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Fennema Farm Fieldwork

For our Bridge Day, our grade 11 Biology class visited Fennama Farms and we were able to take a tour of the farm and meet many animals including a baby calf born the previous day and plenty of the cutest kittens. During our tour, we learned about how genetics impacts the farm, saw a demonstration of how they milk the cows, watched their feeding system and discussed costs involved and what a day on the farm looks like.

One area that we explored in detail was genetics and how the farm breeds their calves. Being a dairy farm, Fennema Farms does not have any bulls because they cost too much to feed and house, as well as requiring more patience to deal with a moody bull. Instead, this particular farm has all heifers (females) and uses a breeding service called EastGen.

EastGen has a wide selection of bull semen to choose from with varying characteristics. When deciding which bull to use, there are many factors to consider such as coat colour, shoulder height, hoof size, and weight. One option is a proven bull, which means a bull who has had many daughters, making it easier to determine qualities such as ease of birth and milk production. Carefully choosing the right bull is an important process to improve the quality of your cows. For example, if your heifer has legs that appear crooked, you can choose a bull with straight legs to improve the future calves probability of having straight legs. It is important for a farmer to understand genetics and how genes are passed on to make the best decisions for their future calves.

Another important aspect of having a healthy cow is nutrition. Cows, being massive animals, consume massive amounts of food. Between birth and 2 years old, the age when a cow can begin producing milk, it costs $2,000 just to feed the calf. We learned that cows drink 100 liters of water a day as well as consume 100 pounds of food per day, while the cow produces an average of 30 liters of milk a day. A cow has a healthy diet consisting of baled hay and grains such as corn, barley, oats, and wheat. A special machine called a Total Mixed Ration or TMR ensures that all the feed is mixed properly so that each cow gets the appropriate amount of feed and plenty of nutrients.

There are many other ways that technology has impacted dairy farming. Fennema Farms uses a monitoring system described as a ‘fitbit for cows’. It can track a cow’s activity, water intake, feed intake, and how much milk was produced. All of the data collected goes to a database so that if a cow ever gets sick or pregnant, they have lots of information such as when the cow was most likely to have gotten sick or what it’s eating patterns are. Each cow on the farm has its own ID number with a specific radio frequency. When the automated milk machine is placed beside the cow, it recognizes the frequency and can identify the cow. The milking machines are made to simulate hand milking and save lots of time for the farmers.

The farmers at Fennema Farms truly care for their animals and I am grateful for the experience to learn more about dairy farming and the science behind it.

~ Rachel Hambly ’22