RESPONSIBLE ANIMAL CARE – WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING

February is Responsible Pet Owner’s Month!  While a lot of folks probably don’t think that livestock farmers think of their cows, chickens, and pigs as pets … well, a lot of them do.  Here’s how we participate in Responsible Pet Owner’s Month – agriculture style. 

Thanks to Rosie for helping us understand reponsible livestock care from a farmer’s perspective!

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We have all seen and read numerous articles from humane societies and other organizations about American farmers and our “mistreatment” of animals. Whenever I see one of these articles, I often wonder what the answer would be if I asked the authors of those articles exactly how many farms they have visited lately to see first hand how farmers handle their animals. If I had to guess, it is a very small number, if any.

When people read articles like these, they forget to take one very important thing into consideration: credibility of the author. Even if the authors hold a position of authority for a company or site other sources for their information, I find that the topic of livestock production and treatment of the animals can only be truly understood from a first hand experience. Sure, you could research the topic and find information about it, but how do you really know what is happening on our farms unless you have experienced it first-hand?

As someone with 20 years of experience on a livestock production farm, I would like to take this opportunity to THANK our farmers for their hard work and responsible animal care- this should be a nice change of pace!

Like any typical farm kid, I spent ten years participating in the County 4-H fairs showing cattle and pigs. In those ten years, I got to see not only how my family handles our animals, but how numerous other families handle their livestock as well. I can honestly say that farm families have a great respect for the animals that they raise, in fact, the only minor mistreatment of animals I can remember were caused by pedestrians at the fairs who were unfamiliar with how to properly handle animals. 

Many practices that farmers commonly use are misconstrued by the general public and seen as mistreatment when, in fact, it is helpful to the animal. One example of this is our use of a “show stick” when showing cattle. From a spectator’s point of view, it looks like the people showing the animals are just poking the cattle with a sharp stick. The show sticks are used to communicate to the animal how we would like their feet placed on the ground. As is the case with most large animals, cattle have much deeper nerve endings than humans, so what we would see as a painful poke, they feel as a nudge and they move their feet accordingly. Another main use of these show sticks is to rub the under bellies of the cattle in the show ring to keep them calm and comfort them because they are in a new setting. This is just one of many examples of misinterpreted actions that farmers use when handling animals.

Growing up in a farm community, I also got to see how other farm operations handled their livestock at home on the farm. Once again, I have always seen animals treated with respect and often cared for like members of the family. On our farm, each of our cows is still named and that is how we keep track of them in our record books!

Responsible animal care is an important issue, and thus should not be overlooked. For any skeptics about my claims of good animal care on farms, look into the regulations that producers have to follow that were put into place by government organizations. Just like anyone else, farmers have rules to follow that ensure the well-being of every animal, and from my first hand experience of 20 years on a farm, farmers are glad to follow those rules and would not raise their animals without the care and respect that they deserve.

Once again, thank you farmers for your hard work and responsible animal care! Even though the countless articles that paint a bad picture of our farms continue to come, farmers continue to believe in what they do and the manner in which they do it, and I am proud to call myself one of them.

Rosie Sanderson
Illinois State University student 
Animal Industry Management

HIGH FIVE FOR FARMERS!

This video won second place in the Alpharma Student Video Contest! Tori Frobish is a University of Illinois student from the Champaign-Urbana area.

If you liked this post, you might like:
FARM WOMEN LEAVE A STRONG LEGACY
THANK A FARMER THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
HOLIDAYS ARE NON EXISTENT FOR FARMERS

YOU CAN’T WIN FOR LOSING

Farmers have always used the latest and greatest best management practices to produce safe and affordable food in a way that preserves the environment because that’s the right thing to do.  Now, even best management practices can’t save them from the threat of lawsuits.

Yes, lawsuits.  In a country that repeatedly tells us that they love family farmers and wants to see them succeed, family farmers everywhere are desperately trying to protect themselves from losing everything in a lawsuit, even when they are trying their best to follow the letter of the law.

As an example, the US EPA is currently working on new spray drift regulation that would essentially consider any chemical leaving any nozzle as a point source pollutant.  The US EPA would like to require all farmers (and local muncipalities spraying to control mosquito populations or even normal citizens wanting to spray) to obtain a permit to apply these chemicals.  Aside from the fact that the chemicals in these low doses have been proven safe, the problem here is that state EPAs don’t have the staff available to issue all the permits.  This leaves farmers either unable to apply their crop protection products or applying them without a permit.  As you might guess, applying them without a permit opens farmers up to the threat of citizen lawsuit. 

What’s a farmer to do?

If you’re in IL, perhaps you’ve followed the Tradition Dairy case in JoDaviess County.  This is a lawsuit brought on by a citizen group that is absolutely convinced that the dairy being sited in JoDaviess County will harm their health and bring other ruin to the county.  Nevermind that the state legislature has set up strict guidelines on siting livestock facilities and how they are managed (called the Livestock Management Facilities Act) and that Tradition Dairy has followed every single one and more, the citizen group has the right to sue the dairy owner over a perceived threat of harm before the livestock farm has even milked one single cow! 

What’s a farmer to do?

Add lawsuits over high fructose corn syrup aiding the spread of pancreatic cancer and animal rights which would effectively allow a farmer’s herd of cattle to sue him to the list … and this list isn’t even exhaustive!

What’s a farmer to do?

Certainly if our country supports rural economies and the farms that run them, we need to rethink subjecting our farmers to this level of scrutiny.  If American citizens really do love family farmers and want them to succeed, they cannot allow a flock of chickens to sue.  What small business man could stand up to this sort of obsurdity?

Farmers need rules to follow just like everyone else in any other industry under the sun.  Best management practices are a good thing and laws that demand such practices are necessary to ensure that each and every player in our food production system is operating with integrity.  But when is following the law enough?

What’s a farmer to do?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Project Coordinator

FARMER’S DAUGHTERS LOOK FORWARD TO THE FAIR

Many farm kids believe the best part of summer is their county fair. Throughout the year 4-Hers work diligently to perfect their projects in hope of a successful week at the fair. Yesterday, we went to the McLean County 4-H Fair and it brought back sweet memories from our days in 4-H.
Kelsey: The fair that I attended while growing up was the Tazewell County 4-H fair and I was a member of the Tremont Clovers 4-H club in Tremont, Illinois for twelve years. Throughout 4-H I attempted numerous projects taking away something different from each one.

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.

Kelsey: The projects I tended to return to included visual arts, photography, tractor safety, veterinary science, and crops. Due to all of my friends showing cattle I usually spent a great deal of time in the cattle barn. I loved helping them show their cow-calf pairs and participating in the beef obstacle course. However, I would have to say that my favorite project was crops. The first morning of the fair my dad and I would get up extremely early to go dig my crops out of the field. Depending on the morning dew and the status of the irrigation system we would usually arrive at the fair completely soaked, and covered in dirt from head to toe!
Kristie: Since I did not have to take the time to show animals, I spent my time doing as many projects in as many categories as possible, sometimes bringing well over twenty projects. I always had projects in multiple arts and cooking categories, I took woodworking projects a few times, I usually had a photography project, and I tried my hand at sewing. My favorite category was the “Clothing Decisions” projects in the Clothing and Textiles division, which was really just an excuse to go bargain shopping with my mom. I always did the Style Revue Show to model my sewing projects, and my biggest sewing accomplishment was making my homecoming dress for my freshman year of high school. My big state fair début was to show my microwave bran muffins, and by the time I had perfected them, my family couldn’t get rid of them quick enough.
Kelsey: In 2007 I was honored to represent Tazewell County 4-H as their queen. During my reign I was able to see the fair in an entire new perspective. I attended nearly every event at the fair, rode in eight parades throughout the county, participated in many 4-H activities, and attended the IAAF Convention as a contestant in the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Pageant. While agriculture had always been my lifestyle as a farmer’s daughter, it was not until my year as queen that I realized the effect it had on our society and the importance of advocating such an extraordinary industry.

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.

Kelsey Vance
ICGA/ICMB Summer Intern
Illinois State University student

Kristie Harms
ICMB/ICGA Summer Intern
University of Missouri student

WE MUST UNITE TO ADVOCATE OUR INDUSTRY AND EDUCATE THE PUBLIC

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!)

TRAVEL TO A MODERN DAIRY FARM

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.

Milking Process

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?

Other tidbits:

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.

LIVESTOCK FARMS NOT WHAT YOU THINK

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.

At Larson Farms in Maple Park, IL, I listened as Mike Martz introduced his “staff” who consisted of his wife, his children, his brothers and sisters and their spouses and children, his in-laws, and four full time employees. Guess what? Even the four employees had long histories with the farm and their fathers and grandfathers had worked for Larson Farms for years, nearly passing down their “employment” and family connection with the farm.

This is anything but corporate.

Likewise, on Jamie Willrett’s Farm in Malta, IL, I pulled up and was greeted by Jamie’s son, Sawyer and followed his other two children and wife along on the tour of the farm. The entire family lives on the premise … and they operate a fairly substantial feedlot.
These two farms are both exactly what non-farm audiences fear and exactly what they love. They are large operations that produce beef economically and yet they are also family operations that care about their livestock.

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.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director

CATTLE FEEDLOT: BEHIND THE SCENES

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…
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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.

Conclusions

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.
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References

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

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. 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.
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Acknowledgements

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.