Friday, February 25, 2011

What's So Important About Alfalfa

Washington just cleared the way for the sale and planting of all the GE Alfalfa.  You might be asking what is GE Alfalfa and why do I even care.  And you may think that alfalfa has no connection to your life.  You would probably be wrong under this assumption.  Alfalfa hay and pellets for concentrate is one of the primary protein additives for dairy cattle, beef cattle, goats, sheep, and many other animals we get meat and milk from.  Have you ever eaten ice cream.  Well, ice cream comes from cows, and many cows eat alfalfa every day.  What about butter, cheese, milk, hamburgers, etc. and the list goes on and on.  Some mineral supplements for humans even contain alfalfa. So what is GE Alfalfa and why does Washington care about it?

As suspected, this is no ordinary alfalfa plant.  These plants come from seeds that have been genetically modified.  The primary reason for modifying the genes are to alter the plant so that it can accept more of a very extremely toxic chemical insecticide called Glyphosate.  You see now, the farmer can plant alfalfa seeds and spray the living daylight out of the entire field with an extremely powerful weed killer, not unlike DDT, without causing damage to the alfalfa plant.  So now the alfalfa is bathed in this pesticide at even higher and higher levels.  The alfalfa is later processed for animal and or human consumption.  What parts of the bug killer doesn't get blown over into the neighbors field, into your air and heating system in your house, or in through your window of your car, gets washed down towards our drinking water system or either stays on the plant to be consumed by food producing animals.  Isn't that just great.

There is little to no question about the dangers of pesticides.  So why would a farmer contribute to such a destructive process.  And why would our hired help in Washington want to contribute. In the old days before pesticides and Monsanto, farmers had better understandings of plant, soil and animal life than they do today.  The also must have had better moral fiber as well.  They understood that in order to grow living food for living people the act of growing food must involve care and consideration for what exists in the quality of the food not just the quantity of a commodity to turn into cash.  And to understand why Washington is even involved we must understand how our USDA employees are connected to the company, Monsanto, that makes and sells these products.  When we spend only a small amount of time looking we easily find that most of the upper level management staff for USDA and FDA have once or in some cases several different times, also worked for Monsanto.  Big companies have found out that not only is paying billions of dollars on lobbyists and bribes a pretty good way of doing business, but promoting your high ranking employees to government positions that actually have the power to approve your products for the market has value as well. And then of course when they get tired of working for uncle sam they are always welcome back home.  What a system.

I have encouraged farmers many times in this blog to become more responsible in this wonderful endeavor, the people of the world have placed in our hands, to produce life giving foods.  I am honored to be given this opportunity and value it tremendously.  I have wondered for sometime what means of legal protection has Monsanto devised to protect themselves for legal liability from creating these poisons that cause cancer and other immune depressant diseases which kill adults and children everyday.  It appears that when the farmer purchases these cancer causing products he is required to sign off on what I call a waiver, which he then accepts all the liability.  This legally exonerates Monsanto from everything under the sun. Isn't that just amazing.  Again, I appeal to the farmer.  Lets quit playing this dangerous game.  It will be the farmer left holding the bag some day when the attorney or someone even valuable who asks,"did anyone force you to farm this way"?  And of course the answer will be, "we were only doing it for the money".  And the reply from the bench setting next to Monsanto, "Off with his head".

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Search of Sustainability

This was the title of the presentation given by Jim Lents from Oklahoma during the Spring Forage Conference yesterday in Springfield Missouri.  I was also a guest presenter during the one day conference as well.  Jim Lents and his family have been line breeding hereford cattle since the 1940's.  He and I have many of the same ideas concerning the degradation of our livestock in this country due to our inefficient and non professional system of breeding our cattle.  He made the comment that our problems are an accumulation of poor breeding that began around the middle of the 1800's.

To first state the problem: current day livestock production has not passed the sustainability test which has now resulted in most cattle operations existing more as a hobby to its owners than a genuine profit enterprise.  If anyone should doubt this comment, try and write down a list of people you know in this business that actually make their living from this business.   I contend, as does Jim Lents, that we no longer breed a cow that even has the remote possibility at procreating, living a long life on forage alone, and making her owner a living.  We now have many more people in the supply business to sell us farmers gadgets and gizmos to help nurture these money loosing pet elephants along than we do farmers themselves.  In my lifetime I have witnessed many more farmers exiting business due to business failure than I have seen new ones or existing ones remain. 

One of the primary reasons this has existed is because our cows have been bred for many, many generations to do a lot of things besides consume forages.  Most no longer have the genetic make up to convert forages to meat and milk in a sustainable manner.  And most of these cattle owners I talk to have no idea of these concepts.  They generally assume that a cow is a cow and the method of breeding has little effect on profits.  When in fact, with out this concern, there is little to no chance at all for any profit under sustainable methods. 

The seedstock industry is now based around numbers on paper known as the EDP system.  Under this concept it is purported that you can breed and perpetuate a cattle herd by reading these numbers without ever even looking at the animal.  And with the advent of artificial insemination, this process of perpetuating poor quality animals is sped up to lightning speed. 

One good example of this is in the Holstein dairy industry.  The average holstein cow no longer lives long enough to have her second calf, which is about four years old.   The average age for a black angus cow is about six years old.  There are records from the early 1800's of black angus cattle living 35 years old.  This extremely shortened time period for the life of cattle is a good example of a regression rather than a progression in good attributes.  This not only demonstrates how a single cow no longer has the ability to stay productive in a herd for long periods of time, but it also shows how frail we have made these animals.  This frailty adds a great deal to the cost of production to keep these animals alive so that they may have an opportunity to stay in a herd.  It is this frailty issue that keeps purveyors of products in business selling their wares to the farmer while he digs deeper and deeper into his pockets at the attempt to keep a very poor quality animal productive.

I know of a few breeders that have not followed this protocol of breeding these type of cattle under these conditions and have cows aging 15, 16, 17 years old and older.  Dairy cattle as well as beef cattle.  The average North American cattlemen has no idea how profitable cattle could be if they weren't so frail.  Most have never seen anything other than substandard breeding. 

No one in the industry, and most intelligent people on the periphery, would not question that the big advantage and natural benefits a ruminant animal like a cow has is that she can take average quality forages and turn it into very high quality protein in the form of milk and meat.  Mankind as of yet has not figured out how to do this more sustainably in any other way, and I'm pretty sure he never will.  And therefore we are pretty assured that this system of utilizing large quantities of green forage through the cow, that we would otherwise  have a very hard time surviving on as the main staple in our diet, is absolutely critical to man's survival.  If you have any doubts about this statement take a look at what happened to the American Indian civilization when their grazers, browsers, the bison, were decimated.  When a civilization can no longer feed itself, destruction is not questionable, it is eminent.

What began in the mid to late 19th century was man's road to dependence on industry, mechanization, university research and training methods, and a god like authoritarian position over the farmer as though he did not possess the high level of skill to feed the populace, although he has done this since the beginning of time.  I think it must have been an even worse time to be a real farmer during that period than now.  Quality livestock breeding requires an extremely high level of skill only acquired through generations of practice, learning, and observation.  This ability to select and breed for health, longevity, sustainability, etc., is better known as animal husbandry. 

"I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman's cares." George Washington

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What are grass fed meats?

Grass fed meats come from animals that eat nothing but grass.  Sounds pretty simple, but it can become extremely complex in our society of hype, advertising, media blitz, and farming.  Now how does farming fit in with hype, advertising and the media, you might ask?  That part is really simple.

You see it is very common knowledge now days that most of us are informed to the level of understanding that we know how grass fed meats are higher in CLA's, omega 3's, have more vitamins A, D, E, K in the fat etc.  And typically higher quality foods are in demand and therefore receive a small premium at the check out.  So many farmer folks have jumped on the band wagon and are now using hype, advertising and media to push their grass fed products.  And this is all well and done if the product actually meets this very high level of criteria of belonging in a class of grass finished meats.  Big problem is, most meats or most animals do not meet this high level of quality.  You see you can  not simply take an animal that has been bred genetically for several generations to perform on grain and expect him to magically become a grass finished animal.  That would be comparable to taking an NFL team and placing them on stage to perform a ballet.  Again, only with hype, advertising and with a well paid media could you get that accomplished.  And most people would leave long before intermission.  Unless you expected to see a comedy.  Putting a grain fed genetic cow in with a grass genetic finished cow and expecting similar results would also bring about a comedy situation.  That is if you had a really good sense of humor. 

Most of the general public and even a great majority of farmers do not understand this conundrum.  You see we have been breeding livestock to produce larger and larger quantities of milk and meat on very large quantities of government subsidized grain, no matter the cost or quality of product.  More and bigger has always been promoted as better.  Well, we as a nation have gotten more and bigger right around the middle and also less healthy.  And the poor economic condition of our farmers have gotten to a point where most of us are no longer even capable of determining a viable alternative to making all things bigger.

I speak to many farmers as I travel across this country and I believe that as farmers we will be the ones that will get left holding the bag.  After all we all have the ability to change our farming operations and quit feeding cattle on pesticide laced, hormone injected, antibiotic feeds, living out their lives in knee deep animal feces before slaughter.  This system promotes massive loss of top soil, water pollution from chemical run off, a gigantically growing dead zone in the gulf, all from unsustainable production of grains primarily across the Midwest to feed these confined animals.  And in the end it produces a product of less quality than grass finished, and helps farmers go broke faster.  The only people that win in this system are agricultural input salesmen and Washington lobbyists.

As a breeder of grass finished livestock we know that it takes at least three cattle generations, which is about 10 years, to make even the smallest of significant improvements in a cow herd from a grain based type cow into a cow that will perform well on grass or forages only.  This is if our new grass genetic bull is all he is supposed to be.  Selecting for grass based genetics will be a new part of the farmers education that is seldom seen even by today's most experienced livestock producers.  And because grass finishing or milking cows only on grass is so new to the US, that locating quality grass genetics to begin with almost requires magic.  However, once we get on the right track genetically we begin a whole new livestock enterprise not seen here by most standards for well over 60 years or more.  This type of cow requires absolutely nothing in the form of inputs.  Once the entire system of forages, genetics, and management to put it altogether arrive, our primary costs of production are the initial purchases of livestock and land.  That's it.  For the livestock producer this is monumental.  And for the consumer, its meat that can build health instead of deteriorate life and the earth we all live in.     

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We Eat What We Eat Eats

Farming has been typically a high investment, small margin, which can lead to low returns, type business requiring long hours and quite often long periods of solitude.  We are an extreme minority, less than 2% of the population, and very, very misunderstood.  This business of high investments and high cost inputs and low returns has gotten even worse in the last 35 years for most all of us in the business.  The folks selling the inputs have gotten very good at what they do and in most cases make most of the money made at the farm gate. 

My Australian friend, John, and I have had a really good conversation about this very thing just yesterday.  As farmers we have been very gullible when the input salesmen come around.  The only thing these guys promise to do is to increase production if you buy their most popular gadget.  And for the most part production has been increased.  But increasing production on the farm all most always reduces profits.  Bigger production does not equal bigger profits.  Bigger bulls bred to our cows to produce bigger calves to sell, create bigger heifers from those cows that go back into our herd which in turn require more maintenance costs.  Breeding milk cows for more and more milk builds cows with life expectancies of less than four years old when other herds have cows aged 15, 16, 17 years old and more. And in this case those costs always exceed the value of the extra milk or weight from those calves.  Not to even mention the humane consequences brought about from this type of breeding.

From a very early age we are taught that more is better and it becomes very easy for professional marketers to tap into this physiological programming as John describes it.  Generally speaking when one of these salesmen succeed with their sales pitch another one comes along next year to fix the problem that the last new gizmo caused and because we have been programmed in this manner they most often succeed.  Creep feeding calves and cross breeding as an example.  How could anybody fall for this.  And most college ag departments and farmers have been so brained washed they see value in both of these money loosing schemes.  Most of these farmers will still argue for these practices while their wives drive off to work to support their poor farming decisions.  

As farmers we have become the suckers for these professionals and now we actually are producing very little from our farms.  We have become consumers of things from a bag, box, syringe, a tractor seat, etc.  We will have to learn how to become producers once again.  It takes about two years to finish a quality grass fed steer on the ranch.  We can cram 50,000 steers into a feed lot and force feed corn and butcher them in about 15 months.  One big problem is in this scenario in about 8 out of 10 years this system produces a net loss on every steer fed.  It is primarily tax dollars that keep this system perpetuating, that is your tax dollars. And it doesn't produce more food.  We also destroy most of our quality farming ground from soil erosion, deplete soil organic matter and soil biology from excessive applications of anhydrous ammonia, potassium chloride,(chemical fertility), and contaminate our precious limited supply of drinking water through heavy doses of pesticides that run out of drain pipes from these oceans of corn fields that grow the corn and beans for these poor animals.  And of course when this excellent type of farm ground is used to grow and force feed livestock, we create shortages of human foods that could be grown there instead.

Raising cattle in this manner has become so non profitable, our nations cow numbers are down to what they were in the early 1950s.  And our population of meat eaters has grown and continue to grow many times over.  Acre after acre of pasture land on farm after farm sets idle, where once many cattle grazed.  This because farmers see no way to make a profit from livestock.  With only an elementary understanding of economics I can speculate where the price of food will rise to under this system.   

So what if it takes a little longer to fatten a calf at the ranch instead of at the knee deep feces infested feed lot, we all are winners.  That is except the fellows selling last years fix-a-flat products that we didn't think we needed until it was made available. This whole 'sell the farmer things he has no need for' mentality has horrendous effects on our entire nation.  As our farmer numbers continue to dwindle, primarily because of this system, these once dedicated farmers are left broke and wondering what they did wrong.  Most people involved in this ridiculous system have know idea what is happening.  Farmers have been struggling from this system for so long now that most think this is normal.  The production of food trumps every endeavour known to man.  If you do not believe me try  and not eat this month, this week, or even today.  Not only does this situation back farmers into the corner financially, the food produced from this system guided by these money hungry, narrow minded fools, is a food production system that yields substandard food that has created a health problem in the U.S. like no other time in the history of man.    


The diet of a feed lot beef is made up of primarily GMO corn, that would in most likely have been drenched in Glyphosate, a very strong weed killer, look on the label of your 2-4D bottle, a lot of GMO soybean for protein, think estrogen here, and quite often other dead animal parts, of course they must be from non ruminating animals, because that would be illegal.  The feed additive or antibiotic ruminsun more than likely will be added, better known as an ionophore, and a hormone implant or two or three would be injected.  Sounds yummy doesn't it.

Since this ruminating animal was designed by nature to eat grass only, this high starch diet begins a process of destroying his digestion which will require more antibiotics, and of course his internal organs like the liver may very well become inoperable as well as another organ or two before he goes to slaughter.  A better way to say this is he might be just a little sick before he winds up on your table.

Lets compare this to a beef that is raised on grass and mothers milk.  This is a short story.  You simply eat a quality meat that nourishes your body with out concern with all of the above.

Big ag would like you to believe that what the animal eats has no baring on the meat.  That would be like saying it doesn't matter what your kids eat so feed them the cheapest pizza, soda, and corn chips you can find every day. 

Big ag also believes in pasteurizing raw milk so that they can feed and treat those cows in anyway they wish to and the milk will be just fine.  Sort of like how they irradiate the meat from the cows above.  So do you believe you eat what you eat eats?  And do you believe that simply heating the milk or meat from sickened animals makes that product consumable? 

I found an interesting test done on a farm where one calf was fed pasteurized milk and the other calf fed raw milk.  I suggest you read through this short article and make up your own mind.

By the way, we eat only grass fed meats, and raw milk here on our ranch.   We are happy to share our food that we produce with anyone.  Most people have a doctor, a lawyer, a mechanic, and many even a plumber.  A lot of people I talk to are now finding the need to have their own farmer.  Again, make up your own mind.  If you would like for us to be your farmer, contact us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Freedom to Speak

Do we really have freedom of speech?  If you ask Ricardo Salvador after his interview for a directorship position at Iowa State University he might question that premise.  Mr. Salvador had suffered through the academic throngs of multiple interviews reaching the final stages where he was surely expected by most to be a shoo-in for the position.  The challenge had gotten down to him and one other when the other opponent become unavailable.  This last interview was seen more as a formality.  That is until Mr. Salvador simply answered a seemingly very simple question with a very simple answer.  The question put to him was about how meat should be produced.  His response was,"produced in the natural way that meat should be produced, which is on land suitable for grasses and perennial crops.”  At an agricultural college, in a state that produces mostly corn and soybeans, this was obviously not the answer the college was looking for.

From that point forward Ricardo Salvador was no longer a viable candidate for a position at Iowa State University.  Of course Farm Bureau had plenty to say about "cattle eating grass", when they are the most powerful lobbyists in corn and bean country.  President of the Farm Bureau, Bob Stallman, said the Farm Bureau, "must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule."

Later the Dean of Agriculture there, Ms. Wintersteen, was asked if cows should eat grass.  Her response was, "I don't have an opinion on that statement,"  It appears Ms. Wintersteen is a very observant person.  She saw first hand what happens at Iowa State when you speak out of turn against The Farm Bureau and big Ag.

So I guess we only have freedom of speech when we are willing to cower to big business and Universities supported by such.  I find it a huge contradiction that a research University such as Iowa State squashes all innovation in the industries and peoples it is deemed to serve.  There is little question in my mind that this sort of suppression of ideas and advancements for society occurs regularly in our society.  This is because big business and big government, has one primary objective and that is to collect big money even at the cost of humanity.  It takes only a simple minded farmer like myself to extrapolate from this incident how this behavior, across many disciplines, puts constraints on progress against better ideas, better health, and a stronger country that might exist if its citizens were not lied to and sold out to the highest bidder.

I recommend you click on the link above and read through the short article in the Chronicle from Iowa.  I found the comments from readers at the bottom of the page very interesting.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Holistic Ranching/Living

The word Holistic comes from the root word whole.  I use the term Holism in my ranching business the same way I suggest people use it in all parts of their life.  Rather than being only production oriented, that is striving to build the biggest, produce the most, buy a bigger house, live life in the fastest lane; people who operate or live a holistic life tend to look beyond these simplistic short term goals.   A Holistic life is one that takes into consideration as many other details or affects that may come about from the decisions made in one area of life and how they may harm or alter another area.  This is another way of saying to take into consideration what happens to all the other things in life, or on this ranch, when:

A.I go back to school or
B.Mow the pasture or
C.Take a second job or
D.Feed my calves a grain supplement
or hundreds of other possibilities that come up in our daily lives that generally have many more consequences than what first meets the eye.  When I look at things more Holistically my decision making improves.

We are using the Holistic approach to life when we first consider that maybe a pizza, soda pop, and a bag of corn chips might not be the best choice for a daily lunch.  Modern man has gained plenty of knowledge to understand why the above may not be a good choice.  But we do it anyway.  As we build on this Holistic System we start looking at other problems that may arrive when we neglect what appears to be common sense.

We know that eating poisons surely could not be good for us.  But many of us continue eating foods drenched in pesticides every day.  We can do plenty to reduce or eliminate most of these harmful chemicals by making better decisions.  When we choose to eat grass fed meats and drink milk from grass fed cows only, we all but eliminate one of the most powerful pesticides used today called Glyphosate.   Cattle that are fed grain anytime in their lives have more than likely eaten grains that have been sprayed or genetically modified to accept large quantities of this very lethal weed killer.  Generally these grains are raised in the same fields year after year where the residues of these harmful chemicals build up even more.  So once the grain reaches the feed trough for the cow she is eating a much more powerful dose of poison than the year before.  And since so many of these weeds have built up some resistance to glyphosate, the quantity applied has also increased. 

In this case the Holistic farmer might take a closer look at how this practice of feeding these grains effect the health of his customers.  And the customer should, which includes most households, should consider grass fed meats and milk as an alternative.  When the price conscious consumers buys the cheapest grain fed ground beef at the discount store, he is not living a life involving Holism.  Some might argue that those not practicing a Holistic life could take some of the blame for their poor health.  We know that pesticides cause cancer and other immune deficiency diseases.  In both of these cases, personal decisions were made.  Know one is forcing pesticides on the farmer or forcing the consumer to buy pesticide laced beef. 

There are also many other health benefits in eating grass fed meats and milk.  Real foods should not only not poison us, it should provide the best nutrition available.  Grass fed animals provide us with a diet high in the healthy Omega 3s like we see in fresh water fish.  And since these animals have no access to grains, problems with gluten may be dismissed. 

Living Holistically can have tremendous benefits within a family, a ranch, our community, our country and the world at large.  If you are interested in reading a little more about Holistic Systems I encourage you to order my recent book called,' Ranching Full Time on Three Hours a Day'.  I believe it might shed more light on living a Holistic life even if you are not ranching like we do. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Justification

I quite often, in this blog, talk directly to people who eat food.  Guess who belongs in that demographics?  And then I also enjoy encouraging other farmers, including myself, to work at producing the best food possible on our farms.  Somehow after thirty seven years in this agricultural industry I feel I have some leverage of experience to speak from.  Please remember though, I am not just preaching.  I have a vested interest in this country's future, including all that effects my grandchildren.

While encouraging all farmers to make improvements to the methods they are using to produce food for the rest of us, I am bringing to the forefront some of what is very obvious areas where improvement is needed.  Few of us farmers  want to be classed in that weird group known as 'tree huggers', but sometimes it would do some good to stand back away from the forest and simply take a look at the trees.

Modern dairy farming has gotten to the point where somebody really needs to stand way back, look at the whole picture, and then take action.  We have dairies in this country where the cow numbers total 5,000, 20,000, and now even having cow numbers in excess of 30,000 on some factory sized dairies.  Even if you have no practical farm experience in your background you probably realize that having this large number of animals confined creates an environment that has ramifications that quickly become unacceptable and unforgiving.  To put this in perspective; disconnect the water line to the toilets in your house for about one month.  But then continue using them and invite everyone in your county to move in with you. Producing safe, quality food from within this factory is a misnomer.    And remember it is the government, including your USDA, that promotes and approves of this atrocity.  As a tax payer you support this problem whether you wish to or not.

As farmers we can do better.  Thousands of small family dairies have sprung up all over this great country.  Many of these new farmers are now milking cows for the first time.  Just like me, they don't have all the answers or even most of them, but we do know that what you see in the link above is unforgiving and unacceptable for a list of reasons room does not permit in this short blog.  These small farmers are selling real milk and milk products from their grass farms instead of feces floating swamps.  I urge all commodity dairy farmers to regain your conscious.  At the same time I urge food buyers to take a look at these small farms for your food purchases.
Our small herd of grazing Jerseys.
And remember much of the ice cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt, school lunch milk, etc. all comes from dairies like these.  Does that improve your appetite? 

Our food industry has an answer to the problem of the deadly dangers in the milk produced in the filth shown above.  Their answer is pasteurization.  You can pasteurize a bucket of urine and manure all day long and it will still be compost material instead of quality food.  When the health officials ramp on about the need for pasteurization of milk they are labeling all milk produced in this farming paradigm as the same.  I would agree that milk produced under those conditions would need to be pasteurized, but I would also suggest that it then be fed to the hogs, and then only if the hogs had above normal immunities for pathogens.  But I like my hogs to much to put them through that ordeal.   

As food buyers we can help these farmers change by showing them where we choose to spend our dollars.  When more food buyers refuse these substandard systems of food production and opt for pastured meat and milk the real farmers will provide these products.  The benefits range from personal health improvements to ecology health to providing more jobs to Americans and much, much more.  The way I view things I see no justification for milking 30,000 dairy cows in a modern sewer.