The years come and the years go.
Men age and boys grow. The cattle herds of yesteryear, their
lineage and the propensity they represented, are now barely
a memory. Old books describe truly functional family cows
and warn of impending danger and tragedy if the rate of natural
resource exploitation of the time is continued.
A new generation returns to the farm or ranch, ushered in
with an abundance of packaged knowledge regarding the latest
animal science and research, and funded by profit-driven,
greed-riddled corporations. Our sons and daughters earn their
college education and are eager to take things over and push
the herd to supposed new heights with their book knowledge
and learning. Dad is old-fashioned now and his knowledge and
wisdom couldn’t possibly fit the picture any longer.
Twenty-five years later, reality sets in when the over-vaccinated
cows keep getting sick, and the TMR ration can’t keep
weight on them or their milk production consistent. Healthy
calves seem to die for no reason, and mastitis has taken another
quarter. “Why didn’t dad and grandpa have these
troubles?” they ask. The struggling, college-educated
rancher begins to look back in an attempt to understand the
knowledge that passed before him.
By this time the boy has become a man, grandfather is gone,
and the dad is too old to be active. The next generation has
again left for the universities, so the man is left to fend
It becomes increasingly difficult for him to glean the necessary
information to manage a sustainable cattle operation. The
cycle repeats itself as the concept of working with nature
and wisdom of years gone by is buried with those old books
and old men. And now, the grip of science-guided, supplier-bound
agriculture gets tighter and tighter with barely enough room
to breathe. What is truly sad about this scenario is that
we have now experienced three, even four generations of what
I consider a regressive and detrimental approach to food production.
Can we ever recover?
Bad thinking for a long time
Trends, breed popularities, fabricated numbers, misguided
information, hybridized breeding and crop subsidies have heavily
influenced the American cattle industry for the past 75 years.
|We have completely lost the notion
of what we were producing; food that would feed and nourish
our babies, grow strong and lean teenagers, fuel busy
adults, and restore good health to the sick.
As it is, cattle—animals that in their natural state
could normally stay fat and healthy on green grass and good
hay, and nourish families with wholesome and healthy meat
and milk as God intended —have been steadily transformed
into what has become a starch-dependent, mongrelized production
machine that produces food that tastes like cardboard and
causes heart disease and numerous other health problems. We
have completely lost the notion of what we were producing;
food that would feed and nourish our babies, grow strong and
lean teenagers, fuel busy adults, and restore good health
to the sick. It seems as though we have lost sight of the
cycle of life beneath the ground, the magic of minerals and
photosynthesis, of cattle spending their entire life doing
what comes naturally–grazing.
Today’s cattle producers are equipped with an arsenal
of unnaturals to ward off diseases and treat what have become
common, everyday ailments to the animals God gave us. Breeding
for sick-free cattle is nearly non-existent. I have spoken
with a handful of older cattlemen friends who talk about the
pre-1960s and claim they never had to doctor a calf for sickness
while it was still nursing from its mother. Today it is common
practice and even required that our animals be shot full of
vaccines. What have we done?
Parasites prey on the sick, weak and diseased. Therefore,
in addition to all the vaccines, it is considered “normal”
to put chemicals in or on our cattle twice a year to combat
these ravenous scavengers. “Why are they there in the
first place?” one should ask. This protocol for “chemical
rescue” animal health management is what is being taught
to our aspiring young men and women. Instead of books and
“head knowledge,” they should be taught true animal
husbandry skills of working with nature to create conditions
that promote health, beginning with the soil. I know for myself,
I would rather not eat meat from any animal that was ever
sick during its lifespan. In today’s meat market, this
would rule out the vast majority of the animals that are put
in the grocery store coolers for human consumption.
My friends, this should not be.
Quality, resiliency genes hijacked for
Our forefathers left us with 8 to 10 breeds of cattle that
were adapted to various environments across America. Unfortunately,
we now pay little attention to the positive effects of breeding,
good herd management, husbandry and feeding practices. We
seem to have moved on from the time when we had common quality
standards of healthy eating and nutritional value in the meat
and milk being produced.
|| With today’s science and technology,
man still hasn’t been able to formulate a ration
that can sustain a cow for very long without her natural
diet of grass and sunshine.
In the name of progress, the Jersey, once cherished for her
high (5-to-6 percent) butterfat milk, was turned into a 20,000
pound-milking machine but with only 3-to-3.5 percent butterfat.
The Holstein, now a freak that wouldn’t survive on her
own, pushes out upwards towards 30,000 pounds a milk in a
year and then burns out before she reaches her fifth birthday.
The Guernsey cow hasn’t readily molded to fit in with
the “milk check” economy, so she’s lost
favor and today is almost nonexistent.
The dairy sector has been turned into a feedlot system whereby
commodity-subsidized grain is funneled through the bovine
and sold back to the consumer in the form of a white liquid
they label “milk.” With today’s science
and technology, man still hasn’t been able to formulate
a ration that can sustain a cow for very long without her
natural diet of grass and sunshine. The meat and milk that
comes from animals managed in a confinement system isn’t
fit for human consumption. One reason is the imbalance of
the omega 3 to omega 6 essential fatty acids ratios—the
consequence of a high-starch diet.
High-butterfat milk with the correct nutritional components
is critical for optimal health in the developing and growing
calf. Fat in the milk coats the lining of the calf’s
esophagus and gut, which prevents bacteria and other disease-causing
organisms from entering the blood stream. Fat is important
for the proper development of the nervous system which is
the circuitry for the digestive system, endocrine (gland)
system and immune function, etc. Mother’s milk keeps
the calf healthy and vigorous while his system develops the
ability to ruminate and utilize grass. It can take up to 10
months from the time a calf is born for it to realize all
the benefits of a fully functioning rumen.
Take this natural fat out of a calf’s diet and see
what happens. Compare dairy calves that have access to full-fat
milk from their mothers (as nature designed it) to those that
are fed a rationed diet made from powdered milk replacer.
The differences are tremendous, noticeable to even the most
novice of observers.
Misplaced genetic priorities
Through this quest for high milk production, we have actually
changed the physiology of the cow to where she will sacrifice
her own body condition (lose fat cells and muscle mass) before
she stops producing milk. Increased production has resulted
in lowered butterfat, but the genetic requirement for optimum
nutrition has not changed. It is the young that suffer the
most with malnutrition, sickness, disease and even death.
|Look back a few generations—the
beef cow then was bred to produce a minimum of 4 percent
butterfat. Whether they realized butterfat or not, those
farmers knew what cows gave the best milk for good calves
that made good food for the table.
The dairy calf at two days old is taken from its mother and
put on a milk replacer (dehydrated whey) for two months. The
bone and frame structure of the calf is deprived of adequate
nutrition as well as its muscle development. The foundation
for creating fat cells happens for a limited period of time
at this stage in a young animal’s life, and that potential
reservoir of available energy is what gets an adult animal
through the tough times. When there is no extra energy for
a growing calf to build those fat cells, that animal is and
will remain a high-maintenance animal for the rest of its
The butterfat of the average beef cow is 2-to-2.5 percent
(some even less) and her milk production is in the 4,000-pound
range. That, my friend, is not enough energy to grow a calf
and have it build the necessary fat cells for the type of
production that utilizes grass. Not only that, it’s
the low-butterfat cows (less then 3.5 percent) whose calves
get sick with E. coli scours, pink eye or pneumonia.
It’s those low-butterfat cows that are difficult to
Look back a few generations—the beef cow then was bred
to produce a minimum of 4 percent butterfat. Whether they
realized it was because of the butterfat or not, those farmers
knew what cows gave the best milk for good calves that made
good food for the table. It takes that amount of butterfat
in the cow’s milk to start that fat-cell production
during that critical period in a calf’s development.
It takes that amount to garnish a carcass with quality, tender,
Unfortunately we don’t get paid in today’s marketplace
for quality. Therefore, it’s no wonder we do not look
at our animals as a gene pool worth improving or protecting.
How did we get into this condition? Consider that:
- The commodity grain, feedlot and food-processing industry
has so deceptively and cleverly influenced and guided the
farmer into producing an overabundance of corn and soybeans
so that their raw materials stay cheap and profit margins
high. The government farm-subsidy program fits right into
- Rising costs of production and dwindling profit margins
for the grower keeps him or her increasingly dependent on
those subsidy payments. For farmers to stay in business,
they must increase those subsidy checks, which mean increase
production (pounds, bushels, and tons). In turn, those that
do not direct market (which is the vast majority) are driven
to produce the animals that will consume all the grain.
In turn, the results are an undetected transformation away
from grass-based genetics and nutritionally balanced food.
||If our goal becomes quality and we
band together to market our products more locally, then
and only then will we fairly compensated.
- The industry monarchy decides what prices are paid to
the grower/farmer, which is not based on cost of production,
and keeps them at a rate just high enough to keep him producing.
The gruesome reality and unfortunate truth of the matter
is that most, if not all, of the food produced by this model
is not what God intended for our bodies. It is tax dollars,
both yours and mine, that keep this ill-fated cycle going.
We cannot put the burden of turning things around solely
on our young boys and girls coming through the university
system. The problems began before our sons and daughters were
put in the driver seats.
What we must do is stop focusing on working for the almighty
If our goal becomes quality and we band together to market
our products more locally, then and only then will we fairly
compensated. We must be “debt free” to leverage
every opportunity. Experience is the best classroom. History
is the best teacher. Without health there is little chance
Let us look back at what experience and our forefathers have
taught us and move forward with what we know is “the
right thing to do.”
We are our brother’s keeper, and the health and prosperity
of our nation depends on it.