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Category Archives: Random Thoughts

The Evolution of Cattle Production: Why Consumers Can’t Have the iPhone 5, Sprawling Suburbs and the Pitchforked Farmer Too

BY AMINA BENNETT, Wife and Mother near Chicago, IL

Originally published Oct. 3, 2013: http://www.mommamina.com/2013/10/the-evolution-of-cattle-production-why.html 

The iPhone 5s was just released a few days ago, excited consumers across the nation eagerly waited hours (even overnight) for Apple stores to open in anticipation of getting their hands on the newest Apple technology. The iPhone 5s now boasts a larger screen, Touch ID, a faster operating system and enhanced camera features. Technology in communication is widely embraced, new inventions are encouraged, and consumers are eager to evolve with the changing times. That said, I think it’s safe to say that I would be an anomaly if I walked down the street with a vintage phone…

Hellooooooooooo

or a cell phone circa 1983…

Yup…they once looked like this!

So why is it that the same eagerness to evolve with the changing times, which is so apparent in the communications industry, not exhibited for the agricultural industry? In a recent visit to the Larson Farm, Farmer Mike Martz made mention that he felt as though society wanted him to “farm like how his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had farmed in years passed.” But with an increasing population, more urban sprawl (which leads to less farmland), and fewer farms to spread the labor (as future generations of farmers opt out of the family business), why are Americans unwilling to let farming evolve with the times?

While I haven’t got the answers to why some folks are so unyielding to the evolution of agriculture, I can only address the 5 fears that I once touted as the big WHY. And it goes a little something like this…

1. No Feedlots Please, I prefer my cattle roaming and grazing
As a Midwest city girl I always assumed that land outside of the city lights (and suburban sprawl) was sufficient enough to raise tons of cattle for grazing and roaming. But with the growing population and constant building outside of the city limits we’re encroaching upon farmland and animal habitats. Even coyotes have decided that since they can’t beat our burgeoning population that they’re going to join us here in the city. So when it comes to raising enough cattle to feed a large population, cattle feedlots are in response to the need for more livestock within a smaller farm area.

2. I don’t want my family consuming extra hormones; I’malready portly AND I want my kids to look like kids!
Sure, hormones are implanted into the ear of cattle to increase their size during their last few months of life, but according to the FDA, “all approved implant products have a zero day withdrawal. This means that the meat from the animal farm is safe for humans to eat at any time after the animal is treated.” In addition, the ears are discarded before the animal is slaughtered.

Furthermore, because I’m a believer in the power of statistical information, here’s a couple stats to give you some perspective on hormone use in cattle:

Organic Beef = 1.4 nanograms of estrogen hormone per 3 oz of meat
Conventional Beef = 1.9 nanograms of estrogen hormone per 3 oz of meat 
Potatoes = 225 nanograms of estrogen hormone (occurring naturally) per average sized potato
Birth Control Pills (at the lowest dose) = 20,000 nanograms per pill  

M&M visual of hormone dosages compliments of the Larson Farm
 Left to Right: Organic, Conventional, Baked Potato, Birth Control Pill

3. I don’t want to consume antibiotics when I’m not even sick!
Well, if you’ve followed my farming posts thus far, then you’ve got an idea on what I’ve learned about antibiotics. If you haven’t, check it out a here! But suffice it to say that at the Larson Farm, sick cattle are tagged, removed and then tested. The sick cattle are then kept 2 weeks later than when they are “technically” safe to sell as an added precaution. Antibiotics are not permitted on the meat market.

4. All feedlot farms (especially CAFO’s) are inhumane and mistreating their cattle 
Just a bit of clarification here. A feedlot is an area or building where livestock are fed or fattened up. A CAFO is a concentrated animal “production process that concentrates large numbers of animals in relatively small and confined spaces, and that substitutes structures and equipment (for feeding, temperature controls and manure management) for land and labor.” The Larson Farm is considered a CAFO (due to the number of cattle housed) and as a result, the farm undergoes a required certification every 3 years by the EPA.

While visiting the Larson Farm I didn’t witness any signs of animal abuse (no excessive mooing, cow bullying-yes it happens amongst cattle too, and no fear of people). I don’t believe anyone these days is naive to the mistreatment of animals in the farming industry, but what I can attest to is that not ALL farmers treat their animals cruelly. In fact, cruelty is not a matter of size or conventional versus organic. It’s a matter of the moral fiber of the farmer raising the animal. Which brings me to my next point…

5. I don’t want my food coming off of an assembly line!
Since when did being organized get a bad rap?!?! In fact, it’s when systems are not in place where all good intentions go to hell. Ever heard of Temple Grandin?

Temple Grandin is an autistic woman who transformed the livestock industry by inventing improvements to the animal handling systems found on ranches, farms and meat plants. She is most known for the center-track restraint system that is widely used across North America.

Cows enter and exit the center-track system here

 

Top of center-track system which prevents cows from backing up and flipping over one another
Gentle “Hug” which calms the cattle immediately so that the ultrasound tech can check marbling and fat levels
Her invention decreases and eliminates the fear and pain animals experience when they are being handled and eventually slaughtered. You see, the successful management of large numbers of animals requires advanced engineering and forethought to prevent falls, crippling injuries and untimely death. Kudos to Larson Farms for incorporating this ingenious system into their farming processes. By the way…it’s composed entirely of scrap metal!  
 
As our world continues to evolve, our food industry has to adapt alongside of it. In practical terms, with millions more people on the earth, the days of free roaming animals that eat off of the land, and farmers driving horse-drawn plows… are gone. With farmers being charged with feeding more than just their family and their town, and with less space to do it, farmers (although still good stewards of the land) are seeking efficient and effective ways to raise livestock and cultivate the land within the changing times. Everything must evolve, just as the iPhone 5s will soon give way to the iPhone 6… 
 
…it’s just a matter of time. 

Are you still envisioning the pitch-forked farmers of the past? Do you believe that the agricultural industry should evolve with the times?

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2014 National Beef Ambassador Program: It started with a shiny belt buckle

BY MADISON MARTIN, Tennessee 

Originally posted: http://madisonsfarmadventures.blogspot.com/2013/10/2014-national-beef-ambassador-program.html

1383294_10151618665596526_1802338134_nOne sunny day at a cattle auction in Georgia a woman approached a girl in a shiny buckle…the woman, Mrs. Callaway, asked the girl about her buckle.  I don’t know how but Mrs. Callaway felt or heard the girls passion through her words describing her life on the farm.  What Mrs. Callaway had up her sleeve next changed that girl’s life, forever.  OK maybe a tad much exaggeration.  That girl was me and I was at that sale looking for replacement cows with my Pop.  Mrs. Callaway thought I was worthy to know about this program called the National Beef Ambassador Program (NBAP) and she also told me that Tennessee didn’t have a program.  Duhh Duhh Duhh. I went home without any new cows but with information that could change the course of my life.
A side story, before I had heard about NBAP I wanted to work in the CIA. Now I wanted to be a Bovine geneticist/nutritionist/ some reproduction and an embryologist.  That’s a lot right!! Back to the story…..
Well, I pursued this program but not before I forgot our conversation many times.  I actually forgot and then finally remembered our conversation about a month before the contest!  Not having an official contest in my state I had to find someone in the beef community to write me a letter of recommendation. I choose Mrs. Houston a very influential cattlewoman in my area whom I look up to greatly.  She got the letter written, we sent off the registration, and BAM I was on my way to the Wooster, Ohio 2012 NBAP contest. Look at the NBAP page.  They do their contest with the next years date because that’s how the team will serve.  The Beef Ambassador contest has two divisions: senior and junior.  The junior division ages from 12-16, I was in that division. The seniors age from 17-21.  There were two parts of the contest I had to participate in: consumer demonstration and media interview.  I had the time of my life! That year we toured Certified Angus and Weaver Leather!!  I couldn’t believe that so many prominent members of the beef community were in attendance and it was an excellent trip. A big bonus for me were passionate friends I made for life.
Year 2012…September rolls around and my mom and I are talking about going again.  This year its in Sacramento, California.  That’s a long drive from Tennessee.  We decided to make it a family trip.  We visited every important site on I-40 from Tennessee to California.  Then we drove up the coast of California on the road that runs along the ocean to Sacremento for the contest.  We had five people crammed in a little rental  KIA.  We stopped along the way and saw all our family across the US.  When we finally arrived to Sacramento we were exhausted.  I couldn’t think about actually functioning let alone telling people about my farm.  Good thing it comes natural to me.  That year was probably the best. I knew the ropes and the people and what to look out for.
Year 2013…This years contest.  Tennessee finally got a contest! That made me super happy.  Long story short, I lost!  Now, I am glad I did though. It pushed me to be the best I could at this years contest in Springdale, Arkansas.  The home of one of my favorite cattlewomen! Geneice McCall, she is from a small town called Eureka Spring, Arkansas.  Anyways, the contest went on without a glitch.  I NOW thought this contest was the best!  I wonder if I can call them ALL the Best!   Why, yes, Yes I can! This is the third year I have gone and I tried with all my heart, soul, and mind to do the best I could do and make my mom and dad proud.  Before the awards ceremony I told my mom I didn’t care if  I placed because I knew I did the best I had done in a long time, I had fun with it all.  I made so many networking connections and I was proud of myself for what I had accomplished that weekend.
1379481_10151618665081526_1222568977_nThe awards ceremony…hmmm….I really can’t remember anything from it except I won consumer demonstration high individual! I then went on to receive second place. I was overjoyed. I was crying and shaking.  I thought all the juniors did fabulous. I didn’t think I could ever place but I did. You can watch some of the videoed contest here.

 

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Diary of a N. Ireland Girl

Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster member, Rachel Martin has just returned from her two month International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) to the U.S.A. The trip saw the Northern Irish farmer’s daughter leave Belfast on the 8th June and return on the 9th August traveling through a total of twelve states in a bid to learn about agriculture and culture in North America:

photo-25I was supposed to meet my first host the next day.  Sure, I had seen her photograph but there was still something daunting about the thought of meeting a stranger at a train station 6000 miles from home to go and live with them for three weeks.  The train was running late and I was worried about whether my host would even be there.  Besides, what if they were mean or creepy?  Counter to my worries Josie, my first host turned out to be very friendly and welcoming.  After all, she had volunteered to look after an international delegate and show them a little about her life and her work with 4-H in her county.

During my trip, I met and stayed with several families learning about life on their farms and ranches.   By staying with locals I quickly learned a lot about the USA, and not just the difference between chips, fries and crisps or the difficulties in ordering “proper tea” as opposed to iced tea.  But thanks to the in-depth learning experience provided by the exchange, I learned about family life, social faux pas, rocky mountain oysters – much more than a standard tourist could ever have discovered!

During my trip I have seen first-hand many of the agricultural challenges faced in the Western states.  In Northern Montana, I helped put out a hay field fire and just a few days later watched as hail tore up a year’s worth of hard work.  Unfortunately for the family, this was just part of farming in that area and something they had to be prepared for.  It made me reflect a lot on the challenges farmers face at home and that whilst my friends at home often grumble about the “bad weather” and seemingly endless rain, I soon discovered that as food producers our climate in Northern Ireland really isn’t the worst.

herding cattle

As part of her International Farm Youth exchange trip, Rachel helped herd cattle across McCartney Mountain in southwest Montana.

One of the most adrenalin inducing experiences of the trip was helping the Smith family to herd cattle across McCartney Mountain in south-west Montana.  As a girl who was never allowed a pony when she was younger because they “tramp up the fields” I found it interesting when many ranchers told me they find their horses to be more useful than their four wheelers.  Whilst in southwest Montana I also drove machinery for a few days to haul bales to the stack yard and enjoyed the work hard, play hard mentality on the ranch.  Along with my host siblings Jacob and Elizabeth I visited the Montana Folk Festival and got the drive in movie experience – something I loved and wish we had at home!

As part of the programme, I also met with 4-H children preparing their steers for the county fair as well as another group of children who were practising showing with their sheep and pigs.  I also was lucky enough to visit the State Fair in Great Falls and to go to different types of rodeos as well as seeing attractions such as Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Virginia City, Crystal Park and Glacier National Park.

My trip started in New York where I spent a few days doing all the super touristy stuff before I jumped on a train and travelled to IFYE Orientation in Bloomington, Illinois to meet with other International delegates before I went on to stay with families for the rest of the trip.  I would like to thank all my host families, IFYE, 4-H and YFCU for facilitating the exchange and making it such a success.

The IFYE program is an in-depth learning experience in which 4-H alumni and other young adults live with host families in other countries to increase global awareness, develop independent study interests, and improve language skills. Programs vary from country to country, with some emphasizing an agricultural work experience, volunteering at an adult training centre, or working with a local youth development program such as 4-H or YFCU.  If you would like to read more about Rachel’s travels check out her blog http://www.youngfarmerinthestates.wordpress.com.

 

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