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All hay is not created equal All hay is not created equal

All hay is not created equal

I wouldn’t have guessed that the alfalfa plant belongs to the pea family. As a nitrogen fixing plant (a legume), it has the highest...
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Influencer Survey for Managers NorQuest College is working with Hanover Research to learn about the post-secondary education needs and...
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Sustainable Dairy Farming in Sturgeon County Leanne

Emma Cawthorne-Kozlowski and Sara Kluthe are Urban Agriculture students at Morinville Community High School.  This article is part of a series written by students enrolled in the Urban Agriculture course.

Ice cream, cheese, whipped cream, yogurt and butter are foods that most people don’t think a lot about. We buy them at the grocery store in the refrigerator section and never bother to think about where they came from. Many people work hard raising cows and collecting milk from them just so we can enjoy an ice cream every now and then. On March 6th the MCHS Urban Agriculture class visited the Lakeside dairy farm just outside of Legal to learn more about dairy farming and where our milk comes from. 

When we arrived, Jeff Nonay took us to see where their milking cows, also known as Holstein cows, are kept. Their cows are kept in a large facility where they have places to lay down. They also have a brush for the cows to brush themselves on and a big sweeper that runs through the barn six times a day to clean it up a little. 

Next, we went to see the automatic milking system they have, which is run by a computer and a robotic arm. The cows at the Lakeside farm as well as many other dairy farms are trained to go to these automatic milking stations as they receive a treat when they do as an incentive to go get milked. When the cow decides to enter the milking unit, a cow ID sensor reads an identification tag on the cow and passes the cow ID to the control system, this sensor can also tell if the cow has any infections. If the cow has been milked too recently, the automatic gate system sends the cow out of the unit. If the cow may be milked, automatic teat cleaning, milking cup application, milking, and teat spraying takes place. The robotic arm hooks up the cups to the teats and in about 10 minutes, 30L of milk are collected from one cow. 

The arm takes off the cups from each teat when they are finished and it pushes the cow out and allows the next one to enter. Each cow gets milked a different number of times each day and they are free to go to the milking unit whenever they want. These milking systems are helpful because they allow the cows to be milked 24/7 and it can tell whether or not the cow has a disease or when it was last milked. As well, most of the system is automatic like the waste removal,  and the milking so they do not have to spend so much time with the cows. These machines may cost a lot to buy but they are economically sustainable in the long run because they do not need to hire anyone to milk the cows and it is much more efficient as it can track the cows, scan them and milk them in a matter of minutes.

Next, he took us to go see the cows who just gave birth. The cows who are injured or who just gave birth have special treament.They get to relax on hay,  and they still get milked everyday. Then Mr.Nonay took us to go see the calves, to see their habitat and their way of life and how they grow up in their environment. The calves live in a very important environment. This determinds whether or not their going to be a strong cow or not.The calves were a lot more curious with us than the cows. They were a lot more friendly and not shy. They licked our hands and were biting our clothes. All of us enjoyed playing with the calves. It's about $8.00 a day to feed one cow. They’re very expensive; but so worth it in the end if you love to do it.

We learned many things at the Lakeside farm such as how we get our milk and the process that goes into it. But one very important thing we learned about is sustainability. Lakeside farm is very sustainable and well run. For example, Jeff makes his own compost by using drywall, which he picks up from the city and combines it with chicken manure from a neighboring farm and cow manure from his own farm.This compost contains gypsum which has positive long lasting effects in soil. The sulphate in the drywall lowers the pH of the manure, reducing ammonia and greenhouse gases. When this mixture is spread on the land, it adds sulphate and calcium, and retains nitrogen, all of which are nutrients plants need to grow. Also, by using drywall in their compost, they get rid of much of the drywall that goes to landfills. 

The Nonays even grow their own crops to feed their cows. That is why it was important for the MCHS urban Agriculture class to go to the Lakeside Dairy Farm, to learn about where our milk comes from and sustainable practices.

Click here to learn more about dairy farming in Canada



That'll Do Pig, That'll Do Leanne

Natasha Kryger is an Urban Agriculture student at Morinville Community High School.  This article is part of a series written by students enrolled in the Urban Agriculture course.

Pigs, we all know what they are bred for: ham, bacon, ribs…Yum! We love to eat pigs but we seldom stop and ask, “Where was this animal raised?” “How was it treated?” 

On October 20, the students in Morinville Community High School’s Urban Agriculture class visited Belle Valley Berkshires, owned by Ron and Karen Sobeys. Belle Valley Berkshires is a small pig farm operated five minutes west of Morinville. Ron and Karen raise Berkshire pigs, a heritage breed that is raised mainly for the quality of their ham. 

The pigs are fed a complete feed from Champion Feeds.  The feed consists of barley, wheat, and oats. A nutritionist also helps determine what supplements are needed within the pigs’ diet. The Sobeys also feed their pigs vegetable scraps, and because the pigs are raised outdoors, they are free to graze on whatever is in their pen. I was fascinated to learn that the pigs aren’t fed an all-wheat diet, as this would create too much fat in the pigs. You may think that the pigs would freeze during the winter, but the pigs are given straw to burrow in. The straw acts as an insulator and keeps the pigs warm in the frigid temperatures. 

Ron and Karen have three sows and a boar. The sows usually produce two litters per year; this is a fair amount as a Berkshire’s gestation period is about 114 days. Each sow can produce about 10 litters in their lifetime and usually grow to a weight of about 400-450 pounds. 


I learned that sometimes a piglet is born with a ridgeling. This is a birth defect in males where one teste remains inside the pig. The procedure to fix this is very expensive so these pigs are often destroyed. Piglets born with defects are ended with a process known as thumping. Thumping is when the piglet’s head is slammed with great force against a hard object. The pig doesn’t suffer because the farmer makes sure to do it right the first time. 

Males born without defects are castrated at 2 days or no older than 6 weeks. They are castrated because when they mature, the testosterone would taint the meat and leave a strong odour.  At 6-8 weeks, the pigs are weaned off their mothers and begin to eat  the feed. I learned that the pigs were raised for about 180-190 days or about 6 months. At that time, the pigs generally weigh 260 pounds and produce a 90-95 kilogram carcass.  The pigs were sent to Country Quality Meat Cutting, in Bon Accord for slaughter. I was astounded to learn that not all facilities slaughter pigs with the same process. Quality Meat Cutting uses a bolt that hits the brain of the animal whereas Sturgeon Valley Pork, another facility near Morinville, now out of business, used to use nitrogen to asphyxiate the pigs.  


The students in Urban Agriculture bought three of these pigs, creating six half carcasses to butcher. Kyle of Darcy’s Meats, brought the carcasses to the school. On the trip to Belle Valley Berkshires, I learned the important process in going from piglet, to pig, to plate.


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