As a college student, I have a general rule for mornings; stay in bed as long as possible. On Thursday, however, I found myself waiting at the train station at 6:50 a.m. to pick up my friend Ryan because we were going on an adventure. We were going corn harvesting in Manhattan, IL. Armed with bug spray, sunscreen, caffeine and Twinkies, these two city kids were on the road south to lend a hand to farmers who were aiding the City Produce Project supported by Monsanto and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. While in the car, I explained the program to my yawning partner in crime.

“The corn is going to be sent to a food pantry and then given to people who live in food deserts,” I said.

“Where is there a desert around here,” Ryan asked. More caffeine.

I started to question this adventure as the trek took us through landscape less dotted with buildings and more defined by various crops indistinguishable to my untrained urban eye. But after navigating country detours and gravel roads with my not-as-trusty-as-you’d-expect GPS, there was no turning back. I parked my car behind a pick-up truck and next to a tractor, and Ryan and I left bliss known as air-conditioning behind.

“It’s hot. I mean…no, really, it is hot,” I observed in discomfort. I questioned my choices in farming fashion, wondering if I should have dressed for extreme heat, but surprisingly enough, I made a smart decision.

When picking corn, it is a good idea to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, plus eye protection. I split the difference on all counts, opting for capris, short-sleeved t-shirt and goofy sunglasses. Truth be told, I looked goofy, period.

With a high-five and a “Let’s DO THIS!” affirmation, we joined a large group of volunteers in the field. There were several kids helping, some of which were from a church group and some were Boy Scouts, and all seemed very eager to help. I noticed a photographer snapping pictures of all the hard work and also heard John Kiefner, a farmer who planted corn for City Produce Project, giving a very energetic interview.

Ryan and I introduced ourselves to an experienced corn harvester and received a quick tutorial. After another high-five and bout of nervous laughter, I got to pickin’. A corn stalk had anywhere between one and three ears of corn growing on it. The first stalk I grabbed had a large ear of corn, so I took hold and tried to rip it off the stalk. It didn’t budge. At all. Embarrassment ensued.

Ryan surrounded by broken stalks

I swallowed my pride and asked a young volunteer next to me, “Wait…I maybe missed something here. How do you do this again?” He said, “Like this,” and ripped that sucker clean off without a hitch. I needed to man up. After that small hiccup, it was smooth sailing; remove the corn, then break the stalk so it would fall to the ground and make way for the next. The crops themselves were actually very resilient, with leaves firm enough to give me a small cut similar to a paper-cut on the top of my hand. It even drew a small amount of blood, but nothing was going to get me to cry uncle in front of these seasoned harvesters. Not even the fact that I was smeared with mud. Yuck.

Once the corn was removed from the stalk, I was told to peel back a small section of the husk to make sure the corn was acceptable to be donated. It was important to harvest as much good corn as we could, considering the crop was going to those in underserved communities. Every ear counted.

“If it’s yellow and developed, throw it in the bucket,” said our corn guru. I took that advice maybe too literally, and did my best Michael Jordan lay-up with my corn haul.

“She shoots…she scores,” Kiefner exclaimed while driving a tractor in reverse. Who says a city girl can’t have fun on a farm?

After my re-enactment of the Chicago Bulls Championship run of 1993, Ryan and I dumped the bucket of corn onto a large flat-bed truck. Kiefner drove the truck from the field and into the barn, where the corn was loaded into sacks. The barn was also where the volunteers could refuel and get a minute away from the beating rays of the sun (did I mention it was hot?). Volunteers sat down on any suitable area they could find and sipped on water to prevent dehydration.

The field after all the sweet corn was harvested

Jim Robbins, the owner of the farm, helped facilitate the action within the barn while Kiefner worked outside. During my time in the barn, I got to see all of the volunteers at once; there was significantly more than I had anticipated. I signed my name onto a sheet that was passed around the barn, and I was amazed that my name fit on the second sheet of paper.

While I didn’t get a chance to really interact with many of the other helpers, I did take a moment to chat with a lady who had videotaped us working in the field. When she asked where I was from, I told her Chicago.

“Wow, what are you doing down here,” she asked.

“I’m here to help on behalf of the City Produce Project,” I said. Noticing her confusion, I continued, “This corn will be cycled into this program. After it leaves the farm, it will be distributed to families who have little access to fresh vegetables otherwise. It’s designed to improve nutrition in places that don’t have the opportunity to experience fresh, local food like this. It’s a good thing.”

And that’s when it hit me.

It really is a good thing. While getting up before fast food joints stop serving breakfast and driving down a gravel road isn’t going to be a lifestyle that’s calling my name, I have a new appreciation for fresh food. The farmers seemed so grateful for the help, expressing that we managed to finish a day-long job for two people in just about two hours. Plus knowing the corn was going to city residents in need rather than a supermarket produce section halfway across the country solidified a sense of just plain “good.”

For more information about the City Produce Project, check out their Twitter at

Nicky Hunter
The Kineo Group Intern


Remember when the price of food went up a bit last year and everyone screamed and cried?  Legislators were getting calls right and left about how their constituents couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store anymore?  The media had us all concerned that Americans were finally going to go hungry?

Michael Pollan, journalist and self-appointed “food production system expert” with zero background in food science, nutrition or agriculture, has announced that he feels $8 for a dozen eggs is a great thing!

What’s even crazier is that the elite in this country agree with him!

I’m afraid that we have seriously gotten to a point in this country where we are way too wealthy and out of touch with reality.  We don’t know what it is to be hungry and we left our common sense in back in the 1900’s.

If you need more proof that the rich and influential in American are getting a bit extreme, check out this article on how the EPA wants to regulate dust in the air.  Dust!

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


I find it interesting that this is “breaking National news.”

Are there any readers that were under the assumption that food was just going to magically appear in your refrigerator? Did any of you think that world population was decreasing?

Of course farmers need to work smarter in order to grow safe, affordable, wholesome food for a world population that is growing exponentially. That’s why growing more with less is exactly what we’re doing.

“Maintaining adequate food production levels in light of increasing population, climate change impacts, increasing costs of energy, constraints on carbon, land degradation and the finite supply of productive soils is a major challenge,” said Dr. Neil MacKenzie says in the article.

That’s why corn farmers are facing that challenge head on.

They’ve decreased the amount of land needed to produce one bushel of corn, the amount of soil lost per bushel of corn, the amount of energy used to produce one bushel of corn, and the emissions per bushel of corn.

The article also quotes Ms. Wensley, a former Australian ambassador for the environment, who said scientists have an important public advocacy role in the face of “growing disconnect between food production and consumption on our heavily and increasingly urbanized planet.”

And I guess that statement is exactly why the fact that we need to grow more food with less is breaking National news. It’s not that farmers aren’t able to meet the challenge. It’s not that corn farmers aren’t ALREADY meeting the challenge. It’s that consumers don’t understand what actions corn farmers are taking and that we actually have a challenge in the first place.

That’s where you come in.

Have you connected with important ag media outlets to get good tidbits of information to share with your friends? Have you made an effort to connect your friends with those same outlets?  Check out Agricultural Everyday on Facebook. Check out The Beef Ambassador blog or Midwestern Gold. Follow @agchick on Twitter. Encourage your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to do the same.

Start talking about agriculture. Let’s make the awesome job that farmers are doing the next national headline.

Jim Tarmann
ICGA/ICMB Field Services Director


Throughout time we have seen struggles in American Agriculture. Every segment of the American Agriculture Industry has its distinct issues. From animal rights groups to the use of genetic engineering to develop better hyrbrids, agriculture is always under scrutiny. However, a more significant and prevalent challenge exists.

When I served as the Illinois State FFA President I was always asked the question, “What is the most important issue in agriculture?” Working for the Illinois Beef Association this summer, I realize the answer is still the same: Awareness and knowledge of agriculture in the American public. As more and more people become removed from where their food supply comes from, the basic understanding of our industry slowly diminishes.

We are all in this struggle together. From the landscaper in the Chicago suburbs, the central Illinois Corn Farmer, the Beef Producer in western Illinois and the southern pork producer, we must unite together to advocate our industry and EDUCATE the public. These people are more than our customers; they are our friends, neighbors, employers and fellow human beings. Cooperation and action will be the solution to this struggle, and will ensure the future of American Agriculture for generations to come!

I invite you to read this article on BEEF Magazine that encourages us all to change our mindsets and consider the end consumer in every single one of our conversations about agriculture.

Clay Zwilling
Illinois Beef Association Summer Intern
Former FFA State President
(Follow me on IBA’s FACEBOOK page!)


Out here in DC where many corn farmers from many different states have met to visit their congressmen and work on corn policy, one topic of conversation that bridges all gaps is this season’s crop. Fairly often, you hear one farmer walk up to another they barely know, and overcome any political or ideological differences with one question: “So, are you going to have a record crop this year?”

Unfortunately, extremely wet weather in IL makes most of the IL corn farmers answer no, but the subject of record yields and yields that trend upwards and offer less variability are a common topic in our congressional visits too. In fact, growing corn yields are addressed in the new Corn Fact Book that we are giving to each of our elected officials this week.

We as farmers understand that when we used to get 150 bushel to the acre, we’re now getting more than 200. Consumers, legislators, and thought leaders both in DC and in our communities in Illinois don’t know that.

This is one place where you can help. Explaining something as simple as Illinois corn’s yield trend to your neighbors and non-farm friends can help people understand that there is more than enough corn to provide for all our markets and that our efficiency and yields are still growing!

I am proud to be a part of the latest Corn Farmers Coalition ad campaign in DC and around our state and I am equally proud to share the below excerpt from the Corn Fact Book where we explain growing yields. If you could use a copy of the Corn Fact Book in your community work to educate friends and neighbors about corn production, please leave a note in the comments and we will be happy to help you obtain a copy.

Scott Stirling
ICMB Vice Chair

Record After Record

How do America’s family farmers out-produce everyone else? The roots of this success run deep and wide.

There’s know-how – the everyday working knowledge and understanding of how best to plant, raise and harvest a crop. This is not simply tossing a few seeds to the ground and hoping for the best. It involves high-tech equipment that places hybrid seeds at the desired depth in the soil and the optimal number of seeds per acre. It’s the ability to help keep that crop healthy during the growing season. The understanding of where plant nutrients are needed and when – and the technical savvy to do just that. The optimism to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a crop Mother Nature can wipe out in an instant.

Then comes the continuing advancement of hybrid seed corn – every year means better hybrid seeds for farmers. Plant breeders today have advanced tools to better predict which desirable characteristics will come from its two parents. They can identify those with potential and run tests before a single seed is ever planted in the ground. Add the advances gained through biotechnology and the potential from mapping the corn genome, its DNA, and it’s safe to say today’s yields – unimagined a generation ago – are just the beginning.


The Illinois Corn Growers Association has a Political Action Committee (PAC) and has used it more and more in recent years to financially support the candidates that vote in the best interest of the corn farmer.

Because we’re more active in this arena, the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and unions to spend freely on campaign commercials (through their general treasury, not a PAC) was interesting to us. Republicans applauded the decision as a victory for free speech while Democrats vowed to come up with a legislative “fix” that would restrain the voices of corporate America.

The DISCLOSE Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) was passed last week.

Interestingly enough, the act couldn’t pass without carve outs for certain interest groups that didn’t want to be required to tell which candidates they were sponsoring on TV ads. Among the carve outs were the Sierra Club and the Humane Society.

You can read more on The People’s House, a blog maintained by staff of Representative Tim Johnson.

Now I don’t know about you, but both these associations are groups that I’d sort of like to keep tabs on. I mean, if the Humane Society is supporting a candidate from their general treasury, I’d really like to know who the candidate is AND I’d really like to let my friends and neighbors that blindly contribute to the sick pets on the TV that they are really contributing to elected officials that will vote to end animal agriculture in our country.

And then there’s the other side of the coin … what’s good for one should be good for all, right? What are your thoughts?


Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Flickr. Blogger.

What do all of these things mean to you? Everyone uses social media in different ways and for many different reasons. However, everyone can agree on one thing – social media has changed the way that our world communicates, and it is not going to go away. 470,334,100 people are on Facebook today. That is more than the population of the entire United States. Not only that, but these 470,334,100 people all have access to what you say.

I don’t want to bore everyone with facts and statistics, but these are pretty compelling numbers. The fact is that social media is gaining power, and all of that power is available to everyone. People want their news, information, and entertainment when they want it, where they want it, and at the click of a button. Anything you want to know is on the internet and in social media in some form or another. That being said, the agricultural community can’t be left behind. If people want to get on their iPhones for 5 minutes while they are walking from the parking lot to their office to get their news for the day, agriculture needs to be right there with them. No one wants to go looking for facts anymore, they want it to come to them, which is what the community of agriculture needs to do. We need to go to the general public with our message, and do it in a way that people will find easily.

Here’s an example: The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is fighting with farmers and producers about what they think “animal cruelty” is. They think that our practiced and proven methods of farming and raising livestock are wrong because the cows don’t frolic in twenty acres of pasture every day. They are getting so much good press for their messages that the uninformed will believe them easily, because it is easy to believe a cause that claims to be helping animals. Any farmer you talk to will know about this fight with the HSUS and will have plenty to say. But that’s just it, not enough people are saying it! We have the power through social media to give our side of the story, and to educate the misinformed. We have a great message to tell, and now it is our job to use social media to our advantage and tell the world about agriculture. If that doesn’t have you convinced, this article might.  In short, this explains how the HSUS is tagging agricultural videos as porn to get less people to hear our message.

That being said, there’s room for lighthearted and fun education on social media too. Not everyone wants to get involved in heated debates about these issues; some don’t think they have any reason to be concerned. But those are still people that we need to reach with our message. As an intern at IL Corn, I understand the issues that farmers face today. I also understand how people my age think, and it is my job to reach them and everyone else with our message. Corn is not something that people get excited about unless we make it exciting. For example, the IL Corn summer interns have been making videos that have overlaying messages about corn and agriculture built into them. People watch videos because they are quick, easy to watch, easily accessible, and they don’t have to put forth any effort to hear the message. So we give them entertaining and educational videos that they can learn from. Occasionally, someone will stumble across a parody movie we have made and watch it because it looks funny. As a result, they learn something they didn’t plan on learning. When that happens, we have accomplished our goal. We just finished our first video that does just that.

Social media will never go away. It is here to stay, and everyone has a future with social media whether we go looking for it or not. I personally did not want to get a Twitter account because it seemed like a crazy fad that would soon die out and it seemed annoying to me. When I started this job I started one up, and I have already learned things I never would have dreamed of because I never would have gone looking for it, but there it was, just being handed to me. That is the power of social media. It is all there for the taking, we just have to be giving the information for people to take.

Kristie Harms
Junior at the University of Missouri
ICGA/ICMB Summer Intern


This article reprinted with the author’s permission and was first published at

by Ryan Andrews, June 23rd, 2010.

By now, most PN readers are familiar with Ryan Andrews. Simply put, he’s a nutrition stud.

I’m serious. The guy has earned nearly every nutrition and exercise accreditation available.

• A nationally ranked bodybuilder from 1996-2001, check.
• Registered and Licensed Dietitian, check.
• Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, check.
• A Masters in Nutrition, check.
• A Masters in Exercise Physiology, check.
• John’s Hopkins trained expert coach, check.
• PN Lean Eating coach, check.

Despite this very impressive resume, I’ve gotta level with you.

Ryan’s CV doesn’t tell the whole story. You see, there’s something more you need to know about Ryan.  And that’s his not-so-secret fascination with plant-based foods. In essence, Ryan eats an exclusive plant-based diet. Animal foods are left off his menu. For a variety of reasons.

So, when Ryan called me one day, excitedly announcing an exclusive invitation to visit one of Colorado’s largest cattle farming operations, I was intrigued. A vegan visiting a cattle farm, huh?

Would it be a smooth, fact-finding mission?

Or would I be getting a call to bail the dude outta some local jail?

Well, read on to find out…

My trip to Magnum

My day at the cattle feedlot got off to a rough start. Maybe it’s because I wore my “Have You Hugged A Vegetarian Today Shirt.” Bad move on my part, I guess.

What I didn’t wear to the feedlot.

No, I’m just kidding. I didn’t wear my vegan shirt.

And my day at the Magnum Feedyard in Wiggins, Colorado got off to a great start.

It all began at a restaurant in Hudson, Colorado, called the Pepper Pod. That’s where I met two new friends: an animal science instructor and a student from Colorado State University, who escorted me up to Wiggins to get an exclusive tour of the Magnum Feedyard.

We met at the Pepper Pod, then up to Wiggins.

During the 75-minute drive, a lot was going through my mind.

For starters, this visit had been 6 months, and quite a few emails/phone calls, in the making.

You see, very few people in the nutrition world are ever allowed to visit feedlots. In fact, some of my favorite authors have written entire books about feedlots without ever being granted permission to see one in person. So I had to “work it” pretty hard to get this kind of access. And was really excited.

However, despite my enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was a little worried. I mean, everything I’d read about feedlots suggested that they’re horrible, dismal places where thousands of sick cows are crammed in tiny pens, being force-fed corn while standing in steaming piles of their own feces.

As someone concerned with animal welfare, what would I do if faced with this sight? Would I run for the gates, throw them open, and let those poor cows free? Was I man enough to do that? Would I just go home with my tail between my legs? Or would I see something totally different, totally unexpected?

Arriving at Magnum Feedyard

With all these emotional and philosophical thoughts running through my head, I wasn’t prepared for the first thought that hit me when we arrived at Magnum – one of the 14,000 beef cattle operations in Colorado.

“Oh, god, the smell.”

Yes, the first thing I noticed when I arrived was the smell. And no, it wasn’t fear. I smelled manure. I guess I should have expected it. After all, I was standing among 20,000+ steers and heifers. Duh, welcome to farming, Ryan!

The Magnum Farm

In the U.S. there are 2.2 million farms. 98% of them meet the USDA definition of a “family farm.”

The USDA considers a “family farm” any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and his/her relatives. Steve Gabel, president of the Colorado Livestock Association, owns Magnum, and runs it with his family.

So, Magnum fits this criterion and is thus considered a “family farm”.

This is me and Steve Gabel, owner of Magnum.

So if Steve’s is a “family farm,” what’s a “factory farm”?

Well, the term “factory farm” isn’t actually used in the agricultural community. So, in essence, it’s slang that was coined by skeptics of the cattle industry.

The agricultural community actually calls large animal feeding units “CAFOs.” CAFO means Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. A CAFO has more than 1,000 animal units, and 1 beef cow = 1 animal unit.

For the record, 75% of all beef in the U.S. comes from CAFOs.

And, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, CAFOs “congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”

So, Magnum fits the criterion of a CAFO. When it started in 1993, Magnum had 4,500 cattle. Now they have 22,000. And operations are managed with 8-13 employees (depending on the time of year).

Magnum houses 22,000 cattle

But, wait a minute! Magnum is a family farm. And Magnum is a factory farm. How can it be both?

Well, they were started and are run by a family. But they also congregate more than 22,000 beef cattle. So, they meet the definition for both categories.

Of course, that makes clean and tidy, black and white judgments about cattle operations harder to make. Trust me it’ll get harder in a minute.

What Magnum cattle eat

When animals arrive at Magnum, they are usually 7 – 9 months of age. During their first four days, they receive 100% grass feed to help maintain rumen health.

Wait a second! Don’t all feedlot cattle get 100% corn? With maybe a sprinkling of soy mixed in?

Uh, nope.

There are five different rations used at Magnum, comprised of seven ingredients, including corn, soy, alfalfa, straw, and wet grain distillers (by-products of the ethanol industry). And these feeds range from 0% corn to 50% corn.

Here are a few pics of the different feeds:

A wet distiller, corn-based.

One of the rations is corn-based.

One of the rations is grass-based.

Feed is delivered by a truck three times each day. And, interestingly, as noted above, corn doesn’t comprise more than 50% of any of the feed ration.

Wait, wait. What about all those reports of sick cows being stuffed with corn?

Well, folks, at Magnum anyway, there’s no such thing as an “all grain” cattle diet. In fact, the diet of the cattle at Magnum never exceeds 50% corn. And often, it’s much, much less.

This is the feed truck that makes its rounds three times per day.

This is where all the feed ingredients are mixed in the back of the truck.

As many animal nutrition experts know, too much grain in a cow’s diet can result in rumen acidosis. That is why, at Magnum, the animals’ diets are formulated by nutritionists bi-weekly. This helps them maintain the correct feed for a given pen of animals.

Of course, the goal at Magnum is to feed cattle efficiently. They want the biggest weight gain for the fewest pounds of feed, in the most economical way. And, at Magnum, they do a good job of efficiency. Cattle are normally kept on the feedlot until around 12 to 15 months of age. This means they’re kept for between 150 and 240 days. During this time they gain 500 to 600 pounds.

Per day at Magnum, the cost per head of cattle is $2.10. Grab you pen and paper folks, multiply $2.10 by 22,000 cattle. Lots of money, every day.

Growth-promoting hormones are used in feedlot cattle as it increases efficiency. These are naturally occurring hormones that are regularly metabolized by the body. Most cattle don’t get antibiotics. And if they do, they need it. Further, they won’t be sent to slaughter until 21 days after antibiotic administration, since it takes that long for the antibiotic to clear the system.

Organic feed

According to Magnum, organic feed doesn’t seem to increase meat quality or safety. Research doesn’t really support the idea either. But, organic feed does allow consumers another option (i.e. organic meat vs. non-organic meat). And organic farming practices may have some benefits for the planet.

Of course, in today’s farming climate, less than 1% of American cropland is certified organic. If a lot more was, it would require a lot more composted animal manure. Fortunately, Magnum is on the right track (with composting) if this pattern were to take hold.

Grass-Fed, Free-Range

Sure, some folks think grass-fed, free-range is better. But, as any good PN reader can attest, it’s a heckuva lot more expensive. And, at the end of the day, Magnum is competing for the protein food dollar. Mainstream America is currently buying conventionally fed meat from cattle, so, feedlots keep producing it.

It’s also important to know that if we continue to eat 200+ pounds of meat per person per year in the U.S., grass-fed isn’t really an option. There’s not enough land.

But it would be an option for meat eaters if we reduced overall meat consumption. Is that something our nation is willing to do? Maybe. In time. Right now, however, it doesn’t look like it.

What about E. coli?

E. coli (or Escherichia coli O157:H7) is a natural occurring pathogen in the digestive tract of cattle, but can be minimized through production practices, i.e. clean living conditions.

E. coli serogroups O26, O111, O145, and others have become a public health problem, accounting for 37,000 illnesses and 30 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Among critics of the “factory farm” model, there’s a large concern about E. coli contamination. Many suggest that feeding cattle a high grain-based diet can increase e-coli in the gut. And cross-contamination with meat makes for, not only sick animals, but sick people.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between feed and harmful E. coli contamination. Indeed, studies reveal no difference in E. coli O157:H7 prevalence or numbers between cattle fed grain vs. grass. And there are no studies that show superiority for one system vs. the other.

So it seems like this concern is more of a cleanliness issue, not a feed issue.

Cattle care

Speaking of cleanliness, Magnum wants the cattle to be clean and comfortable.

I know, I know, I can see my animal welfare comrades shaking their heads – – but think about it. From a profit standpoint, if animals aren’t comfortable, they aren’t going to eat. If they don’t eat, they don’t grow. If they don’t grow, they won’t be much use to the dude wanting to buy a big steak.

Lots of feedlot cattle were males born on dairy farms. You can tell them by their black and white color.

Also, technology is improving the way cattle are treated. Many cattle are tagged with identification and tracked.This tracking allows farmers to know a host of things like: the length of time the cattle have been there, their health history, their previous feed, their current feed needs, their current health, and any notable health or welfare concerns.

Magnum even has guys riding on horses around pens called, well, “pen riders,” who check cattle for problems. An animal nutritionist even comes on site every couple weeks to check how the cattle are feeding. If anything looks out of the ordinary, a session with the vet is likely. Sick animals are taken to a “hospital” pen and given care.

Newsflash: Let’s face it, most people in North America haven’t been to a doctor since their mom took them before high school graduation. Further, most humans acquire “feed” from the Cocoa Puff and Pop-Tart aisle.

My health care is better than yours.

Yes, what I’m trying to say is that Magnum Feedyard cattle receive better health care than many North Americans. They get regular vet appointments and a simple diet that is nutrient dense.

Ok, I think we can all agree the living conditions are debatable. But before you rag on feedlot health care, how do your habits compare?

Waste at Magnum

Magnum recently started composting manure and mortalities (i.e. cattle that don’t make it). It’s gotten more expensive to send deceased cattle to processing plants that manufacture pet foods, so this was the next best option.

Plus it’s more sustainable. And the cattle don’t end up standing around in piles of their own feces. Whew!

The Holiday Inn

Have you ever been to a Holiday Inn? That’s kind of like Magnum. They are a hotel for cattle. Profit increases as occupancy increases.

But there’s a slight difference. Upon checkout from the Holiday Inn you get a free newspaper, a mint, and a shuttle to the airport. When you checkout from Magnum, you get a one way shuttle to the slaughterhouse.

Nearly every week, a truck picks up cattle and transports them to a meat packing plant. This is where cattle are harvested and the carcasses fabricated. It’s important for the cattle to be transported quickly and calmly. The more stressed the animal, the lower the quality the meat.

95% of the steers and heifers from Magnum are sold to two packers, both in Colorado, JBS Swift in Greeley and Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan. The meat from these cows makes its way nationwide.


I was tired of talking about, reading about, and hearing about feedlots. Especially when many of the accounts were from people who had never been to a feedlot in their lives.

So, when I was given this sort of rare access, I jumped at the chance to check one out for myself.

The sign you see when leaving Magnum.

And, I have to say it. If my experience at Magnum is representative of other cattle farms, all those accounts of the dismal, depressing, disastrous cattle conditions seem to be exaggerated.

No, I’m not going to start eating meat again.

However, if I did eat meat, my visit to Magnum would have made me feel great about eating non-organic, non-grass-fed beef. Seriously. I can’t imagine the quality of meat would be substantially better with organic and grass-fed. Nor can I imagine the living conditions would be substantially better for the cattle.

Now, to be clear, we don’t require meat in our diet. And I don’t think we should be using cows for food, doesn’t matter if the cattle are kept on a feedlot or chilling in a waterbed listening to John Tesh. But that’s my own value system and I’m well aware that 97% of people in the U.S. eat meat on a regular basis.

However, considering the amount we procreate in the U.S. (there’s a birth every 8 seconds and a death every 12 seconds); and the amount of meat we eat (222 pounds per person, per year – not including marine life); and the small amount of money we’re willing to spend on food (we spend 9.6% of our disposable income on food, the lowest in the world. India spends 53%, Venezuela 34%, Italy 26%, Japan 19%, France 16%); feedlots have it right.

People want meat. And Magnum’s feedlot system is dialed in. They’re producing safe and cost-effective meat in, arguably, the most cattle-conscious way (short of opening up those pens and letting them run free). Rock on Magnum.


Disposable income spend on food:

EPA (2007). “Animal Feeding Operations-NPDES Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved May 2, 2010 from

USDA ERS (2009). “Farm Household Economics and Well-Being: Glossary.” Retrieved May 2, 2010, from

Marler Blog.

Dimitri C & Effland A (2005). Milestones in U.S. Farming and Farm Policy Amber Waves. Washington, D.C., USDA Economic Research Service and USDAERS (2010). Structural Characteristics, for All Farms, by Farm Typology, 2008. Agricultural Resource Management Survey, USDA Economic Research Service.

Mead PS, et al. Food-related illness and death in the United States.

USDA-National Ag Statistic
12,098,990 out of 16,098,910 are fed in operations greater than 1,000 head, or 75 %. The remaining balance are either grazed or raised on smaller feedlots with capacity under 1,000 head.


Thanks to Travis Hoffman, Steve Gabel, Julie Moore, and Morgan Gaither. Many people in the nutrition world are never allowed to view a feedlot. Travis, Steve, Julie, and Morgan were all very accommodating, and I was treated with the utmost respect.


Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts from guest blogger Trista Milliman. Trista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation. For the first part, click here.

I addressed my friend’s accusations calmly and factually. Hard to do when you’re angry. First, I explained the “steroid” myth. I don’t know who labeled them that, maybe the media or PETA, but we DON’T give our animals steroids. What they get is a growth hormone implant in their right ear. Now, anyone who has taken an Anatomy and Physiology class, what are the two growth hormones that NATURALLY OCCUR in the body, human or animal? Estrogen and testosterone. The hormone we implant is estrogen. (Every woman knows what role estrogen plays in unwanted weight gain.) The estrogen improves our calves feed to gain ratio, which cuts down on the amount of money we have to spend on feed and the amount of time they have to be on pasture. Translation: you get better beef at an affordable price with a smaller amount of time between our pasture and your plate. No steroids here. Oh, and if you’re that concerned about the amount of hormones in your food, consider this: there are 500 times more estrogen in ONE leaf of organically grown spinach than in a three ounce piece of estrogen implanted beef. My town friend was listening.

I moved on to the antibiotics. My town friend loves her two dogs. So, I asked her what she does when her dogs get sick. Of course, she takes them to the vet and if it’s an infection, the vet prescribes an antibiotic. It’s the same with our cows. If we spot a sick one, we take her up to the alley and give her an antibiotic. We treat her as long as she needs it. Simple. If she’s not sick, what’s the point in wasting the money on giving her (and the rest of our herd for that matter) an antibiotic? Not very cost effective if you’re trying to run a business. If the animal is sick we treat her, if she’s not, we don’t. I can’t come up with a better description of animal welfare than that. Point made.

Then, we moved on to my favorite topic, feed. My specialization in my major was livestock nutrition. My husband and I both figure our rations as do many beef producers. And if they don’t do it themselves, they hire a nutritionist. Now, how many PETA or HSUS supporters use a nutritionist when feeding their own families? My town friend just couldn’t get over the idea that we were feeding our cattle genetically modified grain that had been sprayed with pesticides. She was just so sure our cattle were ingesting all types of toxins that would end up in the meat. I explained that one of the reasons we “genetically modify” grain is to make it insect and disease resistant so that we don’t have to spray chemicals on it. I also gave her a short economics lesson while I was at it. In laymen’s terms, a GMO produces more with less input, therefore making the product cost less. Keeping costs down on our end is what keeps costs down on the consumer’s end. People forget about that part. Point taken.

My town friend was so taken with the notions that are portrayed in “Food, Inc.” and Omnivore’s Dilemma. She thinks everyone should have chickens and “organic” vegetable gardens in their back yards. That’s great, if that’s what you like to do for fun. That’s awesome if you feed your family and have a little extra to give to all your neighbors and your friends. But is that really relevant to everyone’s living situation? No, it’s not. Let’s just be honest. Is that going to feed the world? No, it’s not.

The reason we try to feed out our calves to market weight within 18 months is because we’re doing just that, we’re feeding the world. We wouldn’t be getting anywhere if we waited on them to reach market weight on just grass. We’d be at least 2 if not 3 years out before we could feed anyone. If you want to go back to agriculture the way it was in the 1940s, be my guest, but if you think the world is starving now, consider what it would be like if we took a step backwards? And, not to mention the amount of money we would have to spend on importing food from other countries because we couldn’t meet our own demands. Don’t even think for a minute that food production around the world is regulated better than it is here. I’d much rather have pork raised on concrete from the U.S. than I would if it was raised on the dirt in some third world country living off of the trash and waste in the sewer ditches. Our food is as healthy and safe as it’s ever been. The whole idea of research and technology is progress. Who in the world thinks it’s a good idea to regress to old medical procedures, or maybe go back to using type- writers instead of computers?

I crunched some numbers to illustrate my point. Back in 1940, the world population was around 2.3 billion people. There were around 6 million farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and each one could feed 19 people a year. Fast forward to 2010. The world population is roughly 6,825,100,000 and there are around 5.7 million U.S. farmers and ranchers (that’s about 2% of the U.S. population). Thanks to our research and technology, a U.S. farmer can feed 155 people a year. Not to be arrogant, but the U.S. farmers and ranchers feed the world. And there are less of us to do it. In fact, there are 300,000 less farmers in 2010 to feed over three times what the population was back in 1940. Every year we are expected to provide more food at less cost to the consumer, with less land to use, with less input, and less waste. We meet the demand. We give the consumers what they ask for. She heard me loud and clear.

Setting aside all the statistics, producers love their animals and the lifestyle they provide despite some hardships. How many times have we had to cancel dinner on friends while we tend to a sick calf? How many times have we had to miss church to find a lost calf or cow? How many hours have we spent feeding orphan calves? And what about all those hours spent on the floor board of the truck or the kitchen floor trying to warm up and dry off a newborn calf in the middle of a Northeast Oklahoma blizzard? How many times have our neighbors missed their own children’s ball games, dance recitals, or piano lessons because they had to stay with a bloated cow? I’ve even ruined a nice J.Crew sweater (gasp!) to pull a calf when one of our first-calf heifers was having trouble. All of this to put quality food on your table. Where are the animal rights activists then? How many of them make sacrifices like that?

I don’t know that I completely won my town friend over, but I know I proved that what we do is ethical, humane, and practical. And it’s not just to turn a profit, either. If that was the case, we would have found an easier way to do it by now. My point is that we, as producers, need to make sure that we are the ones providing the general public with the CORRECT information they need to know about the food we supply to them. The average consumer is so detached from the origin of his/her food that it makes it very easy for anti-agriculture organizations to come in and offer these people their version of what animal agriculture is. I encourage producers to get involved in putting your story out there via social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to share the information you want your consumers to know about your operation. Something as simple as a video of harvest or chore time at your farm/ranch is a great way for consumers to see your passion for what you do and where it all starts from pasture to plate.

Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier


Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is the first part in a two-part series from guest blogger Trista MillimanTrista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation.

As a beef producer, (or any other type of producer for that matter), there are those whom you consider your “neighbors” or more precisely, the people that live within a 5-10 mile radius of your place and are fellow producers. Then, you have the people you consider your “town friends”, the friends who live in town (obviously) and really have no direct ties to agriculture, except for maybe, of course, their acquaintance with you. Well, that and the fact that they probably like to eat food and wear clothes, but that’s for another time.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the roles my neighbors and my town friends play in my busy, overscheduled life. It’s always nice to take time out and enjoy their company whether we’re processing calves, helping each other move cows to another pasture, shopping at the mall, or going to a movie. All of our differences keep the conversation interesting. Recently, however, I had a visit with a town friend that really left me quite unsettled with the way the public perceives conventional animal agriculture. Though, I feel that I answered her questions and corrected her misconceptions accurately, it really made me realize how completely unattached and misinformed the general public is about the production of their food.

Let me bring you up to speed. My husband and I live in Northeast Oklahoma, or more affectionately termed by Okies as “Green Country”. Both of us have our B.S. in Animal Science Production and run our own cow-calf operation in the heart of ranching country. We are extremely proud of our commercial Charolais herd and the quality beef we can provide for people’s dinner tables. Not only is it an income, it’s a lifestyle. Our lives are scheduled around feeding time, breeding season, calving season, and weaning. Mix that in with our “town jobs”, (my husband is an OSU Extension Educator and I am a professional farrier), and our cattle (and horses) eat better and get more rest than we do. Let’s just say it’s not too strange in our small town to see us come in to do our banking covered in manure with our spurs still jingling. Everybody else around here does it, too.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my town friend. I’ve known her for years and consider her a very intelligent person. She’s been around the world and back, literally, and I love her taste in music and clothes. I respect her opinions, even if they don’t always match up with my own. She is very well read and up to date on current issues. So, it surprised me (and quite honestly, disappointed me) when she shared her views on what conventional animal agriculture is. I guess I take for granted that maybe even my closest friends don’t really know exactly how our operation runs or how well taken care of our animals are. And that’s my fault for not providing that information. Then, it got me thinking; if my close friends don’t understand it, then what kind of skewed information is the rest of the world getting and who are they getting it from? Scary.

She gave me her overall impression of production agriculture with one word: “poisoned”. It knocked the wind out of me. I asked her to explain what she meant by it and she said, “You pump them full of steroids, you are constantly treating them with antibiotics, and you feed them genetically modified grain. What makes you think anyone wants to put that into their bodies?” And then, she disclosed where she got her information from. She watched Robert Kenner’s documentary, “Food, Inc.” and read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should have seen that one coming.

Both are filled to the brim with misinformation and propaganda that would easily suck the average, uneducated consumer in. And both were supplied information by PETA and HSUS, organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture altogether. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat healthier, save the environment, and stop animal cruelty? I know I do. And so does every other livestock or grain producer that feeds the rest of the world and wants to make a living doing it. The information in the movie and the book is maddening, sickening, inaccurate and outright wrong.

They use terms like “factory farm” and “sustainability”. Last time I checked, agriculture has always been sustainable. That’s why it’s called “agriculture”. And livestock production practices have become so efficient that we’ve actually eliminated some diseases, which in turn has eliminated the need for certain vaccines and opened the doors to medical research in saving human lives. Good stuff, considering that it makes the quality of life for these animals outstanding. I could go on, but maybe later.
Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier