Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How grass fed beef improves the land it comes from

A lot of exaggerations are used by “animal rights” activists to forward their own agenda. One of these is how natural grass-finished beef is lumped in with all the rest of the ways beef is produced in the US.

Practically, they'd be better off taking more vacations from the urban blight they live in and go get some lessons from their country cousins. (Or maybe just try to raise some of this stuff themselves for once instead of giving advice all the time...)

While New York and other coastal cities are busy dumping its waste into the ocean on a daily basis, as well as covering huge masses of land with their garbage landfills, the lowly cow recycles between 75-100% of what it eats directly back onto the ground (depending on what study you believe).

You see, cows are some of the most efficient and environmentally-friendly automatic harvesters we have. And not only that, they also produce another of themselves every year.

Factory approach to meat production

It's only since WWII, when we started feeding grain to cattle that we started interrupting their natural process with our man-made “efficiencies”. When you add the cost of planting, fertilizing, spraying, and harvesting miles of corn just to coop up animals in a concentrated feeding operation – well, that's where things get messy. Literally.

In their natural environment, cows roam around the pastures, usually with one calf at their side and another on the way. For about every 50 cows or so, a bull keeps it that way – year in and year out. Meanwhile, all concerned are simply eating all the forage they can. When they get full, they rest and digest, then get up and go at it again.

As they eat, they drop their manure in the pasture, where it is digested and improves or restores the ecosystem with concentrated nutrients. And when their calf is born on a grassy field, there is little bacteria that they can't handle on their own – because they are already immune to most everything out there.

However, when you take that calf and shut it up in a dirt feedlot to eat grain on a schedule, that whole ecosystem is interrupted. Grain puts on low-quality pounds of flesh, with a lot of fat to go along. While their mothers had high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios (bad fat to good fat), grain-fed beef are known for their heart-stopping renditions of the “Cholesterol Blues”.

Grain does another funny thing – it robs the flavor. Anyone who's ever gotten a hamburger from a pasture-finished beef and then went to eat one of these fast-food wanna-bes will tell you – nothing from a supermarket has any taste at all compared to an all-natural grass-finished beef burger.

And with all those cows in a small space - there's a lot of cleaning up to do. Literally mountains of manure being piled up...

Let's look further at the land it comes from – when you have a cow on pasture, you don't have to spray for weeds or insects. Sure, there are a lot of insects out there – and they all have plenty to eat. Because there are thousands of varieties of plants out there. It isn't a problem that we can only raise one type of plant and have to spray to keep any other plant from growing out there – or to get rid of just a few insects that attack that particular plant you are trying to raise.

Plenty for everyone.

And about those weeds – depending on the particular breed of cow you have, they are just as likely to become a meal as to get to their full height where they can shed their seeds.

Everything-bunched-up-together-and-on-schedule, please

Let's look at another problem with these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's): just like when you put a bunch of people into a small space and force them to live together, any disease spreads quickly through such a herd. The current veterinarian practice is to load the whole herd up with antibiotics to keep everyone safe.

And what about these hormones? These are used to create growth spurts so that the animal gains weight more quickly. The idea being presented is that you can factory-ize these animals.
  • All cows chemically suppressed and then artificially inseminated so they are giving birth at the same time.
  • Cattle are weaned at 7 montths. Either at birth or at weaning, the bull-calves are neutered so they put on extra weight. Calves are sent to a feed lot for fattening on corn or other grain rations.
  • At 14 months, the steers are sold to a packing plant – and the heifers (if not also slaughtered) are now ready to be inseminated.
  • If you check the schedule, this means that these heifers can now take their place in the herd besides their mama's – and the whole oragnization keeps right on schedule. Fattened calves are sent off, the pens are cleaned – and just in time for the next set of feeder calves.

Grass finished beef is different.

It takes around 20-22 months to fatten a calf on grass. So it doesn't fit that once-annual factory schedule. As well, the natural insemination from a bull isn't as definite as an artificial one. So there are “windows” of birthing - weeks, not hours.

But everything is in sync with the natural conditions around them. Illness and sickness – rare. Visits with the vet – rarer. Cost and overhead – nearly non-existent. Just move your cows to fresh pastures frequently or infrequently and both the cows and the pastures stay healthy. And that makes for healthy beef.

When you know how your beef is raised, you know how healthy it is for you – or not.

Choose healthy beef to begin with – chose grass fed beef.

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While I raise my own grass-fed beef here in Missouri, I suggest you try a vendor such as La Cense Beef if you want to sample some truly wonderful, Montana-raised grass fed beef.

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