Tag Archives: animals

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.”
Thomas de Quincey

Hello 2021!

As we have done for the past four years, the theme for our January issue follows the Chinese New Year. We are entering the Year of the Ox, which hopefully will be better for humanity than 2020’s Year of the Rat.

When I was in India last year, cows wandered the streets as stray dogs do in Mexico. They would approach me and nudge my hand with their head to be petted. These encounters filled me with a strange combination of bliss and sadness. When I returned to Mexico, I went to see some land with a man from my village. There were three cows there and, fresh from my India experience, I approached one and placed my hand on its forehead. Our eyes met and the cow responded to my touch by moving its head towards me. The man who had brought me there looked on quizzically; it was clear he thought I was ridiculous.

So often we overlook the charms of animals that have been domesticated for consumption. As we do with humans, there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to how we dole out our concern for animals. Afterall, I have often made the sassy comment that when people come to a Mexican village and ‘rescue’ a dog, why do they leave the chickens behind? I am being facetious, of course, and this is not a plea that everyone should stop eating meat and welcome chickens into their living rooms (don’t- they are very messy!). I just find it interesting to contemplate how we collectively seem to decide on this hierarchy, and also how it differs from culture to culture.

While I was growing up my mother had a painting that hung in the kitchen of a woman with her hand extended to a cow. Perhaps that is where my fascination came from.

I hope you enjoy this issue. Putting out the magazine has been such a gift during this season when we are separated from so many of our loved ones.

Thank you to the amazing writers, contributors, advertisers and readers who make this possible!

See you in February,

Jane

How Cattle Survive Canada’s Harsh Climate

By Jack Vander Byl

Reading the title, you’re probably thinking about the severe cold weather we Canadians get in January and February, and how cold it must be for cows to be outside. Not so. On a cold, clear, sunny day in January at 30°C below 0, our beef cows are happily lying on the snow chewing their cuds. Their protection from the cold comes with their birth. Calves born in the late fall arrive with a thick hair coat and ready for winter. The rest of the cattle in the herd also grow a thick hair coat for the winter. In the spring, the cattle start rubbing against whatever they can find to slough off this winter coat: fences, trees, buildings, etc. Then they are ready for summer.

Calves that are born in the springtime, however, come with a very slight haircoat to help them cope with the severe heat of plus 30°C summer days. And how do cattle cope with those very hot summer days? They do their grazing early in the morning and in the evening, spending the rest of the day lying in the shade of any big old tree they can find and chewing their cuds. Yes, everything a cow eats, she regurgitates and chews it 70 more times to break it into smaller particles that get passed on down to her other 3 stomachs.

On cold, clear winter days cattle cope very well as long as there is no wind. But if you add some strong wind, cold rain or a severe snowstorm to the cold, the cows eat quickly and head to shelter to chew their cuds. In our case – we’re in eastern Ontario – we have a lean-to on the south side of the main barn so the cows can get out of the wind and snow. A windbreak will also do nicely. If they don’t have a building they can shelter in, they will head to the bush, preferably a cedar bush which gives excellent protection from the wind. If nothing is available, the cattle will form a circle with the calves in the centre to protect them and cows around the outside packed in close together so only their behinds are exposed to the wind, taking turns being on the outside of the ring.

When I joined a veterinary practice in 1975, the dairy cattle in eastern Ontario were all housed in barns of 30 to 70 milk cows. The barns were all packed tight with cattle and not very well ventilated. Cows give off a lot of heat and the barns became too hot for the cows. As a result, we treated a lot of pneumonia in our dairy cows. The farmers were happy because the barns were very comfortable to work in, but the cows are very comfortable at 0°C.

During the summer, the cows had gone to pasture every day during the summer but spent most of the day lying under the trees to get shade. If they were left on pasture too late in the fall, they started to grow a winter hair coat and then the farmers had a big job to clip all the hair off so they wouldn’t overheat in the warm barns.

Gradually, things changed. Ventilation in the barns improved, and milk production improved as the cows were kept in a cooler environment. So now, all new barns have open sides with a curtain that can be pulled up in the worst of winter; the barns are generally just above freezing – good for the cows but not so good for the farmers and veterinarians who have to work with them. During the summer, these barns have massive fans that move air through the barns very rapidly and cool off the cows. Dairy cows do not go outside anymore.

So, even though the Canadian climate may be harsh, cattle will adapt, as long as they have water to drink and enough food to eat.

Jack Vander Byl is a retired large animal veterinarian who now enjoys helping out at his son’s beef cattle farm in Eastern Ontario.

When is an Ox Not an Ox?Meet the Musk Ox!

By Susan Birkenshaw

Dating back to the days of the sabre-toothed tiger and wooly mammoth, the musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) can be traced back over 600,000 years. In the northern tundra culture of the Inuit, the musk ox has been revered as a gift from their gods and protected as a strong source of food (from the meat), warmth and protection (from the wool and hides), and weapons (from the horns and bones). As strong and respectful hunters, the Inuit have used every part of their hunt.

Distinctly identifiable by the musky odor of males during mating season, the musk ox bears little resemblance to the bison or the ox as we know them today. In fact, they are more closely related to mountain goats and bighorn sheep, with their cloven hooves and an astonishing nimbleness on the icy terrain that they call home. Much warmer and softer than sheep wool, musk ox wool (qiviut) is also simpler to harvest, done by brushing the loose hairs from the hide or collecting the commonly dropped patches around their habitat. This wooly Qiviut has been measured as eight times warmer than the sheep and much more waterproof, all the while being lighter per weight. It is stronger than sheep wool and surprisingly finer than cashmere, produced by Kashmir and pashmina goats.

In the wild, these majestic animals are smaller than their bison cousins. They have large dish-like hooves with two toes, which can spread across the ice and rocky terrain for better footing. This is an excellent adaptation to their environment, as they live commonly at the very northern edge of the Arctic lands in the Northwest Territories and the northeast coast of Greenland. They most commonly roam in herds of two to three dozen, but as the world overtakes them these numbers are dwindling.

In this Year of the Ox, we should not err in disregarding the musk ox, just because it is not genetically linked to the oxen we see on farms in 2021. Highly valued because of its contribution to successful farming, the musk ox has had many positive characteristics attributed to it. It has survived through its resilience and protectiveness, which leads to an image of being steadfast, reliable, hardworking and honest. In today’s environment, I have decided to choose this particular “ox” as my new best friend.