Welcome to Illinois agriculture, where we treat our cows like members of the family!
Kristie: My county fair was the McLean County fair, the biggest 4-H fair in the country, and I was a member of the Blue Ribbon Kids 4-H group from Colfax. Although I grew up on a farm, I never showed any animals at the fair. All of my friends had cattle, swine, goats, or chickens, but the biggest animal that I ever showed was my cat Buttercup, who was not the most cooperative of all animals.
Kristie: My 4-H experience was much different from my friends’, but I would never say that I missed out on anything. I learned many different skills that I continue to use today, and 4-H allowed me to try out as many skills and ideas that I wanted so that I could figure out which things I was good at and what I liked the most. If it weren’t for 4-H, I wouldn’t have been able to make the decorative throw pillows and oil paintings for my new apartment, I never would have found my passion for cooking or learned how to wire a trouble light or turn a wood lathe, and my stressed out cat probably wouldn’t have lost as many years off of his life.
Kelsey: I can imagine that showing a cat is considerably harder than showing a cow. You have my sympathies.
Kristie: Thanks, but I don’t envy you walking around the fairgrounds in heels.
Kelsey: Still, 4-H is such a valuable program because it has something to offer every kid in every walk of life. Like Kristie said, these are experiences you always remember, family memories that you would never want to forget, and life skills that you take with you when you grow up.
Kristie: The fair is the culmination of all those activities. When you bring your hard work from the fields or the sewing machine and have it evaluated, you feel a sense of accomplishment, but you also learn to appreciate constructive criticism.
Kelsey: So from two farmer’s daughters that spent the afternoon at the fair yesterday and can’t wait to get back, get involved in 4-H and participate in your county fair. You’ll never be sorry that you did.
ICGA/ICMB Summer Intern
Illinois State University student
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!
Illinois Beef Association Summer Intern
Former FFA State President
(Follow me on IBA’s FACEBOOK page!)
Originally posted on the blog Trends and Tips by Sherri Schubert
On a beautiful day in Hilmar,CA, the quasi-sweet aroma of the land and the raw beauty of the neighboring almond trees and cornfields surrounded me in the day of the life of a modern dairy farm – a far cry from NYC. What I discovered this day influenced my views and thoughts about dairy cow care and food safety forever.
More and more we are questioning where our food comes from and how it is processed. Milk and cheese are two of the most scrutinized foods due to reports of inhumane treatment of cows, hormone and antibiotic use, dairy farming CO2 emissions, and nutritional misinformation.
I have to be honest. My family primarily drinks soy and almond beverages. About ten years ago I visited a dairy farm in New Zealand and stopped drinking milk. Unlike my experience in New Zealand, my trip to the Clauss Dairy Farm in Hilmar, CA, where 2000 light brown Jersey cows (each weighing 1200 lbs), was much more enjoyable and educational. Will I start drinking milk as a result? Probably not, but I what I learned must be shared.
Visiting the Clauss dairy farm was like visiting a spa for cows. Seriously! I was so impressed by the humane treatment of the dairy cows and how content they were. A typical dairy cow’s day includes many of the same activities we engage in.
REST – lay resting 12-14 hours per day (6-8 of that sleeping) in free stalls (50% of dairy farms use) vs. communal pens (30% of dairy farms use) and pastures (15%). Beds are made of almond shells, corn husks and wood chips fluffed 2 times per day.
EAT – eat 3-5 hours per day (9-14 meals), made of all non-organic corn, rolled corn, cottonseed and barely. Drink water 30 minutes per day.
SOCIALIZE – social interactions, like estrus and grooming 2-3 hours per day.
MILK – 45 minutes- 3 times per day. Watching this was the most fascinating part of the day. I was completely amazed by the technology, the process, and the happy behavior the cows exhibited through it all. Allow me to elaborate.
Step 1– 250 cows enter the washing area where sprinklers mist them for 2 minutes. They dry as they wait to enter the second area.
Step 2 – the cows enter the waiting pen (area 2) directly in front of the washing area where they wait to move onto the carousel milking parlor (rotary platform).
Step 3 – 50 of the waiting cows excitedly(really!) usher themselves onto a highly technical rotary platform. One cow enters an individual stall on the carousel at a time. Each are quickly checked by a milker for mastitis, and then connected to the pulsating/vacuum machine. They ride the carousel for about 5 minutes (from start to finish) during which time they are electronically monitored by sensors to evaluate how much milk is being extracted (4-5 gallons of milk per cow, per milking – totaling 20,000 lbs. of milk per cow per year).
Step 4 – the cow comes to the end of the carousel, a milker removes the electronic connectors and puts iodine on the teets to ensure no bacteria enters. One cow at a time is prompted by a mist sprayer located at their feet to exit (in reverse) the carousel.
Step 5 – return to their stall for water and rest.
Now that we are comforted by the fact that the dairy cows are well-cared for, let’s look at food safety.
During my conversation with Kim Clauss, second generation dairy farmer, and their veterinarian, I learned that the Clauss Dairy farm is a conventional farm. This means that the cow feed is non-organic and the cows are treated with antibiotics and administered BHT (growth hormone). I was a bit surprised to hear this given the trend to buy organic, antibiotic and hormone free dairy products today. What I discovered; however, is that you may be buying antibiotic free when the packaging doesn’t indicate it. How is this possible? What I am about to share is important, so read on.
When a cow is treated with antibiotics, it is isolated and the milk is pumped and discarded. When the cow has recovered, it returns to the herd. Each truck carrying some 50 thousand gallons of milk is tested for antibiotics before entering the plant. Any milk testing positive with antibiotics is rejected – a dairy farmers worst nightmare because they stand to lose a lot of money. Rejecting milk with antibiotics is a standard practice across the US. Knowing this, we could assume that all US milk and cheese are without antibiotics. Right? It would seem that way to me. Then why don’t all milk and cheese packages indicate that they are antibiotic free? Is it a scam to get us to spend a few more dollars for products that say no antibiotics?
Something else to ponder….According to the veterinarian at Clauss Dairy Farm, the levels of naturally occurring BHT in cows is the same as in cows who are administered BHT. “So why give it to them,” I asked. The answer: Because the cows produce 10-15% more milk. Question? If the levels of BHT are the same in both cows, then why does some packaging indicate BHT free and others don’t?
1. Livestock production (including dairy, eggs, and other animal protein), is responsible for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (March 2010), NOT 18% as reported in the 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Report.
2. The dairy cows life span is 6-8 years. They are bred every 13 months. Dairy cows with low production or no longer lactate are sold to other dairy farms or to beef factories.
If you want to learn more about what happens to the milk when it leaves the farm, check out this really cool three-minute video (http://www.hilmarcheese.com/CowTour.cms#) from the Hilmar Cheese Company (http://www.hilmarcheese.com/), largest cheese plant in the world, producing 1.4 million pounds per day.
We ended our amazing day at the home of Richard and Sharon Clauss who hosted a culinary delight with food made from Real California Milk (http://www.realcaliforniamilk.com/) and created by Chef Ryan Scott (http://www.ryanscott2go.com/). My favorite was the Cucumber and Yogurt Gazpacho with Caraway Seeds and Honeycomb and Panna Cotta with Bing Cheeries. Yummy.
Many thanks to the California Dairy Association Board and Real California Milk, sponsors of the dairy farm and cheese factory excursion, for extending an opportunity of a life-time to educate us about how modern dairy cow’s live, how milk and cheese are produced, how dairy farming is eco-friendly, and how milk and cheese are nutritional choices.
It’s interesting to me the opinions that non-farm consumers have of farmers. We can see by looking at blog comments, news editorials, and the sheer number of supporters of organizations like the Humane Society of the US, that many people believe livestock farmers to be corporate employees that are unconcerned with the health and comfort of the animals in their care.
I visited two beef farms last week. This perception couldn’t be more incorrect.
This is anything but corporate.
I learned at the Willrett farm that Jamie is concerned about dwindling cow/calf numbers. The beef industry is actually divided into three segments, those that have cows and birth calves (cow/calf), those that take those calves and feed them to around 800 pounds (backgrounders), and those that take the 800 pound animals and feed them to 1350 pounds and then harvest them (finishers). The market hasn’t been great for cattle producers in recent years and the cow/calf guys have slowly decreased their numbers until in 2010, we’re at an all time low. Without calves, finishers like Jamie Willrett won’t have animals to purchase and finish. This is a problem the beef industry has to work out.
At Larson Farms, I witnessed animals being ultrasound tested, adding efficiency to the operation. With an ultrasound wand (yes, exactly like the ones used on pregnant women), a technician ultrasounds the animal between the 12th and 13th rib to determine thickness of back fat and marbling. The weight of the animal combined with the back fat and marbling prompts a computer program to tell the Larson’s exactly how much longer to feed the animal to achieve the highest grade (and thus, the highest premium) possible. Talk about efficiency.
I already knew that every single animal on both these farms has multiple vet visits, preventative health care, nutritionists determining their diet, and safety from weather events and predators, but those aspects of the farming operation need to be pointed out as well.
The take home message from my visits was that beef operations in 2010 are efficient and well run or else they are out of business. Comfortable cows are eating, growing, and making the farmer money. Healthy cows are eating, growing, and making the farmer money. Happy cows are eating, growing, and making the farmer money. And efficiencies like breaking the industry into segments or using new technologies to create meat products that the consumer wants are tools that help the farmers make money.
At the end of the day, farming is about making money. Farmers don’t exist in a vacuum; they have to feed their families and send their kids to college too.
But farming is also about ethics. Farmers treat their animals with respect and care because it helps their bottom line, but also because it’s the right thing to do.
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director
This article reprinted with the author’s permission and was first published at http://www.precisionnutrition.com/.
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.
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.
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?
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”.
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).
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data/table7.htm
EPA (2007). “Animal Feeding Operations-NPDES Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved May 2, 2010 from http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/faqs.cfm?program_id=7
USDA ERS (2009). “Farm Household Economics and Well-Being: Glossary.” Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/BRIEFING/WellBeing/glossary.htm
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. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol5no5/mead.htm
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is the first part in a two-part series 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.
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.
Our office took a stand Friday. We are boycotting Chipotle. But first, let me give you some background so you can understand why you should DEFINITELY boycott Chipotle too.
I have no idea if you’ve been following the animal welfare issues going on in Ohio, so let me start this post out with a summary.
Ohio was chugging along, producing quality grain, meats, and produce for the citizens of our world, when the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) came along and decided to wreak havoc. As they have done in other states, HSUS decided to pursue a ballot initiative that would make certain farming practices illegal. Here’s hoping that any of you reading this already know that HSUS isn’t as concerned for animal welfare as they are for ending animal agriculture and meat production in our country, but if you don’t, read this before you go any further.
Ohio agriculture raised a lot of money and started to fight back. They set up an agency within their state that would oversee animal welfare issues and enforce animal care standards, thus eliminating the need for the HSUS to come in and demand the end of the various farming practices.
But now the HSUS has decided that they will continue to fight. They are currently behind a new ballot initiative that will “require the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to adopt certain minimum standards to prevent animal cruelty, improve health and food safety, support family farms, and safeguard the environment throughout the state of Ohio.” These are their words.
The point to my post, however, is the fact that Chipotle is a corporate sponsor for their effort. They are allowing ballots to be placed in their stores throughout Ohio to make it easier for unsuspecting patrons to vote in their favor, bringing us one step closer to ending animal agriculture in the United States.
Yes, the same Chipotle that serves the pork burritos that my co-worker Becky loves, is trying to end pork production in the U.S. And they know it.
They have statements about their purchasing choices and support of humane animal care all over the store. They were also the first restaurant to remove rBGH from their milk products, buy from family farms and make a real, financial commitment to sustainable meat. (source here)
(Whether or not they actually understand that this production system isn’t sustainable remains to be seen. I guess there could be different definitions of sustainability.)
Obviously, with this background, they are well-educated on the goals of the HSUS and want to support ending animal agriculture. Don’t be surprised if you head into Chipotle next year and the entire menu is vegetarian.
Because of all this, our office decided to make a statement yesterday. Becky, Mark and I had the wonderful pork at Moe’s Southwestern Grill instead.
We couldn’t find anything on Moe’s website indicating that they support activist groups and we wanted to reward them for it. Not to mention that their food is better and their chips are free!
Then we met some more folks from the office and expressed our displeasure for Chipotle.
Why don’t you go ahead and do the same?