December 31, 2015

Fun Facts on Cows and Cattle

I have over fifty facts on cows and cattle to share with you, just for the fun of it.

There are a surprisingly large number of facts on cows and cattle that many people don't realize, and I believe that over 50 doesn't cut it. Of course I have other facts posted in the Facts & Meanings page (not nearly as complete as I want it, but I digress), some repeated here, but anything else I find or I consider of some importance I may post here in an ETA.

Otherwise, be prepared to have your mind blown.

  1. The term "cow" should not be used as a common name for an animal, even though it often is. The name "cow" refers to the females of a particular species of animals, including domestic bovines. By definition, in terms of domestic bovines, a cow is female mature bovine that has given birth to at least one or two calves.A cow is also the name for females of other mammals, such as elephants, bison, buffalo, caribou, whales, moose, rhinos, giraffes, and other animals. There is no such thing as a "female cow," but there is such a thing as a female bovine orfemale cattle-beast.
  2. "Male cows" don't exist either. Male bovines that are intact (not castrated) are called bulls. These animals are specifically used for breeding purposes. (Note: There is neither no such thing as a "male bull" nor a "female bull". Like as noted with cows above, the term "bull" is in reference to the gender of an animal, not the common name like with a dog or a moose.The males of elephants, bison, buffalo, caribou, whales, moose, rhinos, giraffes and others are also known as bulls.
  3. Male bovines which are castrated are called steers.
  4. Young female bovines are called heifers if they are less than 2 years of age and have not yet given birth to a calf.
  5. calf is a general term for young cattle from birth to weaning.
  6. A cow's gestation period is ~285 days long.
  7. Cows give milk for their calves. Dairy cows give much more milk than beef cows.
  8. There are two main types of cows: dairy cows and beef cows.
  9. Most cows are found on farms or ranches. Except in India, of course, because a lot of cows and cattle are found in cities and towns but have to subsist on garbage dumps instead of their more natural diet of grass and forbs. 
  10. All cows eat some form of grass or other, whether it's fresh pasture, or stored in the form of hay or silage. They also eat forbs or broad-leafed plants, but not as often as goats do. 
  11. Cows are herbivores, meaning they are able to live and exist on plants only. 
  12. Cows come in a wide variety of colours besides black-and-white. Bulls also come in a variety of colors, and most are not all brown with horns. Many colours you will find include white, grey (smokey to mousey), yellow, tan, red, brown, orange, and black. You will never find cattle that are blue, green, pink, nor purple. 
  13. Cows come in a variety of sizes. The smallest breed (Miniature Cattle or Lowlines) in the world has mature cattle only up to 700 to 800 pounds. The largest cattle breed is the Chianina, with mature bulls weighing over 3,500 pounds. 
  14. There are over 900 breeds of cows in the world. 
  15. The only continent that doesn't have cattle is Antarctica. 
  16. There are two primary sub-species of domestic cattle. Bos primigenius taurus are European cattle like your average milk and beef cattle. Bos primigenius indicusare humped, loose-skinned, large-eared cattle that are found in hot, southern climates.Desi cows of India are all of the subspecies Bos primigenius indicus. A cow that is not of B. p. indicus only has sweat glands on its nose.
  17. A cow only has one udder, which is divided up into 4 quarters, with a teat for each quarter.
  18. Hair or fur, it doesn't matter, Cattle have both.
  19. A cow, and all ruminant animals, have a four-chambered stomach to efficiently digest roughage. The four chambers are named as follows: reticulum, rumen, omasum and abomasum. The rumen is the largest of all the stomachs, able to hold around 50 gal of digesta. The abomasum, the fourth stomach, is very similar to that of a human's stomach. The reticulum is called the "hardware" stomach because it collects foreign materials such as wire before the rest of the feed enters the rumen; the omasum acts like a sponge, extracting all water out of the digesta from the rumen before entering the abomasum.
  20. Not all cows and bulls have horns. Most traditionally horned breeds are being selected for being born with no horns (called polled); however a few breeds that are horned are still encouraged to be so, such as Texas LonghornScottish Highland,English Longhorn, Ankole-Watusi, Spanish Fighting Bulls, Corriente and Florida Crackers/Pineywoods, to name a few.
  21. Cows are used for much more than beef and milk. No part of the cow is wasted after slaughtered.
  22. The meat from cows or cattle is called "beef."
  23. The plural noun for one cow or one bovine is cattle. "Cattle" is only used when referring to a number of animals in general, without any regards to gender, age or breeding. It should never be used as a singular noun.
  24. Cow, as a more general term, refers to the same animal in other names such as beeves, bovines, critters, animals, cattle-beast, beast, cattle etc.
  25. A group of cattle is called a herd, drove, mob or drift.
  26. Cows can live, on average, up to 15 to 20 years of age.
  27. Cows can have up to 18 to 20 offspring in their lifetime, if they are long-standing, healthy, productive members of the herd.
  28. There are four types of beef breeds: British breeds, for those who originated in the U.K (Scotland, England, Ireland), the Continental breeds, for those who originated in parts of Europe (France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, etc.), Composites, for those who are comprised of more than one breed (BrangusSanta GertrudisBeefmasters, Senepols, etc.) and the Exotic breeds, for those who are more rarely used for beef, no matter where they are from (Highland cattle, Dexters, Texas Longhorn etc.). The exception for all of the above is the Brahman breed, which originated in America. The Brahman is considered the fourth type of beef breed because it is of a different species than the rest of the common beef cattle.
  29. The most common dairy cow used in the world is the Holstein. She can produce around 10,000 gallons of milk per year.
  30. Cows are found on all continents of the world except Antarctica.
  31. Cows can walk up stairs, but not down them. This is because their knees cannot bend properly when they try to go down each step.
  32. A dairy cow can give nearly 200,000 glasses of milk in her lifetime.
  33. A cow can drink 25 to 30 gallons of water a day. Most often the cows that drink the most water are dairy cows, or cows that are lactating.
  34. A cow has 206 bones.
  35. A cow doesn't bite grass, she wraps her tongue around it, and uses her bottom teeth to shear it off. She doesn't use her whole head to tear off a mouthful of grass like sheep and horses do; her jaw and tongue does most of the work.
  36. A cow that weighs 1000 pounds can produce an average of 12 tons of manure every year.
  37. A cow usually spends 6-7 hours in day eating cud and around 8 hours chewing it.
  38. Almost all cows chew at least 50 times per minute.
  39. An average cow has more than 40,000 jaw movements in a day.
  40. An average cow produces 30 pounds of urine and 65 pounds of feces daily.
  41. A cow can only give milk after she has had a calf.
  42. A cow stands up and lays down about 14 times a day.
  43. Cows are venerated in the Hindu religion of India.
  44. Cows have almost total 360-degree panoramic vision.
  45. Cows have an acute sense of smell and can smell something up to 6 miles away.
  46. Cows produce around 90 percent of the milk in the world.
  47. Dairy cows can produce up to 125 pounds of saliva a day.
  48. The average body temperature of a cow is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  49. A Holstein cow, named Robthom Suzet Paddy, holds the record for the greatest yield for a single lactation (365 days), at 59,298 pounds.
  50. A cow named "Cow No. 289" holds the record for the highest lifetime yield of milk for a single cow, at 465,224 pounds.
  51. The highest milk yield for a single day is 241 pounds, by a cow named Urbe Blanca.
  52. The oldest cow to date was Big Bertha, a Devon, which died just 3 months shy of her 49th birthday.
  53. As of census from 2015, there are over 960 million cows and cattle in the world. (source: http://beef2live.com/story-world-cattle-inventory-1960-2014-130-111523)
  54. The country with the most bovines in the entire world is India, with a population of 301 million head.
  55. Cattle usually eat around 2% of their body weight in dry matter (all water taken out). As-fed percentages range from 3% to 10% of their body weight depending on the moisture content and quality of the feed. 
  56. Cattle will drink 8 to 10% of their body weight of water. Dairy cows drink more water than beef cattle.

December 28, 2015

Cowspiracy Review Rewritten

An edit and revamping of my answer to "How accurate is the film Cowspiracy" was undergone this Christmas. The main things covered included greenhouse gas emissions with emphasis on methane, grazing practices, and Allan Savory's Holistic Management.

I found Cowspiracy to be very single-minded and quite shallow with only one fundamentalist agenda: To appeal to the abolitionist/militant/reductionist vegan goal to have the Earth completely rid of all livestock, including cows and cattle, and convert every human being on the planet to a vegan. No compromises. I have been challenged on many fronts on how it's "not a propaganda piece" but if a film only has one ultimate "solution" to the world-wide problem of feeding the world and climate change being a "plant-based diet" or veganism, then yes, it is a propaganda piece and not an open-ended documentary that allows further discussion once the film is done. Those are true documentaries. Cowspiracy is a mocking of those kind of documentaries.
The remarkable superficiality of this mock-drama-doc is because of the quantity of facts, memes and graphics thrown out at the audience, not because of the quality. As long as there were a whole lot of facts against all aspects of livestock raising was thrown out there, regardless how out of date or erroneous they were, the producers knew that the inundation of such facts was going to overwhelm the audience so much to spring them into some kind of action. For me though, that action was to dig as deep as I could and pause the movie as often as possible to write notes. The more notes I wrote, and the more I paused, the more I could see just how much of a biased joke it was.
The narrator/protagonist Kip Anderson's sudden "realization" that he couldn't affect climate change after doing all the things he was supposed to--like turning off the lights when not in the room, watching water consumption, walking or riding a bike instead of driving, etc.--because animal agriculture was causing all the problem was amusing. He was just one person out of 7 billion people trying to make a difference, he himself couldn't affect climate change just by doing all those "greener living" things, though he would be a small part of the solution. Even more head-shaking was his "eureka" moment with just one email from a friend about meat-eating, although legit, but the way that he and his producers went about to find out about it all was just simply wrong.
Since the film was a cunningly deliberate means to pit the omnivorous "meat-eaters" against the hard-core vegans, it only created the facade that ONLY those who NEVER eat meat are "true environmentalists" and maligned anyone else who ate meat, no matter if it came from the ethical, far more sustainably-raised operations, as the environmental destroyers and greedy gluttons of the Earth.  That, in itself, was a huge problem I had (and still have) a big beef with. Literally.

Read more here: My Answer to the Cowspiracy Quora Question

November 20, 2015

Walmart's Toy "Slaughter" Truck Fiasco

 ERTL Big Farm 1:32 Peterbilt Model 579 Semi with Livestock Trailer
Photo Credit: Walmart
Recently the Internet blew up with a Facebook post by Vegan.com of a posted a photo of the toy truck pictured above, and simply saying, "Seriously, Walmart?" The response was, unsurprisingly, complete outrage by its followers. One responded, tweeting, "This is unimaginably disgusting. Walmart selling a toy slaughter truck. #vegan."

Of course it snowballed from there, many others echoing the same sentiments of this "slaughter truck", claiming things like, "the reality is violence; it isn't fun, it isn't neat, and it's something I wouldn't want my kids to enjoy playing with." Another urged Walmart to, "not support the desensitizing of children." Most of these people that Walmart, according to The Dodo, "pissed off" were the vegan and animal activists in their defense against symbols of "barbarism towards innocent animals."

An online petition has been created in demanding Walmart to remove the plastic, not real, toy from its shelves, and so far over 12,000 people have signed. Walmart has not yet, as far as I'm aware, responded to the their demands. 

The really sad thing about this, though, is that the people who have literally flipped out over this farm toy have taken things at face-value far too much. They've made quite a knee-jerk reaction to something they've learned to associate with killing animals, all thanks to the animal rights activists posting all about the "evils" and "horrors" of animal slaughter and anything and everything associated with it. Yet they've never stopped to think that maybe there's a lot more to this than what they've been told.

The indisputable fact is that this it not a "slaughterhouse" nor "slaughter" truck. A slaughter truck or kill truck, as it's more accurately known, is a smaller unit that has no holes in the sides, and is built to hang freshly-slaughtered carcasses back to the main slaughter facilities, as well as other parts of the animal later to be disposed of properly or sent to be used for something else.

I know, a Google Image search on the words "slaughter truck" gives you pictures of trucks that are very similar to what the toy is mimicking. Do note, though, that such pictures are actually primarily from the anti-livestock activists in their effort to show how horrific and barbaric the treatment that livestock endure is, and that these trucks that are often used to take animals to the slaughter plant reflects that.

But, the fact is that animals aren't killed on there, and they're not built to kill or slaughter animals. These trucks, because of the holes on the side which are meant for air circulation for the animals during travel, are actually livestock transport trucks because they take livestock, like pigs and cattle and horses and sheep and whatever else, from one farm to another, from farm to pasture or vice versa, and yes, from farm to the slaughter plant. The "Good Ol' Days" of herding cattle from the ranch to the cattle buyer 100 miles north like was done in the late 1800s, and loading animals into train cars are long gone. These trucks are needed to take animals from one place to another as safely and efficiently as possible in a timely fashion. It's not pretty, but it's far, far more effective than anything that has been tried and done in the past.

Besides, how else are animals going to be able to travel? It's far too dangerous on foot because of the myriad of roads that criss-cross like a thick spider web where potential for animals to get hit by a car is significant. It's plain dumb to transport an animal like you would your pet dog or cat because most, if not all, are as tame or well-mannered to go along for a car-ride as a happy-go-lucky pooch, causing a whole lot of danger to both driver and the animal.

So, these trucks are meant to transport animals from one place to another regardless where that end-place is; there are compartments inside that separate animals into groups, ramps so that two tiers can be had for them (best for lighter stock like weaned steers, sheep, goats, and pigs), and they are put in so that they won't lie down during transport. If they lie down they are much more likely to get injured.

I do hope Walmart doesn't take this toy off the shelf, but if they do, there's always the many farm-ranch supply stores that have toy sections where parents can buy such a toy for their rural-loving kids. And, there's been a new GoFundMe.com campaign that just started with Farm Toys for Tots! Check out Dairy Carrie's latest post via this link to find out more.

November 10, 2015

Don't Raise Cattle Just For the Money.


Raising cattle--either beef or dairy--has its challenges and rewards, and it's certainly not for the faint of heart. It's a whole lot of hard work, almost never based on a schedule, nor does work end at 5:00 pm. There's no such thing as days off on weekends nor statutory holidays, no vacation, no benefits, nor a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly salary. Payday is once a year, and money is spent throughout the rest of the year on taxes, insurance, rent, machinery repairs, veterinary bills, utility bills, and repayment of loans to name some. Can't forget money needed for food, clothing, and basic personal hygiene. And if the government is helping out with some subsidies or disaster payouts, that money isn't squirrelled away into a personal savings account. No, that money goes right into the farm to pay for necessary things like repairs and vet bills I mentioned above.

I could go all, "I was raised on a farm so I know this stuff and you should believe me," but the truth is that farming and ranching isn't easy. Growing up on a farm gave me a lot of opportunities to be outside a lot and learn a lot of values, morals and qualities I hold dear to today. But farming didn't give me or my folks much in terms of money, money, money. Budgeting and must I say hard-core book-keeping was a way to keep track of spending so we weren't going to go into serious debt. We weren't making a living, we were earning one, but earnings weren't much to be excited about.

Yes, raising cattle is a way of life, and the only way to earn a living that doesn't involve being forced into an urban setting with annoying or nosey neighbours to contend with, nor having to commute to a 9 to 5 office job. The latter though, is definitely not uncommon with most farm and ranch families as a means to keep the operation afloat. My folks were no different: Dad looked after the farm while Mom had to go to town every weekday morning to work. The only reason we could keep farming (and I as a child could continue to benefit from farm life), was because of my Mom's unselfish need to keep working so we could continue to have a way of life as a farm family.

Now it's incredibly difficult to show or speak to people from non-farming backgrounds on how farming and ranching is far more than just money. Too often economic reasoning is used to justify such a rural life. And even explaining things so that an understanding of how farm or ranch life is putting the animals first before the people responsible for their care can be difficult to communicate. But how else can people like me that have either come from the farm and continue to support farming and ranching, or are still in it, tell it to the urbanized consumer? If there are any other way of delivering such a message I'd love to know.

I understand the whole surmise behind this common misconception: Big tractors, lots of machinery, with sometimes nice trucks and a lot of land. Yes, farmers and ranchers use a lot of "capital" to raise crops and feed livestock, much which cost a pretty penny or two to get, which often meant loans needed to be taken out to even update some of the old stuff. But lots of capital should never be an indicator of a lot of greenbacks in the bank. For most it's the opposite: more loans to pay off than money they'd like to have saved up for a sunny day, so to speak. Really, farmers and ranchers are nothing like the rich minority that can afford a big house and lots of "toys" to play with, and a lot of spare time to play with them and host a lot of parties. What a producer has is what he or she needs to make a living. They don't have time to play with an expensive sports car or throw parties. The farm, and so the animals, are far more important than social events or showing off how wealthy they are, if they are even that.

Before I mentioned veterinary bills as one of the costs associated with cattle-raising. These include the cost of a bottle of antibiotic like Draxxin needed to treat a sick animal. So if cattle producers really were raising cattle just to make money, why would they even bother spending a lot of money on some antibiotics when they could sell any sick animal than deal with the risk associated? It's been said time and time again how producers put their animals first and do quite the diligence to ensure the best welfare, health and well-being of the animals in their care. Dairy cows that are deliberately mistreated won't produce milk. Beef cows that aren't carefully selected to be good moms won't raise good calves, if at all. And, if a steer was down with an illness easily curable with some expensive antibiotics, a "cattleman" just in it for the money (whom is not a true cattleman) would sell said steer for income than take the time and money to treat it. A cattleman not solely in it for the money would not sell the steer. Instead he'd spend the money on the needed medication (even if it's a $500 100 mL bottle of Draxxin), treat the steer, and keep an eye on it even if there is a risk that steer won't survive the night, and the money spent on antibiotics was all for nothing. And when an animal is lost (which is never a matter of "if"), it's tough. It's a helluva lot more than just potential money down the drain, that's for sure.

Raising cattle means a whole lot of risk is at stake. There's far, far more risk associated with raising livestock than what most can comprehend. An incurable or untreatable disease can wipe out an entire herd, be it anthrax or just one cow that came back positive with BSE, meaning the rest of the herd may need to be euthanised as well. Predators targeting half the calf herd resulting in a lot less calves to sell is just as tough. Risk for cattle producers isn't the same kind of job risk that most people can understand. Got laid off? Go find another job. Injured? Worker's compensation and employment insurance (for many jobs) can cover that easy. But for producers? Tough luck if half the calf crop is feeding the wolves. Tough luck if three quarters of the cows aborted their calves because they all were sick or at some poisonous plant that wouldn't let them carry to full term. Tough luck if a disease either killed or really reduced productivity in your animals.

And really, what's wrong with farmers and ranchers even trying to earn a living? What's wrong with making some money, even if none of it goes into personal savings? This utopian societal thinking doesn't exist nor will it ever. Nothing is for free, and farmers and ranchers certainly never get away with taking nor getting things for free, nor for cheap (unless they got lucky an an auction, but that's another story). No one I've talked to has given me a straight answer on ways farmers/ranchers can do what they do without earning or paying for anything. All I've seen, from my own perspective, that anti-farming or anti-beef people wish ranchers "would just die off," or that they should "just quit" what they're doing.

That leaves me asking, so who's going to look after the animals left behind? The anti-beef people who so badly want these hard-working individuals to just quit or die off? And how is a rancher supposed to "just quit" with years of dedication put into raising animals, a bit of debt to pay off, and no desire nor hope of finding a "better" job that will never hold a candle to the past career? Why do you think a lot of farmers and ranchers well into their 70s and 80s are still at it? It's not because it's all they know, it's because they love it, dammit, and won't trade it for anything else in the world. And I'm pretty sure those "old fogies" looked into living in town and retiring and all that, but what they seen was nothing more than a whole lot of boredom. So why trade a way to earn a living raising animals for something you can make a living at but be bored and unhappy for the rest of your life?

Raising livestock, like cattle, is all about earning a living, not necessarily making one. Earning a living is all about living the life you enjoy regardless how much money is being made. Money isn't a factor when a person enjoys doing what they've always wanted to, and shouldn't be. This is the same thing with raising cattle.

So if you want to raise cows, make sure you want to really love doing it. Otherwise, if you're just interested in making money, you're better off find yourself a different career. There really are far, far better careers where you can make a whole lot of money than living and working on a ranch or farm.

October 29, 2015

WHO and IARC Declare that Processed and Red Meats are "Probably Carcinogenic"

From The Washington Post:
"A research division of the World Health Organization [(WHO)] announced Monday that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer and that red meat probably does, too.
"In reaching its conclusion, the panel sought to quantify the risks, and compared to carcinogens such as cigarettes, the magnitude of the danger appears small, experts said. The WHO panel cited studies suggesting that an additional 3.5 ounces of red meat everyday raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent; eating an additional 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily raises the risk by 18 percent, according to the research cited. 
"'For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,' says Kurt Straif, an official with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer [(IARC)], which produced the report. 'In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.'"
This report comes as no surprise because I've been hearing the same things repeatedly from other people who have made the choice to pursue a meat-free diet. This, of course, is going to add fuel to the fire and make all anti-meat vegans very happy indeed.

Also no surprise is the controversy surrounding this announcement. Just reading the link above in its fullest gives you that obvious impression. But it's not the statements that pretty well everything we do, use and eat is cancer-causing, from simply breathing to pumping gasoline into our vehicles causes cancer that was the most compelling. Rather it was how the IARC reached their conclusions that raised my eyebrows.

In a nutshell, the IARC pretty much didn't come to full agreement on whether red meat was truly carcinogenic, because the panel of 22 experts weren't in full agreement and because they really didn't have sufficient evidence that red meat was indeed cancer-causing, hence the word "probably." They were also being pretty picky about which articles to choose to support their assessment. With regards to the articles themselves, the whole cancer-causing hoopla came down to mostly just colorectal cancer, and a lot of the articles came from findings with a healthy-user bias (or unhealthy, take your pick). And, the source of the meat itself is/was unknown, making the whole nutritional research a bit sketchy if there's nothing that says if the meat people ate came from conventional-raised animals or those that were "grass-fed" or pasture-raised.

I also highly recommend reading these articles in full which do the explaining a lot better than I can:

Zoe Harcombe: World Health Organisation, meat & cancer

Science Does Not Support International Agency Opinion on Red Meat and Cancer

And finally, Nicollette Hahn Niman, author of Defending Beef, had this to say about WHO's findings, which sums up pretty well what I think about the whole thing:
Red meat and cancer? There's not much new here, except that WHO has added processed meat to their list of foods/substances that may be carcinogenic. The rest is pretty much what I wrote in Defending Beef: there is some evidence that PROCESSED MEATS (IN EXCESS) increase a person's cancer risk, but there is extremely little evidence that UNPROCESSED MEATS do, and there is a lot of evidence that it's healthy food and FAR, FAR preferable to what most Americans are eating as food most of the time. From the article: “It might be a good idea not to be an excessive consumer of meat,” said Jonathan Schoenfeld, the co-author of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article and an assistant professor in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “But the effects of eating meat may be minimal, if anything.” Moreover, I would add this: NONE of this research takes into consideration the CRITICAL question of how these animals used for this meat WERE RAISED -- Were they grassfed? Were they raised with hormones? Were they given beta-agonists? There are so many POTENTIAL health implications of these substances / husbandry differences that it's scandalous they are NOT consider in such evaluations. BOTTOM LINE: EAT REAL FOOD and don't worry about the daily health scares, which waffle from vilification of one food to cannonization of another -- then change again the next week.
So show meat some love! Enjoy your bacon, sausages, steaks and franks, because life is short and isn't worth living if we can't enjoy the things we love, including good food.

Antibiotics in Meat: Subway's Storm and the Aftermath

Recently a storm on Facebook and Twitter blew up over Subway's (the American chain) announcement that it was going to be selling meat from animals that "has never received antibiotics ever." I was happy to get involved in the storm, because I was well aware of the myths surrounding the fact that a) meat has antibiotics in it (which it does not), and b) antibiotics are important when having to treat sick animals, especially in large-scale operations. I can understand the concern surrounding feeding animals antibiotics at sub-therapeutic levels, but never had antibiotics ever? Outrageous!

Thanks to my follows to Agriculture Proud and Dairy Carrie bloggers Ryan Goodman and Carrie Mess, respectively, I was able to see how bad the situation had gotten last Thursday. I didn't get a chance to say something myself on Subway's page, but I was well aware of their consistent "need" to delete any messages that where a direct critique to their announcement. Some people messaged the page at least five times and got their messages deleted as many times. And to compound things--which I commend such efforts--several took to blogging about it and sharing their opinions and the fact of the matter far and wide.

But apparently Subway was actually listening to the farming community. A day or so later I learned that Subway changed its official announcement to acknowledge that antibiotics were important to animal health and welfare and that it supported efforts to ensure food safety. I and many others were relieved and happy to hear this news. It showed that even though the company's integrity may have been somewhat tarnished by its deleting of messages from those directly involved in the industry, it made up for it by acknowledging their mistake and realizing that the very people they rely on to supply the food they sell do the best job they can to give the best quality food as possible and are willing to go to great lengths to prove it. So, hats off to Subway for recognizing that, and especially to fellow agvocates and producers for getting the word out.

Now what really encouraged me to start up a post on this was a recent blog post on how producers where sharing their stories and how and why they were using antibiotics, so I thought I would jump in and write up a little something on that.

My folks bought and sold stocker/backgrounder cattle that where intended for the feedlot. It wasn't uncommon to get steers that came down with respiratory illness that often was a bacterial infection in nature. If I remember right, a long time ago most snotty-nosed or coughing steers would get a dose of LA 200 or Oxyvet as per directions on the bottle. But that wasn't always going to work as bacteria change and become a little tougher to target with just tetracycline. I don't think we got to the point where we lost one or two at the time, but they certainly weren't responding which is always a worry. Micotil was recommended by the vet to be the best, but that stuff is bloody expensive, and for the cost it certainly isn't nearly as broad-spectrum as what we were looking for. Nuflor was what we ended up treating a couple that didn't respond to either Oxy nor Micotil, and boy did that do the job. Nuflor ended up being the best go-to drug for shipping fever and pneumonia in our cattle until we couldn't raise them anymore after Dad passed away.

We've lost animals to sickness as well, no matter how hard we've tried to save them. It's heartbreaking to lose an animal we've worked so hard and given up other things that could've been done on the farm to try to save. Too often I hear people say producers don't care about their animals, yet when I saw my folks' faces when they realize they lost a steer I could see it hits them hard. You're always left thinking that you could've done better or should've done this or should've done that when in reality you did all you could and have to come to terms that the animal is no longer suffering. It sucks, there's no doubt about it.

I hear a lot of how farmers pump their animals so full of antibiotics, yet with the cost of a 500 mL bottle of Resflor or God forbid Draxxin, how can a farmer even afford to do so when they often have to dig deep into their pockets for an injectable drug that they need to save an animal? The fact that farmers are "filthy rich" and can afford the stuff is completely untrue, and is such a myth that obviously gives consumers reason to believe that farmers can "pump their animals so full of antibiotics."

Then there's the controversy and fears over antibiotics being in meat. Well, consumers needn't to fear because meat is antibiotic-free, and is supposed to be for food safety reasons. Thanks to withdrawal labels directly posted on the meds to be administered to livestock, and random testing at slaughter plants for antibiotic residue, the entire system ensures that meat is guaranteed antibiotic-free.

And with that, people shouldn't really have fear that the meat they eat is going to hurt them. Especially if they have to stop and quickly grab a Subway sandwich on the way to wherever they have to go.

October 7, 2015

Cowspiracy Review: Nothing More Than a Overflowing Truckload of Vegan BS.

I first heard of the documentary "Cowspiracy" by someone touting it on a discussion page as the "real truth" about the cattle industry. Though this was some time ago and well before I was able to see the film, out of skepticism from hearing such proclamations, I began to immerse myself in what this documentary was all about and why it was supposed to be one of the "best" films on animal agriculture out there. It didn't take me long to figure out that it was a big pile of rhetorical vegangical bull-patooties. Just visiting the Cowspiracy Facebook page was enough to prove that it was anything but a reliable resource with amount of inaccurate facts, misinformation, misperceptions, and vegan rhetoric found on there. Try correcting just one of the facts on there, like I did. I guarantee you the vegan trolls will come out from under their bridges to jump on you and tell you how stupid and how much of a liar you are. I've gotten told that I might get a "different impression" if I watch the film. Oh I watched the film all right, and did I get a different impression? Laughably, not at all. Besides, how could I get a "different impression" with watching the film when both the Cowspiracy Facebook page and website were deliberately and blatantly misleading already as it was?

The review below, taken directly from my own answer on the site Quora in answering the question "How accurate is the movie Cowspiracy?" could still have more information added to it considering how fast and often the narrator and his panel of "experts" were spitting out fact and stat after fact and stat to the audience it would make anyone's head spin. With all the quick-facts and headliners put into the movie, I had to keep my review as relatively concise (though still detailed) as possible without getting too deep into details on the various topics mentioned (and some not) in the film.

The Inaccuracies of Cowspiracy


As an obvious vegan propaganda piece, I found Cowspiracy to be very single-minded and superficial with only one fundamentalist agenda: To appeal to the reductionist or abolitionist vegans' goal to have the Earth completely rid of all livestock, including cows and cattle, and convert every human on the planet to a vegan. No compromises.  So the whole film was a determined means to argue the case for a vegan diet or lifestyle, and to demonize the cattle industry. 
There was nothing unbiased about the film no matter how many facts and figures were pulled out and how quickly they were fired out throughout the entire footage. It seemed to me that the faster the facts were thrown at the audience, the greater the shock-value and sensationalism the audience would feel. Even though the film was an hour and a half long, it took me at least three hours to get through it because of the amount of data being thrown at me at such a rapid pace. I had to pause many times and go back even more so that I could get a chance to get a gist of what was being said and take the time to write out some notes. For example, just going through the first ten to 15 minutes of the film took me pretty well three quarters of an hour to get through. And I was writing like I was back in my lecture classes again (in which there is no such thing nor time to make any nice, neat, nor pretty notes). The more I was able to pause and write down and consider what was being said, the more I understood just how inaccurate and misleading much of the data was. Let's not forget that the entire film overall was a joke. 

It was really hard to ignore that the primary "expert" or "statistical advisor" (he was referred to as an "environmental researcher") that narrator/protagonist Kip Anderson always was turning to is a vegan dentist by the name of Richard Oppenlander. (My understanding is that whole "documentary" (rather, a mockumentary) is based on Oppenlander's book "Comfortably Unaware", as are most the "facts" and statistics used.) Other well-known vegan "environmental experts" like "Dr." William Tuttle, "Mad Cowboy" Howard Lyman, David Simon, and several others, were also the primary sources Kip always seemed to turn to as the ones who knew better than those others interviewed or declined interviews. Only those vegan "experts" were used as the protagonist's "A-team" in a way because pretty well everyone else interviewed were, in some way, made out to be either subtlety antagonistic or stand-offish with something dubious to hide. Exceptions were the animal activists who were undoubtedly anti-fishing (members of the Sea Shepherd) or anti-cattle (Wild Horse Preservation Campaign). The "expert" panel on the film had barely an ounce of knowledge or understanding of agriculture and/or the environment, especially with regards to raising and grazing cattle. Kip Anderson was absolutely clueless about the whole cattle-raising thing to begin with.   
The inaccuracies begin (and certainly don't end) with the erroneous data pulled from Livestock's Long Shadow (FAO, 2006). A graphic showed that animal agriculture was responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which was more than transportation at 13 percent. Yet there was absolutely no acknowledgement that one of the authors from that book--Pierre Gerber--openly agreed that that their calculations were wrong and off-base after Associate Professor and Director of Agricultural Air Quality Dr. Frank Mitloehner pointed out their mistake (proof here: UN admits flaw in report on meat and climate change). The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) has since corrected their calculations and released them in 2013 to 14.5%, which is actually less than the transportation sector (FAO Key facts and findings).  I didn't see anything of that nature on the film, nor any sort of recognition to it. Ironically though that very report, which is so often mentioned by all vegans and anti-cattle activists as being the one defining proof that animal agriculture is bad for the Earth, is actually quite pro-CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). It does not advocate nor really advise for a more sustainable means of raising cattle (i.e., holistic managed grazing practices), and certainly does NOT state any means to phase out meat eating. Also, according to an article from The Guardian, "Are claims that meat is a climate crime a load of hot air? asks Simon Fairlie,"  the FAO actually seemed to have arrived at the percentage by performing some questionable methodologies. 

The other GHG-related numbers that Cowspiracy used came from one particular non-peer-reviewed "scientific article" by from the World Watch Institute authored by Goodland and Anhang (2009). This particular report has been widely rejected by the real scientific community for the dubious methods and numbers calculated--if even that--which were used to bolster their outrageous conclusion that 51% of GHGs were created by livestock. A peer-reviewed rebuttal report compiled by several scientists well-versed in the environmental aspects of agriculture and livestock production showed how G&A made no effort to acknowledge the mitigation factors of  the main natural cycles (carbon, nitrogen, water), which makes up half of the equation of those cycles, and how various scenarios were made up so as to maximize emission numbers. More here: Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right. Not surprisingly, Cowspiracy didn't even bother mentioning that the World Watch report was a total joke nor even how G&A really came up with their outrageous number. All I could get was it was from calculating the amount of carbon emitted from respiration, waste production, and clear-cutting of forests for grazing. 

Cowspiracy's numbers on water consumption by cattle were inaccurate and just plain misleading. The host of the film claimed that it *supposedly* takes 2,500 gallons of water to make one pound of beef. Per my calculations and answer to another Quora question asking "How much water is needed to raise a cow for slaughter?"  I calculated that number out to be only between 140 to 200 gallons to make a pound of beef. And that was really only for the finishing phase. Some calculations for the rest of the animal's life were a lot more complex than what it seemed, especially since the larger an animal grew, the more water it would drink. But basically the film hinted that the number comes from the assumption that beef cattle are born and raised in the feedlot up to slaughter. This of course is not true. Cattle are held in the feedlot for only 4 to 6 months of the year before being sold to slaughter. They're fed feedstuffs which include grains (not solely though) that are more likely to have been irrigated than not depending on where such feeds are sourced. Before they got to the feedlot they were on pasture and on a forage-based diet, and many pastures are not irrigated. Quite frankly, about 75 percent of all cattle in the US alone are already on pasture. 
California was made as an example for concerns with water shortage, and blame, of course, was placed on animal agriculture. According to the film, 55 percent of water was dedicated to animal agriculture compared with only 5 percent for domestic use. (Note: Even though California is the top fourth state for number of cattle and calves in the country, it's not the top for beef production. California is much more a dairy state than a beef one. See here: http://www.beefusa.org/beefindus....) Also stated in the film was that 1500 gallons of water was used by Californians per person per day, and close to half is associated with meat and dairy products. This I found to be a bit misleading. According to the same link used on the Cowspiracy facts page, the latter half of that statement is actually based on California's water footprint by sector, not by how Californian's water use amounts were associated with what they ate! The pie chart on this site (California's Water Footprint, Pacific Institute (2012)) on page 3 certainly showed that 47 percent of water use was dedicated to meat and dairy production (and 46 percent to other agricultural uses), but it clearly stated on that page that "...especially large water footprints [were] due to the amount of water-intensive feed required to raise the animals." Only 1 percent of  water use goes into hydrating, washing and processing animals. The rest goes is used for growing feed and fodder for livestock in the form of alfalfa, pasture, corn and grain crops for silage, and hay. 
Water footprints over the entire nation I found to be taken out of context. The report on farm animal water footprint done by Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2012) had laid out the numbers in metric, not imperial. The stat for milk, for instance, was based on the global weighted average of 1,020 cubic metres per ton. It was also divided into three different categories: Green (precipitation), Blue (surface and ground water) and Grey (waste water). Milk water footprint had almost 90 percent green water, which is much less concerning than amount from blue and grey water. 
Methane production was stated to come primarily from cattle or enteric fermentation. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Even though cattle, and all other ruminants, do contribute a significant amount of methane, they are not the largest contributors. Wetlands, landfills and natural gas production and/or leakage are the three largest contributors to methane emissions. Not only that, but methane is actually less concerning than carbon dioxide. Methane may be more potent than carbon dioxide, but it has a much shorter half-life. According to this link (Phys.org - News and Articles on Science and Technology) methane has a half-life of only seven years. Compare that to carbon dioxide, which is more like 31 years (The lifetime of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide). The link on the EPA site does factually state that enteric fermentation is the second-highest methane contributor, but this is something that shouldn't cause much alarm because there have been many millions or billions of animals living on this earth for the past 80 million years that have been enteric fermentors themselves. And these animals have all naturally been a part of the carbon cycle.  
The film tried to claim that grass-fed beef or grazing cattle is bad for the planet--more damaging than feedlot beef--using, ironically, facts and statistics straight from the conventional/industrial cattle industry against the smaller, sustainable, regenerative cattle producers. Yet it completely misses the point that there has been grazing animals on the planet for eons, and much of the land that is being used for grazing has been adapted to be utilized by grazing animals over eons. Not only that, but all beef cattle are grass-fed, just not grass finished! So where there are currently around 90 million cattle, 9 million of that which are dairy cattle leaving around 80 million beef cattle (source: USDA Cattle Inventory as of July 24, 2015), less 12 million currently finished in feedlots, over 200++ years ago there was estimated that 70 million bison were present roaming and grazing much of the US and Canada. Let's not forget the vast elk and pronghorn herds that numbers in the tens of millions of well, both which were and are grazing animals. Cattle are no different at being as good grazers as bison were (and are), and bison are just as likely to severely overgraze an area as cattle are. Bison are also significant methane producers just like cattle are, and yet no heck is being raised for raising these critters for meat. (Study done on methane emissions of bison versus cattle here: Methane emissions from bison-An historic herd estimate for the North American Great Plains 
Additionally, cattle grazing is not a carbon source like factory or vehicle emissions are. Cattle grazing is actually just a natural part of the carbon cycle where cattle are the main management tool for grasslands and for plants in grasslands to sequester carbon from the atmosphere--including the carbon from their belches and flatulence--and put it back into the soil. Cattle grazing, when properly managed actually assists in maintaining and even increasing biodiversity of a rangeland than simply leaving it be. The key is proper grazing management. What was showed in the film was not based on the general consensus of the entire United States, but only a small area with a type of environment only found in that area. And they certainly showed the extremes: We were taken from a ranch with well-managed range land in the Sonoma and San Mateo counties of California, to severely overgrazed public grazing lands of Nevada held by the Bureau of Land Management. Yet we are forced to believe that pretty well all land in the US is like that of the BLM and rarely that like what the Markegard Family Grass-fed operation successfully has working for them. 
I found Anderson's attempts to extrapolate the acreage needed to get enough beef for everyone on Earth using grass-fed cattle was pathetic and comical at best. The number he came up with--3.7 billion acres of land needed to produce enough grass-finished beef for the entire population of the United States--was completely meaningless and absurdly inaccurate. Anderson was beyond clueless about how stocking rates were determined, and had no understanding of the management practices of that single ranch that he visited. Yet he based his calculations on that one single ranch, and made no attempts to understand how the family came up with their stocking rate--which was 1 cow per 10 acres--or how stocking rates vary widely across the entire country, all based on influential factors like types of grazing methods, location, climate, soil, vegetation, cow size, and many others. I genuinely feel sorry for the ranching family, because they certainly got fooled into allowing Kip to tour the ranch and couldn't really do anything to try to get him to understand anything about their diversified grass-fed operation. From what I have seen, they have to account for the raising of pigs, sheep, cattle, and chickens on their land. That means four species to manage. For them 1 cow per ten acres is sufficient because they still have enough room for grazing sheep and feeding pigs and chickens without running the risk of overgrazing the land or degrading other sensitive habitats on the ranch. 
Leading to this was the topic on Allan Savory. It really bothered me that Anderson considered Savory to "definitely be not someone [he] would take ecological advice from," all because Savory made the mistake of thinking that culling elephant herds by the tens of thousands would improve the already degraded land some 40 years ago. Of course his theory was wrong. He openly admitted that and has admitted that many times. But that's no reason to not trust Savory with ecological advice on best grazing practices. I'd sooner trust someone who openly admits to his faults and has moved forward with a solution that has proven to be better for the future, than someone who dwells in the past and can't get out of it to make better the future, all because of a particular mistake that seems so dastardly it shouldn't be ignored. Besides he has openly stated, just like with the elephants, how he has learned from this serious mistake in order to make better management decisions to improve and/or maintain range management practices. Most importantly, he practices what he preaches. So he is more than qualified to advocate holistic management practices for other cattlemen to adopt and incorporate into their operations however they may. I will never say the same about the "experts" on this film. They're as qualified to educate consumers about cattle grazing as a welder is qualified to tell someone how to dress via the latest fashion trend. 
Cattle grazing has nothing to do with destruction of the rainforest either. Many activists attribute the destruction of the rainforest to cattle production. Truthfully, and historically, forests have been destroyed for crop production. Crops include sugarcane and soybeans, the latter which goes to Asian markets and overseas markets, not to American feed or soy market. Once the soil of deforested areas is abused to the point where crops won't grow anymore, grass is planted and used for raising livestock on. It's pretty difficult to graze cattle on deforested land that isn't first cleared off and the soil laid bare for seeds to be sown. Better off planting crops than putting grass down for cattle; one can get income faster with the former than the latter.

The attempts to sensationalize livestock manure production was particularly amusing. Despite the machine-gun-statistics thrown out purely for shock value, there was no acknowledgement on how livestock manure is one of the best natural fertilizers to use for crops and pastures.  And yet they try to shock everyone by stating how the amount of manure produced per day or second or whatever would be enough to bury several large metropolitan cities. I guess it wasn't in their interest to show how manure is spread out onto fields and incorporated into the soil to help plants grow. No, they just had to lie by using a silly graphic showing how millions of tons of manure leach into water ways and eventually the ocean causing these massive oceanic dead-zones. (Sorry, but it's the NPK fertilizer used to grow crops that contribute to this in much, much larger part than manure from "factory-farmed cows.") 
Every livestock producer always makes sure that there is a relatively even layer of manure on the land over time, no matter if it's cropland or pasture land, spread by the animals themselves or via machinery. Manure contributes to increased organic matter in addition to the plant matter left behind after grazing, and increases the nutrient load of soil through the nitrogen and phosphorus content often found in manure. (Note that cattle aren't grazed so that everything is removed. Cattle are and should be grazed so that over 40 to 70% of plant matter is left behind when they're moved to the next pasture or paddock.) The only problem that manure will create is when it accumulates in piles or lagoons from confined intensive feeding operations and overflows during a storm, or when it's stored improperly, or accumulation comes so fast there's issues with what to do with it all. But when there's a lot of land available to put the manure on, and other producers may be willing to have the manure from that operation put on their land, these issues become considerably uncommon. 

Overall, the inaccurate and misleading information was certainly cause for concern, but so was the superficiality.  No alternative view of a world without livestock was envisioned in the film. Questions came up like why is a monoculture wheat or soybean field considered better than a polyculture pasture or native grassland with animals on it? How would the land of abandoned farmland be utilized if it's unsuitable for growing crops for a new plant-based dietary society? Would there be any means of preserving lands which rely on large ruminant animals like cattle or would they just be left to be turned into bushy, forested "waste" or wildland? Should people be more connected to the land or continue to rely on industrial or intensive farming to feed them? Many more questions can be added to this.

Cowspiracy is a film that pushes one single extremist agenda which conforms to a particularly "extreme almost religious belief in the form of a diet already predetermined in the film. It doesn't leave an open-ended question to engage in discussion about agriculture and food and to help us to decide what to eat and why. A documentary film should be ending with thought-provoking, open-ended questions for us to discuss, not one that has a seemingly easy solution dressed up with shock-value and parroted facts and numbers for the vegangical sheeples to use. This film, in my opinion, is a conspiracy in and of itself, and not a means to educate consumers at all. It's more of a means fill the heads of the gullible and clueless with lies, misinformation and misconceptions about an industry they have no clue about so as to further an agenda of a world that so few hope will go vegan.

July 26, 2015

What Does Agriculture Mean To You?


K-Days in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada means midway rides, deep-fried fast food, skill-testing competitions for prizes, and plenty of exhibits to check out. One of those exhibits I checked out was the Martin Deereline Farm.

The Farm had everything to do with farming: crop displays, livestock, tractor displays supplied by Martin Deereline (John Deere to everyone else), and horses, of course. There were also a wealth of educational displays and materials for people to read and learn about the animals and crops there. It was an exhibition that was catered for non-agricultural people, city folk, urbanites, you get my drift.

What stuck out for me in that particular exhibit was a large sheet of paper with several sharpie markers attached to string so people could write on that paper their thoughts on agriculture. Specifically, to answer the question, "WHAT DOES AG. MEAN TO YOU?"

I started reading some of the responses and even seen a couple I wanted to address which I did get to later, when three boys, who looked like they were fresh from the frat house, came up and seen too the opportunity to write up something on the wall. I didn't want to stand around and watch, so I wandered off to give them some time to write whatever it was they were wanting to write before I meandered back.

Of course by the time I got back, five minutes later, they were still there and giggling over something obviously stupid that someone like me would give the eye-roll to. But it didn't take them long to finally leave so I could get back and write up something myself. 

Except that what wanted to write and did write, really did and does not matter in so much as what was already written there. (Personally I don't think I need to put down what I wrote on here because with this blog, my answer is pretty self-explanatory, and is already reiterated below.) And It was three particular things written on that sheet of paper that irked me so much that I want to discuss them here.

One particular note that bothered me more than anything was a rather indifferent response to (and I'm paraphrasing here because I cannot remember exactly what was said): "Agriculture is a way of life centred around hard-working people who make a living to feed the world." And what did that great little note get?

"Nobody cares."

Well fly me to Tuktoyaktuk and abandon me in the middle of nowhere! How so damn indifferent can a person get?? My immediate reaction is, "oh, bullshit nobody cares!"  If nobody cares then why is literally everyone still buying food from the grocery store, farmer's markets, restaurants, fast food joints, food trucks and even food vendors at K-Days?! Why does everyone where clothes that more than likely have cotton, wool, hemp, linen, etc.? And why are people able to be living in the city, have non-agricultural jobs, travel, and do all the things they can and want to do without worrying about where to get their food every waking hour of every day?? How can they not care about what agriculture means to them, or to someone else, when they EAT?

So I wrote, circling the response as I did: "If you eat, you do."  In other words if you're human and feel the primal urge to consume nutritious substances so that you can not only satiate that hunger but continue to live and function and do the things you  want to do, then you bet your boots you damn well care. Because if we didn’t have agriculture, most of us would be soon starving to death when all the food runs out and nobody knows how to raise crops or animals to meet that demand. Yeah, if nobody cares then we might as well be robots!

The second note that I found to be slightly less offensive than the first was one of the notes that those three damn fools left behind and were more than likely giggling over: "Um, … I'm a vegan."

THIS one deserves the indifferent, "Nobody cares," response! Because well and truly, no-one gives a rat's left testicle about what diet a person follows if the question is to ask what does agriculture mean to them.  I wrote, "So? Diet doesn't matter because everyone needs agriculture to produce the food that suits what they choose to eat. Being a vegan still means that you need agriculture to feed you and it still means that agriculture is worth something to you."

Seriously, I don't care if you're vegan, vegetarian, piscetarian, omnivore, or even an outright carnivore. Nobody should care. The point is that agriculture must mean something of value to you because it's agriculture that supplies you with the food you need or want to eat to satisfy whatever diet you choose to follow. Modern society, and global food production, has allowed for a more diverse array of diets to be more possible. It's food production on a global scale that is the fundamental existence of agriculture. Being vegan or omnivore still means you are heavily reliant on agriculture to feed you.  That's the bottom line. Unless you rely solely on food you have hunted or foraged for. But even growing your own food still counts as an agricultural venture, even if it's not exactly "farming" per se.

The final thing that bothered me were the few notes telling people to, "follow me on instagram,  etc. @xxxx" some social-media clap-trap I've never heard before that apparently the younger folk find all the rage these days. Nothing else, just some silly "follow me!" notes. Either they didn't know what to say, how to answer the question, or just didn't care and were more concerned about getting more followers on their social media accounts than what agriculture means to them. I found that depressing.

Depressing because it shows the decline in people not only being more aware of how agriculture affects their lives and their choices, but also how much they care. Of course the whole point of having that exhibit was to teach more people about farming and raise awareness that it's a fact of life and it does exist outside of the city, and is not some unknown alien thing to fear that came from some far-away planet. But I feel that there needs to be a way to encourage people to care more about where their food, clothes, hygiene products and other items come from and appreciate that they came from products grown and raised on the farm.

On the advocating websites for agriculture, like AgricultureMoreThanEver.ca, and from other blogging farmers that have been in the business for several decades to I hear a lot about a need for farmers and those in agriculture to not show how much they know, but how much they care. And in showing how much they care, the urge is to write about and display pictures of what they are doing and how they do it. This supposedly is supposed to educate the consumer about what farmers do for a living and how they do it.

But now I'm wondering how can we get consumers to care more about what they eat than how many more followers they can get on their Instagram or Tumblr accounts? How can we, as agriculturalists, farmers, ranchers and agvocates, come up with a solution to get a largely urban population more aware of where their food comes from than what's trying to be done now?

It's so much harder to influence those who really don't care compared with those who might care and end up caring to want to learn more. The brick wall is those who don't care. We can only hope that some day they'll finally wake up to their senses and realize that what they didn't care about in the past matters to them now in a much more significant way than they could have ever dreamed.

So, what does agriculture mean to you?

June 28, 2015

Cattle Raised on Grass Does NOT Equate to "Grass-fed Beef"

"Doesn't grass fed beef constitute only 3% of US output? How do you shut down every CAFO and turn those animals out on grass?" 
"Only 3% of US beef is raised on grass. CAFO's raise the rest—because it's more resource efficient."
These sentiments echo the fundamental misconceptions that almost everyone, these days, seem to have about cattle on grass. These quotes tell us about the misconception that cattle raised on grass somehow equates to grass-fed beef. They also tell us that these same people seem to think that, like dairy cattle, chickens and hogs, beef cattle are stuffed in a barn or an open dirt lot and are born and raised on grains and other feed brought to them for their entire lives.

To this extent, I've been told by another that my blog "does advocate grass fed beef." If that were the case, then why was my last post about what's wrong with grass-fed beef? Let alone the question as to why I'm writing this particular piece today!

True that grass-fed beef only makes up a tiny portion of beef sold nation-wide across the United States and Canada. But this certainly does not mean that only 3% of all beef cattle, in the US or elsewhere, are raised on grass, as per the latter quote.

In truth, all beef cattle are raised on grass. Yes, I do mean the 89.1 million beef cattle in the United States, as well as the 10 million beef cattle here in Canada. And as far as current cattle inventories are concerned (as of July 1, 2015, the total number of cattle in the USA is 98.4 million cattle, which means I'm excluding the 9.3 million dairy cattle that are primarily in CAFOs to get the beef cattle number), I could see a few hundred thousand more cattle or more that could be raised on grass. But that maybe mostly wishful thinking.

In the United States, 12.1 million cattle are on the feedlot being raised conventionally for beef, and these are made of mainly beef cattle, though dairy cattle also remain a significant constituent as well. As to what percent I am not sure at the moment. This means that these cattle have been born on pasture--on grass--and raised, on grass, for at least 12 to 18 months of their lives, before being shipped off to the feedlot to be finished for the last few months of their lives on a high-concentrate diet that is usually 80% grain.

But even dairy cattle have been on grass before being put in the milking parlour. Dairy heifers, once off the bottle, get to see some pasture for almost a year before they are put into the milking schedule inside the barn. The dairy cull bull and heifer calves--though there's not many of the latter compared with the former--will see pasture before being put in the feedlot for finishing. And I'm talking dairy beef here, not veal. Veal is another topic I might cover some other time in the future.

Now, what about that other 77 million head? Well, they're on grass too. These are your breeding animals, your beef cows, replacement heifers and bulls, with the cow and heifer total population out-numbering the bull population by about 25 to 1 because you don't need a bull for every cow or heifer on the farm or ranch. These cattle are what make up the vast majority of cattle raised on grass from birth right up to their death. And these animals aren't always on lush green picturesque pastures reminiscent of your Hollywood a-typical farm scene like that from Babe or Charlotte's Web. A lot of these cows and bulls are out on native grassland rangeland of the prairies or rugged forested lands, and it's land that is rough, rugged, and tough. Tough enough that a range beef cow like those rough-looking ol' Hereford and Angus cows could survive to live another day, but a Holstein wouldn't stand a chance.

So do most people truly understand what grass-fed beef means? The answer to that is clearly no, not at all. And that is coming from directly discussing the concepts and practices of grazing cattle with other people. So let me briefly explain.

There is a rather huge difference between raising cattle on grass and grass-fed beef. Raising cattle on grass is simply allowing cattle ad libitum, yet controlled access to pasture. It doesn't have to be confined to the growing season as a lot of grazing does happen outside the time when grass is growing, nor does it mean that cattle are strictly on grass with no other supplements or inputs.  The supplements and inputs are used or applied when necessary. Raising cattle on grass covers a very broad spectrum because it can encompass all cattle types, from lactating dairy cows to weaned beef stocker calves and everything else in between: beef cow-calf pairs, bulls, replacement beef and dairy heifers, veal calves, etc.

And for most cattlemen, the term "raising cattle on grass" is grass-fed cattle, because as I mentioned above, all beef cattle that are raised are certainly grass-fed. But it's not the same, still, as "grass-fed beef" or "grass-fed and -finished" cattle.

Grass-fed beef then, is not only marketing of beef from cattle that have been finished on grass instead of grain, but also the practice of finishing cattle on grass rather than grain. Understandably it would mean cattle on strictly grass and nothing else, but as I explained in my previous post "What's Wrong with Grass Fed Cattle," grass-fed is not nor should be limited to cattle grazing leguminous forbs like alfalfa and trefoil. And finishing cattle on grass takes a bit more than just raising cattle on grass or having grass-fed cattle.

Where people get the idea that beef cattle are born and raised on CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) is beyond me, but the only people I can blame for that are the animal activists. Those are the kind of people that have good intentions of wanting to get the truth out about the conditions and treatment of animals raised for food, fur, entertainment and companionship, but the results of actually telling the truth are abysmal to say the least. As an old proverb goes, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

So let them eat grass! And supplement with grain and/or cubes whenever you deem is necessary. Because the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to Heaven is paved with good works.




An aside: Although the quotes above are about resource use of land and feed for cattle in feedlots or CAFOs versus pasture or rangeland, I merely wished to peruse the concept of grass-fed beef versus raising cattle on grass. Some time, sooner or later, I will cover the discussion and debates surrounding resource use of raising cattle on pasture versus the feedlot.