December 7, 2017

Misinformation and Misunderstanding: An Activist Confuses Grass for Grain for Cattle

It's funny how animal rights activists pride themselves in how they believe that they know everything about animal agriculture and livestock, from the history of agriculture to digestive physiology to grazing management. They believe that they know it all so much that they feel the need to "educate" a farmer about how much "better" it would be if animals are raised a different way, or not raised at all. 

The problem is that they've got themselves so deeply convinced that they know it all--I've heard also how they quickly try to cover their asses by claiming that they don't try or wish to call themselves "experts" on agriculture, even though their contributions to a debate with me to prove me wrong make themselves appear otherwise--that they become blind to the fact that they don't know a damn thing of what they're talking about. They get so stupid that they don't even know they're that stupid.

I'm ARA bashing, I know, but there's a reason for it. About a month ago I got into a debate with one such ARA who figured he's heard "all the meat-eater arguments" and knows all the rebuttals to such arguments. But there's just too big of an elephant in the room to ignore: He honestly didn't. 

This particular activist, whose name I won't mention here nor what animal activist organization he's a part of (although he's a part of one of those organizations that condones the actions of stealing or "liberating" animals as a means to "rescue" them), thought that he could provide a good rebuttal to some of the farming arguments that actual farmer or agriculturally-literate folk were providing. I kept a few of his gems to talk about on here to make a couple more posts on. 

The first one he made was in response to this, by my farmer-friend "Rich":
"How do you propose to grow crops in areas that are very arid, and feed people? Without massive amounts of irrigation, YOU [CANNOT]. [It's] not even sustainable, let alone regenerative. However you can grow livestock (they can walk to water sources, plants can not) and the livestock have been shown in many cases to improve arid grassland areas and reverse desertification. Remove animals from an ecosystem and [you're] doomed to failure."
Here's the young know-it-all ARA's comedy-gold response that I want to talk about today:
"Re: Growing crops in arid environments is not possible, but raising animals is: It's not possible to raise animals without growing crops as well. To produce one pound of cow flesh, you must feed ten pounds of grain. People who live in arid environments and choose to raise animals are forced to either import feed or grow it themselves, with much difficulty. It would be much more sustainable to directly eat the grain."
To me, who comes from a farm and has immersed herself quite a bit into regenerative agriculture and grazing management, this response from the ARA is quite amusing, to say the least. For those of you  who aren't as knowledgable about farming and grazing practices who may not share my thoughts and may start thinking that the ARA is making sense, then let me take you further to explain why this young activist is proving himself to be the poster-child for the Dunning-Krueger Effect.

And, you get to see why I don't like ARAs very much.

The Assumption that Cows Need Grain 

While I do realize that Rich could have been a little more clearer about the fact of the matter that cows need and eat grass more than they do grain, the ARA here has clearly made the assumption that cows require grain all through their life, including the cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this) argument that "it's not possible to raise animals without growing crops as well."

Unless I make an argumentum ad logicam (argument to logic) fallacy, the ARA is creating the kind of fallacy that assumes that, because raising animals and grain production occurred around the same time agriculture first started, therefore it must be that animals need grain to live. The logic he was making was mistaking correlation for causation.

That is assuming that the definition for "crops" in the context of the ARA's argument/statement above, is primarily that of short-lived plants grown for the harvest of seed (i.e., grain, oilseeds, pulses) on arable or cultivated land. Thing is, to be really technical, pastures and hay lands could also by lumped under the much broader definition of crops which is the growing and harvesting a variety of plants for food and feed purposes of people and animals, further brought together as "forage crops" or even "perennial forage crops." However, since the ARA's statement is directly correlated to cultivated annual crops, I wouldn't be making an argument-to-logic fallacy.

Therefore, the fact that the advent of raising farm animals and the growing of grain and other food crops occurred at the same time does not mean that farm animals need grain for their survival. In reality, for most farm animals--particularly cows and cattle--they really can do just fine without.

That's what Rich was trying to teach the ARA about above. Animals, particularly cattle and cows, don't need grain to survive, much less to be raised. Cattle are ruminant animals, with a four-chambered stomach specially designed for digesting and breaking down the kind of plant matter that we humans cannot eat, thanks to several million microbes living in their rumens. Because of this they can thrive just fine on grass and other edible forbs (including legumes like alfalfa) without needing that grain.

The only time cattle need grain is if the plants aren't meeting their nutritional requirements, or the cattle themselves are metabolically not suited to such a roughage diet.

It's like this: Putting a herd of Holsteins (your average black-and-white dairy cows) out on native grassland would be animal abuse because those cows are not genetically, or rather metabolically equipped or adapted to thrive on such coarse forage. They'd starve to death with their stomachs full of the stuff.

But when you get beef cattle like Herefords or Texas Longhorns on that same patch of ground, they're much more likely to gain weight and/or produce enough good-quality milk to raise some nice healthy calves. These are just two exemplary breeds of course, but other grassy-type breeds like Devons, Red Polls, Galloways, and the more hardier heritage bloodlines of the Aberdeen Black/Red Angus breed would do just as well.

The thing is, for a farmer to have their cows earn their keep on a pasture-based operation, those cows need to be able to gain and produce milk on forage (grass and legumes primarily) alone. Feeding grain should be a rarity, not a regular occurrence. If a farmer's cows are needing to be fed grain on a regular basis, then it might be time to think about a) changing the genetics of the cowherd, and/or b) take a step back and see what else may be wrong with how things are being managed.

There is No "Must" With Finishing Cattle on Grain

The fact is that the ARA completely missed the point that Rich was directly talking about raising cattle on grass. Not grain. So our ARA friend just had to throw in the parroted rhetorical strawman fallacy phrase, "To produce one pound of cow flesh, you must feed ten pounds of grain." Does that not help the ARA's stance much on this subject? No, I didn't think so. Nor does it help that the ARA's continuing on with is cum hoc fallacy arguments.

So I hope you can tell that the ARA was all over the feedlot model, not the grass-finishing model, and couldn't discern the difference. Once again, if you haven't noticed already, Rich was talking about grazing cattle on grass, not feeding them grain. Talk about taking things out of context. 

You see now how this ARA is a poster-child for the Dunning-Krueger Effect?

So once again, because cattle are ruminant animals designed to live and thrive on primarily grass, there is no "must" with feeding grain to even get a steer up to slaughter weight. None whatsoever.

The only reason you "must" feed grain to cattle is because it's a much quicker way to get finisher cattle fatter in a shorter amount of time. Grain and stored feed also ensures that a feedlot operation can finish cattle and truck them out to the slaughter plant at any time of the year. It's also been the answer since the 1950s for cheaper, more marbled (fatter) beef by an increasingly urbanized consumer population.

Grass-finishing, on the other hand, is seasonal; according to folks like Joel Salatin and Nicolette Hahn Niman (author of Defending Beef), the best time to send grass-finishers to slaughter is between the first killing frost and the leaves turning colour to get the best flavour and quality beef. It also takes longer for cattle to reach the right age and weight for slaughter.

But still, there is no "must" in feeding grain to cattle. Only if you're striving for quicker, fatter, bigger, younger and don't care much for quality of the beef.

I know I'm making a bit of a straw man fallacy here, so forgive me. The ARA is close to being right that about that amount of grain needs to be fed to get a pound of beef (actually it's more closer to 6 pounds, not 10 [which is a 1950s value]), and especially that it's not as nearly as efficient as feeding grain to pigs or poultry.

But the reality is that cattle are more healthier and happier being raised on perennial forage. I'm pretty sure that a steer would sooner be out grazing a tasty perennial salad bar full of different species of plants and getting moved to a new grazing spot every one to three days, than he would standing around in a dirt lot full of dust or mud when it rains, and having the nearly same damn feed mix to eat day after day, twice a day, for four to eight months long.

I know. I've seen how steers react when they get the opportunity to eat fresh grass over the same old hay, silage and some grain. If you had them to choose between some silage that's been fermenting and put out for them at the bunks and a sward of fresh grass, they would go for the grass first and ignore the silage. That's why for most folks who do the conventional way of feeding cattle through the winter need to keep their animals in the dry lot to clean up the silage pile before they go to grass. Otherwise, if those animals went to grass first before the silage pile was cleaned up, it would be mighty hard to get them to clean it all up in time to get the pens cleaned out in the spring.

And for the farmer, it's a lot cheaper to graze than it is to feed. It doesn't take a whole lot of money to make grass grow. But money needs to change hands if a farmer needs to get or even grow some grain to feed his cows. Same with making or buying hay and silage.

If there's more than one way to raise and finish cattle on grass to get a quarter tonne of beef per animal without breaking the bank in the long term and without causing harm to the landscape by avoiding poor management practices (like "free-ranging"), then why is there a "must" with feeding grain to cattle to get the same product when it costs a lot more--both financially and ecologically--to do so? It makes no sense!

It's Near Impossible to Grow Grain in Arid Environments

I found it very ironic that the ARA literally confirmed--repeated, more like--what producer Rich said above with this statement,"People who live in arid environments and choose to raise animals are forced to either import feed or grow it themselves, with much difficulty." But wait until you see what this particular sentence lead into below! 

It's one of those, "No shit, Sherlock!" moments that still completely missed the point that Rich was directly referring to grazing cattle grass, not feeding them grain. 

Because this ARA made the cum hoc fallacy above about can't raise animals without raising crops too, he's got it in his head that cattle can't be raised in arid environments either because they need these crops to keep them alive, which is a load of bullshit. 

Yes, ARA Sherlock, it is more difficult and costly to grow or import feed to feed to cattle. BUT, because it's not impossible to raise animals without crops (grain) and you don't need any grain to get some good quality beef, why in the hell would anyone be stupid enough to do or think that they need to grow or truck in grain to feed their animals in the first place? 

Arid environments aren't devoid of grass; they haven't been in the past before a bunch of greenies decided that cows are bad for the land, and range science has adopted the reductionist management reasoning that overgrazing means too many cows on the land (which is not true at all). And the grass that historically and naturally grew there didn't need irrigation or man-made chemicals to grow and thrive there. They needed grazing ruminant animals with their hooves, their dung, and their mouths--not necessarily in that order--to eat and trample and poop on those plants to encourage more grass to grow and feed and support even more life.

So, why in the hell does that land need to be used for growing petroleum-guzzling, resource-inefficient, ecologically/environmentally-destructive crops instead? The answer is that it doesn't!

What those arid environments need is more perennial-based systems that can support more livestock, and which is also supported by livestock and the people managing them to encourage more perennial native plants. This in turn supports more plant life and more animal life. You simply cannot get that when you replace that natural system with a monoculture of corn.

THAT is what Rich was referring to as a more regenerative way of bringing the land back to life using more livestock, not less. 

There is Nothing Sustainable about Producing Grain the Conventional Way--No Matter Where it's Grown

Let me get one thing straight: Sustainability is about maintaining a closed system. Crop production is anything but a closed system.

So how is it really "more sustainable" for people to eat the grain rather than have the animals eat the grain, when the animals in question (being cows) don't particularly need the grain in the first place, and if they do, won't need much of it anyway?

And since when are most people going to be eating lots of grain? Grains need to be processed--milled--somewhat before it's actually viably suitable for human consumption. Otherwise it's just nutrition-less carbohydrates that, for most people, make them fat and unhealthy.

Otherwise, growing grains conventionally require outside inputs in terms of fertilizers, pesticides, and petroleum (fuel), and the outputs are going to be the grains with a lot of nutrients within them, as well as soil particles that get blown or washed away with the wind or rain because there is very little to no cover on the soil surface.

When grains are fed to people, there's no human manure that gets put back on the fields. No, more man-made fertilizers are made so that more grain can be grown the next year. A lot of water still needs to be used to grow these crops, and in arid environments that means having to access below-ground aquifers that could be drained down further if more grains need to be grown.

And if grains can't be grown, but other possibly more water-intensive crops can be grown, well farmers will grow them. What's grown in excess is exported to other parts of the country.

How is that sustainable again? Well, it isn't. It isn't more sustainable than raising animals on a perennial vegetative landscape that doesn't require near the amount of inputs that a lot of crops do.

And if we're going to look briefly at Regenerative Agriculture, the current industrial conventional means of producing grains and other foodstuffs today is NOT regenerative; it's Degenerative.

Yet how can someone continue to support a much more degenerative system of agriculture and claim that it's "better" than raising livestock in a regenerative agriculture that really is ever-growing?

Apparently this ARA can. Ignorance is bliss I guess, especially when you're an ARA who's only understanding of farm life comes from vegan propaganda movies and videos and misinterpreted captioned photos.

My next blog post targets this same ARA's response to my comments on cattle grazing and soil health. You won't believe until you see the kind of ludicrous "facts" he tried to "educate" me with on how annual crops were better for the soil than cows being intensively managed on pasture!! 
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