Updated June 25
Livestock roundups became commonplace in recent months in parts of southwestern Ontario, with awareness about farmer mental health being the unlikely beneficiary.
Junior Farmer organizations in Huron-Perth and Middlesex were behind the creative fundraising efforts, with unsuspecting rural businesses and residents joining in the fun by paying to have their front lawns cleared of surprise bovine or porcine visitors.
Why it matters: Awareness about farmer mental health has increased significantly over the past couple of years and that has many involved, including future farmers.
“One of your friends has left you a surprise!” reads the sign that accompanies a herd of cartoonish cut-out cows now being clandestinely transported around Middlesex County by that region’s Junior Farmers members. “We hope that you’ll play along and have some fun!”
Denfield-area resident Katelyn O’Neil, fundraising co-ordinator for Middlesex Junior Farmers, says the Who Let the Cows Out campaign is part of a larger initiative that her organization decided to pursue in late 2020 and was dubbed the “Mental Health Moovement.”
“It has become a very hot topic, with COVID-19 and with the isolation that some farmers are feeling,” she told Farmtario.
The Moovement officially got underway in spring when Middlesex Junior Farmer members got outside doing physical activities and issued social media challenges to similar organizations across the province to partake in their own health-conscious outings.
Around the same time, they brainstormed ways to join a province-wide Junior Farmers decision to financially support the Do More Ag Foundation’s mental health awareness programs in 2021. Looking to their counterparts around Ontario, they settled on a dairy-themed approach to an already successful method.
Pink flamingo lawn ornaments have been used on multiple occasions by various organizations in the past. Earlier this year, the North Simcoe Junior Farmers adapted their version to feature a toilet placed on the lawns of unsuspecting landowners. Then in May, Huron-Perth Junior Farmers launched a successful Who Let the Pigs Out that saw a family of hogs as the star attractions.
There are two sets of porcine lawn ornaments for the Who Let the Pigs Out fundraiser - one for Perth County and another for Huron. The Junior Farmers in that region were first out of the gate with their mental health awareness project, raising more than $2,000 in fall 2020 - and seeing that boosted by two in-kind donations of a butchered pig to be distributed to food banks in the district. Huron Perth Junior Farmers President Jolande Oudshoorn of Auburn says weather conditions at the time led them to switch this year to a springtime fundraiser -- which is currently ongoing. To get involved with the Huron Perth fundraiser, contact Oudshoorn at 519-955-1579.
The concept is simple. In the Middlesex Junior Farmers version, if the cows show up overnight on your yard, you can pay $10 to have them rounded up. That, according to the signboard, is the “Loose Penning” level of support.
For the $20 “Moove the Herd Along” option, you can pay $20 to have them removed and then identify another property owner to be the next unsuspecting host.
And for the $30 “Have a BBQ” option, you can have the cows placed on a friend’s property and also ensure that they’ll never be returned to your place.
An Exeter sign maker constructed the cows and accompanying “Who Let the Cows Out” signboard and O’Neil says that, just like election signs, they’re easy to load into a pick-up truck and relocate to the next destination.
“We started out having them at New Life Mills,” she said, a few days after the campaign began in early June. That Denfield business pastured the herd for two days before paying to have them sent to one of their suppliers, Arva Grains.
“And from there, it has gone residential,” O’Neil reported later in the month. “They’ve been moved every night now since we started.”
She says the fees paid will be split between the Do More Ag Foundation and local fundraising efforts. “As we move into different areas of the county, we’ll decide as we go what other charities to support.”
To get involved in Who Let the Cows Out, contact Katelyn O’Neil at 226-283-0533. Watch the Middlesex Junior Farmers Facebook page to keep up to date on the herd’s travels.
Updated to add more information about the Who Let the Pigs Out fundraiser.