I attended a conference at which a professor from a major University spoke of the need for implants, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and other inputs to increase production so American farmers and ranchers can continue to feed the world. She argued that the 98% of people who aren’t involved in production agriculture just don’t get it. I think she’s right. If the 98% saw some of the things that we do, they wouldn’t get it. They’d think we’re nuts. Consider the following and tell me what you think:
Breakfast in Bed for Cows
Feed lots are the ruminant equivalent of breakfast in bed. BSE reminded us that cows are herbivores, not carnivores. What we haven’t seemed to learn is that ruminants are celluloseivores not starchivores. The high grain (starch) rations we use to finish animals only work because we kill them before it kills them.
A Daily Dose of Penicillin with Your Wheaties
To keep animals from getting sick before we kill them we lace their feed with sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics. My father was a professor at UC Medical Center. In his research, among other things, he discovered a new antibiotic. He was a smart man but he was bewildered and outraged at the careless use of antibiotics in agriculture. He warned me, and anyone else who would listen, over 40 years ago that sub-therapeutic feeding and other improper uses of antibiotics in the livestock industry would make what we once considered “miracle drugs” useless. Even worse, he predicted that we would create super virulent, resistant organisms. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see this one coming…just a scientist.
Giant Pooper Scoopers
By confining grazing animals in feed lots we concentrate waste that under natural conditions wouldn’t be waste at all. The synthetic N fertilizers we use to replace the lost fertility burn up the soil’s organic matter. That further impoverishes the soil and intensifies our addiction to chemical fertilizers and the oil required to produce and apply them.
Square Pegs in Round Holes
In nature, grazing animals don’t naturally give birth in the winter. As with other ruminants, the length of post-partum anestrous for beef cattle decreases the closer they calve to the summer solstice. Yet many ranchers insist on having their cows calve closer to the winter solstice. They match the period of their animal’s most critical nutritional need with the period when feed is most scarce.
We have made all of this work by using massive amounts of energy. Our addiction to oil has made us productive, but as our increasing reliance on off-farm income testifies, it is bankrupting us economically. It is also bankrupting us ecologically. BP may say that the Louisiana coast is clear, but by whose measure and at what cost? BP is responsible for the spill, but our insatiable appetite for energy is an accessory to the crime. Burt Smith was spot on when he said, “There’s a lot of oil in a pound of steak.”
Some in this industry insist that the techniques we use are necessary to maintain productivity so we can feed the world. As many of our alumni prove, that simply isn’t true. Breaking our addiction is better for our animals, our land, our bank account, ourselves and the world.