June 22, 2017

You Just Can't Satisfy Everyone (Warning: Graphic Material)

From T&E Meats website;
Joel Salatin with some of his cattle
It's interesting to see what other people are doing in farming and agriculture and how some of the more "out there" folks are trying to make a change to the agricultural food system and how food should really be produced.

A three-part series on YouTube on Polyface Farm showcased Joel Salatin's perspectives on the ethics and politics with agriculture, as well as some of his production practices with rabbits, chickens, turkeys, cattle, and pigs. I'll say right up front I enjoyed the hour and a half spent watching these videos.

But of course I can't resist the urge to scroll through the comments below. And on the first video, one of the comments that I was itching to comment, but didn't because I knew it wouldn't change the person's viewpoints and ideologies anyway, popped out at me like a sore, infection-ridden thumb.

Here's what it said:
"No happy animal wants to die to become your food. This is not food this is deceiving the animals and cruel."
Just can't please them all, can we, Joel?

If you haven't caught the heavy drift coming across this comment, it's pretty obvious that this is someone who's been brainwashed in the cult called "animal rights activism" or rather the slacktivist ideological nutty bullshittery of vegan propaganda.

I know, I'm cruel, I'm mean. But really I have no problems with veganism as a diet. It's the radical animal activism that I have a major problem with.

So let's discuss this hilariously misinformed comment, shall we?

Now, I commend Joel for what he's done and has been trying to do for all of what, 30 or 40 years now, and with is son Daniel is starting to taking over. He really tries to do things as ethically and environmentally friendly as possible.

But damn it, you just cannot satisfy everyone!

I've already discussed the ridiculous surmise that "animals don't want to die" in THIS post. Here's something that's worth repeating:
Of course animals don't want to die; they [will] obviously make any effort they [possibly] can to survive and live another day, no matter if they are wild or domesticated. But they do not have a choice in when [nor] how they are going to die, [even when the fact is] that they may need to die to feed [one or more hungry animals].
So, if animals don't want to die, and yet they have no control as to when or how they will die--because no animal lives forever, let's just make that clear--nor do they have any control, after they've died, in deciding what happens to their bodies, then how can this system that Joel has, be "deceiving the animals"?

From Grassroots & Gardening Blog;
Polyface Farm's Chickenmobile Laying coop!
The animals really don't care about what's going to happen to them after die, or if the fact that they have to die to become food. And did I mention already that animals have zero control over what happens to their bodies after they die?

So really, there is absolutely nothing cruel about how Salatin raises these animals, nor is this anything to do with "deceiving" nor betraying an animal! Clearly these animals are very happy to eat to their hearts desire, be moved to new fresh fodder almost every day, and to be with other animals out in the open fresh air... Just how can someone find this to be "cruel"??

As Joel says, they live all their lives as happy they can be and they just have one bad day where they are killed, but are killed in such a way that they barely even know what happened or why. They die peacefully, and their bodies are not gone to waste.
This is the work of wolves.

And the methods to which these animals are eventually slaughtered are such that it's not stressful on the animal, nor does it cause much pain, fear, or distress. It is much more distressful for a hen to get caught and eaten by a hawk or owl than it is to get slaughtered with a very sharp knife stuck in a metal cone. And a cow would probably sooner get killed with a bullet to the head than have itself hamstringed and anal cavity chewed out by wolves.

Yet the ARA vegans think that this is somehow not cruel, and not a betrayal of the animals. Well, tell you what: Gimme an effin' break! 

While I enjoy debating those vegan ARAs on their "scientific facts" and showing them just how stupid their parroted nonsense really is (and I've been blocked by several on Facebook for doing just that, which I call good wins), what really pisses me off and gets me into my terrifying mother-bear-protecting-cubs mode is when they start implying or even dare say that it's okay for an animal to suffer a slow and painful death by injury, disease, or even predatory attack, and do nothing about it.

Oh, because it's so cruel to "murder" or outright kill an animal!

Really?? It's cruel to kill an animal that's in so much pain that it can't even move, can't eat, or can't even function normally? It's cruel to kill an animal that is sick or injured beyond any sort of veterinary help, and obviously going through excruciating distress? Once again, gimme a f***ing break!!

They'd sooner sit back in a lawn chair sucking back their soy lattes and watch the animal die nice and slow. Watch that laboured breathing, blood slowing dripping out of its wounds, those widened eyes that are just screaming for anyone to come and just end this torture! PLEASE, just END this!!

And they'd do nothing. Instead they'd take pictures, take a video, and post all of this on their favourite vegan social platforms, and go ahead and blame someone else for this "horrendous cruelty."

Never would you get them to look in the mirror to see who's really encouraging this unspeakable horror.

I damn sure hope that made you squirm uncomfortably in your chair.

Vegan ARAs aren't saving any animals by what they do on social media. They aren't even saving animals by supporting these glorified petting zoos called "farm sanctuaries." In fact, they're contributing to the betrayal and cruelty of the treatment of animals.

I've seen photos of how animals are in "farm sanctuaries" like The Gentle Barn. Oh good Lord what a hornet's nest that is.

Holstein with in-growing horn.
There's no reason to believe that this horn is actually loose.
You want to see animal cruelty there that is deliberately ignored, go check out the GB. Cows that are extremely fat, some with progressively worse ruptured abdominal walls, one cow with a horn continually growing into her skull, pigs that are obese and barely get their feet trimmed, very fat goats, and a sad-looking three-legged steer that looks to be in a bit of pain. There are more than that.

And they deliberately lie to their "fans" that those animals are just fine, the horn on that cow is loose, those cows are okay and not in pain, the steer's doing perfectly well, etc.

I know they lie because I've known several people who had comments deleted, phone calls ignored, and even blocked from the GB pages for offering advice and pointing out that the animals in their care are suffering and need help.

And yet this person on YouTube had the gall to call Joel Salatin's practices cruel and a betrayal to animals?

I did say it was funny, because it actually is, but I find it also sad and maddening at the same time.

See, only maybe 2% of the population in North America has some bit of a clue of how to raise animals and have worked with them, including yours truly. The rest of the 98% either 1) don't know at all and want to know, 2) think they know and really don't (and don't want to admit it), or 3) just don't care.

It's the second group that that person is clearly a part of, and are the most dangerous to the rest of society, particularly those that care about animals and want to go into actually raising them.

And those who do their best to raise animals to the best of their ability so that those animals are in fact living a full and happy life work hard to do so.

But damn it, even when a person like Joel is doing that, and being transparent about it, there's bound to be some folks who are still not satisfied enough with it.

And there's nothing you can do about it, really.

June 21, 2017

Overgrazing is All in the TIMING

In my adventures on the social media interface, I often come in contact with people who have used a variety of terms in attempt to undermine the use of livestock on the landscape. One of those terms is "overgrazing."

Far too commonly overgrazing is ill-referred as being a matter of "too many animals" on a grassland, no matter if it's tame pasture or native grassland. Overgrazing also is referred to as land that is "grazed too heavily" so that vegetation becomes damaged and land becomes "liable to erosion." (These are actually two common definitions that are held by today's online and hard-copy dictionaries. Both must be corrected!!)

Often this term is over-used and abused as to justify the means to attempt to demonize livestock for the world's increasing environmental problems, such as soil erosion, desertification, and "climate change."

All in all, the term is actually highly misunderstood and misinterpreted. Even the dictionaries have it wrong.

So, what IS overgrazing??

Overgrazing is actually a function of time, not number of animals. 

It does not matter how many animals you have or how many acres there are. Overgrazing can occur with few animals on a lot of land, just as with a lot of animals on a small amount of land.

Overgrazing is a result of timing, largely because of mismanagement. The real definition for overgrazing is not what the standard dictionary says, but rather this: "To defoliate a plant when its energy stores have been depleted in attempt to regrow after the first defoliation event." Or rather, overgrazing is when a forage plant is bitten more than once, when it is trying to regrow and replenish its emptied energy stores, pushing it further back to the point where its recovery period will be significantly longer, or it will die.

This is all a matter of timing.

Plants require time to grow and time to regrow after being defoliated. This is either by grazing, mowing, or even burning.

Just think of a lawn. A lawn is covered in living green plant matter called "grass" that regrows after mowing.

Here's the mind-blowing part: It takes time for that cut lawn to grow back before needing to be mowed again!

Let's go back to the pasture, because I find mowing lawns a rather unfair comparison. The pasture is largely composed of grasses, often with at least four different species. There may be some legumes in the stand. But let's focus on grasses for now.

I already mentioned that it takes time for grass to grow. Grass has a growth curve that is in the form of a face-down S curve (forage yield is the exact opposite), and this growth curve is broken up into three phases:
  1. Phase 1 ("baby" phase): Grasses begin growth (some have began growth the previous fall, then stalled because of freezing temperatures) from tillers, or seeds. After grasses are cut for hay or silage, this growth will also occur. The new plants coming up are actually from "tillers" at the base of the parent plant, or from spreading rhizomes. Grasses are most sensitive to defoliation/grazing because their energy reserves are being used for growth. Once they have put even one leaf up, they are starting to generate photosynthesis to supply more energy to the plant. But not all energy; right up to the start of Phase 2 plants are still relying on energy stores to continue growth, and will drain those stores right up until there is enough leaf area to convert sunlight energy into energy storage in the base of the plant and main roots.
  2. Phase 2 ("teenager" phase): Grasses experience the fastest rate of growth at this stage. Photosynthesis is being maximized because most of its leaves are out and collecting sunlight, and the plant is filling up its depleted energy stores from Phase 1 in preparation for Phase 3. Grazing early at this stage can be dangerous if animals are not controlled so that they move quickly after lightly grazing plants at this stage. There is a little more lee-way when grasses are later into phase 2, because their energy stores should be filled up enough to start pushing up a seed-head. 
  3. Phase 3 ("oldie" phase): Grasses produce a seed head and begin flower production, which eventually moves into seed production, which leads to senescence or death of the parent plant. With the right growing conditions, the tillers at the base of this plant will begin to grow.
When grazing animals, we should not strive to have animals eat plants when they have the greatest quality in energy (sugars) and protein, but rather that optimal point when quality is decreasing as quickly as yield and fibre content. 

Overgrazing occurs at three primary timing points (some call it the Three Cardinal Sins of Grazing, as from the grazing schools of Jim Gerrish):
  • Staying too long
  • Returning too soon
  • Taking too much
Again, all three of these can and will occur no matter the size of the pasture or the size of the herd. 
Animals that are allowed to stay too long in the pasture will take too much: They will take the "second bite" of grass that they grazed a day or two ago. 

Often the reason for returning for that second bite is because they are allowed to select what plants they want to eat. Selectivity by all livestock is primarily based on taste and smell, and somewhat past teachings and experience by Momma Cow or the School of Hard Knocks. If a plant tastes good the first time, chances are that animal will return to that plant once it has been able to taste most of the rest of the plants in that pasture. 

I've turned out our steers onto a 50 acre piece of pasture--only 60 animals--and what they do when they smell a tasty plant is to take a bite, then move on. They move on because of their strong herd instinct, and because they feel they need to peruse the pasture to taste and smell what's out there. Until they've gone over most of the pasture, will they come back to eat those plants they found quite tasty again.

This is what I've found in raising cattle the conventional way of selective, set-stock, continuous grazing. 

In coming back again for that second bite, those animals are returning too soon. The bite they take can remove about half or more the leaf area of a plant (sometimes an entire plant)--if you don't believe me, find a decent stand of grass (again, not lawn) and pull up, with your hand, 10 grabs of grass. See how much is left in that spot you've picked from. One hand grab of grass is typically the same amount of grass and similar force required by the cow to graze.

So when cattle or any grazing animal is allowed to come back too soon for whatever reason, that means that plant isn't allowed enough rest to recover. Leaf area is needed for a plant to generate photosynthesis to replenish energy stores and generate energy to regrow. Not enough leaf area could mean that plant needs to rely on its energy stores for regrowth. 

And when the plant is grazed when those energy stores are already depleted, means that the plant is either going to be growing much, much slower through the season, or it will die. 

Do you see how the concept of time in regards to the subject of overgrazing is applied? Here it is in regards to phases discussed above:

One bite to a grass plant that is in late Phase 2 pushes it back to either early Phase 2 or late to mid Phase 1. Two bites pushes that same plant back to early Phase 1. 

This is a result of staying too long, coming back too soon, and taking too much. 

How do you mitigate overgrazing then?

Control animals using electric fence. Divide a big pasture into many smaller paddocks, and move the animals quickly enough that they are not going to selectively graze and take that second bite. 

Doing so ensures plants get adequate rest, and there is plenty of residue left behind until the next grazing period.

The amount of rest a pasture needs depends on the stage of growth and time of year. Plants growing quickly will require you to graze quickly. Slow growing plants means you graze slower. Tighten up your paddocks when grasses are growing quickly, and make them bigger when plants are growing slower. 

Rest can be anywhere from 3 weeks to 18 months. Native grassland requires longer rest periods than tame forage stands. Fast growing tame grass stands can be returned fairly frequently, unlike most native grass stands. 

And do not be afraid to "waste grass." Wasting grass is a good thing because it covers the soil surface and slows the rain drops from impacting the soil surface. It also gives the soil flora something to eat and convert into organic material, topsoil, and sequesters carbon. 

Good grazing practices that involve more management and less selective grazing also means mitigating soil erosion and desertification. 

It all sounds counter-intuitive, but when you put the puzzle pieces together, it should all make sense.

April 3, 2017

Bison versus Cattle: Neither are Better or Worse than the Other

A somewhat ignorant comment left by an equally ignorant and misinformed commentator on the same link as my previous post: 
Some things that should be obvious but, to my utter amazement apparently are not, to the author and those commenting.... BISON... (Bison bison bison AND Bison bison athabascae) are NOTHING like cows. These are WILD herds that evolved over millions of years of natural selection, weeding out the weaker scions and leaving only individuals with strong genetic adaptation to the pathogens, parasites, prevailing climatic factors and predators of their ecosystem. CATTLE (Bos taurus), on the other hand, are a wholly artificial species, bred from the giant auroch (Bos primigenus) during the Neolithic (or Anatolian) Revolution that developed the beginnings of agriculture. As most artificial (or "domestic") breeds, modern cattle was bred for its commercial aspects... either milk production, for dairy cattle, or meat. They are often prone to parasitic infestations, pathogens, (fungal, viral and bacterial) and would probably adapt, if left to survive in the wild, but millions of them would die in the process, leaving only the few scions that overcame all infections, infestations, freezing winters and stifling, arid summers, until their resilience had been tested and they had successfully bred over a few generations. So, to compare Bison (which, incidentally is much more efficient in its ability to extract nutrients even from relatively poor pasture, unlike Bos taurus, that needs good, clean, rich pasture). FFS Bos taurus can't even tolerate RAGWORT, one of the most common weeds here in the UK... where the cattle has been around for thousands of years, but still does not know better than to avoid the bloody plants! Cows have birthing problems, because so many have been bred out of proportions, too fat, or pelvis too small, because the pressure on their selection has been meat or milk, not good calf-bearing. As to the environmental impacts... The issue is the NUMBERS of cows. This may come as a shock to you all, but actually America is NOT the world and the WORLD has a lot more cows than you can count! 😂 And each one of them generates so mush Methane you could rename them CH4OWS! Here is some info for those interested...

Let me tear this apart piece by piece and discuss why this person is wrong about most of her assertions.
BISON... (Bison bison bison AND Bison bison athabascae) are NOTHING like cows. 
Quite wrong. They are very similar to cattle. Both species:

  • Are large, mammalian, ruminant animals, capable of emitting plenty of methane (more on this later);
  • Have a diet that is comprised of at least 95 to 99% grass;
  • Are cloven-hooved, providing the same amount and type of hoof impact on grasslands and pastures;
  • Are prey animals, yet have an affinity to fight and gore when cornered by a threat; 
  • Often have a single calf at birth and have the same gestation period;
  • Are just as prone to parasites, disease, and predation
  • Can interbreed to give relatively fertile offspring (indicating that there is a very close genetic relation to both species, despite the difference in genuses; a large portion of bison do have some Bos genes in them from past interbreedings in the early 1900s)
  • Are primarily managed and raised by people for meat. There are more bison raised on ranches and farms today than there are out in the wild, as in national parks, forest reserves, protected areas, etc.
  • Will avoid eating plants that taste awful or are bad for them. Bison tend to avoid eating far more forbs than cattle do, leading to a greater likelihood for weeds to infest a bison pasture with poor management practices (i.e., allowing overgrazing to occur) than cattle are. 
Bison do have their differences from cattle, though.
These are WILD herds that evolved over millions of years of natural selection, weeding out the weaker scions and leaving only individuals with strong genetic adaptation to the pathogens, parasites, prevailing climatic factors and predators of their ecosystem.
Only partly right. While there still are wild herds existing in the United States, Canada, and parts of the European Union, there is still a huge majority that are raised commercially on farms and ranches. In Canada, 250,000 are raised this way, and in the US, 500,000 bison are also raised on ranches and reserves, all for the purpose of meat production.

Arguably too, a large number of bison have been interbred with cattle to create more docile animals, and this started in the early 1900s when some ranchers took on the opportunity to protect and ensure the remaining bison did not go extinct. I don't think the interbreeding was done on purpose, though today it's really hard to tell.

Beefalo is also a breed of this successful interbreeding with bison and cattle.

There are still bison that are prone to effects of pathogens and parasites. Tuberculosis, BSE, Anthrax, Brucellosis, and other diseases have plagued bison herds in the recent past. Parasites will affect bison just as readily as they will cattle. It's not uncommon to see face flies or other insects bothering bison in the summer.

Bison still are seriously affected by climatic factors in their biome. The mortality of calves is determined by climatic factors like harsh winters and available of feed. If there is not enough grass available for their mothers to eat, then the calves suffer as well.

If bison were as adapted to the landscape as this person is claiming, then the bison herd in Grasslands National Park would have grown as large as the bureaucrats in Ottawa had predicted. But the herd never did grow as big as they thought because of the climate, pathogens, parasites, predation, and shortage of feed in the harsh winters.

So bison are not as heroic and strong what was being portrayed here, even though yes, they have been able to exist thanks to natural selection occurring over many, many thousands of years. They can get as weak as cattle as this person has laid claim in her arguments.

CATTLE (Bos taurus), on the other hand, are a wholly artificial species, bred from the giant auroch (Bos primigenus) during the Neolithic (or Anatolian) Revolution that developed the beginnings of agriculture. As most artificial (or "domestic") breeds, modern cattle was bred for its commercial aspects... either milk production, for dairy cattle, or meat. They are often prone to parasitic infestations, pathogens, (fungal, viral and bacterial) and would probably adapt, if left to survive in the wild, but millions of them would die in the process, leaving only the few scions that overcame all infections, infestations, freezing winters and stifling, arid summers, until their resilience had been tested and they had successfully bred over a few generations.

First correction: The species name of all cattle is Bos primigenius, with subspecies Bos primigenius taurus and Bos primigenius indicus.

It is correct that cattle were derived from the ancient Auroch. But that they are an "artificial species" is merely speculative and not particularly steeped in much truth. There were a lot of half-wild or feral cattle in Europe and Asia, and plenty still as wild as the old extinct Aurochs. Many of these cattle adapted to their environment through natural selection very, very much like the bison have in North America. Breeds like Galloway and Scottish Highland cattle have come about thanks to natural selection to resist climatic extremes (including harsh winters), parasites, pathogens, etc., making them some of the oldest cattle breeds known to mankind.

What is being plainly ignored here is how many breeds actually started out as being dual-purpose or multi-purpose breeds, used for milk, meat, and draught. Many breeds have existed because of this for hundreds of years, and it's only been in the last 60 years or so, if I'm correct, that these breeds and "modern cattle" have truly diverged into two distinct types being beef only or dairy only. But for the last 10,000 years before now, pretty well all breeds in existence, from then until after basically World War II, were used for more than one purpose.

I'm glad this person acknowledges that cattle can adapt to their surroundings relatively well, but I do believe she completely misses the point in that any and all species are going to suffer a significant mortality rate in the fight for survival of the fittest when forced to adapt to a climate that they haven't been adapted to in the past.

Comparatively, cattle may be the fastest-adapting species if they are forced to become more resilient to parasites and pathogens, and rely much, much more heavily on local forage sources than imported grain from elsewhere in the country, in an environment that they historically have been adapted to in the first place. It may take just a few generations, but that's nothing compared to the many more generations it would take a different species that is adapted to a completely different climate to adapt to one it is not naturally used to. Like polar bears living in the subtropical forests and savannahs, or zebras to the North American boreal forest.

Cattle have a great advantage over bison in that their species is adapted to and is able to thrive, not just survive, on every single continent except Antarctica. Humans have had a bit of help in this, and so has Nature.

This is where this person also misses the point: Ranchers and cattlemen of many generations understand that in order to have good cattle for their area, they must either put a lot of money into making those cattle work for them (whilst remaining forever at risk running themselves bankrupt), or significantly reduce costs by allowing Nature to help them select the best cattle that is better adapted to the environment and ecosystem they are to live in. There's the phrase cattlemen use: "Let the cows weed/cull themselves out." In other words, raise those cows primarily on grass adapted for the area, and let the cows that do poorly in that environment on that grass show themselves so that they can be removed from the herd.

Beef cattle especially can be allowed to adapt very well to their particular area. But dairy cattle are an entirely different story. They aren't allowed to adapt to that area. They are the ones that are bred to produce far more milk than what is "natural," and fed forages that is grown and harvested for them.

So it's the dairy cattle that are the "artificial" breeds that will have the most trouble adapting to a harsh environment. They will see much more death loss of their own breed over several more generations than what you'd expect for tough beef breeds like Galloway, Hereford, Angus, Scottish Highland, or Devon.
So, to compare Bison (which, incidentally is much more efficient in its ability to extract nutrients even from relatively poor pasture, unlike Bos taurus, that needs good, clean, rich pasture).
Again, bison aren't much different from cattle in that a large part of their diet is grass. But yes, let's compare bison with cattle, because there are some key missing pieces in this particular section.

Arguably, bison select for much more grass and sedges than forbs. Cattle can (and have) actually get away with eating much more forbs than bison do and will, and will readily eat a lot of forbs that are leguminous or just plain taste good along with grass.

Cattle can do very well on pasture that has a large volume of legumes (60% or higher) and have even been trained successfully to eat thistle. Cattle will also strip leaves off of deciduous trees and shrubs even when there's plenty of pasture to graze on. You don't see bison doing much of that.

There was a study done (How Bison Grazing Habits Affect Plant Composition) where researchers compared the effects of bison versus cattle on pasture composition after several seasons of grazing. The results were surprising: The bison pasture revealed a lot more forb biomass because bison were purposefully selecting for grasses and overgrazing the pasture in search for those grasses, ignoring those forbs. But in the cattle pasture, the plant composition was still largely grass with few forb species because cattle were consuming both grasses and forbs. While there was greater species richness in the bison pasture, most of these species were actually annual forbs (the weeds), compared with perennial plants that were still grasses, such as the native big bluestem.

Cattle are more adept at grazing in smaller, fragmented areas of grassland because they are able to keep their grazing much more uniform in smaller patches, and utilize more plant species than just grasses. Bison, on the other hand, prefer much more open landscapes to roam around on and have greater selectivity from, especially since their diet, unlike with domestic cattle, is 99 percent grass, not 95 percent grass.

Here is another similar study that looked at grazing habits of cattle versus bison. Part of the abstract reads, "Cattle include more forbs in their diet, and they use wooded areas and riparian zones more intensively. At similar annual stocking rates, the amount of grass remaining at the start of the dormant season is higher under year-long bison grazing compared to growing season cattle grazing. There are inherent differences between bison and cattle, suggesting that they be managed differently. Under our respective management regimes, bison are less productive than cattle, but they require less processed feed and labor inputs."

It is very true that bison can utilize coarser plant material than cattle. But it's very wrong to think that that means "poorer pasture." Poor pasture is pasture that is overrun with weeds and many undesirable species due in large part to poor management. Poor pasture is also pasture with thin forage stands, making for less forage available for any grazing animal.

So one must never confuse "poor pasture" with coarser, harder to digest plants like sedges or "hard" grasses.

This is why I don't like it when someone scoffs at management practices as nothing more than "PR campaigns" and uses the whole "reason" that cattle are poorer-doing on native pastures because they can't eat ragwort.

I'll bet you a dozen dimes to a donut that bison wouldn't dare touch ragwort either.
FFS Bos taurus can't even tolerate RAGWORT, one of the most common weeds here in the UK... where the cattle has been around for thousands of years, but still does not know better than to avoid the bloody plants! 
As I said, dimes to donuts bison wouldn't want to eat ragwort either. They are largely grass-eaters and would happily avoid this horrid-tasting, alkaloid-poisoning weed than prove this person "right" at how much "better" bison are than cattle.

In my last blog post I talked already a bit about ragwort and the reasons why it's gotten away as a noxious weed in New Zealand. The reasons are largely because of overgrazing, since this weed does like to proliferate itself on pastures. Pigs, cattle, and horses won't touch it, but sheep and goats will to an extent.

And you can't make a sheep out of a cow. Sheep have their own differences in adaptations to be able to eat even more forbs than cattle do; same with goats, which is why they're great weed-eaters than other animals.

This is why humans didn't domesticate just one species of animal. Humans have domesticated several species over the past several thousands of years, and it's not just because of the ability to get different meats, milk, and eggs. No, in part it has to do with different jobs each species can do to benefit both the people and the animals themselves.

Cows have birthing problems, because so many have been bred out of proportions, too fat, or pelvis too small, because the pressure on their selection has been meat or milk, not good calf-bearing.
 I don't know where this came in, but it must be a part of her rant that she wanted to throw in.

While this is partly true, birthing problems also occur because of severe changes in the weather, hormone imbalance due to changes in nutrient uptake, or other stressful things causing the calf to present in weird positions in the birth canal. Cows can also be much too thin and have birthing problems. And the bull can be a large part of the blame too.

Now I don't know if that's the case in New Zealand where this person hails from, but in North America beef cattle are actually selected to be good mothers and to be able to calve without or with very little assistance. It's pretty easy to select for cows with good maternal capabilities because, as I mentioned above, the ones who just can't hold their own show up quite readily.

As to the environmental impacts... The issue is the NUMBERS of cows. This may come as a shock to you all, but actually America is NOT the world and the WORLD has a lot more cows than you can count! 😂 And each one of them generates so mush Methane you could rename them CH4OWS!
There are about 1 billion cattle in the world, actually, so yes those cows can be counted.

While this last bit sounds like her brain kinda went into shut-down-post-blather-mode, I can tell that she, again, doesn't know quite what she's talking about. (Actually in part I can barely make out what she's trying to say here too.)

But let's look at cattle population by country (via Beef2Live). The country with the most number of cows in the world, is India, with 30.39% of the world's bovine population (at over 303 million head). The United States has only 9.57% of the world's population at around 93.5 million head. And Canada, my favourite country, sits at 12.1 million cattle, which has just 1.2% of the world's bovine population.

That is very, very telling. And in India, a large number of cattle are allowed to roam freely on the streets in cities and in the countryside, emitting all the methane and eating whatever seemingly good-eating garbage or small blades of grass they can find. There still is quite a number of cattle raised for milk too, and many are also exported out of the country to be killed for beef.

But here's where I get to show you the real ignorance of this person. Cattle are made as scapegoats (or "scapecows") because of their methane output when in fact they are not the only species that produces a lot of methane. Bison are notorious for producing a lot of methane as well, as are sheep, goats, water buffalo, deer, caribou, and many others. So it's really not fair to point to cows as the blame for methane output.

Besides, pre-settlement, bison represented between 84 and 93% of all emissions from wild ruminant animals. Today, because the bison population is far smaller than that of domestic bovine (and deer today take a larger chunk of the pie for being the highest number of wild ruminants producing methane), their methane emissions don't amount to as much as they did pre-settlement. And it's because of that that cattle get pointed at for being the largest source of methane. So while this Kiwi gal was partly right, she was still a bit wrong too.

So are bison better than cattle? No. Bison are no better nor no worse than cattle are. Both species have their advantages and disadvantages, and both are better at some things and worse at others.

A better blog post to read about that compares bison with cattle can be found below, along with a few more sources I thought I'd add to give some perspective on the bison versus cattle debate.

Bison Good, Cattle Bad?? -  The Prairie Ecologist (This is a very good article to read.)
Bison Versus Cattle: Are They Ecologically Synonymous?
Are cows just domestic bison? Behavioral and habitat use differences between cattle and bison - Western Watersheds Project (Note: I'm not in agreement with a large part of what this organization represents, however this particular article they wrote makes some interesting points. But do take this with a grain of salt, as this group is quite anti-cattle grazing.)

Grazing Management Practices are Important, and Here's Why

Management practices my foot! That is the "PR" solution.. the whole answer of course is... EAT A VEGETABLE-BASED DIET and these issues go away.
That was in response to my comments on TreeHugger.com's In Defence of the Cow: How Eating  Meat Could Help Slow Climate Change.

I'm just going to start by saying that the owner of this comment was keen on letting everyone know how educated she was on ecology, soil biology, animal husbandry, etc., having written a 20,000-word dissertation on the subjects.

The problem I have with this particular comment is that it reveals that the one who claimed that everyone in agreement with TreeHugger's article had a "deep-seated ignorance of ecology" has exactly that. It's the Dunning-Kruger effect going on here.

Someone with an ounce of knowledge in ecology should and would know and understand that management is the central force around things like grazing and even growing vegetables.

You see, she was really scoffing at my arguments about the reasons why Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris, not to be confused with Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.)) is such a big problem in pastures in New Zealand where she lives, and how it can be managed:
Native grassland, and any form of grassland or modified grassland/pasture, requires rest for extended periods. Not "constant grazing", i.e., overgrazing as that is what leads to a lot of problems, such as the incidence and increase of weeds like [Ragwort]. 
The evidence of [ragwort] on so-called "rough" pastures means that very poor management practices of those pastures has been allowed to occur. These are very irresponsible practices that are completely avoidable and reversible, provided that proper management practices are put in place of the crap ones.
Now I don't think I'll ever find out why she scoffed at that, so I'm not going to dwell on it.

But since she obviously had her hat hung on the ragwort weed problem in New Zealand, and is obviously very anti-cattle and pro-vegan/vegetarian, then I think I can figure out why. It's possible too that she doesn't know as much about ecology as she thinks she does.

Management practices are a large reason why weeds are able to take over and infest a pasture or hayfield. Poor management practices that allow livestock to overgraze a pasture, allowing for thin stands and bare, exposed soil with a very thin layer of litter covering the soil surface. Ragwort seeds will establish very readily on such ground, and when they grow the grass grows up in with them. Cattle won't eat it because of the horrible taste, largely because of the toxic alkaloids.

When cattle won't eat it, they'll graze around it, letting more bare ground available for more of the seeds to spread. This plant doesn't spread its seeds very far, and that's an advantage for it especially when this plant's intent is to spread out and colonize as quickly as possible.

I do stand by the fact that it is possible to reverse the spread of weeds. For one, sheep and goats are great at controlling weeds where cattle (and even bison) will outright avoid them. Sheep and goats are more browsers and forb-eaters than they are grass grazers like cattle and bison, though grass still takes up a chunk of their diet. They are much more resistant to the toxic effects of the alkaloids in ragwort, but still need to eat a bit of grass along with it so that they don't get poisoned as well.

I also stand by that there are solutions to prevent the spread of ragwort. One solution is to manage pastures using multiple species, and not just one single species in a bit of a first-last grazing system depending on the nutrient requirements and the types of plants existing in a pasture. Another solution is to manage pastures far more carefully so that more litter is left behind and soil is completely covered by dead and live plant matter. When pastures are managed more intensively, desirable species increase and undesirables decrease because there is a better understanding of timing with how much time a group of animals spend grazing, and how long that plant stand needs to be rested.

So yes, management practices are legit. They are very much responsible for incidence of weeds and invasive species in grasslands and pastures, just as they're responsible for making good pastures better. And in no way is it merely a "PR solution"

Her whole-encompassing solution is, "eat a vegetable-based diet and these issues go away." No, the issues don't go away when more people encompass a plant-based or vegan diet. As a matter of fact they tend to become more exacerbated. Someone who says they know more than me about ecology and in the same breath issues that statement clearly doesn't understand how ecology can be devastated and destroyed when greater encouragement of practices that involve wreaking native plant communities for the favour of growing more food for more plant-based people are made public.

Clearly she is implying that she would favour much more crop production and tillage and destruction of grasslands than more grasslands and pastures, more grazing, and more livestock.

Can you say "hypocrite?"

I don't agree with people who think they know about ecology and land management yet don't when you get them to talk. I especially don't like it when they wave off pasture management as some kind of nonsensical PR campaign from the cattle industry and never bother to look more into it. If anyone is going to understand anything about ecology, it's integral with land management, and a huge key to better understand how to best manage the land for a healthy ecosystem.

March 5, 2017

"Pain and Death are a part of Life. To reject them is to reject Life itself." 
-- Havelock Ellis
I love this quote. It speaks for not only human life, but animal life as well. And it's the latter that many people are just unable to grasp and understand.

Way too often–and maybe because I've been in too many vegan/vegetarian vs. meat-eater on-line discussions in the past–do I hear the bumper-sticker quip that "animals don't want to die." And too often I've told those that try to use this on me that they're full of it.

But the reason I started this post is because of the complete bullshit that follows the quip that "animals don't want to die:" that animals "deserve or have a right to live and choose to live their lives as they see fit" and that "slaughtering or killing them is needless." Variations of this exist all over the Internet and intricate web of social media, and I've probably heard them all.

The fact that animals don't want to die is only partly true. Of course animals don't want to die; they obviously make any effort they can to survive and live another day, no matter if they are wild or domesticated. But they do not have a choice in when or how they are going to die, nor even the fact that they may need to die to feed another hungry animal or several hungry animals.

See, if all animals deserve to live, and have a choice to live their lives as they see fit, doesn't a predator then have the right to take the life of a prey animal to feed itself and/or its family? What right to life does a predator have if it is not allowed to do this?

An uncomfortable truth–not notion–that I consistently and diligently bring up is the fact that humans are predators as well as animals. We may lack the teeth and claws of a "typical" predator, but we have the instincts, binocular vision, and classic behaviour that tells other animals–especially those that are prey animals and not your typical apex predators–that we are a predator to be feared and not trusted unless proven otherwise.

The particular notion that humans are both animals and predators deeply implies that we are an integral part of the ecology that makes Earth Earth and Nature Nature. Denying us the right to hunt, kill, and eat other animals for food denies us the right to life as well. We may be obligate omnivores, both plant and meat-eaters, but we are definitely not excluded from the natural balance that encapsulates all life.

Hence, slaughtering is not "needless." It is needed.

The Real Justification for Slaughtering Animals

The "excuse" for the acceptance of slaughtering animals, according to the animal rights movement, is so that the "carnist" of the human population can satisfy their tastebuds and/or violent tendencies to "commit murder." This reasoning is actually a tiny piece of the pie, and is not the true reason why animals are slaughtered.

Slaughtering or killing animals for food means alleviating pressure on the landscape. It means one less animal to feed, and one less animal to have to make room for on a piece of land so that it has an equal share of the piece of pasture to graze on.

I'd take hunting as an example, but hunting is a lot more complex subject in and of itself--and rife with controversy with trophy hunting versus hunting for the purpose of filling the freezer with meat from more "ethically raised" animals, which I don't care to get into--than if I am going to aim my argument at and use livestock instead. I'll only mention this about hunting: It does serve a worthy purpose to help control wildlife populations that have potential to get out of control, as many have in the past and even today. Hunting is and plays an incredible part of the conservation initiative, much more than people realize.

Where hunting is deliberately looking for animals to harvest, raising livestock is a little different. It, of course, involves the care and attention of various species of animals so that those animals can give the caregivers something in return: meat, milk, eggs, fibre, help with doing farm work, and to some extent entertainment. Humans create the environment for these animals whereas those hunted in the wild do not get such luxury.

The raising of these animals involves feeding them and providing them with enough land to live and eat from. These animals are often not discouraged from breeding. When they breed, they produce offspring, and those offspring obviously grow into adults themselves. Here lies the clincher: Because the offspring grow into adults, these animals need food too. So if the offspring of a group of 100 cows were kept, then that herd would literally double in size. That means double the feed required, double the pasture required, or double the grass demanded by those animals.

Keep in mind here that humans are at the helm of the raising of livestock animals. With natural predators removed from the system or kept at bay--not permitted to remove any animals at any time no matter if those animals are old, sick, young, or healthy but too dumb to really survive in the wild for long without any human interference--only the humans have the responsibility of doing the weeding-out or culling, so to speak.

Now, what if this responsibility were denied because of some extreme-leftist animal-rights governing body that says no livestock should be killed or bought or sold from any farm at any time? What would happen to the landscape of that farm and other subsequent farms? And what will happen to the animals themselves??

If you haven't figured it out by now, the truth is that it's really, really ugly.

Too Many Leads to Too Little

Should animals continue to be able to breed (and are not fixed to allow them to slowly dwindle down their numbers to near extinction), just a doubling of population size puts an enormous amount of pressure on the landscape, and not just on feed availability.

Every farm and ranch and every piece of land that has potential to provide forage for all and any animals, domesticated and wild, has a number attached to it. That number is called a stocking rate. Stocking rate is based on the amount of forage available to be utilized by an animal at a certain amount of time on a per-acre basis (or per hectare if using the metric system). Stocking rate is prone to change year after year according to things like precipitation, soil health, and grazing pressure. This number tells a stockman, rancher, farmer, or herder just how many animals and/or for how long they can graze a certain number of animals on piece of land. If that number is ignored or exceeded for whatever reason, there is severe risk of damage to that landscape.

Okay, that's a bit too much to take in, so let me explain it a little better for you by providing an example.

Let's say I have 100 cows, and 4 bulls. These 104 animals are able to breed and produce offspring at will.

Now let's say I have these 104 cattle (not yet including offspring) on 250 acres. Sounds pretty good, right? For a good growing area that gets enough rain to provide a lot of good grass, yes.

So, without getting into the whole stocking rate mumbo-jumbo that takes a bit of extra explaining (another blog post, another time), let's just say that on average, my land base of 250 acres can only handle 110 cattle at a time. So that means I have some room for expansion, but not a whole lot. I could easily add another bull and 2 cows, or 6 cows while still keeping those four bulls. And all that without causing damage to the very important forage resource I rely on to keep those animals year after year after year.

(An aside: Cows and bulls don't weigh the same. Your average beef cow can weigh around 1400 pounds, and a mature beef bull can drop in at 2200 pounds. So it's either I add another bull to add a couple (or three) extra cows, or just add 6 more cows and get the four bulls to work a little bit harder.)

If I apply the governing-body's rules to not cull any of my stock, and my land limit is 110 cattle for 250 acres on an average growing year, and my current cow-herd all successfully calve and raise good strong calves, that means that my herd went from 104 to 204.

That nearly doubles what my land can safely handle. This means that for one year alone I have to start looking for feed to feeding my growing herd.

Let's say that half of the offspring are heifers. So that means that I went from 100 females to 150; and, from 4 males to 54.

Say that this governing body also legislated that no farm is allowed to castrate or otherwise sterilize part of my herd. That means that those 50 extra males are going to be increasing competition for my four foundry bulls to breed my 150 females. Can you say possible inbreeding?

In 15 months, those 50 heifers are, technically, "ready to breed," but they reach puberty sooner and can actually be receptive to a bull in less than a year. If that were the case, then if my 100 cows and those 50 heifers also got bred, successfully calved out and raised calves right up to weaning, that means that my herd of 204 total increased to 354 cattle (150 + 150 + 54).

By now I am over three times above and beyond what my land can safely carry. Even with implementing some sort of managed rotational grazing scheme I am quickly running out of grass to keep these cattle fed. And because many other farms in my hypothetically animal-rights-governed country also cannot get rid of any of their cattle (or other livestock animals) either, available feed is running short in supply. Very, very quickly, at that.

It eventually gets to the point that any available feed or forage is all out, period. I cannot get feed anywhere. And my animals are beginning to show the signs of what outside people may call "neglect."

When there is no feed, no forage, nor any kind of edible vegetation available (not even anywhere off the farm premises like in ditches, along fields, even in fields themselves [this alone could cause a lot of horrible conflicts with the neighbours]), my animals begin to starve. First, any body fat gets used up, followed by the muscle tissue. By the time the body starts harvesting nutrients from the brain, the animal is already very, very close to death, if not dead already. All of them become walking skeletons, waiting for Death to come relieve them of this torture.

And the disease! With inbreeding, malnutrition and starvation, animals become more sensitive to disease and illnesses. Many of them get sick and die slowly because I am not allowed to even treat them, much less put those who are obviously suffering great pain out of their misery with as humane a euthanasia as I could deliver if the damned government didn't take my Winchester away from me.

Things of course, sort of begin turn around a few years later when enough animals have died that the grass can begin to come back. But it's a vicious cycle. Any kind of grass that does try to come up is immediately clipped to the dark, bare earth by these starving skeletons. And they continue to starve, and breed. And they starve, and they starve, until they finally die. Those left behind also starve, their young suffer incredibly because they cannot get enough sustenance. Eventually they too just up and die.

It's true that when the population dies back to less than, say, 50 animals, the vegetation eventually comes back. But as I mentioned, the cycle is bound to repeat itself again, and will do so probably every 5 or so years. It's a scary thought.

Water isn't an issue; these animals can get water on a regular basis. But water doesn't have much for nutrients that good hay and grass does. But any kind of water body and adjacent wetland would become mutilated and demolished to become nothing more than an ugly mud-hole.

Maybe by that time it would be more logical to allow the predators to move in to do their duty because I, hypothetically, cannot. But if there is just not enough of those predators around, and if for whatever reason the governing body also wishes the extermination of any predatory animal, then my animals will continue to suffer and suffer through this vicious, horrid cycle.

This is what would happen if humans were no longer allowed to sell, slaughter, euthanize, sterilize, or even treat any of their animals.

Why Culling or Slaughter is Still Needed

Today, livestock animals are well cared-for. They have ample feed, water, living space, and other animals to socialize with, and are also free of disease and pain. Why livestock animals today have these five freedoms is because slaughter and on-farm euthanasia is allowed to continue to happen.

Any responsible livestock-raiser understands that if they do not cull out any animals that are in excess of what a farm or ranch can handle, the above scenario is very likely to happen, though probably not as in extreme as I went into.

Raising animals is not cheap by any means, and nothing comes for free. Feed has to be purchased, and though it is cheaper to buy feed than to harvest it on the farm, many producers feel it better to grow their own feed for their own animals because they know what's in it, how it was made, and where it came from. Buying extra feed puts a lot of extra pressure on the pocketbooks, and that's not the kind of pressure most producers can even afford.

Nope, farming and ranching is not cheap nor made possible with free handouts.

It's very true that this blue ball we call Earth only has so much plant matter and feed to go around. In order for animals to continue to exist and be healthy, sacrifices need to be made to some of those animals so that the rest can continue on and produce more generations. And in order for the environment and the ecological integrity of the land, no matter if it has native plants or tamed ones for human and/or animal consumption, to remain healthy, vibrant, and diverse, some animals need to die for food for other animals in order to keep this environment as healthy as it can be.

This is exactly what happens in Nature, and is replicated to some extent on the less-natural, man-made farm environment. And it's a truth that all of us must be willing to understand and accept, no matter what feelings or opinions we have on the subject.

February 24, 2017

Cute Newborn Calves vs. Vegan Advocates

Say you see a picture or short, 20-second video of a very cute, newborn baby calf posted somewhere on a social media site, be it Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Now, say this calf is tied up--a piece of twine around its neck--and inside what looks like to be a house or an office, like a farm office, and with no momma cow in sight.

Got the picture? Okay. But I'm not finished yet.

This calf, in particular, is all brown, very fuzzy and hairy. He (or she) looks to be a Scottish Highland or Galloway calf. Again, newborn, brand new, and looks a little wet.

So why is he inside this office? Where is his mother, and why is he tied up with a thick piece of baler twine tied around his neck?


Probably close to 70,000 or more people who commented on that video thought that calf was being cruelly treated. And you might have too if you didn't read or misinterpreted the description:
A snowy day on the farm didn't stop the birth of this little Scottish highland calf!
So, was little Diego being cruelly treated?


He was actually being saved from being born in a snowstorm, out in the cold and wet. Snowstorms are not friendly to newborn calves, as a matter of fact they can cause a new baby calf to become sick or extremely cold. Newborns are much more sensitive to the cold than their mothers, and when born out in a snow storm, this calf was at risk of severe cold stress, and/or frostbite if he didn't get rushed in to a warm place and have a couple of hair driers and warm towels put on him to get him warm again.

The folks of the calf mentioned that he was only inside for half an hour. Then he was carried out again back to his more-than-likely impatiently-waiting mother. He would've been up and suckling and getting the necessary colostrum for his body.

It's pretty hard to bring a Highland cow into the office when she's pretty big--most of those cows weigh around 1200 pounds, and stand a good 4 to 5 feet at the shoulder--and since she already has that amazingly thick winter coat, she's fine being outside while her calf is inside getting warmed up.

So that's where the cow was.

Finally, why the twine around the calf's neck? Well, calves are naturally very inquisitive. They simply must wander around and lick and taste anything in their reach, and this can certainly land them into trouble: Either they'll swallow something they shouldn't, or get hurt. So, he was tied up to keep him out of trouble, basically, and to prevent him from doing a bit too intensive exploratory research in the barn office.

Newborn calves are brought inside an office or house all the time when they need to be brought in. The reasons they're brought in is because they need that extra TLC--tender love and care. Be it warm blankets, a heat-lamp, some colostrum to suck down, whatever is needed to make that calf warm and comfy for the time needed to allow it to gather its strength to get up and move around.

The sad thing was, almost every person that was saying something negative about that newborn calf was thinking of dairy production, and how dairy calves and cows are treated.

Except, Scottish Highland cattle are not dairy cattle. They are beef cattle. This means that they're raised quite a bit differently from the typical dairy operation these people are used to seeing in animal rights activist videos.

Yet pretty well every single person on that thread predicted a horrible death and very short life for that calf. Here's some examples of what these people had to say:

--> "Are you kidding me?! An animal farm posting a video of a newborn calf separated from the mum, with a rope tied to its neck, who will soon be murdered for its meat as if it was something cute!?"

--> "Poor baby should be with it's mother... but alas the cruel side of using animals for their body parts or secretions. If it's a boy it will be slaughtered within 48 hours 😢 poor baby."

--> "Horrible He's crying for his mom who is probably sending her milk to people... Not to mention this is a factory farm Ugh disgusting. Poor thing with that rope around his neck is doomed to a life of horror.... disgust disgust.... :(""

--> "How cute they stole him from his mother and will slit it's throat for a burger."

--> "Poor thing, he wants to be with his mother but instead he's been ripped away from her so that evil humans can take the milk which was intended for him. You may all say how cute he is but it wouldn't stop the majority of you from eating him. He will end up at the slaughter house, have his neck slit and then end up as someone's Sunday lunch. He has a very sad existence born into a very cruel world. Make the connection between what's on your plate and the sentient beings they are."

--> "He needs his mother, not a red rope tied around his neck while his family is being slaughtered. Think about your actions and stop exploiting this poor baby for likes and shares when you know he's going to be killed for food regardless.."

--> "It's really sad you're showing off this poor baby calf who you've taken away from his/her mother, tied him up, and eventually are going to chop him up into little pieces. It really makes me sick to my stomach. :("
You get the picture. There are thousands of comments like these on that video.

The thing is, none of them are right. The calf is actually still alive, and with his mother. He's living a happy, healthy, vibrant life as he should, and that's really what matters most.

He was not destined for a short life and a horrible death. If he is even going to be killed for beef, he won't be until he's at least 2 years of age. From now to then, from what I've seen on that farm, this bull calf, probably going to be turned-steer (it's hard to tell at this point), will be living a wonderful and full life as any farmer could give such animals.

I think this baby calf is a way to show that we should all focus on the happy moments that are right in front of us, not the dark and scary things that may lie ahead in the future.

January 29, 2017

IRC 2016 Inspirational Thoughts

One thing is for sure: Our grasslands need more than just scientific studies and more information to the value they have for society and us as a people, but rather a source of emotional attachment so that we as grassland advocates can connect positively and effectively with the general public. Don Gayton has written some books on the subject--or similar--about the cultural and spiritual and emotional values that so few of us have attached to the grasslands and rangelands but even fewer can put down on paper for others to understand. This hit home for me. I personally have a personal connection, an emotional one, to the vast grasslands of Southern Alberta and have yet to put any sort of emotional connectivity to it down for others unlike me to understand. It's more difficult than it seems; easier said than done. A creative mindset and a writer's hand needs to be had in order for this to happen. Do I have it? Well I can draw, for starters. I can write, sorta. So maybe. Maybe.

We grassland enthusiasts are so full of statistical and scientific information that, as Don had stated, that it causes a literal shutdown of the general public when we try to spell it all out. It's completely understandable. With all the papers and studies going on with everything from greenhouse gas studies to advances in technology and everything in between, even I reach a point where my eyes start to glaze over and I can't read anymore. That shit is deep, deep reading and takes a lot of brain power to process. If a person doesn't have the brain power to process all that data and statistical analyses and understand the scientific jargon that's being thrown around, then what use is that information to them? My answer is that it's of no use at all. Other than to say some scientists found out some things that are associated with a rangeland, it's better off being used as lining for the cat litter tray. My apologies for being offensive, but let's be real here. If we are to come together to come up with some means of highlighting the importance of our rangelands, we all need to dig, and deep, and I ain't talking about digging a soil pit!

Books are awesome. I love them, collect them like stamps. The good ones form words like water laughing and chuckling in a creek you love to listen to on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. (See what I did there?) The bad ones are, well, worse than nails on a chalkboard, and believe me there are some doozies. Good books are the ones that tell a story and put you in the scene so fast you don't realize your ass is still stuck to the sofa. They keep you turning the page to see what happens next, to see what sort of torment the author put the main character through this time. You know what I mean.

The good books tell multiple stories in many pages and yet teach as well. The facts laid out, are laid out in a way them at the Average Jane (let's say me) can understand. Like surviving on Mars, all alone, or using the philosophy of Aikido and Kenjutsu to work with and gentle horses. Or Karate to kick some royal ass on the street. Those books, one based on fiction and the others not, are good, they teach and hit home with the humanity and fallibility we can all relate to. Can we tell the many stories of rangelands and grasslands the same way? Can we put people far beyond the seemingly empty landscape of the West and launch them into a world that would simply blow their minds with the amazing story that encapsulates the people, the animals, the plants and the soil of the grasslands? Figuratively speaking of course.

It has to be far more than bringing back the legend and mystique of the enigmatic cowboy. Smokey the Cowhorse is old, but certainly not gone. And the great Hopalong Cassidy still lives on in the hearts and minds of those still pouring over the Clarence Mulford and Louis L'Amour books. But like us range nerds, those who know and love these characters are few and far between. Just like those of us who know and love the grasslands.

Those of us who know and love the grasslands have the awesome power to tell its story. We can tell it like its full of life, conflict, drama, hilarity, pain, sadness, and just how human it makes us. I can tell the story of how some researchers doing a range health assessment study learned a hard lesson of keeping our data sheets firmly clipped to the clipboard lest a massive dust devil stir up all those papers and take the most important one away to never, ever, be seen again. If you want to know, it kept floating up and up and up into the great blue prairie sky and never came back down. And never say never you say!

I can also tell the horror and sadness I could only imagine with the residents of High River and the massive flooding that came through. The pain and sadness of losing everything you know and love is tremendous. And yet the community coming together shows us that home is not just a place, it's where the heart is.

And the conflict! Rangelands can beget conflict, from cyberspace discussions to a "discussion" with a rancher's .30-30 and a rogue wolf or two. Or bear. Or gopher. Even the grass, masochists they may be, are in conflict with grazing animals, not just cattle. It can get to the point where it can be quite comical. If you think blowing a gopher to bits is funny...

And what about the more romantic side of it all? More than just a girl swooning for a tall, dark and handsome cowboy, oh, far more than that. But rather how I or Don Gayton or anyone else with as creative a mind and word-ful as a well-read author and habitual ink shedder can begin to describe the love, respect and amazement we have for these lands on that long walk; not to mention the power the grasslands have on us to render us completely speechless--with only the ability to utter a "wow!" every so often. We can paint a picture with words; but even that doesn't seem enough. Instead I have to start by describing the smallness and humbling feeling I get walking on the trail in the Waldron. The vast greening hills on my left, outcrops of rocks jutting out into the clear blue with a few spruce trees hanging on, half on rock and half in the thin soil of the towering hill. To my right, the deep dark green of tall spruce trees and poplars at the edge, their leaves a thin, light green and edging closer to the chuckling creek below. I cannot see the creek from here, but I can see the grasses along what I guess is the edge, and if I stop, I can hear it; crisp, clean and clear, flowing free. Afterwards I can see just how beautiful it truly is. But the ever threat of bear keeps me moving on.

And all of a sudden the grasslands don't seem so empty anymore.

And all of a sudden a connection is established. Not a connection that Scottie can beam me up to the USS Enterprise, but an emotional one that can bring up those misty eyes, makes you stop and take a deep breath, and brings a huge grin to your face that your glad you're quite far from the highway so that those rubber-necking tourists aren't wondering if you just escaped from the psyche ward. I get like that when I'm out walking in the rangelands, believe me. But I don't care. The rangelands are like home to me: a place where I can actually find peace and tranquility and real happiness that I couldn't get from almost anything else. It's a place where I can get away from the mildly claustrophobic feeling I tend to get from being around people for a little too long. It's especially best when barely anyone is around, and ironically I don't feel I'm alone. Mostly because I'm not there to survive.

And it's that connection that is very spiritual and important to me. I have that connection even when I'm simply hanging out with the cattle int pasture, or bending down to look at a tiny purple flower that caught my eye. I simply love the rangelands, and for me, it's as close to the Good Lord as I can get.