Why Pasture/Grass Raised and Finished Livestock are Important

by Catherine Haug, July 6, 2013

Today, animal products at the supermarket come from livestock raised in CAFOs (Confinement Animal Feeding Operations), which means that they are kept in an industrial barn with little room to move, and without ever setting foot in their natural habitat: pasture. Generally they have ill-health and are fed antibiotics on a daily basis to keep them alive until slaughter.They are often abused and mistreated by the humans who are supposed to watch out for their welfare. Is this the kind of meat/eggs/milk you want your family to consume?

Their excrement is washed off the concrete floors and flushed down drains where it contaminates local groundwater – water often used by vegetable farmers to water their crops; water that feeds local wells.

They are fed mixed feed of grain (mostly corn), soy and alfalfa, all of which are likely GMO. This means that good fertile farmland is being ruined by synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Read on for a historical perspective and a comparison of products from grass- vs grain- fed livestock. See also related post: Cattle as a Conservation Tool (reference to a Nature Conservancy of Montana article).

Historical perspective

Prior to mass homesteading of the western prairie, the hills and valleys across the plains were covered with native grass ecosystems that nourished the soil and the many animals that thrived there, including the buffalo. The grass fed the animals or died back into the soil; the animals fertilized the soil for future generations of grass and animal.

Today, almost all of this native prairie has been plowed up to grow crops that do not add nourishment to the soil for future generations. Much of these crops are then harvested to feed CAFO animals that have never seen their native prairie; the remainder of these crops are used to make inexpensive processed (and GMO) foods for human consumption – foods that have created and sustain our obesity crisis.

We are lucky here in the Flathead that this sad dynamic has not yet permeated our agriculture community, though it is making inroads. We can stop this in its tracks by supporting our local farmers. Search out local, pasture/grass-fed animal products. Visit the farmer and become acquainted with his practices. Encourage him to feed his animals in pasture until slaughter – what is called grass-finished – by voting with your wallet.

I’m talking about not only beef-cattle, but also dairy livestock, sheep, hogs and poultry producers. Check out our wonderful Farm-Hands map (Who Is Your Farmer) to locate these farms.

Grass-Fed Beef Is Better for You, Better for the Planet and Better for the Cows

Mercola has a great article: Where Corn Is King, a New Regard for Grass-Fed Beef in which he highlights the many benefits of grass-fed.

Better for you

A joint effort between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Clemson University researchers determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed is better than grain-fed beef for human health. In a side-by-side comparison, they determined that grass-fed beef was:

    • Lower in total fat
    • Higher in total omega-3s (the anti-inflammatory fats)
    • A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84 or worse)
    • Higher in CLA, a potential cancer-fighting fat
    • Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
    • HIgher in beta-carotene (plant vitamin-A)
    • Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
    • Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
    • Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium”

Better for the planet

“Contrary to popular arguments, factory farming is not a cheap, efficient solution to world hunger. Feeding huge numbers of confined animals actually uses more food, in the form of grains that could feed humans, than it produces. For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and dairy. That’s a 70 percent loss.

With the Earth’s population predicted to reach 9 billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford this reckless, unhealthy and environmentally disastrous farming system. And as Prescott Frost, great-grandson of poet Robert Frost who has entered the grass-fed meat business, told the New York Times:

“If change is going to come to the cattle industry, it’s got to come from educated people from the outside,” Mr. Frost said, quoting from Allan Nation, the publisher of The Stockman Grass Farmer, considered the grazier’s bible.”

Better for the animals

Another troubling aspect of grain-fed cattle involves the well-being of the animal and, consequently, the health effect this has on you. Common consequences among grain-fed cattle include [read the article for more detail]: 

    • Acidosis
    • Liver abscesses
    • Bloat
    • Feedlot polio
    • Dust pneumonia”

See related articles on The EssentiaList


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