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Monday, July 21, 2014

Cattle Eat Hay and Grass and Turn It Into Beef

Cellulose. This polysaccharide is an important component of the cell walls of the vegetation that carpets the ground around the world – which leads it to be the polymer in the most abundance on the Earth. It even makes up 40 – 50% of wood!

So, why do I bring this up? It just so happens that the most abundant polymer on Earth is also one of least digestible polymers for simple stomach mammals such as humans, and its main purpose is to serve as a “dietary fiber.”

A field of one form of cellulose - grass hay - that has been mowed and will be baled soon
A field of one form of cellulose - grass hay - that has been mowed and will be baled soon.
Ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats, however, are able to digest various forms of cellulose due to microorganisms that live within their gastrointestinal tract. To explain in further detail, ruminants have a complex stomach that consists of four compartments: the reticulum, rumen, omasum, and abomasum. The rumen contains certain bacteria, such as Ruminococcus, which break down cellulose into glucose that can be utilized during energy production. Simply stated, cattle and other ruminants are physiologically designed to eat cellulose because they have a very small amount of the exact right kind of bacteria in their stomach.
I find this astonishing! Such a small percentage of symbiotic bacteria present in the stomach of a ruminant animal allow an otherwise indigestible polysaccharide to be degraded to glucose and utilized for the production of animal protein which can be consumed by humans and feed our families. And remember when I said cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer in the world??
Baling grass hay to be fed to cattle during winter months
This is a hay baler - it picks up the mowed hay and winds it into
large bales which are used to feed livestock and horses.
These are some pictures from my family’s operation during the hay season. Yes, due to baling hay and other feed production methods, cattle can continue to utilize cellulose to convert it to animal protein throughout late fall and winter when grass is dormant and of poor nutritional value! Long after the pastures have turned brown from the cold, cattle are eating grasses and forages that are unfit for human consumption to produce safe, healthy and wholesome beef.

Thank you for reading,

Monday, July 14, 2014

…The chicken or the egg?

Poultry is not my expertise, nor is it my favorite meat to have at a meal. However, I recently started a position at my company in poultry marketing, and I have to say, the industry is fascinating.

According to the USDA Livestock, Poultry and Dairy Outlook June Report, the United States produces more pounds of chicken, 37.8 million (2013) to be exact, than any other meat. Add the layers with more than 6.8 million dozen eggs (2013), and you have a very large and concentrated industry.

Some background on the poultry business is helpful in understanding how your chicken and eggs are produced. This is a vertically integrated business, meaning companies control almost every point of production. (See the diagram below.) Poultry growers, or the people who raise chickens, can be contracted by a larger company, but it’s important to realize that the individual sites are usually operated by families. By owning and/or operating every point of the business, including breeding, growing broilers, raising layers (the chickens which lay the eggs), and the processing and packaging, a company can increase efficiencies and decrease costs.
Diagram Credit:
Through advances in research and technology, the business of raising chickens and turkeys has changed dramatically over time. See this video for an inside look at a primary breeder farm, one of the only parts of the poultry industry not included in the vertically integrated system. This farm focuses on producing females for broilers (the chicken we all eat) and males for breeding. (

I know many people question the poultry industry on the way they do certain things. However, one thing we can’t question is how much food they produce to feed people across the world. The turnaround on producing a broiler is under 14 weeks which means we can have a lot of chicken in a little amount of time.

 When it comes to making meat, they ain’t no chicken… Get it? J

Your fill-in poultry “expert,”
Cassie Kniebel

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cattle Enjoy Confinement

If you’ve even driven by a feedyard/feedlot you’ve likely seen cattle standing close together at the feedbunk, under the shade or just out in the middle of the pen. It sure seems like they are crowded in there, doesn’t it?

Well, did you know that cattle are gregarious? That’s just a fancy word for being sociable or fond of company, meaning that they live in close herds and social groups. So, while you may think that cattle in feedlots don’t have enough room to move around, they actually just like hanging out with their cow-pals. Cattle in feedlots have plenty of room to move around, play, lie down and eat; they would just prefer to hang out next to each other. It’s their natural instinct!
You’re probably thinking, “But Buzzard, what about when they are in large pastures with hundreds of acres to roam and graze on? Surely they spread out more to enjoy all that fresh, green grass, don’t they?”
Cattle are fundamentally a prey species, so grouping together is a way to keep the herd safer.
See all that green in the background? They could be spread out all over the place, but they prefer to stay together.
Nope! As you can see, the herding instinct doesn’t go away when they are on huge pastures. Even though they may have hundreds or even thousands of acres to roam, they still prefer to chill out in groups.
The point is that feedlot owners and employees want to keep their cattle as comfortable as possible and one of the ways they do this is by providing plenty of room for the cattle, but that doesn’t mean the cattle will take advantage of it. However, it’s important that they at least have the option.

Do you have beef production questions? Shout ‘em out – we’d love to hear from you!
Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wheat Harvest Report

Here in southwest Kansas, wheat harvest is buzzing. Not only is this a huge time of year for agriculturists, but I see an increase in local economy as business is also good at the grocery, gas station and local restaurants. 

As of June 18th, the Kansas Wheat Commission reported that harvest had begun in nearly all of the southern counties in Kansas. Harvest will begin to creep into the northern counties as the days go by and the crop becomes ready.
This is a combine with a wheat header on it. The wheat header is the attachment that protrudes from the front of the machine that allows a combine to harvest different crops for farmers. This combine is cutting wheat while also dumping grain through an auger into a grain cart that is being pulled by a tractor. Photo courtesy of Kansas Ag Network

Due to statewide rainfall, harvest came to a halt on June 24th for a short break, but on my way to work this morning I saw some headers down ready to cut!

In 2013, Kansas farmers planted 9,500,000 acres of wheat. An acre is equal to 43,560 square feet, or in a little different terms it is equal to about 1.3 times an American football field! The state of Kansas is the largest wheat producer in the US, that's why we are often called America's Breadbasket! About half of the wheat that is grown in the US is used domestically.

We have a few more posts about wheat harvest that you might enjoy: Story of Wheat, Amber Waves of Grain, Wheat Harvest in Kansas.

Stay up to date on harvest through Twitter by following #wheatharvest14

Do you have any questions about wheat harvest? We would be happy to answer them!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Inside Scoop: Where Does Your Bacon Come From?

Have you ever wondered what the inside of a large modern hog farm looks like? 
Often times we only hear about the negativity of swine housing and production, but what if we were able to give it a look for ourselves? 
Moms are often shopping for food to feed their families, and are constantly seeking the best options. 
So what if we were able to get the opinion of a mom who visited a large hog farm?  Take a look at this article from Cortney Fries about her recent tour of an Illinois farm, “Leaving the Gould farm, I felt they were doing their best to raise healthy animals to feed our country and make a living.”
Kiah Gourley

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why GMO's don't faze me.

My dad is a farmer. He grows lots of GMO's. Fields and fields full of GMO's.

I am a veterinarian. I studied lots of science. Years and years of science.

I'm not fazed by this GMO hype that you will read about in the news and social media. I can hardly believe that it is even considered news. You see, genentically modified foods have been studied for decades. In fact, isolating specific genes in plants in order for them to be combined in a lab started back in 1953! In 1982, the FDA approved the first GMO. Another fun fact? GMO's  are one of the most extensively studied scientific subjects in all of history!

Critics of GMO's will often claim that research is scarce. That we don't know enough about the effect on the environment or human safety. The truth? Scientists around the world have reviewed, studied, collaborated and have come to the conclusion that GMO crops are as safe as conventional or organic foods. A group of Italian scientists have recently come out with a review of over 1700 studies on the human and environmental safety of GMO's.

You don't have to take my word for it. After all, I am a scientist and a farmer's daughter. Maybe that's why the anti-GMO posts really grind my gears. My dad doesn't want to feed the world. In reality, he just enjoys working outside and is diligently protecting the soil that my brother will raise his family on. Luckily for you and me, scientists have developed GMO's so that he can feed the world. Not all of us want to raise food, but we all need to eat. I can't wait to read the blog posts in 2050 when there are 9 billion mouths to feed!

Stating my opinion on the GMO topic does not mean that you should be convinced. I hope this simply stirs up some conversation among colleagues, drives you to research the topic from both sides, or sparks you to chat with your kids about what they've heard or learned.   

Other Pro-GMO articles you might enjoy:

Forbe's Editorial by Jon Entine
Rebecca Rupp's I'm Pro-GMO and Here's Why

Answering Tough Questions

You are a new graduate in a mixed large animal practice in rural America. In becoming integrated into the community, you take the opportunity to engage with young professionals from diverse backgrounds. Many of these young professionals question your involvement with modern agriculture and "factory farms," where the care of animals and food safety is secondary to production and profit (their view). How do you respond to these inquiries?

Cattle in a feedyard - notice they have plenty of room to
move around, lie down and are very calm.
In these modern times, very little is as it was, especially the way we raise our food.   The world population has grown to a point beyond what our forbearers would have thought possible. In the struggle to feed people, agriculture has had to adapt along with the rest of the world.  Meeting the protein needs of a growing world is where animal agriculture must rise to the challenge. 
Animal agriculture has gotten much larger, and much smaller, all at once.  Farms and ranches have gotten bigger, but the number of people in farming and ranching has declined drastically.  Those still in the fight must meet higher standards and produce more, much of the time with less land and other resources. 
One production method modern animal agriculturalists utilize to meet the needs of a protein hungry world is the raising of animals in confined areas.  Pigs, poultry, dairy cows, and finishing beef animals can successfully be raised in smaller geographical area, helping to assuage the ever shrinking amount of land available.  Every building that goes up and every square foot of concrete or asphalt that is laid down is one less square foot available to feed people with.  Properly done, these animals are comfortable and have their needs met daily in our care. 
Confinement animal agriculture is often mislabeled as “factory farm” or other demeaning terms.  They are thought of as institutions where animal welfare is secondary to profit.  This is not true.  Profit is important, but only in that it allows the business to keep functioning. Profit must follow animal welfare.  If animals aren’t well cared for, they won’t perform.  No performance, no profit. 
Doing what’s best for animals is doing what’s best for an animal agriculture business.  It’s also doing what’s best for a food animal veterinarian.  Most importantly, it’s doing what’s best for ever hungry population of the world.
Thanks for reading,
John Dwyer


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