September 5, 2017

The Beef vs. Vegetable Land-Use Argument: Breaking Down the Numbers

When it comes to quantifying land used for either meat production or growing "plant-based foods," things can get a little messy, and I've been finding that a lot of the information that exists out there gets misinterpreted, or just outright misunderstood. Keep this quote in mind:

"There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." -- Mark Twain

No doubt there's a lot of misinformation out there on the Interweb, so much that you just have to use the DBEY(R/S)OTI method:

Don't Believe Everything You (Read/See) On The Internet!

And as someone that likes to peruse the variety of information posted on social media and websites and such, I get to come across some odd balls that makes my head cock sideways at times. Especially when I come across a few different vegan memes that have different statistics. 

I have to say, before I begin, that the vegans do have it right. By that, I mean that you most definitely can and will produce a lot more "plant-based food" (i.e., vegetables, starches, fruits, and grains) on an acre of land than you can meat (be it from cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, or goats). I am not questioning that aspect of the "meat vs. veggie" argument. 

However, I have several "beefs" with this simplistic-seeming fact. Those issues I will address in the next blog post The Beef vs. Vegetable Land-Use Argument: Why It's Really a Non-Issue

The primary talking-points I really want to address here and now are the actual statistics or numbers that vegans use to bring up the land-use vegan vs. meat argument. Not so much the discrepancies, but rather what the numbers are actually telling us.

Well, maybe more me than us, but whatever. 

Two primary memes, both with their relatively inconvenient discrepancies are what I really want to focus on in this post, largely because of the difference in beef amounts per amount of land required. The third meme I'm going to talk a bit about as well is just a bit different, as it will look at the amount of land needed for a person of a particular dietary choice to live off of for an entire year.

I hope you find this interesting as I did when writing this out.

But before we begin, just let me make the note the two major factors being disregarded in both memes:
  • Time
    • Growing season length
    • Monthly vs. Yearly basis
  • Location 
    • Growing season length 
    • Climate 
    • Soil type/quality 
    • Annual precipitation
Largely these are ignored because they're variables, and variables make things quite complicated. I believe I will cover these more in the second blog post. 

Meme #1:

I think it's best to look at the beef side first and foremost, just to see where the number above actually stands.

As already mentioned above, time is the variable that is largely ignored. However, I tend to assume that this is based on a full year of production, or a full "growing season." 

I assume these are the two sources from the meme used for their statistic on beef:
I find the former source highly unreliable for two reasons:
  1. The authors fail to define what "acre-days" are throughout the paper, leading one to assume that their "5 acre-days" versus "1.7 acre-days" means 5 acres per animal unit per day versus 1.7 acres per animal unit per day. That gives rise for my second reason SRBC paper is unreliable:
  2. To convert the SBRC's linked articles' statistics, 5 acres per cow-day (or per AU per day) (= 1 cow-day/acre ÷ 5 acres/cow-day) = 0.2 cow-days per acre for pasture; and 1.7 acres per cow-day (= 1 cow-day/acre ÷ 1.7 cow-days per acre) = 0.6 cow-days per acre. 


One (1) Animal Unit = One Cow-Day = One (1) 1000 lb cow or cow-calf pair consuming ~26 lb of dry matter forage per day. 

(dry matter (DM) = all water removed)

Therefore, Reason 2 shows very clearly that the authors are surmising their numbers on unrealistic and extremely low forage productivity for any land base, crop or otherwise!! 

So, again, take note! The SRBC article is way out to lunch and an unreliable reference for any meme, and for use in any article, blog or otherwise!! 

Fortunately, the NRCS fact sheet is much, much more realistic. 

Their ball park average for number of acres per year per cow-calf pair is 1.5 to 2 acres. So to convert that into cow-days per acre:

(365 days/year) ÷ (1.5 acres/year/AU) = 243 cow-days per acre
(365 days/year) ÷ (2 acres/year/AU) = 182.5 cow-days per acre

Much better. 

Working backwards from their pre-determined 137 lb of beef (boxed and ready to serve), and assuming that 60% of the live-weight is dressing weight, and 60% of dressing weight is boxed beef, 137 lb of boxed beef goes to (137 ÷ 0.60 =) 228.33 lb dressing weight, and 228.33 lb dressing weight goes into (228.33 ÷ 0.60 =) 380.55 lb live-weight. 

Without looking deeper, sure 380.55 lb (round up to 381 lb) is quite a small animal, but we must remember that this is the amount of live-weight expected on one acre for, supposedly, an entire year. 

Since we know that the finishing live-weight for cattle, depending on the frame score (see Target Slaughter Weights: Are Your Beef Cattle Fat Enough for Market), and using the standard animal unit, we can figure how many acres the meme is actually referring to. 

1000 lb/AU ÷ 381 lb/acre = 2.6 acres/AU/year

What does that translate into as required cow-days per acre? Well...

365 days/year ÷ 2.6 acres/AU/year = 140.4 cow-days per acre. 

If we were to use the cow-day values I calculated from the NRCS article, I can figure out how big the meme is thinking a finisher bovine *should be* according to their value of 137 lb of boxed beef derived from per acre per year. 

1. From NRCS: 1.5 acres/AU/year * 381 lb bovine/acre/year = 571.5 lb bovine
2. From NRCS: 2 acres/AU/year * 381 lb bovine/acre/year = 762 lb bovine

So, funnily enough, the values from NRCS that VeganStreet sourced from actually surpass the amount of meat that would come from one acre in a year. Not by much, of course, but significantly enough to cause anyone who hasn't even done the calculations like I did to question the validity of this meme. 

The Reality of Grass-Finishing a Grass-Fed Steer

Realistically, a single steer raised for slaughter is not going to be eating the same amount of forage from the first year of purchase to the end of his life. 

A young steer is purchased when he's 600 pounds. At 600 pounds he's eating about (600 lb bodyweight * (2.6% bodyweight consumed feed DM per day * 100) =) 15.6 lb of DM forage per day. As he increases in bodyweight, so the amount of feed he needs to consume will also increase.  To demonstrate, if target slaughter weight is 1400 pounds, then the daily dry matter intake (DDMI) would increase for every 100 pound gain in body weight as:

700 lb * 0.026 = 18.2 lb DDMI
800 lb * 0.026 = 20.8 lb DDMI
900 lb * 0.026 = 23.4 lb DDMI
1000 lb * 0.026 = 26 lb DDMI
1100 lb * 0.026 = 28.6 lb DDMI
1200 lb * 0.026 = 31.2 lb DDMI
1300 lb * 0.026 = 33.8 lb DDMI
1400 lb * 0.026 = 36.4 lb DDMI

For a steer to get to 1400 lb in one year, he would need to have an average daily gain (ADG) of 2.2 pounds per day. 

So that means that if we were to estimate how long it takes that steer to gain 100 pounds, at that rate of gain it would be about 45.5 days. From that estimate we can further estimate how much feed that steer is going to need, at 45.5 day intervals, over time. 

I won't bore you with all the math. But just to demonstrate yet again, just how much feed a 600 lb steer, to get to 700 pounds, needs to eat (on a dry-matter basis) over 45.5 days, I just use this calculation:

15.6 lb DDMI * 45.5 days = 709.8 lb DM feed

If you're following along with your own calculator, you basically just need to use the same calculation for each hundred-weight increase over the 45.5 day period. Then add all those values up to get how much feed that steer will need. Here's the values that I came up with, added up to the grand total:

709.8 + 828.1 + 946.4 + 1064.7 + 1183 + 1301.3 + 1419.6 + 1537.9 + 1656.2 = 10, 647 lb total feed per year.

You're probably wondering why I'm going to all this trouble to determine how much a steer will eat over a year. Stay with me, we're getting there.

When raising cattle on grass, the important thing to remember is: Grass will grow back. It will grow back readily particularly if you are using managed rotational grazing in an area where you can get at least two or three grazing sessions per grazing season, and timing your grazing so that you are having cattle eat grass at the right time at each session. 

Now, 10,647 lb of required forage per year for that bovine actually can be easily met in a good productive area that is even under 140 cow-days per acre (per the calculations derived from the meme above). An area with forage productivity of 115 to 120 cow-days per acre might be enough to meet the forage intake requirements of that steer with a year-round, management-intensive grazing (MiG) system. 

And that is quite possible on one acre. Again, particularly in areas where winter is quite mild, and MiG will keep grass productive. 

No kidding. By my calculations, and with the help of an Excel spreadsheet on these very calculations that I developed, a person can actually raise a single steer to 1400 lb slaughter weight on one acre that is producing 125 cow-days per acre of grass; with daily moves, a 45.5 day rest period, that steer can graze between 0.005 and 0.01 acres (= 217 to 435 square feet) of pasture land per day, with almost 3 sessions per pasture during that entire year.  

And that means that, on one acre with 125 cow-days per acre of forage for that single animal, a person can get 504 lb of boxed, ready-to-eat beef on that single acre

Pretty cool, eh? And, even with NRCS's numbers, it's not impossible to get even more pounds of boxed beef per acre; 1.5 to almost double the amount of boxed beef I calculated above! 

Of course that's not saying that all areas in the world will have enough grass for to produce that amount of beef per acre, and there are other variables I didn't mention that will influence the ability to produce some grass-finished beef on one acre, but it goes to show you that you certainly can raise more beef on less amount of land than what's been conventionally thought possible. (I do believe this might be a good excuse to make another blog post about the misconception that "there's not enough land to have grass-fed cattle..." Some other time.)

Potatoes and Tomatoes: How Much Can Actually be Produced per Acre?

The easy answer is that it is highly variable. It really depends on soil type and quality, moisture, cultivars used, location, organic vs. conventional, climate/weather conditions, etc.

The meme claims that 53,000 lb of potatoes and 40,000 lb of tomatoes can be grown on an acre, assuming on an annual basis. From my research below, I've found some very different, and widely varying answers that questions the validity of the meme's claims... yet again.

For potatoes, the average yields differ quite substantially from year to year, and in different areas. Some examples I pulled from a Google search:

For tomatoes, I also found even more extreme variabilities with tomato production, with no real averages like with potatoes.

Basically, tomato growers will plant between 2,400 to 5,800 plants per acre. How much each plant will yield per growing season is variable, but most suggest to expect between 10 to 30 pounds of tomatoes per plant. Some folks are capable, if using the right varieties and ensuring good growing conditions, of 50 to 80 pounds of tomatoes per plant!!

This means, on a per acre basis, 2,400 plants on an acre may yield between 24,000 lb/acre to 192,000 lb/acre. If a person had 5,800 plants per acre, then they could expect to get between 58,000 lb/acre to 464,000 lb/acre.

Those are some significant variabilities. See Tomato ProductionHunker's Link on Tomato Production per Acre, and's Field Production of Organic Tomatoes for more information.  

Meme #2: 

(Just as an aside, my thoughts on this "documentary" can be read HERE.)

Again, let's work with the *meat* side of this comparison first and foremost.

But first of all, the three major things wrong with using the term "meat" in this particular meme:
  1. It makes things far too ambiguous
  2. Meat, by definition means "...the flesh of an animal, typically a mammal or bird, as food (the flesh of domestic fowls is sometimes distinguished as poultry)" (from Oxford Dictionary)
  3. One and a half acres will produce more meat from one species than another due to space requirements as dictated by body size. (For example, chickens need less space than pigs, and pigs need less space than cows, in that order.) 
This meme is actually making things far more complicated and more off the mark than a person thinks. If this Cowsmackery meme is going to be using the quote that 375 pounds of MEAT is produced on 1.5 acres, then that obviously means I need to really break things down and take a look at several things:

  1. How many animals (and their size) does it really take to make up 375 pounds of meat? 
  2. Given the time it takes them to reach slaughter weight;
    1. How many animals of each listed can be raised for a year on 1.5 acres? Or, 
    2. How many animals can 1.5 acres hold to be raised for meat per year? From those; 
  3. How much meat of each different listed species can actually be produced on 1.5 acres??
Without even starting on the calculations, I can tell right off that the meme is incredibly far off the mark.

And I'll also tell you right now that they're talking about beef being produced from that 1.5 acres, NOT "meat." But I'll get to that after I crunch the numbers for the various animals raised for meat.

Let's just see how many animals, of each species, it takes to even make 375 lb of ready-to-cook meat:
  • Beef: One (1) 1042 lb steer (Frame score 3, small-framed; assuming dressing percentage is 60% of live-weight, and weight of final retail cuts are 60% of dressing percentage)
  • Pork: Three (3) 250 lb pigs (assuming dressing percentage is is 70% of live-weight, and final retail cuts are 70% of dressing percentage)
  • Lamb / Chevon (Goat): Ten (10) 150 lb lambs (assuming dressing percentage is 50% of live-weight, and final retail cuts are 50% of dressing percentage)
  • Turkey: Seventeen (17) 30 lb turkeys (assuming dressing percentage is 80% of live-weight, and final butcher weight is 90% of dressing percentage)
  • Goose: Forty-one (41) 13 lb geese (assuming dressing percentage is 70% of live-weight)
  • Duck: Seventy-two (72) 4 lb ducks (assuming dressing percentage is 65% of live-weight)
  • Chicken: One hundred (100) 5 lb broiler chickens (assuming dressing percentage is 75% of live-weight)
  • Rabbit: One hundred (100) 5 lb rabbits (assuming dressing percentage is 60% of live-weight)
Now, we need to find the time it takes to raise each of these species to get to slaughter (from birth):
  • Beef Cattle: 18 to 24 months
  • Pigs: 5 to 6 months
  • Goats: 3 to 4 months
  • Lambs: 6 to 8 months
  • Turkeys: 4 to 5 months
  • Geese: 3.75 to 5 months
  • Ducks: 1.75 to 2 months
  • Chickens: 1.25 to 1.75 months
  • Rabbits: 2.5 to 3 months
From there, we can answer the question of how many animals can be raised for a year, using rotational grazing systems, on 1.5 acres (assuming pastures are productive all year long, and all animals won't need any other outside supplementation).

But, before we even do that, the question we need to answer first is how much do each of these animals eat per day? Since there's always a difference in body weight, it makes life and calculations much easier if the expected amount any species of animal is going to eat is based on dry matter intake on a percent body weight basis:
  • Beef Cattle: 2.5% body weight 
  • Pigs: 4.0% body weight 
  • Goats: 2.8% body weight 
  • Lambs: 2.8% body weight 
  • Turkeys: 2.4% body weight 
  • Geese: 5.0% body weight 
  • Ducks: 5.0% body weight 
  • Chickens: 4.5% body weight 
  • Rabbits: 5.0% body weight
Now we can look at how many animals can be raised, or pastured, on just 1.5 acres (ONLY of each species!):
  • Beef Cattle: Two (2) small-framed or "miniature" bovines weighing 800 to 1000 lb
  • Pigs: Sixteen (16) 200 lb hogs (or two batches of 8 hogs in one year)
  • Goats: Twenty-two (22) 150 lb post-weaned lambs (or two batches of 11 young goats)
  • Lambs: Same as with goats above
  • Turkeys: One hundred thirty-four (134) 25 lb turkeys (or two batches of 67 birds in one year)
  • Geese: Two hundred fifty-six (256) 13 lb geese (or two batches of 128 birds in one year)
  • Ducks: Two thousand five-hundred-two (2,502) 4 lb ducks (or 6 batches or 417 birds in one year)
  • Chickens: Two-thousand four (2004) 5 lb broiler chickens (or 6 batches of 334 birds in one year)
  • Rabbits: One thousand three hundred thirty-six (1336) 5 lb rabbits (or 4 batches of 334 rabbits in one year)
As with the first meme, I based my calculations on a pasture-based system that took into account the amount of grass produced, rest period needed for each pasture, amount of time spent in each paddock, weight and dry matter intake requirements of each species, and a few other things, to come up with the above calculations. Having a spreadsheet were I can just plug in a couple numbers and already have the formulas put in place is all I needed to do to come up with the above numbers.

Now, if we ignored the whole pasture-raised thing, and just looked at 1.5 acres as one, ginormous "factory farm," or CAFO (confined feeding animal operation), which can be easily done on 1.5 acres of land, we can answer part 2 of question 2 which I posed above about, "How many animals can 1.5 acres hold to be raised for meat per year?"

As I already mentioned, the space requirements for each species is different simply because of their body size. Do you want to know what the CAFO-standard space requirements for each species actually is? Okay... be prepared to be shocked (as if the values I came up with above hadn't put you into shock therapy already...)

  • Beef Cattle: 250 sq. ft. for weaned calves; 300 sq. ft for heavy yearlings or cows & bred heifers
  • Pigs: 20 to 50 sq. ft. 
  • Goats: 8 to 10 sq. ft. for young goats (~1 to 3 months) raised for meat
  • Lambs: 8 to 10 sq. ft. 
  • Turkeys: 2.5 to 4 sq. ft. 
  • Geese: 6 sq. ft. in coop
  • Ducks: 3 sq. ft. in coop
  • Chickens: 2 sq. ft. in coop
  • Rabbits: 3 to 4 sq. ft.
Using those values above, let's see just how many animals 1.5 acres (65,340 sq. ft) could actually hold in intensive confinement:
  • Beef Cattle: 254 to 211 cattle (weaned calves to heavy yearlings, respectively)
  • Pigs: 1,271 to 3,177 pigs (or two batches making for totals of 2542 to 6354 pigs per year)
  • Goats: 6,354 to 7,942 young goats (or two batches for totals of 12708 to 15,884 goats per year)
  • Lambs: Same as with goats
  • Turkeys: 15,885 to 25,416 birds (or three batches for totals of 47,655 to 76,248 birds per year)
  • Geese: 10,590 birds (or four batches for a total of 42,360 birds per year)
  • Ducks: 21,180 birds (or 6 batches for a total of 127,080 birds per year)
  • Chickens: 31,770 birds (or 7 batches for totals of 222, 390 birds per year)
  • Rabbits: 15,885 to 21,180 rabbits (or four batches for totals of 63540 to 84720 rabbits per year)
These values do not take into the extra space needed to grow the feed for these animals. This is why my choice of words are to "hold," not "support." "Support" would indicate also growing feed on that same parcel of land to feed those critters. 

That means that the numbers of how many animals 1.5 acres can hold (under intensive confinement) are grossly inflated because they don't support the ability to grow feed for the animals. For most animals, more than twice the land, if not greater, will be needed to raise just a fraction of most of the animals in this list. 

And that means that I'm going to ignore those values above, and only use the ones I made for raising animals on pasture to answer my third question:

"How much meat of each different listed species can actually be produced on 1.5 acres??"

Using the same dressing and and cutting percentage weights that I started off with to look at just how many animals need to be killed to produce 375 lb of meat, here are the results that I came up with:
  • Beef Cattle: Two (2) small-framed or "miniature" bovines weighing 800 to 1000 lb will give 720 lb of boxed beef;
  • Pigs: Sixteen (16) 200 lb hogs will give 1,568 lb of boxed pork;
  • Goats: Twenty-two (22) 150 lb post-weaned goats will give 825 lb of boxed chevon;
  • Lambs: Twenty-two (22) 150 lb post-weaned lambs will give 825 lb of boxed lamb;
  • Turkeys: One hundred thirty-four (134) 25 lb turkeys will give 2,412 lb of ready-to-cook whole turkey;
  • Geese: Two hundred fifty-six (256) 13 lb geese will give 2,329.6 lb of ready-to-cook whole goose meat;
  • Ducks: Two thousand five-hundred-two (2,502) 4 lb ducks will give 6,505 lb of ready-to-cook whole duck meat;
  • Chickens: Two-thousand four (2,004) 5 lb broiler chickens will give 7,515 lb of ready-to-cook whole chicken; or
  • Rabbits: One thousand three hundred thirty-six (1,336) 5 lb rabbits will give 801.6 lb of ready-to-cook/eat whole rabbit
Right off the bat that makes the meme's 375-pounds-of-meat claimed value so far off the mark I'm laughing hysterically in my chair right now.

But really, where are they coming up with 375 lb of "meat" on 1.5 acres? That's the next big question I want to answer and figure out, like with the first meme above. 

I think we can all agree that it's actually based on meat from cattle, not the disingenuous term "meat" that was, in my honest opinion, stupidly used. 

How Did the Makers of Meme #2 Come Up with 375 lb of BEEF on 1.5 acres? 

It makes things easier when I can work backwards.

As mentioned above, I'm going to assume that 375 lb of beef is boxed beef, and not the dressed weight after slaughter. So, the actual weight of the animal is:

375 lb of boxed beef ÷ 60% retail weight from carcass weight = 625 lb ÷ 60% carcass weight from live weight = a 1041.6667 lb or ~1042 lb steer or heifer

According to Grassfed Solutions link on "Target slaughter weights: Are your beef cattle fat enough when they go to market?" a 1042 lb steer is between a frame score of 3 and 4 for steers, and 4 to 5 for heifers. This indicates the size of the steer is on the large side of "small frame" or medium-framed. 

Frame scores (based on hip height in conjunction with age) range from 1 (one) to 9 (nine), with one being the smallest. Miniature cattle, I believe, could be smaller than FS-1 cattle... but let's not get into that. 

Most cattle are slaughtered when they reach between 1300 and 1500 pounds. Either of these animals should yield 460 lb to 540 lb of boxed meat. And those sized-animals are large-framed animals.

But I digress.

In order to find out how to get 375 lb of beef from 1.5 acres, I need to, again, work backwards from the point of the actual live-weight of the animal so that I can ultimately find out the forage productivity of that 1.5-acre parcel. Here's basically what I did: 

I know that typically the daily dry matter intake (DDMI) is 2.6% of body weight. 

So, 1042 * 0.026 = 27.1 lb DM forage per day consumed.

I'm expecting about 50% utilization of a pasture (where half of the forage is eaten, the rest trampled and sodden on), and daily rotation, with 120-day rest period per paddock.

The amount of forage required per day is 27.1 lb DM ÷ 50% utilization = 54.2 lb DM per day of forage for that animal.

The number of paddocks needed is (120 days of rest + 1 day/paddock) ÷ 1 day/paddock = 121 paddocks in total. 

On 1.5 acres, that means that I would probably need (1.5 acres ÷ 121 paddocks =) 0.0124 acres per paddock. Or, to do it in square footage, 1.5 acres (43,560 sq. ft./acre * 1.5 acres) = 65,340 sq. ft; Therefore 65,340 sq. ft. ÷ 121 paddocks= 540 sq. ft. per paddock.

The expected amount of forage, therefore, that a pasture is expected to produce is (54.2 ÷ 0.0124 acres per paddock =) 4371 lb/acre of forage

That translates into... (4371 lb/acre * (50% utilization ÷ 100) / 26 lb per day daily DM intake of one Animal Unit =) 84.1 cow-days per acre. 

Or, a stocking rate of... (4371 lb/acre * (50% utilization ÷ 100) / 800 lb per month DM intake of one Animal Unit =) 2.7 AUM/acre. 

If I shortened up the rest period to 45 days, I would get a larger area for the animal to graze:

(45 days rest + 1 day/paddock) ÷ 1 day/paddock = 46 paddocks total
1.5 acres ÷ 46 paddocks = 0.0326 acres/paddock = 1420 sq. ft/paddock.

To the average Jane/Joe that seems like "lots of space to roam" but to me, that's too much space for just one animal to cover sufficiently in one day. If there's a lot of forage available per day, which my next calculations show that shouldn't be the case:

54.2 ÷ 0.0326 acres/paddock = 1662 lb/acre of forage that needs to be available, or 32 cow-days per acre, or 1.04 AUM/acre stocking rate. 

In other words, on a really shitty pasture (pardon the pun) you can graze one 1042 lb bovine on 1.5 acres. But there's a catch. 

The number of times that bovine will need to go over that pasture in a year is eight times (0.0326 acres/paddock/day * 365 days = 11.899 total acres needed for entire season (with no returning to previous paddocks grazed) ÷ 1.5 acres = 7.9 or 8 required grazing sessions for 1.5 acres in one year-long grazing season). Not all pastures are going to be that productive, especially when they have that low of forage quantity to begin with. 

On the other hand, the pasture with 84 cow-days per acre will mean that it will be gone over less times over the year, make that only three grazing sessions per year (0.0124 * 365 = 4.5 ÷ 1.5 = 3 sessions for 1.5 acres in one year-long grazing season).

But the question is, are pastures only that good to graze on? My answer is look at how much a lot of hay fields can produce. You can get some that will be highly productive, as in around 4 to 5 tons per acre (or 8,816 lb/acre to 11,020 lb/acre), or more--some hay fields can get as much as 10 tons/acre (22,040 lb/acre). If a pasture can be made to be as productive or better as the average hay field (no matter if it's irrigated or not), then that means that a person can indeed raise more beef than what the meme is suggesting on one or 1.5 acres. Easily; like at least double the amount of beef than what Cowspiracy's meme is proselytizing

So, is this second meme out to lunch? Not entirely. It's only indicative of pasture mismanagement that doesn't manage grass and animals to their full potential. It also doesn't show the huge potential that better grass management can do to actually help increase pasture productivity and thereby needing to increase the size of the herd to match that increased productivity. 

Vegetable Production of Meme #2

This meme is also suggesting that a person can get 37,000 lb of so-called "plant-based food" (or rather, just food excluding meat and poultry) on 1.5 acres. That, in my mind, translates to the ability of getting 11 tons/acre of vegetables/fruit/grain etc. 

Pretty ambiguous, yet again.

In the first meme above I already showed the incredible variability and discrepancies between the amount of potatoes and tomatoes--"plant-based food" essentially--that are even produced on just one acre of land. Compared to those, 37,000 lb of vegetables, fruits, and/or grains on 1.5 acres (or 11 tons/acre) is not exactly a whole lot. 

Therefore this meme shows, yet again, a poor example of the potential productivity of any area of land that is even capable of being used to grow food for people. 

On To The Next...

Now that I've crunched the numbers and really took a hard look at what both memes were (and were not) showing, I would like to switch gears and provide another post to explain why the land-use argument comparisons are really a non-issue, and as much of a proselytizing erroneous statement that needs to be taken with a giant grain of salt as any vegan shock-value "fact" should be regarded. 

July 10, 2017

What Do Cows and Cattle Eat?

The obvious answer to this seemingly mindless, extremely easy-to-answer question is...


In all it's various forms.

But, of course, that's really only partly right.

Sure cows and cattle eat grass because that's what they're built to eat. They are ruminant animals, meaning they have three fore-stomachs plus the true stomach that is structurally adapted to a diet of fibrous plant material.

Plus they have millions of microflora to help them break down that plant material into usable nutrients.

A quick Google search will give you several sites that tell you the three primary feeds that cattle eat:

- Hay
- Grain
- Silage

A fourth "feed" that cattle will "harvest" themselves is pasture forage (also called fodder).

There is also a fifth feed that takes on a minor precedent known as "by-product."

Now, the three four five primary feeds are largely of grasses or derived from grasses.

Hay is cut and sun-dried forage that is gathered up into bales (NOT "bails"). Plants used for hay are primarily perennial grasses that come up to be harvested year after year without any need to cultivate and re-seed (usually).

Grain is a collection of seeds from domesticated grasses such as corn, barley, and oats.

Silage is wet, wilted forage that is cut, then chopped up and stored in a wrapped bale, in a pit, pile, bunker, or silo and allowed to ferment for several weeks. Most silage is of domestic grasses like barley, corn, or oats; it can also be made up of grasses that could be used for hay.

By-products are waste material from processing grains or crop seeds into various products for human use or consumption, such as beer, biofuel, baked goods, or vegetable/cooking oil. While domestic grasses make up a large part of this production, other crops like sunflowers, canola, and soybeans are used. By-products may also include waste from supermarkets due to grading and aesthetic concerns. Waste vegetables, starches, and fruits make up a lot of this, and to some limited extent, be fed to cattle.

I purposefully did not include animal by-product as a part of the by-product list for cattle because such feeds are prohibited from being fed due to Mad Cow Disease concerns (also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.)

Oh, but wait! I forgot to add two more items to what cattle are fed! I'll bet you didn't know that cattle also eat:

Making hay before the storm hits
- Greenfeed
- Straw

Greenfeed is treated just like hay, except that the forage component of that hay is not your typical perennial grasses as a "hay stand." Instead, this is usually made up of annual domestic grasses primarily of oats and/or barley that are cut green, dried in the sun, and baled up. Another type of greenfeed is "yellowfeed" which is a crop harvested for feed after being desiccated with a herbicide, usually glyphosate. Yellowfeed can also be a cereal crop  that has gone to maturity, and is cut and baled up for feed. (Farmers have been known to also bale up non-cereals like peas or canola to feed to cattle.)

Barley ready to be harvested for feed
Straw is what's left over and gathered up into bales after a cereal crop is harvested for its seed (grain).

What are Cows and Cattle Fed to Eat? 

What feeds are fed to cattle depends on how they are raised. Dairy cattle in confinement will be fed a variety of feeds in what's called a TMR (total mixed ration). It ensures that they get all their nutrients and types of feeds they should have for healthy rumen function and milk production. A TMR includes hay, silage, grain, and maybe some kind of by-product like soybean meal or canola meal.

I should really answer this in an other post on "How do Cows Eat" but what's funny about dairy cows being fed a TMR is that they're not stupid or dumb about carefully selecting out their "desert" first (the grains) and leaving the "vegetables" (the hay component) behind until they really have to eat it. That's why I used the words "they should have" because the human component behind the dairy-cow ration balancing expect the cows to eat everything in equal portions, when they really don't!

Beef cattle are primarily fed hay with some grain and/or silage. At least, those cattle or cows that are still raised traditionally (kept in pens during the winter, out on pasture in the summer). Cattle being finished in the feedlot are primarily on silage, with some hay and grain, then progressively fed more and more grain and silage (with a little hay) by the time they reach the end of their short lifespan prior to slaughter.

Here's where the waters get pretty cloudy. The aforementioned methods of feeding beef cattle have been practiced for many decades. But now, farmers and ranchers are taking winter feeding into more winter grazing, where hay is either being fed out in the field, or cereals are cut into swaths, but not gathered up into bales. Instead, electric fencing is used to get those cattle to eat those swaths instead.

Producers in more southern locations where winters are mild or non-existent can graze their cattle on pasture 365 days of the year. (Many cannot due to not understanding proper grazing practices of rest and rotation.)

I mention greenfeed and straw because beef cattle will be fed those feeds as well. The kicker with these is that the straw needs to be fed along with grain because a cow cannot handle an extremely high-fibre, poor protein feed source, and greenfeed needs to be fed along with a high-calcium/magnesium mineral, unless it is mixed with a hay that has lots of legumes in it (like alfalfa).

The other fun part of this question is that, continuing on with grazing, is that cattle can be grazed in annual crops that contain a variety of species that are primarily legumes, grasses, and broad-leafs (like kale, turnips, sunflowers, phacelia, flax, radish, etc.). A few producers are able to finish their cattle on this stuff, and get those cattle about as fat and sassy on that standing forage as those cattle being finished in the decades-traditional feedlot.

What do Cows Eat Other than Grass??

Legumes. Legumes make up a pretty hefty portion of a bovine's diet. Legumes are primarily found in hay, as well as pasture. Cattle will also readily eat other non-leguminous broad-leaves (or "forbs") if they find the plants particularly palatable (there's an alliteration for you!)

Did you know that grass makes up 95% of a bovine's diet? That means 5% of the diet is legumes, forbs, and some trees and shrubs, if they come across them.

Bees like legumes too!
Alsike Clover top, American Hedysarium bottom
There are quite a few species of legumes that cows will eat, including:

- Alfalfa
- Sainfoin
- Cicer Milkvetch
- Birdsfoot Trefoil
- Red Clover
- White Dutch Clover
- Kura Clover
- Alsike Clover
- Yellow/White Sweet Clover
- Hairy Vetch
- Persian Clover
- Soybeans
- Field Peas
- Beans
- Lentils
- Cow Peas
- Lespedeza
- Sunnhemp
- Faba Bean

Other non-legume forbs that cows will eat include:

- Dandelion
- Hawks-beard
- Turnips
- Radish
- Phacelia
- Flax
- Sunflower
- Kochia
- Carrot
- Squash
- Quinoa
- Plantain
- Spinach
- Chard
- Buckwheat

Cows Eat Grass on Pasture. Right?

Partly. Cows will also eat legumes, as mentioned already. A pasture that has a good legume component means that those cattle will get a lot of nutritional benefit from those plants.

Pasture for cattle isn't limited to the perennials that come up every year. Pasture also includes arable land that is typically used for cash crop production, but can and has been seeded so that it provides temporary pasture for livestock.

(This is why I strongly believe the land-use argument for not eating meat versus a 100% plant-based diet is a non-issue. That's another blog post some day, though.)

When cattle are pastured in any plant stand, they will select what tastes good to them. They are incredibly selective, much more than we think, using their tongues to both taste and grab what they want to eat.

If there are dandelions in a pasture, they will eat those with relish. Certain weeds will be eaten by cattle if they are trained to, such as Canada thistle. And when grazed in a large group where competition between animals is prevalent, they will also eat those weeds that normally, in a continuous grazing system, they would avoid (simply because they can).

So, Cows Eat More than Just Grass. Got It!!

Yes indeed. The take-away message here is that cattle will eat more than grass, not because they are forced to, but because they choose to, and can. 

In the end, they are herbivorous ruminant animals who will eat more than just grass for reasons including taste, and a craving for something lacking in their diet. Plant choices are also due to what they have learned from their mothers at a young age, or through trial and error. 

The Gentle Barn's Prosthetic-Legged Steer is Dead... Under Suspicious Circumstances.

Gentle Barn founder Ellie Laks announced Tuesday that Dudley, who had been having difficulty eating and defecating for a few days, died after “a ruptured ulcer tore apart his stomach.” 
“There was nothing the surgeons could do to repair it,” Laks said in a Facebook post. “I don't know why these things happen, I don't know why extreme loss is a part of our earth experience, but I'm so deeply grateful to have been graced by Dudley over the last two years, and if we could do it all over again, we would.”
Source for quote: Knoxville News Sentinel "Dudley, steer with prosthetic foot and mascot of Gentle Barn in Tennessee, has died"

Let's make one thing clear, before I launch into this blog post:

I am not a fan of the Gentle Barn. As a matter of fact I'm not a fan of "farm animal sanctuaries" that really and ultimately tout themselves as "sanctuaries" for farm animals when they're nothing more than glorified petting zoos.

Now that I got that out of the way, I needed to create this post, albeit a month later, about Dudley, the "rescued" Hereford steer, and give some thoughts as to what this bovine may have actually died of, and why the Gentle Barn may have actually lied about his death.

In order to do that, we need to start from the beginning.

In the beginning...

According to GB, Dudley was rescued with a severe infection or gangrene in his right hind leg. This was from, supposedly (though it makes sense), baling twine being wrapped around his fetlock (just above his hoof) for an extended period of time.

Let's stop right here and think about this.

I can understand how this would happen. There are times when life on the farm gets so busy that we forget to look in on the animals every so often. Then when one comes up looking quite ill or lame, it can be to the point where it's almost too late. In this case, it would've been either that, or the farmer really was being negligent about a) picking up his baling string, and b) checking the animals regularly for any ailing animals.

So the bull got "turned over" to GB instead of being slaughtered (which should've been done in the first place, I'll get to that soon) for beef. And the bull went through quite a bit of surgery to get the hoof amputated, and a prosthetic foot replaced.

While in surgery, the bull got turned into a steer.

But the whole thing would've been very stressful on him. Ruminant animals are not meant to be put under general anaesthesia like dogs and cats can, as doing so upsets normal rumen functions, especially if the bovine has to be under for an extended period.

The timeline for all of this, supposedly, is that the bull was given to The Gentle Barn when he was 10 months old (January 2015). Six months later (June 2015) he was brought to the Tennessee GB site. Dudley died June 2017. So 10 months surrendered, six months in multiple surgeries, and two years at GB Tennessee, making him three years and four months of age.

So that means, for two over years of his he was in chronic pain from his amputated foot.

Dudley's Life at Gentle Barn

While the video of the beginning of Dudley's torment and torture shows you what the makers want you to see--in the beginning bull Dudley is limping severely, the end he's bouncing around with his new foot like a young calf--I was perusing the GB's Facebook page on Dudley and discovered some disconcerting evidence that was very, very clear to me.

One video I remember was Dudley moving quite slowly, taking his time as he went (and he still had a bit of a limp), "going where he wanted to go" as what was said of his investigative, curiosity actions of a typical bovine. I could see he was hurting, but as a typical bovine, making an effort to act tough and not show he was struggling much.

That was back around June or July of 2016.

During that time, up to when he went back to surgery again, he was obviously fed very well: good-quality hay, some grain, some grass, and even this new-fangled green algae stuff that Dudley didn't even need, as a ruminant. He was eating some, but I think he may have already had ulcers in his abomasum at that time.

Despite his shiny coat, this photo tells me that he's not in a good way. His eyes look dull, his ears are down (not up and perky), and he's definitely favouring his right hind leg. You can really see the muscles that have been built up in his left leg, and the lack of muscling in the right.

The fact that he doesn't have much of a gut on him is partly because they're feeding him so well that he doesn't have much of a need to get a bigger rumen with more roughage, and probably partly because he's been undergoing a bit of chronic stress and pain.

And that's probably partly what killed him.

Moments up to and including Dudley's Death

Dudley was put back in the large animal clinic of the University of Tennessee where he had originally had his surgeries and prosthetic put on. A couple videos on GB's facebook page showed, undoubtedly, that the steer was in a whole lot of pain. I could see that, from what I'd seen earlier, the pain in his leg was worse now than it was.

According to the release by GB, Dudley was claimed to have not been "eating or pooping" like he should. This was followed by the release that Dudley had died of ruptured ulcers.

This is where the red flags raise up to great heights.

A bovine that has abomasal ulcers, according to Merck Veterinary Manual, do not become constipated. Here's an excerpt from the veterinary experts:

Cattle with bleeding abomasal ulcers may be asymptomatic except for intermittent occult blood in the feces, or they can die acutely from massive hemorrhage. Common clinical signs include mild abdominal pain, bruxism, sudden onset of anorexia, tachycardia (90–100 bpm), and fecal occult blood or melena that may be intermittent. Signs of blood loss are seen with major hemorrhage and may include tachycardia (100–140 bpm), pale mucous membranes, weak pulse, cool extremities, shallow breaths, tachypnea, and melena. More severe signs include acute rumen stasis, generalized abdominal pain with a reluctance to move and an audible grunt or groan with each breath, weakness, and dehydration. Melena may not be present in peracute cases, because it takes at least 8 hr for abomasal blood to be detected in the feces. As the condition progresses, body temperature drops, and the animal becomes recumbent and dies within 6–8 hr.

In general, bleeding ulcers do not perforate, and perforating ulcers do not bleed into the GI tract sufficiently to produce melena. However, hemorrhage and perforation are seen together occasionally, usually in cases that are chronic or associated with abomasal displacement.

Dudley was, now that I think of it, showing somewhat form of anorexia, just from how he didn't have much of a gut to begin with. Normally, healthy cattle have quite a fair size abdominal barrel on them. Dudley looked more like a bovine version of a Thoroughbred, with a bad leg. For all beef cattle, that's not normal.

But Merck Vet Manual has no mention of constipation!! The only way a bovine will become constipated is one of two ways:

1) Internal parasites affecting the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system), or
2) Consuming high-fibre, low-quality feed for a long period of time.

I very, very highly doubt that Dudley had either of the two afflictions.

So that leads me to believe that Gentle Barn blatantly lied about the "not pooping" activity of the Hereford.

I do believe that Dudley had ulcers. His going off-feed and skinny looks showed that. The cause for him developing ulcers may have been due to several things:

1) Chronic pain in his leg
2) Rich feed (not enough long-stemmed fibrous forage)
3) Stress on the digestive system from going through multiple surgeries with his leg
4) Other unknown factors not shown to the public

If he did have a ruptured ulcer, the perforation it would have created probably wouldn't have been so much that it "tore apart his stomach." The Gentle Barn is known for stretching the truth to its finest threads, so that part I don't believe is truth.

From all that had happened to the poor steer (and he truly was the innocent soul that was forced to go through all this torment, despite the "kind" efforts to "save" him), I have a very strong inkling that Dudley was humanely euthanized by the veterinarians, probably against what the main Gentle Barn couple really wanted.

But it was what Dudley ultimately deserved. Slaughtering him two and a half years ago would have been the much more kinder option for him. It would have avoided forcing him to have to go through that much torture, well-meaning though it may have seemed from the outside, for this long.

Dudley was never saved, in the end. He was just placed into another place and forced to live through pain that he didn't deserve to have.

Rest in peace Dudley. You're in a much better place now, thank God.

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.)