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Cows are right at home in the yucky muck

Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010, at 8:29 AM

A little while ago I read an article talking about the horrible conditions in cattle feedlots across the United States. It was an article that went on and on about today's factory and corporate farms. (I keep trying to find my "corporate workers" -- but that's a different story.)

After reading it, I remembered hubby and his sister talking about how much they liked seeing animals lined up in a feedlot. Growing up on a farm, it was something they both remembered fondly.

However, this article spent a lot of ink writing about the unnatural conditions of today's feedlots. I admit, I haven't seen a lot of feedlots in person lately, but the ones often shown on television or on the Internet, don't seem that crowded or bad to me. Although I am sure, like every industry, there are a few bad actors.

So I wondered, before I came to a farm, would I have found feedlots as deplorable as some do?? It made me wonder if I have become "hardened" from farm life, unable to feel the pain of an animal.

I've always loved animals, but after making money caring for them, was I more worried about the bottom line, than I was their comfort, I wondered?

As I was pondering the question, I recalled a scene from last summer. (I like thinking about summer -- it warms me up!)

Looking outside my window I saw a large group of our cows were gathered. I'd seen them gathered together thousands of times before, but went outside to get a closer look.

It was close to 90 degrees and the sun was beating down on their hairy red and black coats. As I took a closer look, I realized a large number of cows were gathered in a small area. They were standing side by side in a mud hole, mostly caused by the large amount of summer rains and the fact they keep standing there and packing down the once green grass. They were surrounded on four sides by dry, green grass -- 30 acres worth, including 10 acres of trees and heavy shade.

Of course, it wasn't just the cows, but their calves too. In fact, the whole herd was gathered in a very small area, all huddled together. Some would lie in the water as others would take a drink. Others were standing there using the same area as a bathroom, often times drinking at the same time. Of course, fresh, clean water was just a few feet away in an electric waterer, but they chose the water laden with mud, manure and urine.

I watched all summer. Except to munch on fresh growing grass in the evening, they spent most every warm day standing in any mud hole or pond they could find. With so much shade available, a human might wonder why.

It was then I realized that I hadn't hardened -- not at all. In fact, the truth is that I had actually gotten to know the real cow. Not the talking one on television, but real cows. And real -- seemingly happy cows -- don't mind standing in mud, manure or the sun for that matter. They seem more at home standing there than any other place in both winter and summer. In fact, if we would bring their food to them, there is no doubt in my mind, they would move very little. The truth is cows are like messy bachelors of the farm. They certainly aren't finicky. Laying in their own manure is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It's not what you or I would pick, but it is what they pick over and over given free choice.

I now realize it was with that real life knowledge of the animal that farmers developed "feedlots" over 100 years ago in order to closely feed cattle, protecting them from predators and keeping a close eye on their health and well-being.

However, I would have never known this had I never spent the last 25 years living by them, taking care of them day after day. Yes, if you'd spent your life in the city, writing books and articles, you very well could think a feedlot was unnatural. But judging from our cows' "natural" behavior I now know, as other farmers already did, it is very natural.

It reminded me of something else I've heard and read a lot lately -- that as farmers we need to keep telling our story.

As a doctor is the one who is trained to give you real medical advice, the farmer is the one trained to give advice about how and why modern farming techniques are used.

And as consumers I hope you take time to listen to the farmers. After all, they are the ones who have developed today's farming methods based on years -- actually generations -- of experience.


Comments
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Having grown up on a farm and now living there again, I hear what you are saying, Marsha. Cow/calf operations with 1 head per 2 or 3 acres is very natural, and mostly beautiful, and works well in harmony with natures ability to digest the waste and provide the food.

I suggest, however, you take a trip out to Nebraska or Western Kansas and visit a true, commercial, feedlot. Not so pretty and serene.

20,000 head of fat cattle standing on 80 acres is not what you have out your window. I have seen a 50,000 head feedlot and trust me, Mother Nature can not keep up. Not a blade of grass or tree in sight, only the byproducts that come out the rear end of the animal. And a smell that is far worse than the worst produced by our local hog confinement operators permeates the air for miles. These cattle can not survive the conditions without BGH and lots of antibiotics, so in the name of meat production, plenty are used continuously.

I support farming in all forms, and have absolutely nothing against cattle producers, until the greed and desire for big profits leads to these sorts of methods. And it is not an isolated thing, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of these oversized feedlots that are where the majority of the beef in the grocery store comes from. It is not what nature had in mind for the life of our most important food animal in my opinion.

-- Posted by countryman on Wed, Jan 6, 2010, at 12:19 PM

Marcia:

You speak a great truth about the interaction of farm animals and farmers. I will summarize:

1. Natural to me is different than you; I'm a guy and you're a gal.

2. Feedlots are to cows as Modern Cities are to city dwellers; convenient, clean and for the most part and cows are a social/herding animal like people are social animals.

3. Different types of cows want different types of environments. Some like the social and feed aspects of the cattle lot. Some cows like to graze out in the pasture alone. (I remember having to find them out in a far corner or in the neighbors whatever having broken down a fence)

Too many folks assume that they know what is best based on their own experiences. That is great but I would bet they don't have the experience in agriculture that you or I might have. People outside of agriculture forget that unhappy animals are unhealthy, not productive and usually have problem behaviors. A farmer wants a healthy, productive and well tempered animal to work with.

In summary too many outside of agriculture act like the town busybody!...

-- Posted by movaldude on Wed, Jan 6, 2010, at 2:55 AM


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