In case you missed it, last week I was on a farm tour organized by Savour Ottawa (the group responsible for bringing together verified local farmers with chefs who agree to use a certain amount of local product). The first stop was Castor River Farm, and a short bus ride away was stop number two – O’Brien Farms.

Dan O’Brien and his family produce some of the best beef in the city, and as a fourth generation beef farmer – Dan knows his cows. I never realized how much being a cattle farmer is like being a councillor. Not only are you looking for physically healthy animal, but also one that is going to gel with your animals mentally.

Why you might ask?? Or at least I did because I really had no idea. Well, a cow that is prone to high stress is dangerous for one. These are BIG animals and having them startle easily and run when you are trying to approach them is never good. Two, a cow that spooks easily actually have tougher meat as a direct result from their anxiety. Third, one anxiety riddled cow in a group of calmer cows gets the others to ‘drink the kool-aid’ so to speak. They actually spread the anxiety rather than being calmed by the other animals. So having one paranoid, conspiracy theory spreading cow can really cause trouble in a herd.

So what can you do about it?? Well, Dan buys his cows from trusted providers (for other health and quality reasons but also for the temperament of the calves). He makes sure to buy his calves from as few herds as possible. It has been shown that cows can identify and recognize their herd mates, so keeping them together as long as possible helps them to unwind.

Dan also plays music for his cows. They claim the cows are big fans of Magic 100, but recognize that just having background noise helps the cows from startling at every random sound and helps them get used to human voices.

Bull hooks used on the … well… bull. Also help to calm down the big fella. He LOVED being scratched with it. He was so relaxed it made me want to go next. But instead I just went to lunch and scratched my back on my chair. Close enough… I guess… for now…

Thanks so much to Dan and his family for welcoming us onto his farm and for answering my several questions. I’m sure more than a couple made them scratch their heads.

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