Today’s farms nothing like Old McDonald’s
Discover the Farm showcases modern farming operations
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The cows decide when they want to be milked on some Manitoban farms.
And you might not have to shower leaving a hog barn, but “you absolutely have to shower before you go into one,” according to Cam Dahl, Manitoba Pork’s general manager.
Six agriculture groups are banding together this Sunday to answer questions about farming and to spark Manitobans’ interest.
The first-ever Discover the Farm event, at the University of Manitoba’s Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre, comes amid a shrinking labour force and ever-present misinformation on farming practices.
“People are becoming less connected to the farm,” said Crystal Jorgenson, communications specialist for the University of Manitoba’s agricultural and food sciences department.
The university runs the discovery centre and has organized Discover the Farm. It modelled the event off Open Farm Day, a pre-pandemic program showcasing farm operations.
“You go back a few generations and everybody… maybe had somebody in their family that farmed, or they knew a farmer,” Jorgenson said. “I think that’s less the case.”
The Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, Manitoba Beef Producers, Manitoba Canola Growers, Manitoba Chicken Producers, Manitoba Egg Farmers and Manitoba Pork will be stationed at the discovery centre.
“It’s almost a no-brainer that we’re participating,” said Alain Philipott, a third-generation dairy farmer.
He — or his son — is planning to stand near the windows into the discovery centre’s dairy barn. He’ll give anecdotes as viewers watch cows meander to machines, ready for milking.
“The cows can walk around the barn at will, and they can go get milked whenever they feel like it,” Philipott said.
His family farm has a similar system. Before, the Philipotts would milk their animals at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., though that bumped to three times a day as cows began to produce more.
Now, members of Philipott’s herd might voluntarily enter a milking machine three, four, five times a day, where they’re washed and massaged.
“It empowers the animal to do it at her pace, which is working out really well,” Philipott said.
The system monitors the colour and temperature of milk from each teat and reroutes product that doesn’t meet standards.
It also shows Philipott how regularly each cow is chewing cud, how much she’s lying down and other health indicators. It’s easier to see who needs help, Philipott said.
The technology is “a big leap forward,” he said.
“We’re really proud of what we do, and we like what we do,” he said. “We want to show people how we really do it. There’s so much misinformation.”
Farmers mistreating cows is a regular tale Philipott hears.
“Why would we do something that is bad for an animal if it’s not going to help us or her?” Philipott said.
From a revenue perspective alone, it doesn’t make sense, he noted — content cows give more quality milk.
Beef producers are eager to answer environmental questions.
“Beef has a negative light shined on it,” said Carson Callum, Manitoba Beef Producers’s general manager.
It’s received negative attention for cows’ release of methane into the atmosphere. However, such farming maintains grasslands and helps mitigate flooding and droughts, among other things, Callum said.
Sunday’s event is aimed at families. Activities include Pig Poop Tic Tac Toe, the Wheel of Chicken and seeing pigs and hens.
Showcasing jobs in agriculture is a priority. The sector has experienced labour shortages across the chain — in trucking, in the veterinary office and on the farm.
“Longer-term access to labour is one of the most critical issues facing our industry,” Manitoba Pork’s Dahl said. “It is a bottleneck to growth.”
The province’s pork industry supports 14,000 jobs, Dahl said.
“We are running into a bit of a situation with a lot of producers coming into retirement,” said David Wiens, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba’s chair. “The hope is things are going to turn around, knowing that these issues aren’t resolved overnight.”
More than 47,000 people were employed in Manitoban agribusiness at last year’s end, according to an Economic Development Winnipeg release. The sector generated $12.7 billion in revenue in 2020, the article said.
Discover the Farm will show attendees the variety of careers available, organizers say. It’s for people interested in animals, genetics, nutrition, logistics — much more than the farm work most expect, both Dahl and Jorgenson said.
“I tell people that Old McDonald retired many, many years ago,” Dahl said.
Discover the Farm will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first 500 people receive free food, including brisket and pulled chicken.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.