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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Do Cows Eat?

A few weeks ago I was at home, cutting what may seem like run-of-the-mill hay to the untrained eye:

Mowing a field of forage for cattle

But, upon closer inspection you may (or more likely may not, due to my photography skills) see what is growing in that field:

Mowing a field of forage (crabgrass) for cattle
 
Still can’t tell? Here’s a close-up brought to you by Google images since I forgot to take one:
 
crabgrass
The dreaded crabgrass
You might recognize this as a weed that has plagued your neighbor’s lawn and is slowly encroaching on your own, the dreaded Crabgrass, and this field has it growing about 3 feet tall.  So if this weed is growing like crazy in the field, why am I swathing and baling it instead of spraying it with herbicide or working it under?  The answer is cows.  Cows can take this weed and turn it into delicious beef. 
This got me thinking about what else cows eat that’s unusual, then I looked at my shirt.  It’s made of cotton.  After cotton is harvested, the seeds are separated from the fibers.  Ranchers can buy those seeds or the seed hulls and mix them into a ration for cattle.  
In my lunchbox I had a sandwich and a cookie.  Large scale bakeries have products that have imperfections such as broken cookies.  Folks with cattle that live near large bakeries can buy these products and feed them to their cattle.  In the end the bakeries don’t have to throw away products that people don’t want to eat, and ranchers get a low-cost feed ingredient. 
The pickup I was driving that day had gasoline in it that was 10% ethanol.  Ethanol is made from distilling corn, and after the distillation process is complete, powdery corn leftovers are… well leftover.  In the cattle industry these are known as distiller’s grain.  Distiller’s grain makes for a great ration ingredient to add protein, phosphorus, and sulfur to a bovine diet. 
The moral of this story is cattle are great at recycling.  They take byproducts of everyday items and, with the help of their ruminant digestive system, turn them into food for people.  So what do cows eat?  Just about anything.  Thanks for reading, and as always if you see or hear of something that concerns you about where your food comes from, ask a farmer. 
Eat Beef,
Bruce Figger



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Joys of Raising Sheep

We often discuss cattle farming on this blog, but I would like to share a bit about my experiences raising sheep for meat and wool production. Lamb isn’t always something that crosses our mind when brainstorming what to cook for dinner. But raising meat production lambs is something that has been a part of my life since I can remember. It may be safe to say that I have some of the most spoiled sheep in the country. Each evening the flock is let out of the pasture into our yard (yes, our yard) to feast on the luscious grass and clover. There is no better feeling in the world than to see them running and jumping with joy and filling their bellies for the night. It’s a scene we call “pastoral splendor”.


Sheep grazing in the front yard
Pastoral splendor
When it is time to turn in for the night, I get my helper, Cap, to guide the sheep back to the pasture. Cap is an Australian Shepherd and my right-hand man on the farm. Our evening finishes off with some “cookies” and head scratches for the sheep. This is truly my favorite time of the night. I know my sheep are full, happy, and comfortable which means I have done my job as a shepherd. Happy and healthy sheep mean lambs that grow into quality production animals.


Dog and shepherd move sheep to pasture
Guiding sheep back to the pasture with Cap
 While I love my sheep, I understand the practicality of raising lambs for meat production. The money we make from selling lambs is used to buy feed and medicines for our resident flock and the lambs we sell enter the food system to help feed people in America. Another aspect of raising sheep includes annual shearing. We save the wool from the Romney sheep we own for use in our personal knitting projects.


Wool from the flock will be for knitting projects
We'll use this wool for our own personal knitting projects
Thanks for joining me in some of the responsibilities of a shepherd. I hope you enjoyed the trip!
 
Caiti

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hormones in Beef: The Rest of the Story

Alright, so I want to talk a little bit about hormones in beef cattle.  I mean we all know a lot about them, mass media tells about them almost daily, about how they are bad for us and how they increase the risk of cancer.  But what has always puzzled me is why we only hear about hormones in the beef industry, and about how hormone consumption in beef is going to kill us.  Well I want to tell you a little bit of the rest of the story.  Yes, it is true conventionally raised beef does contain hormones.  It contains 1.9 nanograms per 3 ounce serving.  This is compared to all natural certified organic beef which contains 1.5 nanograms per 3 ounce serving.  That is a difference of .4 nanograms per 3 ounce serving.  That is decimal point with eight zeros and a four behind it (.000000004).  There is not much of a difference.  Now compare that to a food like soybeans.  Soybeans contain phytoestrogens which have been proven to be hormonally active in humans, per three ounce serving of soybean oil there are 168,000 nanograms of phytoestrogens.  Per three ounce serving of cabbage there are 2016 nanograms of estradiol.  Both of these foods contain no meat and are used frequently in vegetarian and vegan diets.


According to USDA numbers an average per capita 60 pounds of beef is consumed per person per year in the United States.  That works out to be 320-three ounce servings per year per person.  Which in turn comes to approximately 1077.17 nanograms of estradiol per year from beef consumption.

Now I want to compare that number to something that is practiced by thousands of women every day in the United States: birth control.  What I have here is a progesterone based birth control product.  It contains .035 mg of estradiol per pill and is based on a 28 day cycle so there are 21 active pills in a dispenser of this product.  If you consider a woman who uses this product for one year, that is 252 pills or 8,820 nanograms of estradiol per year.  Remember the amount estradiol per year from beef was 1077 nanograms per year. Approximately eight times more estrogen from progesterone based birth control than from beef. Now let’s consider a woman who takes an estrogen based birth control pill. They contain 35,000 nanograms of estradiol per pill which for the same 252 pill year works out to be 8,820,000 nanograms of estradiol per year.  That is approximately equal to 875,868 lbs of beef.  Or on a hot carcass weight basis, that is like eating 1100 steers per year per person.  That works out to be just a little over three steers per person per day.  So in summary for every one pill of estrogen based birth control consumed it is like eating 3 whole cows by yourself, daily. 
If you want to trim hormones out of your diets, beef should probably not be the first place you look. 
Thanks for reading and please let us know if you have questions and leave your comments below!
~ Nick Henning

Monday, August 4, 2014

Have You Let Your Voice Be Heard?

I recently went to a restaurant in downtown Indianapolis with four friends, who are all involved in agriculture. While looking at the menu, we saw the wording, “farm-raised beef” and “locally raised” and chuckled. When the waiter came up to get our order, one person in our party asked him, “Isn’t all beef farm raised?” He replied that the restaurant is supplied with beef from a farm located northwest of Indianapolis. He did a really good job answering the question.  
 
There are a lot of different ways to label food products - start a conversation!
Photo courtesy: Esquire.com
 While my friend’s inquiry was sincere and non-aggressive, the waiter could have been embarrassed or thought we were trying to get a laugh at his expense. What I noticed was no one in our group tried to tell the waiter about livestock, crops or agriculture, not even me. All five of us just sat there and remained silent, listening to the waiter, when we could have sparked a conversation about agriculture.
 
What have you done to defend or promote agriculture to someone who might not be familiar with it?
Do you communicate with others about their perceptions and opinions or only communicate your own or keep to yourself? Even though we have different roles in the industry, all of us wear the hat of an agricultural communicator. We have countless opportunity to share our knowledge and technical skills with others outside of the profession – our friends, family, co-workers, etc. – about the industry.
With all that said, next time you have the chance to share with the industry we are all passionate about – do it!
 
Best,
Logan Britton

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,
Jacob

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: http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/nielsen/www245/lecnotes/unit2.html
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. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ7rrHYmFiQ)

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 ~

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