigation, your food supply will be assured for generations to come.

What Do Cows Eat in the Winter?

Jill BurkhardtToday we have another guest post from farmer Jill Burkhardt of Crooked Lake Farms near Edmonton, where she and her husband are 5th generation farmers raising Angus-cross cattle on grass land with their two children. You can follow Jill on Twitter and their farm on Facebook. Jill previously wrote on how to help cows in the cold weather and cows in the heat.

What Do Cows Eat in the Winter

With a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures below zero, many people often ask, what do cows eat in the winter?  The simple answer is hay.

Most people are familiar the a cows diet in the summer, acres and acres of lush green grass. But what is hay? Hay is the staple forage in most cattle operations. Hay is forage (grass and alfalfa) that has been cut, dried, and made into bales.  It would be similar to us eating dried fruit, for example.  Putting up forage in this manner, a producer can store a nutritious feed source for the animals to eat during the cold winter months.

On our farm, feeding the cows in the winter starts way back in June.  This is when we start getting the equipment ready to make hay.  Before the haymaking begins, all the blades need to be changed on the disc-bine cutter.  The oil needs to be changed the the tractor.  Belts and chains need to be checked and adjusted on the baler.

Discbine cutting hay

Usually toward the first week of July, the alfalfa and grass is getting close, and we begin watching the weather forecast.  Once we begin to cut the alfalfa and grass for hay we do not want any rain on it.  Rain causes the cut forage to slowly rot, having the potential of destroying the nutritional value of the hay, once it is baled.  As we hope and pray for no rain, the cut alfalfa lays in swaths in the field, drying.  Once the swaths look and feel dry, we get out the hay rake and give the hay a turn.  This helps it to dry evenly.  Once the swaths are dry, we get the round baler out and bale up the dried alfalfa and grass into hay bales.  This process is again repeated at the middle to end of August for our area.

Once the hay is baled, we haul the hay home and stack it in our bale yard.  This is where the hay is stored until it is used to feed the cows in the winter.  We do not want to leave the hay bales in the field too long, because just like object left in your lawn, the vegetative life under the bales cannot get any sunlight, and therefore dies.

Tractor and Baler

Tractor and Baler

When the bales are all at home and we are done haying, we test the bales to see their nutritive values.  This is done by using a bale corer, a tool that you push in to the centre or core of the bale to get a small sample.  We randomly test all the bales, separating them by field or the time they were cut.  The sample is sent away to a lab where they test for nutrients, minerals, vitamins, digestive ability, and protein, for example.  We receive a printout back that is similar to the labels we see on our food.  From this information, we decide when we feed certain bales, how many bales need to be fed to the cows, if we have to add any supplements in the form of whole grains to their diet, and what other minerals and vitamins we have to add to make a balanced ration to help the cows maintain their weight and if bred, carry a healthy calf to term, through the winter.

Hay Rake

In addition to hay all cows our our area need a salt supplement.  We have large metal tubs that we set out all year that contains salt that is supplemented with selenium, trace minerals, Vitamins A, D and E.  Just like vitamins help us maintain our health, this mix keeps our cattle healthy.

Cows Eating Hay Bale

Happy, healthy cows is very important to producers.  Putting up hay for use in the winter is one way we keep our cows fed and healthy, especially in the cold.

What’s Going on With Canadian Honeybees?

Lee TownsendToday’s guest post is from Lee Townsend. Lee is a second generation commercial beekeeper from Stony Plain, Alberta. Alongside his father, he operates 3100 honeybee colonies for honey production. His business has expanded consistently for the past 30 years, and has also been strictly exporting all their honey to the Asian marketplace since 2009. Lee has served on numerous agricultural based boards, most notably 7 years on the Alberta Beekeepers Commission board and 3 years on the Canadian Honey Council board. He has a new blog called Alberta Buzzing and you can follow him on Twitter.

When I was asked to write this for Aggie Days, I wasn’t sure where exactly to start.  There has been a great deal of misinformation about the Canadian and world honeybee industry spread by both the media and certain beekeeping associations. While it’s challenging for us as an industry to dissect it all and separate the truth from the lies, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the general public when they hear this conflicting information. I’ll take this opportunity to try and do my best at sorting through it for you.

The Canadian honeybee industry is thriving, that is a fact. Do we have our fair share of challenges before us? Of course, but that’s true within any form of agriculture. Despite these challenges the number of beekeepers and honeybee colonies has increased substantially in Canada over the past decade. In 2004 there were 7,925 beekeepers operating 597,890 colonies within Canada. As of 2014, those numbers had increased to 8,777 beekeepers and 694,217 colonies. Why is that?

Before I go further, there needs to be a brief history lesson of the Canadian beekeeping industry. The honeybee used in Canada (Apis Mellifera) is not native to Canada. It was introduced to Canada from Europe in 1776, with that introduction taking place in Ontario.  The honeybee was then further introduced to the rest of Canada over the next century.  By 1927, the honeybee was introduced to every province in Canada, and during both World Wars the number of hives continued to grow in part due to the sugar rations in Canada at that time. In fact, you can trace the history of many Canadian beekeeping businesses back to the great wars.

As time went by and the industry continued to grow, the realization that Canadian winters weren’t kind to honeybees became very apparent. Beekeepers were having varying levels of success with overwinter of honeybees, but the practice of importing honeybees from the USA became a vital part of most beekeeping operations. The importation of packages was more prevalent on the Canadian prairies, but it happened across the country.  This lasted until late 1987, when the USA border to package bees was shut down. It was closed for a number of reasons, but the main reason was to slow the introduction of various pests (parasitic mites) and diseases (American Foulbrood) into Canada.Lees Bees

When the USA border closed to package bees, many beekeeping operations went out of business. The overwintering of honeybees had become somewhat of a lost art, and to this day it is still a challenge for Canadian beekeepers. But there are many of us that have learned how to be successful with overwintering colonies since 1987, and that’s evident by the fact the Canadian honeybee industry has never been bigger than it was in 2014.

Beekeeping today is a never ending challenge, but it isn’t a doomed industry. One of the main reasons for the success of the industry, specifically on the prairies, is due to the strong relationships beekeepers have with farmers and the biotechnology industry.  Seed companies and farmers depend on honeybees for the pollination of crops such as Canola. Beekeepers depend on farmers for the crops we produce honey from and we depend on the pollination contracts we receive from the seed companies. Beekeepers also depend on biotechnology for many of the hive health products we use to defend our bees from the multitude of pests and disease our bees suffer from. Without this symbiotic relationship you would see far fewer honeybee colonies in Canada. Ask any successful beekeeper in Canada and they will tell you a similar story. Ask most unsuccessful beekeepers the same questions and you’ll get back a multitude of excuses with no concrete evidence to back it up. Like most industries in agriculture, they generally had to lose a few members in order to get better. The beekeeping industry is still going through that process, but it’s slowly improving.