Conventional *AND* Organic (Celebrating Diversity in Agriculture)

Hello everyone, welcome to my blog about conventional and organic food.

The video below is of a TEDx talk that I gave in February of 2016. The theme of the TED event was “Fueling Human Existence” and the title of my talk was “Celebrating Diversity in Agriculture.” There are some missing powerpoint slides in the YouTube video, so I included a summary below to help make sense of parts of what I say. This video will serve as an introduction to my thoughts on conventional and organic (found below the summary of the TED talk). Thanks for watching and reading!

Summary:

Agriculture fuels human existence. Without agriculture, we could not survive.

The story of agriculture is that of diversity. There are millions of farmers all over the world growing an incredibly diverse amount of crops, plants, and animals in all sorts of climates, soils, and cultures. These farms can be large, small, conventional, organic, etc.

One farm is not like another. Just because one farm does something one way, does not mean that all farms do it that way or need to do it that way. It all depends on what is best for a particular farm in that particular location.

Farmers are experts in their particular field. Most have been trained since they were children in how to farm. Colleges, universities, and agricultural organizations offer tremendous amounts of research and conventions, workshops, and expos to help farmers farm as efficiently and sustainably as possible. However, an expert in one type of farming isn’t always an expert in another type of farming.

Family farm operations still make up the vast majority of farms in the U.S. and around the world. While large agricultural corporations and business are a big part of food production, family farmers are at the root of the equation, and are made up of some of the most honest, value-driven, hard working people you will ever meet. We should be able to trust these families.

Technologies like GMOs, Pesticides, No-Till/Cover Crops, Precision Farming, Intensive Livestock Farming, and Organic Farming are all valuable tools that can help us solve some of the problems we have in the world today. However, they are often met with skepticism, criticism, and resistance both from people and from other farmers. Many of these criticisms are misguided. (Please read the blog below for more on this!)

-We do need to question new technology and keep people, government, and corporations in check, but we need to stop the fighting between farmers and misguided attacks on different types of farming practices.

-Instead of fighting to get rid of each other’s farming practices, we should be fighting to change the real problems we face: 1) Difficulty of Farming 2) Hunger 3) Waste 4) Environmental Impact

We need to support and improve all methods of agriculture! (Conventional, Organic, Urban, Vertical, Greenhouse, etc.) If we took all the time, money, and effort spent debating which method of farming is better and invested it into making each method better, we would make a lot more progress in fighting the real problems we face.

We live in a diverse world with diverse types of people and we need diverse types of farming. It doesn’t make sense to limit farming to one type of practice (Ex. conventional OR organic). To exclude or alienate the others. One type of farmer can’t feed the world. One type of crop can’t feed the world. Just as it is better for a farmer to rotate between several different crops instead of planting one crop over and over again, it is better for agriculture to utilize all of its methods instead of just one. Diversity is the answer.

Be thankful for the remarkable food system we have.

Make sure to get information about your food from experts, not random people who post online. An expert in organic farming would be an organic farmer, an expert in conventional farming would be a conventional farmer. An expert in biotechnology would be a geneticist, an expert in pesticides would be a chemist. And so on and so forth.

-Fighting, conflict, accusations, fear, propaganda, and misinformation are not what will fuel human existence in the future. Human existence will be fueled by supporting one another and working together to find diverse solutions for diverse methods of food production in a diverse world.

My Opinion of Conventional and Organic

The conversation about food these days is filled with misconstrued, biased, agenda-driven information. While I don’t think my opinion is perfect or 100% right, I have tried to form it in a way that is as accurate and fact driven as possible. You don’t have to agree with all I have to say! Please feel free to leave a polite, respectful comment below.

From what I’ve heard in person and seen on the internet, the general opinions people have of organic and conventional food seem to fit in one of the following categories (paraphrased).

  1. I buy whatever is the cheapest or best tasting and don’t really know or care about the difference between organic and conventional.
  1. I buy only organic (or non-GMO, dairy free, vegan, cage-free, free range, etc.) because the alternative (conventional) is filled with toxic things that might kill me like pesticides and GMOs. I buy organic to support the small farmers and not support Big Ag Corporations. Conventional farmers use terrible practices that harm the environment and abuse animals but organic farmers are held to a higher standard and aren’t hurting the environment or animals. I just want farming and food to be like it used to be for my grandparents.
  1. I never buy organic because it is a waste of money. Organic marketing is a scam. Organic farming can’t feed the world. Organic farmers are just taking advantage of higher premiums. They don’t produce as much per acre and their crops often fail.

ALL THREE OF THESE OPINIONS ARE MISGUIDED!!! While there is a bit of truth in each one, all three of these have many misconceptions and inaccurate statements. I will try to address each of these.

Let’s start really quick with #1. I understand the idea of purchasing the cheapest food you can as I know many people must spend as little as they can to fit their budget. However, you should care about your food! Don’t be a lazy consumer. Learn about where and how each type of food is grown and the people who grow it. Learn about nutrition from credible sources. Farmers are always happy to explain why they do what they do and many will even offer tours of their farm! Don’t just rely on marketing schemes to determine your buying choices. Visit farms! Talk to farmers! Educate yourself.

Okay, now my thoughts on the never ending debate between organic and conventional.

I Support Organic

I believe the organic food movement is a good thing because it is waking people up from being lazy consumers like described above. People who are part of this movement care about their food! And they are trying to make a difference through their purchases. That’s great! And I am not going to ask those of you who buy organic to stop. It is your freedom and your choice and if that is what you believe is best for you then please, continue to make those purchases.

I believe organic food is healthy and nutritious and that organic farming is a very viable way of growing food. Every organic farmer I have met is doing the best they can to grow food in a different way than most do. I greatly respect organic farmers because a lot of times it is far more difficult to grow crops organically (although you do get paid more). They have made great strides in developing tools to grow crops using natural substances in more environmentally friendly ways. They use heirloom seeds and protect and promote genetic biodiversity. They find ways to raise animals in better conditions. What’s really neat is that many of these developments have spilled over into conventional farming as well! Organic farming has actually affected conventional farming is a very positive way. It’s challenged the conventional way of doing things and has helped a lot of people start to think outside the box when it comes to food production.

I Also Support Conventional

However, when it comes to sustainability, practicality, and overall efficiency, I do not believe organic food production is the solution all by itself. However, it is part of the solution! As mentioned in my TED talk above, it’s going to take a diverse set of solutions to feed the world sustainably. One of the biggest arguments against organic is that it “cannot feed the world.” I honestly believe we could feed the world with small, organic, free range, non-GMO farms. But it wouldn’t be efficient or practical because all of these methods require more input for less output than conventional. It would require most of the population working in food production again. It would raise the cost of all of our food. Many people (especially those on lower incomes) would be far worse off if we made a complete transition to only organic food. That doesn’t make sense!

Large, conventional farms could feed the world by themselves as well. The advancements being made in conventional agriculture are astounding. Technology such as GMOs, pesticides, precision farming, and intensive livestock farming allows farmers to produce far more food with far less resources! That is a huge part of sustainability.

However, I do not think feeding the world with only conventional farming would be as friendly to the environment, to local communities, or to biodiversity by itself as it would be and is with the inclusion of organic farming. That’s where I believe organic has its place. We need local farmers markets. We need small farms in rural communities. We need farmers who save seeds, build healthy soil, and protect biodiversity. All of these things can be found in a balance between conventional and organic. As mentioned in the TED talk, we need diverse farms, diverse farmers, diverse areas of expertise, diverse approaches, and diverse solutions to diverse problems.

I Do Not Support Fear Marketing and False Accusations

While I do support organic farming and organic farmers, I do not support the marketing strategies the organic industry employs. The reason most people buy organic food is because they believe it is “better” than conventional food. The organic marketing schemes take full advantage of this concept, and try to convince consumers that conventional farming is destructive to the environment, toxic to their health, unfriendly to animals, and bad for small farmers. In reality, conventional farming is far from those things. Conventional farmers (like organic farmers) are a community of honest, hard working, value-based people who are raising food in the method they think is best on their particular farm. Every conventional farmer feeds their family with the same food they grow. I will link some of the blogs I have written about conventional farming here:

Organic marketers also perpetuate a lot of myths about organic food itself. Many people who buy organic food do not realize a lot of the following:

  • Organic doesn’t necessarily have to do with nutrition or health. An organic apple is the same nutritionally as a conventional one grown in a similar environment. The same goes with GMO and non-GMO. A fruit is a fruit, a vegetable is a vegetable, a grain is a grain.
  • Organic doesn’t necessarily have to do with safety either. Organic farmers still use pesticides, they just have to be natural chemicals and not synthetic (man-made) mixes of chemicals. Many times these natural chemicals used in organic farming are much more toxic than the man-made versions used in conventional farming. It is true that pesticide residues in organic food are typically lower than conventional food. However, it would take eating hundreds of servings every day for these residues to ever reach a harmful level. Harmful pathogens, on the other hand, are generally more present in organic food as organic farmers are limited to only using animal waste for fertilizer instead of synthetic (man-made) fertilizer.
  • Unless you buy local (farmers markets) or know exactly where your food is coming from, buying organic food does not necessarily mean you are supporting the small farmer and the small business. The organic industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Whole Foods profits over $14 billion a year. There are CEOs, presidents, and industry reps in the organic industry that are making a ton of money from sales of organic foods.
  • Organic farming is not always better on the environment. There are huge organic farms (many located overseas) that hire cheap labor to grow organic food. Often times, forests and marshes are being cleared to do this. Because organic farming produces less food per acre and per animal, one could say it impacts the environment more per unit of product.

There are pros and cons about both conventional and organic. There are people in both industries unfairly accusing one another of being a fraud. There are issues in both that need fixing. One is not better than the other, and people should stop saying that. As I’ve said before, we need to work together to better both of them!

Should I buy conventional or organic food?

The way I’ve always looked at conventional and organic is like the way I look at different brands of cars:

  • There are luxury cars and there are economy cars. Sports cars and family cars. Cars that cost more and cars that cost less. Should everyone buy a Lamborghini? Should everyone drive a beat up 20-year-old Honda? No. It all depends on what they need for their situation in life and what they enjoy. In the same way, there should be different types of food available for people to consume. If people want to pay more for organic they should be able to. And in the same way, no way should be forced to pay more for organic food. There should be multiple options.
  • Driving a luxury car does not make you “better” than another person who drives a cheap car. Eating organic food does not make you “better” than someone who eats conventional food. There are rich people who drive economy cars and people in debt who drive luxury vehicles. There are going to be rich people who don’t want to buy organic and poor people who want to save up to buy organic food. It’s a preference and it shouldn’t be a decision we judge others negatively for.
  • Both cars should take you from point A to B. Both types of food should give you safe, healthy nutrition. I truly believe that both conventional and organic foods are safe and healthy. However, luxury cars have things go wrong with them. So can economy cars. There are farmers (both conventional and organic) who are going to abuse pesticides, abuse the environment, and abuse animals. We don’t live in a perfect world and we will always have these things happening. But we need to do our best to stop them.
  • If you put oil in the gas tank of a luxury vehicle it’s not going to run right. Same thing with an economy car. You can eat only organic, but if your diet consists of organic energy drinks and organic donuts, you’ll still be unhealthy. You can also eat only conventional foods and be completely healthy.

Living a healthy lifestyle comes from eating balanced portions of healthy food, getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress. It does not come from eating organic or conventional food. I’m not going to tell you which type of food to purchase. That is your freedom of choice as an American consumer. I think both options are great and I am thankful that our food supply is so bountiful that we have options. Many people in the world are starving today and would do anything for food. They wouldn’t care the least bit if it were organic or not. The lesson to be learned is that if you have plenty of food to eat each day you should not complain, you should be thankful!

It’s sad to me to think that so many consumers are complaining about food when they have it in abundance. And the people who don’t have food could have it if we just improved all of our methods instead of fighting about which ones are better! Let’s stop the fighting, the false accusations, the spreading of fear and misinformation. Let’s start uniting to fight the real problems we are facing today. Let’s feed the world!

 

Welcome to the Peterson Farm Blog!

We are glad you are here! This blog was created for us to address the many questions people have about farmers and modern day agriculture. We hope that our blog will be a source of answers for people who are searching for the truth! Feel free to leave a comment or question and we will do our best to get back to you. Thanks!

Introduction: All I Do Is Farm (The Blog)

Greg Peterson: Advocate for Truth

  1. GMOs
  2. Livestock Production: Animal Welfare
    1. Introduction: Why do we raise animals for food and products?
    2. The Life Cycle of Beef Cattle
    3. The Life Cycle of Dairy Cattle
    4. The Life Cycle of Swine
    5. The Life Cycle of Poultry
    6. The Welfare of Livestock Today
    7. Conclusion: The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, Wildlife
  3. Chemical Usage in Agriculture
  4. Organic Farming and Conventional Farming
  5. Family Farming, Industrial Farming, Factory Farming
  6. Hormones and Antibiotics (Coming Soon – Until then see blogs about Chipotle below)
  7. Monsanto (Coming Soon)

The Peterson Farm Bros Beef With Chipotle

  1. Part 1: The Peterson Farm Bros Beef With Chipotle
  2. Part 2: The Definition of a Family Farmer
  3. Part 3: The Definition of a Humanely Raised Animal
  4. Part 4: The Definition of Ethical Behavior

Peterson Farm Brothers: A Farm Family That Parodies Hit Songs!

The Peterson Farm Bros are made up of Greg (25), Nathan (22), Kendal
(19), and honorary “bro” Laura (15) Peterson. They are siblings who farm together with their parents near Assaria, KS. The farm is a 5th generation family farm that raises cattle, wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, and alfalfa. The family started making YouTube videos in 2012, when the oldest brother Greg had an idea to make a parody music video with his brothers to help educate their city friends about farming. The video was filmed throughout the month of June and posted at the end of the month. It was entitled “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” and was a parody of the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO. The song was a viral hit on YouTube and was the beginning of an incredible journey for the farm family, who have now acquired over 37 million views on YouTube!

  • Title: I’m Farming And I Grow It
  • Original Song: I’m Sexy and I Know It by LMFAO
  • Date: June 2012
  • Views: 9.5 million

The brothers followed up their successful first video with a remake of the most popular music video of all time “Gangnam Style.” Their version was appropriately titled, “Farmer Style.” It ended up becoming their most watched video!

  • Title: Farmer Style
  • Original Song: Gangnam Style by PSY
  • Date: December 2012
  • Views: 16.2 million

The following summer, the brothers couldn’t decide which currently popular song they should parody. The top hits of the summer were by Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber. They decided not to go that direction, so they threw it back to the ’90s and parodied the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” instead! And this time they included their mom and their sister.

  • Title: A Fresh Breath of Farm Air
  • Original Song: Fresh Prince of Bel Air by Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff
  • Date: July 2013
  • Views: 1.3 Million

The Peterson Family Farm has always put up a lot of hay. Therefore, it was fitting to produce a song strictly about baling!

  • Title: Bale
  • Original Song: Sail by Awolnation
  • Date: September 2013
  • Views: 1.1 Million

It was the middle of winter, and the brothers felt it was time to make another video. But the main thing that was really happening on the farm at that time was feeding cattle twice a day. So they made a video about their daily chores on the farm!

  • Title: Chore
  • Original Song: Roar by Katy Perry
  • Date: December 2013
  • Views: 2.2 Million

After doing a Katy Perry-dy, the brothers thought it would be best if they got back to their rapping “roots” that they got started with. They realize they aren’t that good at rapping, but there is nothing more entertaining than farmers rapping about farming. Plus, they got some help from fellow YouTubers Lil Fred and Farmer Derek!

  • Title: All I Do is Farm
  • Original Song: All I Do is Win by DJ Khaled
  • Date: July 2014
  • Views: 700,000

At the end of 2014, there were several songs the brothers wanted to parody, so they decided to do all of them in one video! Including their most requested song, “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen.”

  • Title: Throttle Down for What, Talk Farming to Me, All About That Beef, I’m So Farmer, Let it Grow
  • Original Songs: Turn Down for What (DJ Snake), Talk Dirty (Jason Derulo), All About That Bass (Meghan Trainor), Fancy (Iggy Azalea), Let it Go (Frozen Movie)
  • Date: October 2014
  • Views: 770,000

Sometimes the older fans of the PFB would complain about not knowing the songs that they were parodying, so the brothers decided to throw it way back to the 80’s! They also had farmers and ranchers from all over the world send in pictures and videos of them taking care of their livestock.

Title: Takin’ Care of Livestock

Original Song: Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman Turner Overdrive

Date: May 2015

Views: 170,000

For the entire summer of 2015, the brothers tried to brainstorm parody lyrics to Uptown Funk. Finally, they were able to come up with some for part of the song. Adding hit songs of the summer “Whip/Nae Nae” and “Hit the Quan,” the parody mashup “Farmers Feed the World” was born.

Title: Farmers Feed the World

Original Songs: Whip Nae/Nae by Silento, Hit the Quan by I Heart Memphis, and Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson

Date: November 2015

Views: 450,000

Follow the Peterson Farm Brothers:

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/petersonfarmbros

Twitter: @gregpeterson33, @npete16, @kmerle7

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/petersonfarmbros

Website: http://www.petersonfarmbros.com

Introduction: Why Do We Raise Animals for Food and Products?

Part 1: Why Do We Raise Animals For Food and Products?

Part 2: The Welfare of Livestock Today

Part 3: Conclusion: The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, Wildlife

  • Why do we use livestock products for human use and consumption? 
  • Should I feel bad when I eat meat because an animal died to become that meat? 
  • Why can’t animals be set free to live as long of a life as possible?

Livestock animals (Cattle, Horses, Chickens, Turkeys, Pigs, Sheep, etc.) have been a huge part of human existence since the beginning of our civilization. Humans have used animals for meat, milk, eggs, labor, and clothing for thousands of years. Millions of people around the globe take care of livestock every day! (See video below)

But do we really need animal agriculture? Must innocent animals lose their lives for human benefit? Why can’t we just rely on fruits, veggies, and grains to feed and clothe the masses? Here are 10 reasons why animal agriculture exists and why it is ethical.

1. Animal Products are the Reason Most Livestock Animals are Born

The fact that humans eat and use animal products is the main reason most livestock animals are alive in the first place, even though in certain cases the process theoretically ends their lives as well. If you believe animals like cows, pigs, chickens, or sheep deserve a chance at life, you must believe in the use of animals for humans, because without us, 95% of these animals would never be born in the first place. Farmers help bring these animals into this world and give their lives meaning and purpose as they leave it (food and products). The only question that remains is whether or not the quality of life for these animals is worth them being born in the first place, which will be addressed in the subsequent “animal welfare” blogs found on the home page of our blog.

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2. Livestock Infrastructure Produces Billions of Pounds of Food & Products

Meat, milk, eggs, and thousands of other food products come from animals. Animal products are found in a vast amount of foods consumed today. Furthermore, animal by-products are used extensively in almost every walk of life. While you may be able to avoid eating animal products, it is nearly impossible to avoid using animal by-products. The infrastructure of the livestock industry has allowed for thousands of these products to be made affordably, efficiently, and sustainably.

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If we did away with livestock products, we would have to reinvent the infrastructure of our food supply and product supply, which would prove to be extremely costly. Thousands of farmers would have their current farming methods they have developed over centuries taken from them. Technology is what has allowed 1 farmer to feed 155 people today instead of 27 people in 1950. Livestock technology is a huge part of that. If we were to abandon animal agriculture, we would see a drastic decrease in food production and an drastic increase in food prices. This would be taking us in the opposite direction of producing enough food to feed a growing population.

3. Millions of Grassland Acres Would Go to Waste Without Livestock

Millions of acres of land are not suitable for crop production (due to slope of terrain, soil type, rainfall, etc.) and are therefore grazed by livestock animals. In fact over 13 million square miles are grazed by livestock animals around the world. These animals help maintain the ecosystem of these grass acres and convert the grass into food for humans. If we took those livestock animals away, the millions of acres of grassland would become unproductive instead of providing billions of pounds of food each year. If our goal is to feed 9 billion people by 2050, this would be a huge step backward in reaching that goal.

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4. Livestock Animals Roaming “Free” Is Not Plausible

Currently there are over 11 billion birds, 87 million cattle, 67 million pigs, and 5 million sheep used in U.S. livestock production today. Farmers breed these animals, feed these animals, and protect these animals. They are domesticated. If livestock production ceased, the incentive for farmers to spend their lives caring for these animals would be gone. Farmers would no longer be there to take care of these animals, they would no longer be maintaining fences, caring for the sick, protecting them from predators, etc. Animals would either die out, live in the wild, or live in a zoo. In the wild, livestock animals would no longer be producing food, products, and labor for humans, they would become road hazards and would get into yards, gardens, and public places. They would be a nuisance. The reason these domesticated animals have survived over the generations is based on their importance to humans. Even if sanctuaries were built for large numbers of animals, only a small percentage of the amount we have today would exist.

5. Livestock Produce Vast Amounts of Fertilizer Needed to Grow Plants

Without fertilizer, farmers of all types could not grow half as much food as they do. While there are synthetic fertilizers available for farmers to use, many farmers, especially organic farmers, rely on manure from animals to fertilize their crops. Putting nutrients back into the soil through spreading of manure is one of the most natural ways to grow food without depleting the soil and the environment!

6. Livestock Food Products Provide Essential Nutrients

While it is entirely possible to consume a diet free of livestock products, it can be quite difficult. Many people in this world do not have the extra money, time, or discipline to spend avoiding products from animals. Meat, dairy and eggs contain essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Again, the infrastructure of livestock production has allowed for these products to be low in cost and easily accessed.

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7. The Livestock Industry Employs Millions of People

If animal agriculture did not exist, millions of people would have to find a job doing something else. This includes jobs in animal production, processing, sales, nutrition, and health. As many know, finding a job can be a struggle no matter what industry you are a part of. Livestock farmers and ranchers have developed and passed down skills and talents over hundreds of years learning how to take care of livestock animals. Colleges and universities around the world have trained thousands of people in different areas of livestock production (see below). Abandoning all of that would be a waste of time and resources and would leave many searching for a job, possessing skills that are no longer needed.

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8. The Livestock Industry is a Huge Part of the Economy

The livestock industry provides massive economic benefits to many different countries around the world. In the United States, the numbers are as follows:

  • 1,851,000 jobs
  • $346 billion in total economic output
  • $60 billion in household income
  • $15 billion in income taxes paid, and
  • $6 billion in property taxes paid

(Source: http://igrow.org/livestock/profit-tips/economic-benefits-of-the-livestock-industry/#sthash.O9ARKhNT.dpuf)

Many countries are struggling economically, but agriculture is usually one of the bright spots in an economy. If animal agriculture were removed from the economy of a country like the U.S., it would be devastating.

9. Many People Rely on Animal Agriculture for Survival

Hundreds of thousands of farm families around the world rely on livestock animals for their survival. There are places where livestock animals are the only thing a family owns besides their home. In wealthier societies, we do have a choice of whether or not to eat meat, but in many places that is not an available choice.

Source: http://bit.ly/1LuXlF7

Even in wealthy countries, livestock animals can provide the majority of a farm family’s income due to location (surrounded by pastureland), amount of land owned (not enough to make a living on crops), and climate (grow crops in the summer, livestock in the winter). Families could relocate and adapt to make a living apart from animal agriculture, but it would be unfair and extremely costly to them.

10. Livestock Animals Are a Huge Part of Our Culture

Animal agriculture is a huge part of human history and culture. Livestock farmers and ranchers view working with animals as more than a job. It is a lifestyle that is deeply ingrained in who they are and their purpose here on earth. Millions of children have been raised taking care of livestock to teach them how to do chores, develop a work ethic, and spend time with their family. You can see that in our video, “Takin’ Care of Livestock” linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc1X0CMDDNY&feature=youtu.be

11. Animal Food Products Taste Amazing

Although tastes and preferences vary tremendously throughout society, most people would agree that the best tasting foods involve animal products! A world without burgers, steaks, eggs, milk, and ice cream would be a sad scenario.

Source: http://bit.ly/1JIwR3S

 

Bottom line: You can choose to avoid animal products for a variety of reasons. You can work to improve animal welfare. And you can continue to ask questions to help keep livestock farmers and ranchers in check. However, the practice of animal agriculture is a very important part of society and the people who are involved in the industry should be supported when they are doing a good job. To see what the current state of the livestock industry looks like, please read the rest of our blogs detailing the life cycles and welfare of different livestock animals. And please, feel free to leave questions at the bottom of this page!

  1. The Life Cycle of Beef Cattle
  2. The Life Cycle of Dairy Cattle
  3. The Life Cycle of Swine
  4. The Life Cycle of Poultry
  5. The Welfare of Livestock Today
  6. Conclusion: The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, Wildlife

The Life Cycle of Beef Cattle Production

Stages of Beef Cattle Production

1.   Beginning Stage (Bull + Cow = Calf)

2A. Grass Finished (Middle Stage – Final Stage)

2B. Grain Finished: Backgrounding (Middle Stage)

2C. Grain Finished: Finishing Lot (Final Stage)

  1. Harvest and Processing (End Stage)

Beginning Stage (Bull + Cow = Calf)

Size: Typically in large pastures with 50-100 head of cattle

Location: All over USA

Family Owned: 99%

Diet: Mama Cow’s milk until old enough to eat grass

Sickness Treatment: Antibiotics

Birth Weight – Sell Weight: 150 lbs – 450 lbs

Time in Cycle: 6-8 months

The beginning stage of life for both grass-finished and grain-finished cattle is the same for the first 8-10 months of the animal’s life. All beef cattle eat grass for at least the first half of their lives.

All beef cattle are born to cows. The natural way for a cow to have a calf is unassisted in an open field or pasture. However, if a rancher knows a cow is about to give birth, they will often bring the cow into a barn or shelter for two reasons. The first reason is to protect both the cow and the newborn calf from extreme cold, rain, or snow. Calves are often born in the winter and going from a cozy womb to the freezing cold can result in sickness or death. The second reason is to make it easier for the rancher to help the cow give birth in case there are problems. Often times a rancher will have to “pull” a calf from a cow in order to reduce the pain and sometimes even save the lives of both the animals.

After birth, the calf will be ear-tagged or branded for identification and will nurse off of its mother for the next 6 to 8 months. Eventually the calf will start to graze grass alongside its mother until it is weaned from milk entirely. Up to this point, the lives of all beef cattle are the same. From here they will either become reproducing cows/bulls or they will be fed out for beef consumption.

Life Cycle of a Cow/Bull

Size: Typically in large pastures with 50 to 100 head of cattle

Location: All over USA

Family Owned: 99%

Diet: Grass, Forage, Roughage (Grazing)

Sickness Treatment: Antibiotics

Weight: 1,500 – 2,000 lbs

Time in Cycle: 5 – 10 years

Once calves on grass pasture are weaned off of their mothers, they are sorted into groups based on their gender (male bulls, female heifers). Cows are heifers that were bred by bulls and had a baby calf. Cows have a 9 month gestation period and typically have a calf every 12 months. All cows spend their entire lives (Approx. 7-10 years) grazing on grass or forage and mothering baby calves. When they are no longer able to have calves, cows are harvested for beef (see final stage).

Bulls are calves that are not castrated and bred specifically with dominant genetics to produce superior offspring when fully grown. There are typically 2 or 3 older bulls per cowherd of 50. Bulls can sense when cows go into heat and will mate with them at that time. Ranchers also artificially inseminate cows with bull semen when they are in heat to help guarantee the cow will have calf.

2A. Life Cycle of Grass Finished Beef (Middle to Final Stage)

Size: 100 head – 3,000 head

Location: All over USA

Family Owned: Approx. 99%

Diet: Grass, Forage, Roughage (Grazing)

Sickness Treatment: Antibiotics

Weight: 450 pounds to market weight

Time in Cycle: 6-8 months – 3 years

Once calves on grass pasture are weaned off of their mothers, they are sorted into groups of bulls and heifers. Some become steps B and C (Bulls and Cows). The others will be castrated (if they are bulls) and will spend the remainder of their days grazing on grass until they are fat enough to harvest.

2B. Life Cycle of Grain Finished Beef (Middle Stage)

Size: Between 500 and 2,000 head

Location: Typically Midwest/Western USA

Family Owned: Approx. 90%

Diet: Grass, Hay, Roughage with increasing amounts of silage and grain

Sickness Treatment: Antibiotics

Weight: 450 pounds – 850 pounds

Time in Cycle: 6-8 months – 12-14 months

Once calves on grass pasture are weaned off of their mothers, they are sorted into groups (Large, small, bulls, heifers) and sold to the next producer. Calves are bought and sold all over the country, which provides a very competitive market, resulting in lower costs. A lot of the calves in the east are shipped out to the west where weather, food supply and conditions are better suited to grow them. The calves spend their next year of life at a backgrounding feedlot like ours. When calves arrive at a backgrounding feedlot, they spend the first couple of days recovering from the stress of being sold, traveling up to several hours, and adjusting to a new place. Our new calves are greeted with a bunk full of feed and hay and a smaller pen that opens into shelter from the elements. The smaller pen helps keep them close to their food and water so they know where to find it. We also pitch hay by hand to help them get used to us. Within the next week, calves are typically vaccinated to help prevent them from possible sickness during their stay. The calves are then ear tagged if they were branded or re-ear tagged if they were already tagged.

The next 3-5 months for cattle in a backgrounding feedlot is spent eating. At the beginning of their stay the diet will be primarily grasses and forages with only a hint of grains being introduced. By the end of their stay, cattle will be consuming about 75% forages and 25% grain. Watch the video for more on what we feed our cattle in a backgrounding lot. Each day, cattlemen will survey each animal to determine if they are sick. If cattle happen to get sick in a backgrounding feedlot, they will be administered antibiotics to help them fight the sickness. They will be separated from the rest of the herd until they recover. The risk of sickness is more prevalent in a feedlot compared to on grass, but only a small minority of the animals ever has to deal with sickness.

When the animals have reached the weight of approximately 850 pounds, they are once again sorted by weight and sold to a finishing yard to be fattened for market. Most cattle are not shipped as far in this step as they were in the previous step, resulting in minimal stress on the animal.

2C. Life Cycle of Grain Finished Beef (Final Stage)

Size: 3,000 + head

Location: Midwestern to Western USA

Family Owned: Approx 50%

Diet: Silage, Grain

Sickness Treatment: Antibiotics

Weight: 850 pounds to 1300 pounds

Time in Cycle: 4-6 months

The finishing stage of grain-finished beef usually takes place in large finishing yards in the west. This stage is similar to the middle stage in most everything but diet. Cattle once again recover from transfer, are given a second vaccination, and are given antibiotics if they get sick. The primary differences between finishing yards and backgrounding lots are the size of operation and the diet content. Most finishing yards have a large capacity for thousands of animals.

Slaughter/Harvest of All Beef Cattle (End Stage)

When cattle are at a finished weight (Approx. 1300 pounds) they are taken to a processing plant to be harvested and made into beef as well as many other products. If you would like to learn more about this process, please watch the following video (it is somewhat graphic in nature):