Category Archives: cattle

Doing it Right in Argentina: Raising Cattle on Grass

Forgive me for romanticizing raising cattle the old fashioned way, folks, but this video is downright charming. The word is gaucho, which means “A cowboy of the South American pampas”.

This is yet another artistically done, excellent film from The Perennial Plate, which helps educate us about how farming is done around the world.

3 Picks: SD Cattle Catastrophy, Japan’s Groundwater, Sustainable Barn


Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Catastrophic Early Snowstorm Kills Thousands of Cattle in South Dakota: By Chet Brokaw. “‘It’s the worst early season snowstorm I’ve seen in my lifetime.’ Early estimates suggest western South Dakota lost at least 5 percent of its cattle. Some individual ranchers reported losses of 20 percent to 50 percent of their livestock.’ …”

2) Japanese Municipalities’ are Creating Initiatives to Conserve Groundwater: By Junji Hashimoto. In Japan, where they have been using more groundwater since the 2011 earthquake, farmers and municipalities are working together and creating ordinances to use groundwater in conjunction with monitoring recharge rates. Through methods of cooperation, and a recharge calculation formula which reduces water fees when greater amounts of groundwater are recharged, they are smartly planning for the future.

3) UK’s Award-winning eco-build slashes thousands from farm’s running costs: “…by combining modern technology with traditional materials like sheep fleece and straw, it is possible to create a sustainable rural building that not only has a very low carbon footprint it is also saving many thousands of pounds in running costs. … Materials used in the construction and for running the building were sourced from the fields of the Allerton Project farm, including straw for the walls and sheep fleece for insulation. Wood chip harvested from the estate’s own woodland provide fuel for the biomass boiler to heat the hot water and the thermostatically zoned under-floor heating. Rainwater is collected for the toilets and showers, while sixteen roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels provide electrical power to the building…”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Photo credit: Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

The Savory Institute Conference

Last Thursday and Friday I was privileged to attend the first ever annual Savory Institute International Conference right here in my home town of Boulder, Colorado. The title of the conference was, “Transforming the Landscape: Using Holistic Management to Create Global Impact.”

Over the next week, or so, I’ll be making a series of posts reporting on and inspired by that conference.

If you don’t know who Allan Savory is, check out his TED talk here. This TED talk from earlier this year went viral and has now had over 1.3 million views!

Born in South Africa, Savory has spent his life trying to combat desertification, a problem covering large regions of the globe, through the integration of holistically managed livestock systems. To clarify, overgrazing which destroys roots causes desertification, whereas Savory’s holistic management approach is a system of regenerative grazing.

“It helps to think of soil as a living organism covered with skin like a human. We can live with a certain percentage of our skin damaged, but if too high a percentage is damaged, we die. So, too, does soil and thus most life…” —— Allan Savory

When I arrived at the conference I knew I’d come to a special gathering. The Boulder Theater room was filled with the energy of people who were friendly, enthusiastic, and optimistic. By a show of hands, there was a strong showing of people under age 30 — something that is unusual in Ag these days. There were many cowboy hats and boots, an indication that quite a few people attending were from the real world.

Representatives from Savory “Hubs” were there from all over the world to tell us what was happening in their particular hub — along with some history of why their hub was created. We heard a wide variety of stories about broken lands, broken farming systems, and the resulting broken humans — followed by the process, the hope, and the success of holistic repair and regeneration.

There was a wide array of audience attendees. I met a newly retired Cal Poly professor who’d taught holistic management most of his teaching career, and an Australian rancher and agricultural instructor who brought his son with him. I sat next to a young lady from Chile, who told me that though she grew up in Georgia, she’s now managing the property that her grandfather purchased in Chile in the 1950′s. She is in her first year of using holistic management practices on that land, running 40,000 sheep and 4,000 cattle across the property. I also met a college student from Tennessee who was there to find out more about how land use impacts climate change, and a Massachusetts Mom who was working in the organic and eat local food movement in her community.

There was a great speaker line-up to teach us about soil, carbon sequestration, holistic systems, grasslands and rangeland management, the enormous challenge of gathering data and being scientific in complex systems, the limits to growth, broken monetary systems, hope, and challenges for the future.

Allan Savory’s talk which kicked off the event contained one prized quote after another.

Stay tuned.

(NEXT POST HERE: Allan Savory: Agriculture is More Destructive than Coal Mining)

3 Picks: Farm Bill, GF 2045, Grass-Fed Beef


Murray Grey Cattle. Photo credit: Wikicommons.

Below, are today’s three chosen news picks.

1) Montana Ag Economist Calls this a Bad Farm Bill: Alan Bjerga, for Businessweek, tells us some of the things that are wrong with the 629-page House Farm Bill, including subsidies for sushi rice and raising catfish. (Obama has threatened to veto the bill citing cuts in food aid spending.) “Lobbying expenses by agriculture interests increased to $138 million last year from $112 million in 2007, the year before the last farm bill passed, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks spending on lobbying. Agriculture-industry employees spent $91 million on the 2012 elections, up from $70 million in 2008.”

2) GF 2045 Conference: A big thanks to my cyber-friend, Physicist Stuart Staniford, for live-blogging last weekend’s Global Futures 2045 Conference held in NYC. Speakers included Ray Kurzweil, Dr. Marvin Minsky, and Dr. Robert Thurman. If you are interested in the rapid future advancement of computer technology, and how that may cross boundaries with human consciousness, quantum mechanics, and neuroscience, this is a delightful read. The link takes you to the first post and there are many posts following that one that you may navigate on your own over at Early Warning. The quote below is part of Stuart’s conclusion wrapping up his thoughts following the conference.

So how did the conference impact my own thinking (as exemplified here, say)? I continue to think that machine intelligence that is functionally (ie economically) equivalent to human is on the way. I continue to think that it’s likely to take longer than 30 years to achieve in full. I continue to think this is going to exert absolutely massive stress on society, and that we should slow down. The conference has caused me to revise upward my likelihood that scientists will reverse engineer the brain – I was impressed that they can produce a detailed level neuronal map of an entire mouse brain already (although they still can’t emulate the complete functional behavior of even the simplest nervous systems).

And I was somewhat intrigued by the quantum mechanics arguments. I don’t have time to go into detail here, but it really is true that quantum mechanics privileges the observer, in such a way that it’s not quite clear how to give a quantum-materialistic account of the human brain and mind (at least unless there’s been new progress on this in the last couple of decades that I don’t know about).

3) The NYTs Promotes Grass-Fed Beef: Kathryn Shattuck looks at raising grass-fed beef with settings in my two favorite states, Nebraska and Colorado. “A great-grandson of the poet Robert Frost, who tended Ayrshire cattle in Vermont, the Connecticut-born Mr. Frost has spent a lifetime taking the road less traveled by. He put down roots on 7,000 acres in what he calls the Napa Valley of ranchland, home to more than 700 species of native grasses and forbs: bluestem, buffalo, reed canary, brome — the salad bar on which grass-fed beef is raised. “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.”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Livestock Producers Pay Attention. The Consumer has Spoken.

There are some new and gradual trends emerging in livestock production and consumption. More corporate consumers are requiring humane sources for their pigs, poultry, and cattle. The grass fed beef industry is growing at a rate of 20 percent a year. Ethanol policy and the drought’s impact on livestock is culling herds and the rancher or pasture owner is considering switching to more resilient goats and sheep and the hardiest breeds of cattle. Cattle are implicated by land use and greenhouse emissions critics. And the consumer is eating less meat. These trends are happening not for just one reason, but for a variety of reasons.

NOTE: Thank you to Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee for allowing me to use their writing which follows.

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Over a century ago, a journalist obtained employment in the meatpacking industry in Chicago intending to draw attention to the deplorable working conditions. When Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle” was finally published, the public reacted not to the conditions endured by the workers, but to diseased cattle and the lack of sanitation in an industry that provided the meat they ate.

Today we see the same sort of activism surrounding the meat industry. The differences between the two eras are mostly a matter of technology. Sinclair used a pen and paper and serialized his findings in a socialist newspaper before getting it accepted as a self-funded novel. Today, the tools are hidden video cameras and videos posted to the internet where some of them go viral.

No less than in Upton Sinclair’s day, the battle today is an ideological one. He was a socialist hoping to end wage slavery; concern about tainted meat was the public’s interest. Today’s videographers issues range from the humane treatment of animals to making the eating of meat unpalatable to a large swath of the US public. For those concerned about animal welfare, the target audience is typically consumers who will pressure large restaurant and grocery chains to set standards for the meat/egg/milk products they sell.

One hundred years ago, the result of the work of Sinclair and other muckrakers was the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Today, state legislators debate ways to make it illegal for workers to surreptitiously make videos in meat production facilities.

The problem with legislation that aims to punish today’s muckrakers is that it makes the meat industry look like it has something to hide. And, that only makes matters worse for everyone, all of the way back to the cow-calf operator.

If consumers think the industry has something to hide, they will switch products. With today’s emphasis on a diet that includes a variety of whole grains, the only thing consumers have to do is add a complement of pulses and they can consume all of the essential amino acids needed for full protein utilization in humans—no meat or animal products needed.

As recently reported on the Drovers Cattle Network, Colorado State University and the Colorado Beef Council sponsored a “conference titled “Beef + Transparency = Trust.” In an article, “Trust through transparency—Part 3,” Drovers Managing Editor John Maday wrote, “Temple Grandin, known worldwide for her work in animal behavior and handling, told the group that if the livestock industry needs to show the public what they do. And if there is something we are unwilling to show, we probably shouldn’t be doing it.”

As economists, we agree. The availability of complete-as-possible information to all market participants is a key expectation for economic transactions in free market economies. Information restrictions of all kinds are indefensible and totally foreign to the perfectly competitive models ascribed to by economists.

In this case one could argue that detailed information from producers, along with the reasons for practices, would provide a more balanced and real-world window into livestock production than an agenda-driven, highly-edited video that goes viral on the internet. As Maday writes, “Our challenge is [providing] the context in which members of the public see things. To someone with no background or experience in agriculture, processes or activities done for good reasons and considered acceptable within the industry could seem distressing.”

Our only caution is that what is acceptable changes over time. When a quarter’s worth of gas would get one an evening cruising the town square or strip, car mileage that was acceptable in the 1950s is no longer acceptable to consumers. Likewise there are animal husbandry practices that were acceptable within the industry at one time that are no longer considered appropriate. Just as carmakers have adjusted to a changing market, livestock producers and handlers may have no choice but to do the same.

In addition to transparency and adapting to a changing market, the industry has to be willing to speak out against bad actors, both companies and workers. For companies it may involve establishing a third-party verification process that includes standards that are developed with consumer input. For workers, it certainly involves training and supervision to ensure company policies with regard to animal welfare are adhered to. It also necessitates whistle-blower protection for workers who report being asked by supervisors to violate company policies.

Livestock producers and handlers are not used to being criticized for their animal husbandry. Their initial defensive responses to these criticisms might have felt appropriate early on, but could do long-term harm to the industry’s credibility and growth potential. Programs like Colorado’s “Beef + Transparency = Trust” seem to point the way to a defensible (and perhaps more profitable) posture for the livestock industry.