February 28, 2015

Cattle Grazing Should Not Mean CAFO Operations.

Last week there was a really interesting audio clip on a ranch research station utilizing the old Spanish Criollo cattle as a means to fight drought in an arid climate such asthat in New Mexico. The Jornada Ranch introduced these cattle in efforts to improve rangeland and create an environment that would ideally resemble that of what the Spanish would've seen when they came over the Atlantic over 500 years ago. The advantage of using these cattle is that they are hardier and smaller than the "conventional" cattle raised in America being mostly Angus and Hereford commercial bred and cross-bred with mix of other breeds. They're also the foundation stock for the development of the well-known American breeds Texas Longhorn, Corriente, Florida Cracker and others.

The reasons I was attracted to the page with the audio clip though, was more than just that. Disqus is a conversation engine where millions of people can engage in conversations, discussions and even arguments (I think the Disqus team would like to make that into a more euphemism-phrase of "lively conversation" moreso than "argument"), and it’s through there that I got involved in some "lively conversations" on that very page with a vegan touting the anti-meat, cattle-grazing-is-destructive campaign.

I got from such conversations with this vegan that those who are vehemently opposed to anything and everything involved with animal agriculture and eating meat just don't have a clue what they're talking about. (Oh they know what they're opposing, but how they understand it and what they understand is something else all together.) Because if it's all about meat production, someone's gotta be screaming calamities about it. Case in point: Everything this woman started ranting on about was "factory farming." Factory farming! Not cattle grazing, Factory Farming. Raising poultry, pigs and dairy cows in confined, indoor areas for eggs, meat and milk in that order. As a farm girl and someone who has gotten experienced in dealing with these kind of people, nothing should surprise me, and admittedly it didn't surprise me, but it didn't fail to astonish me either.

Now I don't want to go into details about the whole discussions that I and some other like-minded friends had with this old gal, but I do want to make note of the fact that when a discussion about cows and grazing comes up, it does not equate to confined animal feeding operations that contain their animals in artificial environments and stores manure in liquid manure storage facilities. No doubt it's a person's prerogative to state their opinions, but they have no right to distort facts and bring up a topic that is irrelevant to what was first initiated. 

What ARAs envision when they
hear the words "cows" and "grazing" 
Just because an article or audio clip mentions "cows" and "grazing" it should not automatically equate to a knee-jerk reaction of critiquing CAFO operations. Animal rights activists, we get it that you hate CAFOs, but might I suggest you stop reacting and become more proactive if you want to actually get involved in civilized conversations and not be shown you're a lot dumber than you think of yourself. 

I've also noticed almost all vegans and animal rights start touting the Cowspiracy film like it's gospel every time something like a topic on cattle ranching or cattle grazing comes up. While I have never seen the film (yet), from the many reviews I've been reading on it as well as the posts on the Cowspiracy Facebook page, I can tell  I'm going to hate it when I see it. It really sounds like a film that is just as bad as a vegan propaganda piece as Earthlings. I've no idea when I will do some blog posts on this film, but when I do I can assure you they'll be some real doozies that will make the film nothing more than a worthless piece of hype based on pseudo-science and fear-mongering. 

Cowspiracy has been shown to put Allan Savory's methods as nothing more than BS, yet continually I see people who downplay Savory's conservation methods or think them as impractical solutions to ecologically preserve grasslands fundamentally fail to understand the core basis of what Savory has been trying to achieve. I'm not going to mention or go through the comments I've seen on the page, but I'll say most of them are just down right stupid and always fail to prove that Cowspiracy's followers truly understand how cattle grazing is much more beneficial to the environment than any kind of ecological method that a vegan would come up with as a "good" solution. 

Not even the vegan on the Disqus comments could offer any better ecological methods than using cattle as a means to improve rangeland health. All I saw were the same old sentiments of "taking out the middle man" with crop production, and even implying ploughing under grasslands for more crop production. Yes, such sentiments do make me cringe. 

I've yet to see a vegan finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that all they've been told or have believed is wrong. Then again, when they do finally realize it, they can't be vegan anymore. Examples: Nicole Hahn Niman, Jude Capper, and others I can't think of off hand whom I've grown quite fond of through books and social media. My hat's off to ladies like these two. 

February 14, 2015

Another Confirmed Case of BSE in Canada

Well, here we go again, 2015 and another confirmed case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or "Mad Cow Disease") popping up here in Canada, four years after the last confirmed case in 2011, and 12 years since the major hit to the market that the lone-cow case in Alberta created in 2003. 

But here's the more sunny side of the coin: It's showing that our system is working. The surveillance program, and total ban on feeding any by-product that contains the ground-up remains of other animals--called animal by-product--to ruminants is showing that yes, we may get a few cases popping up here and there on occasion, but they are no longer a risk of going into the food chain for humans or other animals, because like this cow that the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) reported to the media, they don't. 

It certainly brings back some bad memories for ranchers and other cattlemen and -women like myself, some 12 years ago. It's hard to sell any cattle when the prices that were supposed to be at an all-time-high came plummeting down so hard that anybody trying to sell any cattle wouldn't get near their penny's worth. To make matters worse, many ranchers had to sell off or sell out creating even more of a bottle neck of cattle that had no place to go once processed for beef--due to 40 some countries or markets putting up the brick walls to Canadian beef. Heck, when we had our steers just about ready to sell to the local feedlot we didn't even know if we were going to sell them at all. Of course, we were just a backgrounding operation and not a cow-calf one that felt it even moreso. 

In reading some of the comments on the CTV News article I linked above I still get appalled by the ignorance of some people. Vegans pushing their reasons to not eat beef or why raising cattle is so environmentally harmful, non-farmers saying it's "simple" that ranchers and farmers shouldn't be feeding their cows meat...even one that said, "farmers deserve to be punished if they are continuing to feed the cattle contaminated food products [sic]." Can't do nothing but shake my head.

The thing is, farmers and ranchers are not feeding their cows meat or animal by-products. It's illegal to do so and has been since the mid 1990s. The feed that was fed to the animal, and others who may have also been fed it, was more than likely accidentally contaminated, or accidentally fed to the animals about 10 years ago (the length of time it takes a prion to incubate in the animal). The CFIA will do the traceability checks to see what was fed and where this cow came from, but I'd be surprised if something like this was done on purpose, especially after the scare in 2003. 

The news article above also stated that the 2003 lone Alberta cow was "Canadian-born", but I had initially thought that it was an American-born cow that was imported to Canada, and I still think those reports are correct, as far as I can remember. That's why I'm putting my money on that the cow in question may have come from the States, but I could be wrong. It's just that the US doesn't have as stringent a ban on feed to ruminants (cows, sheep, goats and deer) as Canada does, which gives me, I would think, one valid reason to suspect that this new case came from across the border. 

I'm certainly going to keep my ears and eyes wide open for any new developments in this latest bovine-related story.


February 8, 2015

Cattle Grazing Makes for some Beautiful Alberta Country!

The following is a collection pictures I took when I was working with a rangeland research team out of the University of Alberta. They are certainly not in chronological order, but that shouldn't matter because I want to show you just how beautiful land can be when proper grazing management practices are used with cattle as the primary tool, which is something that I strongly promote and may cover more in later blog posts. I was involved with doing multiple projects at multiple places across this great province, from putting down litter bags to doing range health assessments. 

This is a ranch and the subsequent foothills near Stavely, Alberta, Canada. I was with a rangeland research crew putting out litter bags for a carbon study all over central and southern Alberta. The clouds certainly put a more majestic look to the graceful foothills sitting east of the Rocky Mountains. The fence off to the right is of an exclosure made by the provincial range management team to do research on effects of grazing and no grazing on plants and the Foothills plant community.

Waldron Ranch, about 200 miles south of Calgary and around 30 miles north of Pincher Creek. Recently late last year the Nature Conservancy of Canada put a permanent conservation easement on this land--all 30,500+ acres of it. This is just one little piece my rangeland team got to see and travel on--by foot only, we couldn't drive to where we had to put in the litter bags. It was a good three-mile hike to get to this very spot inland, and of course there was always the threat of grizzlies or black bears hanging around in this area. This was taken in the remaining days of May, so the grass hasn't quite reached its potential yet, even though it looks quite green and lush. This land is one piece of the remaining foothills fescue grasslands left in Canada. Yes, those are the famous Rockies way off in the distance!

This is right in the Rockies, just on edge of the Alberta-British Columbia border (behind where I took this picture) in southwestern Alberta, just a 30 minute drive west of Pincher Creek. The purple flowers in here are all mountain shooting stars, and I think the yellow ones are in relation to the onion or dill family, I never did get  the time to ID them. This area is part of the Rocky Mountain Grazing Reserve which stretches from Waterton Lakes National Park all the way north past Jasper National Park to, I think, Grande Cache, and east to Rocky Mountain House.

This was taken at the Kinsella ranch, one of the two research ranches owned and operated by the U of Alberta. What you're seeing is part of a grazing reserve that takes care of the last little bit of native Aspen Parkland vegetation left in Alberta. but there are several smaller grazing reserves that keep these native rangelands intact. If you're interested in what plants are shown in here, that silvery shrubby stuff off on the left is wolf willow. Aspen and Poplar trees are also primary in the landscape, and a little bit of pasture sage (silver stuff in the foreground) is also present. I can't remember what grasses were there, but I think there was a mix of fescue, needle grass, wheatgrass, brome, and other native (and a few non-native) species.

Northern part of the Mattheis Ranch (of the U of Alberta), north of Brooks, Alberta. Taken in late June, and quite the prairie sky! Oh it looks flat, but let me tell you this land is far from it. I'm pretty sure the settlers seeing all this from their wagons that came through here had the same thoughts, but didn't notice the gently sloping hills and valleys that created places for animals--and First Nations--to hide. Walking on this land myself I found quite a few hills and valleys that could make my colleague and I invisible from the cow herd, even from each other on occasion!

This is where the Dry Mixed Prairie lies, and it was supposed to be dry, but due to climate change and a lot of awesome thunderstorms rolling through during my multiple stays on this ranch, and the amount of rain we'd get from the storms, I don't know much about the "dry" part anymore. But damn, it got hot some days! Plus 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in the sun, but you couldn't wear shorts and a T-shirt long without significant amounts of bug spray because there were deer flies and horse flies out for blood. Literally! I got bit a few times, but at least I could feel them before those nasty P.O.S insects started digging in for dinner. And don't get me started on the mosquitoes. You'd think the real boreal parts get it bad with mosquitoes!

Anyway, this ranch had a huge host of plant life. This area is actually the more wetter part of the ranch. Those clumps of green in the background are invasive cicer milkvetch moving in. That's the bad thing. The good thing is that the cows love them and eat them down to almost nothing when they're in to graze. Lots of needle-and-thread grass, blue grama, wheatgrass, no fescue (too dry and hot), and a lot of forbs like pasture sage, prairie sage, milkvetch (I think we counted at least four or five different species of milkvetch), pincushion and prickly pear cacti, sweet clover, and many others. Even seen some poisonous arrow weed too.

I couldn't get a good picture of the more drier part of Mattheis Ranch, but this one should suffice:

These are definitely pronghorn right in southern Alberta, and they were one of the several wildlife I got to see during my summer job. This is the more drier part of the ranch (more eastern part), with a lot of vegetative sand-dunes in the background, and plenty of different types of vegetation.

Rumsey Grazing Reserve north of Drumheller. Hard to believe this is actually north of Drumheller by just 20 some miles. This is Aspen Parkland area, and yep those are cows grazing in the background. Oh it's hilly all right, it's fun walking up and down those what we range nerds and ranchers call "knobs and kettles," landscape formations formed by the receding glaciers that covered and carved out this land many, many years ago. I was helping with range health assessments on this land, and seen a lot of rose and raspberry bushes to clip and walk through. We had nettles and thistles too. And yes I did get to step in a very fresh cow pie, not that I complained about it. :)

It looks dry because it was dry. But certainly not "overgrazed." There was a lot of vegetation for those cows and calves to eat, and the area they were grazing was quite large, so they had a lot of land to cover.

This is in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, right in the very southeast corner of Alberta. This picture didn't do much justice, but I can assure you it was one of the more beautiful places I've been to. You wouldn't believe how much plant biodiversity was here! I think one quadrat (just a small, 2 ft x 2 ft square) yielded about 30 species of plants alone, from Purple Lupine (purple flowers you're seeing here), to Brown-eyed Susans (yellow flowers in this pic), juniper, fescue grass, different wheatgrasses and brome grasses, prairie rose, several different species of cinquefoil and milkvetch, clovers, blue bells, yarrow (the white flowers you see in the foreground), and many others.  And this is all managed by grazing cattle. That's all Douglas Fir in the background, the trees that make up Cypress Hills park that are like an oasis in the middle of a prairie. Here's a few more pictures around where we were doing our range assessments:

Now these are just a fraction of the pictures I took while I was out on the summer. But I hope you get a sense of how great landscapes really look when properly managed using managed grazing techniques, and enjoyed the armchair scenery trip of parts of Alberta, Canada.