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.