What's Right With Grass-fed Beef Part III
The About.com article What's Wrong With Grass-fed Beef has initiated a response from yours truly to defend the very existence of grass-fed beef and argue the statements made in the article through my hubs What's Right With Grass-fed Beef and What's Right With Grass-fed Beef Part II. This hub is the final part of the three-part hub series where I discussed and argued against the statements made in the previous hubs on land use, the relation of grazing cattle to the infamous Amazon Rainforest deforestation crisis, use of resources, use of marginal land, and greenhouse gas myths and facts about grazing cattle. The final hub on a raging controversy that will likely last for eternity is where I can't go down without fighting the statements made about grazing cattle being the cause of wildlife deaths, displacement of wildlife, and the arguments about cattle harming riparian areas and other habitat. I will also be discussing the use of crops and crop land for feeding grazing cattle.
The rhetoric and hypocrisy made in the article has been amazing, to the point of eyebrow-raising. The author of that article that I've been quoting from obviously knows next to nothing about raising cattle and agriculture; she's made that apparent in most of her articles if you know how, where and when to read between the lines. I'll give her credit for being able to do her research, but beyond that, the "message" she's trying to put out there doesn't amount to much when it contains misleading, outdated and partially-truthful information. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking with it.
Now back to the article.
Public Lands and Supposed "Displacement of Wildlife"
Right off the title says it all. "Displacement of Wildlife"?? From my own personal experience, I can say that I strongly disagree with this.
"Even where plentiful grasslands already exist, the cows will displace other animals and cause wildlife deaths."
Oh I don't think so. From what I've seen, read about, researched, seen with my own eyes and personally experienced, I've found the exact opposite of this is true. In the pastures that we've had cattle grazing, it wasn't uncommon to see different birds nesting and feeding in the grasses that the steers were grazing in. Hawks were able to actively hunt these birds and the mice that also live in these tame grasslands. I've seen more deer around with cattle grazing than I've seen with cropland. Cropland's the thing that displaces wildlife and causes wildlife death, not grazing livestock.
With forested areas especially in the US and Canada, a lot of forests can't be managed without some level of cattle grazing. For example, particular species of plants growing in wooded areas would thrive without the grazing of cattle and discourage native elk from using those forests as their wintering grounds. Put the cattle in to take out those plants and you bring back the elk.
In Grasslands National Park of Saskatchewan, Canada, the government had disallowed ranchers from grazing cattle when the park was first created because it was deemed "unsustainable", thinking that the tiny bison herd and the few deer in the park would be enough to sustain it. What those bureaucrats from Ottawa didn't realize was that the Crested Wheatgrass, which is an invasive species (that thrives under little to no grazing) to the native grasslands of that national park, took over much of the grassland and pushed out the native grasses because of the lack of grazing pressure needed to sustain those grasses. Many years later, when 90% of the grassland has nothing but crested wheatgrass in it, they're finally letting ranchers graze their cattle on that government land.
Yet another thing: On a ranch that I had visited for a university paper, they have various pastures fenced off to allow for more rotational grazing on that marginal prairie grassland. An endangered game bird species, the Sharp-tailed Grouse, is found on and thrives on that ranch. Why? Because cattle are set to graze their nesting grounds in the fall so that the birds can have the ideal habitat to lay, incubate and hatch their eggs on. Without that managed grazing practice by those ranchers that know how to manage the land properly, those birds (and other wildlife species) would be a lot more endangered than they are now.
That same ranch is currently dealing with an infestation of Aspen poplar trees that shouldn't be growing in what used to be prairie grassland. Cattle grazing and controlled burning are the only ways to battle these forest growths as naturally as possible.
"Predators are killed to protect grazing livestock."
Wow, she calls it a "viable" source when she links one of her articles that she wrote to that article I got this quote from?? That's shocking (sarcastically speaking), considering it's also three years old now, and a lot of the crap in that article. (Love the comments left though, certainly agree with those who keep saying that the AR people are full of it.)
Of course predators are killed to protect livestock, wouldn't vegans kill mice, rats, deer, insects and the like to protect their precious vegetables that they need to eat to live? It's the same thing with the bull crap that's going around about humans killing big major predators (not to mention hunting) all because "[predators] are killing livestock." In my previous hub I had argued against this allegation, saying the following (which I can't hesitate to say again:
"Cattle are not stupid nor are they sheep that are literally born to die and cannot defend themselves from a roving coyote, bear or cougar. Beef cows are often great mothers enough to not need constant protection from predators like is needed with a sheep or goat herd. I read an article the February 2012 edition of the Canadian Cattlemen Magazine where a group of Simmental-cross cows went after and nearly trampled/rushed a black bear to death after it went after one of the cows' calves. Some thought it was staged for "people's own entertainment" but this obviously was not the case. Many beef cows don't even see a human for most of the year, except during weaning and annual vaccinations, so they're on their own as far as protecting themselves and their calves is concerned. Even beef cows on farms that see people more often than those rangy range cows are going to be ones that predators (including feral/neighbor's dogs) should never take lightly if they want a taste of beef-on-the-hoof, like with those Simmis."
The thing most of these Animal Rights people don't get is that it's to be expected to have predators when you have cattle out grazing on pasture or on the range. Geeze, is that not what raising cattle naturally is all about? Beef cows are a heck of a lot better and smarter about protecting their calves, themselves and each other from predators than dairy cows are (most dairy cows, like the Holstein, have been made into genetic freaks of nature so bad they don't know a predator from a hole in the ground), that even a pack of wolves wouldn't mess with one or more angry momma cows, or cattle that will act just like a group of muskox or bison will when surrounded by predators: by forming a circle with the young ones inside and them facing outside towards the impending danger.
What the author also doesn't realize is that ranchers are a lot more proactive about not killing any predator that comes on its land, instead taking efforts to discourage predators from going near the easier-killings that livestock prove to be and encouraging them to target their more natural food sources. Of course some predators will be killed if they kill livestock, but that is because the ranchers know damn well that if a predator gets a taste of killing an animal that is a lot easier to catch and eat than what they're used to going after, chances are good that they'll go after that same easy-to-get source again. The only way to stop that is to "nip it in the bud" or kill the predator (wolf, coyote, bear, cougar) that has done such damage. Exceptions, though, are those predators that eat the carcass of a cow that had died not from predation; It's not worth the effort to kill any predator that comes around to scavenge a carcass.
The problem is when the predators start killing livestock. I should also note something in addition to this: A lot of the time a kill is not caused by wolves or 'yotes, but by neighbor's roaming dogs. A lot more ranchers are more aware of this than you think. Your dog that you failed to confine to a kennel or chain up when you're gone or asleep could have been the cause of some recent livestock killings that others would have blamed on the local coyote or wolf population! Any breed of dog can wreak havoc on a herd of cattle, no matter if it's a Pit Bull or a Pomeranian. It can even be a dog that you've "forcibly" converted to a vegan/vegetarian due to your own moral values. If you live out in the country, not on a farm and don't want to have the risk of having your dog shot and killed by cause it was seen killing a farmer's livestock, then keep it at home by whatever means necessary!!
"Wild horses are rounded up and sometimes killed because they compete with livestock for grass on public lands."
Unfortunately for you readers I have nothing on this, except that there are times when euthanization of wild horses is necessary because many horse owners who want to or even attempt to qualify to own and raise wild mustangs do not have the qualifications, experience or means to do so. Other than that, I can't say anything else because I don't know enough to have much of a say in this issue. So, on to the next.
"The fences put up by cattle ranchers on public lands restrict the movement of wildlife, making it difficult for them to find food and water."
So, in other words, she's saying that fences are bad and should be made illegal?? That's outrageous, considering the fact that the very people who started the whole fencing deal where NOT ranchers but the settler farmers themselves, who fenced off their land to protect their crops from free-ranging cattle. And now ranchers are getting the blame for having fences up to keep their cattle in on their land not roaming around onto other people's properties, on roads, on lawns, in towns/cities, etc. Well I'll tell you one thing: it's just too bad that wildlife have to have their movements "restricted" by fences put up by people (not just ranchers). If the author knew better, much of the wildlife are smart, tough and die-hard enough to not let this be a problem. We have moose, deer, coyotes, foxes, all sorts of wildlife around where I live and there are a tonne of fences around. Do they "restrict the movement of wildlife, making it difficult for them to find food and water"? Not from where I'm sitting! Even on federal public lands, the fences wouldn't be tall enough to do even that.
So I challenge the author to this: If you think this is true, then explain to me how elk can go from their wintering grounds back to their calving grounds or vice versa? I'm sure a lot of the elk wintering grounds are on private ranchland and the "infamous" public grazing lands adjacent to the national parks or state parks where they go to in the summer. And what about the pronghorn? These animals have to travel for miles from wintering grounds to calving grounds and back again, and no amount of fences, roads or anything like that can get in their way. I very much doubt that public land fences would even stop a herd of pronghorns on their annual migration.
"Where cattle congregate at riverbanks, their waste pollutes the water and threatens the fish."
Though this is unfortunate and does occur, it doesn't occur everywhere. More cattle producers are being more proactive about protecting ripiarian and wetland habitat from their grazing cattle and finding that placing water sources farther away from dugouts, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, etc., makes for cleaner, fresher drinking water and more healthier animals and water sources. I've seen this first-hand when visiting and touring a couple ranches myself.
It's common sense to keep rivers, creeks and streams clean and free of polluted animal waste. Most farmers and ranchers know this, because they know that the people who are down-stream who happen to drink the same water will complain or get sick if the water isn't clean. As I mentioned above, the best way to keep such water sources clean is to provide a separate water source specially for the animals, and fence off the riparian/wetland area to prevent the animals from damaging it too severely, or have much of an effect on it at all. Grazing cattle in there on occasion, like during drought or as an extra source of grazing when pastures are needing a little rest can be tolerated for such areas. But with heavy use, of course it shouldn't be allowed!
There's a group here in the province of Alberta, Canada called the Alberta Habitat Management Society, otherwise known as Cows and Fish that is the very thing that goes completely against what the author of the statement above claimed, since this group focuses on management of riparian habitat in such a way that it benefits both Nature and wildlife as well as ranchers and their livestock. Riparian areas benefit agricultural producers, communities and societies by providing abundant forage and improved opportunities for sustainable farms, ranches and communities, by providing a buffer zone and filtration system to improve and maintain water quality, by acting as a sponge to hold water, improve forage production and provide drinking water, and provide shelter for wildlife and livestock. The site contains information on how to improve riparian areas, how to manage grazing livestock, maintain wildlife habitat while at the same time providing forage for livestock, and many other things.
"While ranchers pay for the right to graze their cattle on public lands, the amounts paid do not cover all of the costs. All American taxpayers subsidize cattle being raised on public lands, as well as factory farmed animal products."
While this may be true to some extent, it's not exactly a waste of money as our AR friend here is implying. A lot of other things that all American taxpayers pay for are more of a waste of money than subsidizing grazing cattle on public lands. What those particular things are for my American readers to figure out for themselves.
"We don’t need more cows grazing on public lands; we need fewer cows."
Ironically that's I can agree with, since we eat far too much beef to be considered, really, normal for the kind of life style most people live nowadays apart from what was lived 100, 200 years ago. During those times, there were a lot less cattle and even less people living in America. Portion sizes were smaller, people worked harder and where often more fitter than many are now here in North America. Of course live wasn't nearly as easy as it is here in the 21st century either!
Grass-fed being "Still Crop-Fed"
Grass-fed is grass regardless if it's from a crop or not. Much of the grains that we eat are from grasses that have been domesticated so that they yield much higher amounts of seeds than their natural counterparts and ancestors. Sure "grass-fed is still crop-fed"; pastures are crops, hay is a crop, everything that comes on our plate comes from some sort of crop.
"Grass-fed cattle must eat crops when grass is unavailable in the winter or during droughts."
Sure. If the grass is managed right, there still can be a good pasture crop (noticed I used the word crop here?) for the animals to graze even through what would be considered drought conditions. Crops can also be negatively affected during a drought, providing nothing more than fodder for livestock to eat, not enough to for a farmer to get even some income on because it's so low quality it probably wouldn't even make it to the human food chain. Better have something to eat it than can utilize it a lot better than we can: We'd just waste 95% to 99% of what the farmer took off the field anyway.
What the author of this article doesn't realize is that not all areas of the United States see winters where grass is unavailable. There are plenty of areas in the US (and even Canada) where cattle are able to graze grass for 365 days of the year. Where the above sentence is true, it's with crops that are not suitable for human consumption. Yes, there are certain varieties and cultivars of grains that are better for livestock consumption than for humans, more due to palatability than anything. Grazing standing field corn, swath-grazing winter wheat, winter rye or barley, and bale-grazing a crop of birds-foot trefoil or alfalfa-grass mix hay is certainly better for human consumption...Seriously, we wouldn't even consider having any of this on our plates for supper.
"The crops will consist of hay and grasses, but will still take land away from the production of crops that could be fed to people directly."
Now that's a pot load of bullshit. The crops that are taken off the field to be "fed to people directly" aren't exactly that, you know! Much of the grains we eat that come right off the field during or after harvest must be processed, milled, separated, rolled, ground, or made into other products before it can be "fed to people directly." Of a seed of grain that comes right off the plant, only 50 to 30% of that seed is going to be used to feed people. The rest is either wasted, or fed to livestock. Of the entire plant where that seed comes from, almost none of that plant is used to feed people, just that little seed and what can be used from that seed. That means we humans waste 95% of an entire plant: and by waste I mean literally throw it out and not use it for anything food-wise. Do cows and other ruminants do this? Nope.
So saying that crops that consist of hay and grasses take away land away from production of crops that could be used to feed humans directly is really being short-sighted. There's a reason why land is being used for hay and/or pasture instead of crop production, and making that kind of excuse is ludicrous. Not all areas in the US are suitable for growing food crops for humans, anyway.
The Solution to Feedlot Beef is Still Grass-fed...
Regardless what kind of excuses the AR people and environmental extremist groups try to come up with.
"Feeding plants to animals to produce meat is not only a violation of the animals’ rights to be free, but also very inefficient and environmentally harmful. "
This has to be the most ridiculous statement I've ever read on the Internet. I've read some pretty ridiculous things before, but this really takes the cake! It's like she's saying that animals don't have a right to even eat, regardless if they're "made" to produce meat. I'm sorry, but you can't just up and tell a cow to stop eating because they're having their "rights" violated by not being free and are being "very inefficient and environmentally harmful." A cow that is "free" and doesn't have her "rights" violated is still going to want to eat plants called grass. It's hypocrisy to say that grazing cattle is "very inefficient and environmentally harmful" when I bet even those farm sanctuaries have the cattle they've rescued from slaughter plants out grazing on pasture themselves, doing the most natural thing they've done since before they've been domesticated by humans. And the author of this article I've quoted as the gall to say that it's "very inefficient and environmentally harmful"??? Please, give me a break!! Even as a "liberated" animal a cow is going to eat whatever she damned well pleases, which in most cases will be grass.
What's even more disturbing about this sentence is that the author is implying that livestock animals don't have a right to a happy, healthy, safe and peaceful life, which can only be granted by the humans that care for them. It's also highly ridiculous to assume that, once an animal is free, they're going to have a better life than what was provided by humans. All animals, be they wild or domesticated will have some level of restrictions placed on them that will restrict they're ability to be free, whether it's man-made or as provided by Nature herself. Even us humans who live in a "free country" are not exactly free either.
"Whether the cows eat corn in a feed lot or grass in a pasture, the production of beef is environmentally destructive. "
The production of crops can be the exact same way. Look at the production of corn, for example. All crops that are grown are essentially used to mine the soil of its nutrients. Those nutrients that are taken up by the corn plant are taken away at harvest when the seeds are removed from the stock and placed in a grainery off the field itself. What's left as residue isn't enough for next year's crop to grow on alone without some form of nutrient supplementation in the form of fertilizer. Fertilizer used in excess can cause damage to bodies of water too if not monitored carefully. Fossil fuels are used extensively to produce crops. Grazing cattle, on the other hand, does not require much fossil fuels nor fertilizer because a producer is using nature to their advantage in being a low-cost producer: utilizing what's under their feet and working with nature rather than working against nature, like what's happening with cropping systems. So which is more "environmentally destructive" now??
"The solution is to not eat beef, or any animal products, and to go vegan."
A sound solution valid to only those who don't know what wanting to achieve balance really means. In other words, as you may have already guessed, I don't agree with this statement. If one wants to be environmentally sustainable, one must find some level of balance with not just nature, but in our diets as well. We humans are naturally omnivorous, able to consume both plants and animal products, for many it's more of the former than the latter depending on one's genes and level of work. Regardless, it's better to have a healthy diet of both plants and meat than either one or the other. It's just like working at the level of the food chain: Nature can't thrive without its predators. Without the predators, the animals at the herbivorous level will suffer more than if they had predators to control and maintain the population. Nature can't thrive if humans are at one of either of the extreme spectrums of our diet.
Thus, if one wants to maintain a healthy diet of meat and vegetables, grass-fed beef is still the best alternative kind of beef a person can obtain for their diet. I've heard beefalo, bison and elk are just as healthy as well. There's nothing better than eating meat from an animal that had a short but very healthy and happy life doing the very thing that Nature or God created it to do and eat.