Canadian Exchange 2014

This trip offered me the opportunity to see Ontario and learn more about their farming practices, environment and economics. In addition, this opportunity allowed me to stay with 12 different farming families enhancing my exposure to the agricultural practices in Canada.

The partnership between Macra and the Junior Farmers Association of Ontario (JFAO) provides an amazing opportunity to meet many young innovative and inspiring young farmers in Ontario. These young farmers were active in the community and eager to operate their own farming practices.

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All of the junior farmers I met while on the exchange were enthusiastic to share their perspectives on agriculture.

While staying with each of my host families they welcome me with open arms. For the 3 months I stayed there, they made me feel like it was my home away from home.

I was privileged to be involved in some of the daily activities on many Canadian farms, including milking cows, rafting sheep, visiting livestock marts, viewing a feed mill and grain elevator facilities. While on the exchange we were brought on tours of chicken, goat, beef, sheep, veal, mink and milking water buffalo farms.

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Chicken farming

We visited a poultry farm where there were 80,000 birds being raised. In as little as 5 weeks the birds were transformed from day old chicks to 1.2kilo slaughter ready birds. Chicks cost 50 cents each and can be worth $4 after the 5 weeks.

Goat farming

We visited a milking goat farm with 1200 head. It consisted of a double 12-a-side milking parlour. There were also 100 sheep being milked on site. Sheep milk is worth almost 5 times that of goat milk in Canada.

Beef farming

There was a beef feed lot that held a contract for 88 head a week. The farmer had room for feeding 1600 store steers at the one time. They sell them at $2.81 per lb live weight. Which calculates out for 450 kgs (992lbs) it is nearly $2800 live weight.  

They have their own grain elevator and grow maize and soya beans. They usually do wheat but spring was too late this year. The farmer now has a 5000 acre farm which he built up from 6 beef cattle when he was only 18 years old. The farmer produces maize silage and covers it with waste silage from the year before rather than wasting plastic and moving tyres. He believes the only thing there is a guaranteed future in is farming. The beef industry is booming in Ontario at the minute.

Sheep farming

There seems to be very few sheep farmers in Canada. This appears to be due to the large number of predators such as coyotes. This is turn means that the price of lamb is quite high at $2/lb live weight.

Veal farming

The veal calves are fed a full corn diet with hay offered ad lib. They gain approximately 400 pounds in the 110 day period of the production cycle while at the Dircrest Holstein farm. 160 head arrive once a month travelling from Alberta out west to Ontario in the South East.

Mink farming

Each pelt is worth $120 per mink. There were 49,000 head of mink on the farm at the time of our tour! The diet consisted of a high protein mixture created by meat, eggs and cheese.

Milking water buffalo farming

Water buffalo are quite rare in the milking/dairy industry. While in Canada I visited one of few in Ontario. The water buffalo calves are born at 50 kgs weight and as adults can weigh up to 1200kgs!

The buffalo milk is mainly converted into cheese. The milk is high in fat and protein. It contains no pigment with a fat range of 8-10%.

The meat of buffalo is similar tasting to beef with 80% less saturated fat and 25% less cholesterol. They have a gestation period of 10 months and 10 days.

Fish farming

Fish farming is actually quite popular in the Ontario state of Canada. We had the pleasure to tour a rainbow trout hatchery farm and a research facility where some of the hatchlings ended up. There were 80,000 freshly hatched fish in a tank. They have to be hand fed every 2 hours! As they grow they are changed into larger tanks and fewer fish per tank. Upstream water is diverted through the tanks and mixed with heated water to keep it at 8C.

Sightseeing

During my stay in Canada I got to see many main tourist attractions including:

The Niagara Falls, The CN tower, Canada’s wonderland adventure park ,Blue Mountain resort, African Lion Safari, Rogers Centre, Hockey Hall of Fame Toronto, Bruce Peninsula, Flowerpot Island in Tobermory, Parliament hill Ottawa, Trent-Severn waterway and the Stratford theatre.

During break-week I was invited to go to the Calgary Stampede event that was being held in Alberta out West. It was an unreal place to visit and I got the chance to see chuck wagon racing, cutting horses, rodeo, Broncho riding as well as many other things. It was truly understandable how it got the name of “The greatest outdoor show on Earth”.

I can honestly say it was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. I would like to express thanks to both Macra na Feirme and JFAO for giving me this opportunity to go to Canada to gain farming experience while meeting many lifelong friends along the way. 

-       Martina Egan, South Roscommon Macra