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The Evolution of Cattle Production: Why Consumers Can’t Have the iPhone 5, Sprawling Suburbs and the Pitchforked Farmer Too

By on Oct 3, 2013

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The iPhone 5s was just released a few days ago, excited consumers across the nation eagerly waited hours (even overnight) for Apple stores to open in anticipation of getting their hands on the newest Apple technology. The iPhone 5s now boasts a larger screen, Touch ID, a faster operating system and enhanced camera features. Technology in communication is widely embraced, new inventions are encouraged, and consumers are eager to evolve with the changing times. That said, I think it’s safe to say that I would be an anomaly if I walked down the street with a vintage phone…

Hellooooooooo...

Hellooooooooo…

Or  a cell phone circa 1983…

Yup! They actually looked like this!

Yup! They actually looked like this!

So why is it that the same eagerness to evolve with the changing times, which is so apparent in the communications industry, not exhibited for the agricultural industry? In a recent visit to the Larson Farm, Farmer Mike Martz made mention that he felt as though society wanted him to “farm like how his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had farmed in years passed.” But with an increasing population, more urban sprawl (which leads to less farmland), and fewer farms to spread the labor (as future generations of farmers opt out of the family business), why are Americans unwilling to let farming evolve with the times?

While I haven’t got the answers to why some folks are so unyielding to the evolution of agriculture, I can only address the 5 fears that I once touted as the big WHY. And it goes a little something like this…

1. No Feedlots Please, I prefer my cattle roaming and grazing

As a Midwest city girl I always assumed that land outside of the city lights (and suburban sprawl) was sufficient enough to raise tons of cattle for grazing and roaming. But with the growing population and constant building outside of the city limits we’re encroaching upon farmland and animal habitats. Even coyotes have decided that since they can’t beat our burgeoning population that they’re going to join us here in the city. So when it comes to raising enough cattle to feed a large population, cattle feedlots are in response to the need for more livestock within a smaller farm area.

2. I don’t want my family consuming extra hormones; I’m already portly AND I want my kids to look like kids!

Sure, hormones are implanted into the ear of cattle to increase their size during their last few months of life, but according to the FDA, “all approved implant products have a zero day withdrawal. This means that the meat from the animal farm is safe for humans to eat at any time after the animal is treated.” In addition, the ears are discarded before the animal is slaughtered.

Furthermore, because I’m a believer in the power of statistical information, here’s a couple stats to give you some perspective on hormone use in cattle:

Organic Beef = 1.4 nanograms of estrogen hormone per 3 oz of meat

Conventional Beef = 1.9 nanograms of estrogen hormone per 3 oz of meat 

Potatoes = 225 nanograms of estrogen hormone (occurring naturally) per average sized potato

Birth Control Pills (at the lowest dose) = 20,000 nanograms per pill  

M&M visual of hormone dosages compliments of the Larson Farm. Left to Right: Organic, Conventional, Baked Potato, Birth Control Pill

M&M visual of hormone dosages compliments of the Larson Farm.
Left to Right: Organic, Conventional, Baked Potato, Birth Control Pill

3. I don’t want to consume antibiotics when I’m not even sick!

Well, if you’ve followed my farming posts thus far, then you’ve got an idea on what I’ve learned about antibiotics. If you haven’t, check it out a here! But suffice it to say that at the Larson Farm, sick cattle are tagged, removed and then tested. The sick cattle are then kept 2 weeks later than when they are “technically” safe to sell as an added precaution. Antibiotics are not permitted on the meat market.

4. All feedlot farms (especially CAFO’s) are inhumane and mistreating their cattle 

Just a bit of clarification here. A feedlot is an area or building where livestock are fed or fattened up. A CAFO is a concentrated animal “production process that concentrates large numbers of animals in relatively small and confined spaces, and that substitutes structures and equipment (for feeding, temperature controls and manure management) for land and labor.” The Larson Farm is considered a CAFO (due to the number of cattle housed) and as a result, the farm undergoes a required certification every 3 years by the EPA.

Cattle in Feedlot

Cattle in Feedlot

While visiting the Larson Farm I didn’t witness any signs of animal abuse (no excessive mooing, cow bullying-yes it happens amongst cattle too, and no fear of people). I don’t believe anyone these days is naive to the mistreatment of animals in the farming industry, but what I can attest to is that not ALL farmers treat their animals cruelly. In fact, cruelty is not a matter of size or conventional versus organic. It’s a matter of the moral fiber of the farmer raising the animal. Which brings me to my next point…

5. I don’t want my food coming off of an assembly line!

Since when did being organized get a bad rap?!?! In fact, it’s when systems are not in place where all good intentions go to hell. Ever heard of Temple Grandin? Temple Grandin is an autistic woman who transformed the livestock industry by inventing improvements to the animal handling systems found on ranches, farms and meat plants. She is most known for the center-track restraint system that is widely used across North America.

Cows enter and exit the center-track system here

Cows enter and exit the center-track system here

Top of center-track system which prevents cows from backing up and flipping over one another

IMG_0669

Gentle “Hug” which calms the cattle immediately so that the ultrasound tech can check marbling and fat levels

Her invention decreases and eliminates the fear and pain animals experience when they are being handled and eventually slaughtered. You see, the successful management of large numbers of animals requires advanced engineering and forethought to prevent falls, crippling injuries and untimely death. Kudos to Larson Farms for incorporating this ingenious system into their farming processes. By the way…it’s composed entirely of scrap metal!

As our world continues to evolve, our food industry has to adapt alongside of it. In practical terms, with millions more people on the earth, the days of free roaming animals that eat off of the land, and farmers driving horse-drawn plows… are gone. With farmers being charged with feeding more than just their family and their town, and with less space to do it, farmers (although still good stewards of the land) are seeking efficient and effective ways to raise livestock and cultivate the land within the changing times. Everything must evolve, just as the iPhone 5s will soon give way to the iPhone 6…

…it’s just a matter of time.

Are you still envisioning the pitch-forked farmers of the past? Do you believe that the agricultural industry should evolve with the times?

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15 Comments

  1. jlbarnett

    October 7, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Amina, I’ve heard of these concepts before but it’s one of the first times when I had the opportunity to see how they fit together. Thanks for taking the time to break this down for someone who did not grow up on a farm! Jennifer – Bestfoodfacts.com

    • Amina Bennett

      October 8, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Hi Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by! It makes a world of difference when you can finally put the pieces to the food puzzle together. I’m finally starting to see the big picture!

  2. Ginny Marie

    October 8, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I love the picture of you on the phone! This is an excellent recap of our farm visit…you even taught me some things, and I was there! ;)

    • Amina Bennett

      October 8, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Hi Ginny! You crack me up! I’m glad I could “remind” you of the things that we saw on our visit. I did a little extra research to clarify a few things in my own head. But all in all I thought it was another excellent tour. So glad I was able to share the experience with you Momma!

  3. Thanks for sharing our modern day agriculture story–as a third generation dairy and beef farmer its nice to read the truth about how we work every day to produce safe, affordable food based on science and using modern technology.

  4. Elise

    October 8, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Great read! As a farm girl, I appreciate this look at ag and the endeavors my family is a part of. Definitely retweeting.

  5. Pam Caraway

    October 9, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Thank you for the time and effort you put into this article. Our farm families work hard to provide safe, healthy food for our country as well as those in the rest of the world who can’t grow enough food to feed themselves. That we have the energy to argue about our food supply system is proof that our farmers are doing a whole lot right – and working hard every year to do it better then next. As a side note, for those enthralled with all things organic and on the warpath against CAFOs, a friend recently noted that Horizon Organic is a CAFO. We all have lots to think about and need to take more than 30 seconds to learn about something before we cement our position on it.
    Thanks again for doing just that.

  6. Holly

    October 9, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Love it, Amina! So glad to have met you and to get to read your take on the day. I LOVE the phone analogy. Technology is our friend! I sure don’t want to go back to the agriculture my grandfather used; too many of the men of that age in the farming community are missing arms, hands, fingers, or were killed in those days. We’re much safer and far more productive today. Like ^Pam said, thank you for taking the time to learn beyond the sound bite! You’re an excellent communicator and you’ve explained it all so well.

  7. Laura Gordon

    October 9, 2013

    Post a Reply

    This is truly a wonderful explanation, and is done in such a way that consumers can relate! I personally work on a dairy farm in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, and would be more than happy to show you around our operation if you would be interested! Keep up the great work- us farmers need informed consumers like you to help promote our industry and way of life! -Laura

  8. Amina Bennett

    October 9, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I’m so glad that my post resonated with each of you and hopefully it resonates with consumers as well. To be honest, as I was crafting this post, the modernization of the farming industry became even clearer to me. I’m realizing more and more the value of actively seeking information and sharing it in my own words. It’s a powerful learning tool!

  9. Ashleyrc_2016DVM

    October 10, 2013

    Post a Reply

    This is a really great article, but you might want to change 1 sentence. the following sentence implies that the ears are removed from the cattle BEFORE THEY ARE DEAD. I don’t believe that is what you were trying to say, and would be incredible inhumane if you know of anyone doing this. “This means that the meat from the animal farm is safe for humans to eat at any time after the animal is treated.” In addition, the ears are discarded before the animal is slaughtered.”

  10. Amina Bennett

    October 10, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Thanks for your comment Ashley. I’ll take a closer look at that line to determine if it can me misconstrued as inhumane.

    Thanks again!

    • Jessica Einstein

      October 11, 2013

      Post a Reply

      I think you just need to add the word “tags” in there.. unless there is a different practice where you looked into, what I know of animal agriculture, policy is to remove the ear tags before slaughter, not the actual ears. The ears aren’t discarded until after the animal is sacrificed via captive bolt or whatever other method they use.

Penny for your thoughts...

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