The Truth About Antibiotics in Milk

milk in a bottleConsumers are increasingly worried about what they eat and drink. One of the main concerns is if there are antibiotics present in milk. I, and dairy farmers in the U.S., can guarantee that there are NO antibiotics present in the milk we buy from the grocery store. How? Let me tell you.

Testing

The FDA has strict rules about antibiotic residues, because of this milk is tested multiple times. At the farm and on the truck. If there are even trace amounts of antibiotics found on one tractor-trailer of milk, the entire truckload will be discarded. If this happens the farm has to pay upwards of $10,000 for the discarded milk. There is also a time period where the milk at the farm will not be picked up until the FDA has inspected the farm and ran tests.

So antibiotics in milk is detrimental to one farmer’s bank account, but also to their reputation and to other farmers. Most tractor-trailers transport milk from multiple farms, so it’s not just one person’s livelihood being thrown away, it’s multiple. This is incentive for farmers to test their own milk at the farm and follow protocol to prevent antibiotic residues.

On-farm prevention

cow udder

Cow being milked at Gilmer Dairy Farm

There are also protocols on individual dairy farms that prevent antibiotics from getting in our milk supply. Detailed records must be kept so that all employees know which cows are receiving antibiotics. Those cows are then milked into a separate tank, sometimes called a dump tank, for a specific period of time. That time frame is called the withdrawal period, or how long it takes medicine to leave an animal’s system.

All farmers follow the posted withdrawal period to make sure that the antibiotic is completely out of their system before they put the milk in the regular tank. Some farmers even wait a few more days just to be safe and then run a test to check for antibiotic residues. Dairy farmers drink the milk the produce, just like you do, so they want it to be as safe as possible for their families and yours.

Why use antibiotics?

Cow udder with mastitis

Cow udder with mastitis.

You may be wondering if it is so much work, time and potential money why even use antibiotics. Well because farmers love their cows and want them to be happy and healthy If you or your child is sick what do you do? Usually you go to the doctor and get antibiotics. Why? Because you don’t want to be sick anymore. The same is true for these cows. The dairy farmer would much rather put in the effort to milk into separate tanks and test for antibiotic residue than see their cows in terrible pain from a treatable disease.

 

One common disease that occurs in dairy cattle is mastitis. Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland in the udder, typically due to bacterial infection. The only way to treat mastitis is through antibiotics. Respiratory diseases are also common and can be fatal if left untreated.

You don’t have to worry about antibiotics being in the milk we buy from the grocery store, the FDA and dairy farmers make sure that’s not a problem.

The Truth About Feedlots

Feedlots are depicted as gross, dirty, small and dangerous. That is not the case at all.A feedlot is a type of animal feeding operation, or AFO. Feedlots actually allow for 125 to 250 square feet of space per animal. This may not sound like a lot, but cattle are gregarious animals. They enjoy the company of other animals. Even cattle in large pastures will group together.

How confining are feedlots?Feedlot pens allow for 125 to 250 square feet of space for animal

Here are some numbers that a farmer who runs a concentrated animal feeding operation calculated.

New York City, NY spans 302.64 square miles and is home to 8,405,837 people which equals 27,775 people per square mile.

Manhattan, New York spans 22.96 square miles and is home to 1,626,159 people which equals 70,825 people per square mile.

The feedlot portion of her farm spans 0.156 square miles and is home to 2,772 bovines which equals 17,769 cattle per square mile.

Cattle are more confined in a feedlot than they would be in a pasture, but that does not automatically mean that they are unhappy and unhealthy.

Why/How are feedlots used?

A feedlot in Texas

A feedlot in Texas.

Feedlots are used to help cattle put on weight quickly. At feedlots cattle are fed grain with varying levels of protein that are adjusted over time. The lowest level of protein and grain is fed when the cattle first come into the feed yard. This provides the cattle’s digestive system with time to adjust to their new diet. This is necessary, not because grain is bad for a cow’s diet, but because completely changing a diet in any animal, including humans, can be unhealthy.

This type of diet allows the cattle to grow quicker than if they had lived off grass for the rest of their life. This provides for the delicious marbling that we love in our steaks. How is this possible? Because “..we focus on providing a readily digestible, high-energy diet; reducing the amount of energy expended to find food, directing more toward growth, and managing the cattle to minimize stress and health problems,” explain Ryan Goodman, in his blog.

The cattle that come to feedlots come from green pastures. That means that all cattle are grass-fed at one time, they just are not finished on grass.

How are cattle treated? Cow horses in a feedlot.

Cattle are not abused at feedlots, they are actually cared for extremely well. In feedlots there are cowboys whose only job is riding around and checking each pen multiple times a day. This means that cattle in feedlots are constantly being looked at, so if any problem arises it is easily noticed and fixed. Some people might even argue that cattle are treated better in feedlots, because they have constant supervision and care.

I have personally seen many feed yards, mainly out west, that proved to me they’re similar to other farmers and ranchers; they care for their cattle every day, no matter the weather.

If you are interested in touring a cattle feedlot, feel free to contact me and I will put you in contact with someone that can help. Or you can visit this website for a virtual tour! After seeing the truth about feedlots, first-hand or virtually, I hope you better understand why and how they are used. Just because there is a higher concentration of animals does not mean that abuse occurs. 

The Truth About “Agvocating”

44f9172d1c2a1a2acfc895e2730594e6Four generations, two percent and fifty-eight. These are all numbers that apply to the agriculture industry. How so?

Four Generations: Most people are four generations removed from the family farm. This means they are not involved in the day to day operations of raising or growing food.

Two percent: Only two percent of Americans are farmers. This means that 98% use a farmer every day, but they probably do not know one. This combined with the average person being four generations removed from the farm raises issues where people could have unanswered questions about their food. But they don’t know how to get their questions answered because they do not know a farmer.

Fifty-eight: This is the average age of most farmers in the United States. While that is not old by any means, they are not the people most commonly sharing what they’re doing on social media.
These numbers are just a few of the reasons we should advocate for agriculture. Now what is advocating for agriculture? Well it might be easier to explain what it is not.

Agvocating is Not:

It is not bashing organic, conventional or even vegetarianism. It is not telling people they are stupid because they do not understand or agree with you. It is not just blindly sharing articles and statuses without reading or responding. It is not you marketing your farm, ranch or brand.

Agvocating Is:

Being open with your friends and followers about what is happening on your farm. Being willing and ready to answer questions about hot topic
issues (like subway’s antibiotic free statement). Being aware of what is being said about the industry and explaining why you do what you do. Untitled copy

How to Advocate for Agriculture:

A picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures better illustrate the truth of what is happening on your farm. A picture inside your hog barn, showing the cleanliness. A video of you moving cattle to show that it’s done humanely. Share a status about why antibiotics are used on your farm. Allow people to get involved in your everyday practices. I’ve seen farms ask people to name calves through social media, people love that because they feel important and valued in the process. Invite people to your farm, be willing to be transparent and honest.

“If you care about ag being accurately represented, know that we need every voice in the conversation.”

The most important part of advocating is like Nike says, to just do it. There are lots of anti-agriculture groups out there that are bashing agriculture. We need to start standing up for ourselves.

The next most important part of advocating is to not bash other farmers or non-farmers, we have plenty of others doing that for us. People are curious about where their food is coming from, be willing to intelligently, honestly and transparently answer their questions. Join the conversation and share the truth about the agriculture industry.

The Truth About Why You Should Attend NCBA Convention

2016 SD Logo Oval with datesNot sure what to think about the Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show? Well here are just a few of the important things you should know about one of the largest events in the beef industry!

What:

The Cattle Industry Convention is the oldest, largest, national convention for the beef cattle business. This year is the 118th Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show. NCBA, in case you aren’t sure, stands for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Some highlights for this years convention are Chef Robert Irvine, Cattlefax outlook seminar, Former Navy Seal Robert O’Neil, PAC Party on Friday_Socialthe Pacific with live auction, Cowboy Concert series featuring Martina McBride, Red, White and Brew after party and other educational, entertaining and fun events.

When/Where: 

The trade show and majority of meetings will be held at the San Diego Convention center located downtown San Diego, California. The convention will take place from January 27-29, 2016.

Who: 

The convention attracts 7,000 – 8,000 producers from around the country annually.

Trade Show:

Trade Show PixThe Trade Show has 350 companies that will have exhibits set up on 250,0000 square feet. For those of us who think better in acres, that is over 6 acres of companies there for you! There is a learning lounge, which is an education area on the show floor. Also a Demo Arena will be set up featuring Stockmanship and Stewardship sessions daily.

How:

Alright now that you are super excited to attend this amazing convention to learn more about this industry that we so love, you’re wondering how to get there. Well I’ve got you covered! You need to register at www.beefusa.org before January 4th (for the early registration price), but you can also register onsite. So what does your registration include? Access to all general sessions, entrance to trade show, access to all meetings, a ticket to Best of Beef Breakfast, a ticket to Cowboy Concert Series (with Martina McBride!) and Red, White & Brew after-party, and a ticket to the USO show aboard the USS Midway. If you are interested in attending this convention feel free to contact me for a promotional code that will provide you with an awesome surprise! 

Don’t forget to follow NCBA on social media to keep up with #beefmeet and #cic16 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Hope to see you in sunny San Diego!

The Truth about Grass vs. Grain Fed Beef

First a disclaimer: A lot of people say grass or grain fed beef, but that does not mean that the cow was fed grain its entire life. Most cattle live off grass for the majority of their life and then switch to grain once in the feed lot. We’ll get to the specifics of how that happens later.

As consumers, we are all worried about what we eat and the health benefits/risks associated with that. One of these worries is surrounding grass-fed vs grain-fed cattle, whether it be health concerns or animal welfare concerns.

The Grain-Finished Life Cycle

All cattle start out living similar lives; they are born, drink milk from their mothers and then eat grass after being weaned. This continues for about 6-12 months, after that, grain-finished cattle are moved to feedlots.

Feedlot penFeedlots are depicted as horrible, disgusting and cramped places (but that’s a topic for another blog post).
There is actually more room in feedlot pens than most people think. At feedlots the cattle are rapidly fattened up with grain, usually made with corn or soy. When the cattle are first brought to the feed lot they are given feed with high forage/silage content and low grain content to help their bodies adjust to the new diet. The grain portion of the diet steadily increases until the cattle are primarily eating grain. This process occurs over a 3-6 month period. If you are curious about finding out more about feedlots before my next post visit this site.

The Grass-Finished Lifecycle

Just like grain-finished cattle grass-finished cattle spend the first ~12 months of their lives in the same way. The only difference is that instead of being sent off to a feedlot they are “finished” or “grown out” in a grass pasture. This means that they eat grass for the remainder of their life, until slaughter. This entire process can take upwards of a year and a lot of land.

Nutritional Differences

Texas A&M University did a study on the nutritional differences on ground beef grass-fed grain-fed beef cattlegrass-fed grain-fed beef cattlefrom grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. As you can see from the table, grain-fed cattle have a higher omega-3 fatty acid concentration and a higher total saturated and trans-fat content, while grass-fed cattle have a higher oleic acid concentration and lower saturated and trans-fat content. The study continued on to say that the effect of the ground beef on cholesterol was minimal, and Grass vs Grain Finished Beefneither type increased risk for CVD or type II diabetes. “So, at this point, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventional raised, grain-fed cattle” said Stephen Smith, Regents Professor at the TAMU Department of Animal Science.

So as of the research we have right now, there is no health benefits to choosing grass-fed beef. It is solely a choice of preference. If you prefer the taste of grass-fed beef, then by all means eat it. But do not feel like you have to because of health benefits or animal welfare.

The Truth About #RealPigFarming

Inhospitable. Dangerous. Inhumane. Abysmal. Uncomfortable. All of these are words used by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States to describe a modern swine farm. I’m here to tell you that none of these words describe the truth.

Housing 

“At just two to tpighree weeks old, piglets are removed from their mothers and placed in large, windowless sheds without fresh air, sunlight or outdoor access. Their pens are too small and crowded for adequate movement and exercise. Ammonia fumes rise to dangerous, uncomfortable levels due to the pigs’ waste.” This excerpt is from an ASPCA article.

The above depiction is not the case of most pig farms in the United States. A lot of them have some sort of natural light, either through curtains or windows. Air flow from the outside is also required to make sure that ammonia fumes or anything else does not build up. In colder climates this is done by pulling air from attics. In warmer climates the air is pulled through cool cells (like radiators) to cool it down.  This is a necessity to help keep the pigs comfortable.

Raising pigs indoors allows feed and water to be monitored and protects them from disease and predators. Pens are cleaned usually every day to keep the pigs clean and further prevent disease. As for the pens being overly crowded pigs are naturally social, so they enjoy being in a large group.

Most swine farms are extremely biosecure to further protect the pigs. Visitors have to shower in and out and any tools must be cleaned before entering the facility. Farmers truly care about their animals or they would not go to such extreme lengths to keep them safe and healthy.

Picture contributed by a swine unit worker.

Picture contributed by a swine unit worker.

Treatment

ASPCA also goes on to say that pigs are castrated and have their tails docked with no painkillers. That is the truth, but the part they are leaving out is that both of these things are done within 10 days of birth, so the nerve endings have not fully developed.The tails are docked because when left alone, pigs will bite, chew and gnaw on each others tails causing pain and infections.

Here is a video that features an Ohio pig farm and shows you exactly what pigs at their farm go through every day. You may think they changed their behaviors and cleaned their facility for the video, but that is not the case. Stalls on most farms are cleaned every day and pigs are interacted with every single day.

 

 

real pig farming swine humaneIf you google pig/swine farming, some disturbing things come up and reading/watching the horrible things online about pig farming is upsetting to a lot of people. But realize that those depictions are not #RealPigFarming. #RealPigFarming is a social group that unites pig farmers, academics, youth, veterinarians and allied industry members to discuss how modern pork production really works. Check them out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Remember if you ever have questions about how animals are raised or how crops are grown, be sure to ask a farmer!

The Truth About Beef Byproducts

What exactly is a byproduct? A byproduct is an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacturing or synthesis of something else.
So what does that mean for the beef industry? It means that once we have the meat (which is the main reason we raise cattle) the “leftover parts” can be made into other products.

If you have a beef animal that weighs 1,000 pounds, 640 pounds of the animal will be used for meat products, such as steaks, roasts and hamburgers. This means 64% of the animal is used for meat. However, 99% of the cow is utilized for meat and other products. This makes the beef industry more sustainable because it uses as much of each cow as possible.

There are three categories of animal by-products: edible, inedible, and medicinal.

EDIBLE

beef, byproducts, cattle

Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

Gelatin, what makes Jello, is also a beef byproduct. It is made from the connective tissue of the animal. Other products that contain gelatin might also include gum, fruit snacks, and even marshmallows! Fat from the animal create oleo stock and oleo oil for margarine and shortening.

INEDIBLE

11009350_663459813790025_1837924188656865776_n copy

Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

You probably use at least one item containing inedible beef by-products every day. Leather is a good example of an inedible beef byproduct. It is made from the cow hide and is used to make other byproducts. A lot can be made from 1 cow hide, 12 basketballs or 144 baseballs
or 20 footballs or 18 volleyballs or 18 soccer balls or 12 baseball gloves. Industrial oils and lubricants, soaps, lipsticks, deodorant, and many other items are produced from the inedible fats from beef.

MEDICINAL

More than 100 individual drugs include beef byproducts. The medicines can help make childbirth safer, can settle an upset stomach, can prevent blood clots, control anemia, and help relieve asthma symptoms. Antirejection drugs, which are used when a person has a transplant to help the body accept the new organ, come from animal byproducts. Insulin, which is used 1.25 million people daily in the United States, can come from livestock or be synthetically produced. It takes the pancreases from 26 cattle to provide enough insulin to keep one diabetic person alive for a year.

So “Where’s the Beef?”

So when people ask you where’s the beef, you will know the truth, it is in more places than just your fridge or on your plate. It is in hospitals, drug stores, helping your car run better, sporting goods, art supply shops, soap, and many other things.

The Truth About EPA’s Water of the United States Rule

In 1972 the EPA created the Clean Water Act to protect Americans and their water supply. In 60 days, if Congress doesn’t intervene, an update will take effect that will hinder the farmers that grow our food, fiber, and fuel.

Why will the new Water of the United States Rule (WOTUS) hinder farmers? Because under the new expansion any standing water in a field, pasture, or ditch is considered “navigable waters” and a permit is required to conduct business near them.

Corn, rain, WOTUSWith the amount of rain that has hit parts of this nation, it is not uncommon to drive down the road and see fields and pastures with large puddles in them. Because of the ambiquity of the new Clean Water Act expansion, the federal government could argue that this water belongs to the United States and a permit will be required to work around it. The EPA says that exemptions exist for agriculture, but industry leaders are nervous that that might not be the case once the rule is enacted.

“This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable,” said President Barack Obama. This comment from President Obama seems hopeful, except the rule offers no clarity, only more confusion.

“Let’s be clear – everyone wants clean water,” said Steve Foglesong, past president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Farmers and ranchers rely on clean water to be successful in business. But, expanding the federal regulatory reach of the EPA and Army Corp does not equal clean water. After reading the proposed rule, I can say that only one thing is clear, the proposed rule and its definitions are ambiguous.”

Farmer, Rain, EPA, WOTUSA farmer recently tweeted this picture of a field in his area that will have to be replanted after all of the rain. If Congress does not stop the new rule the farmer would likely have to apply for a permit to be able to replant his own land, because the water would belong to the United States government.

Opponents of the rule question if there will be any measurable environemental gains to show for the work done by farmers and landowners to jump through the new regulatory hoops. During the drafting of the rule, the EPA collected over one million comments in the comment period, which ended six months ago. Those opposed to the rule do not believe this was enough time to process all of the comments and adequately address the concerns in them.

Farmers are not angry that the EPA wants to help provide Americans with clean water, they are nervous about how the new rule, which can be read here, will affect production because of its ambiquity. Farm groups are nervous because the terminology used in the rule opens up possibilites for the EPA to regulate anywhere water occurs, or has occured in the past. The truth is this new rule could greatly affect all Americans, whether it be through water on their land or place of business, or by an increase in food prices.

 

The Truth About Avian Influenza: What is bird flu? 

Avian influenza (AI) is directly affecting large segments of the poultry industry, but how does that effect you? Through your pocketbook, most likely, because the eggs and chicken you eat may become more expensive if this disease continues to spread. 

How is AI spread? 

It is believed that AI being spread through the feces of wild birds as they migrate to the northen states this spring. The wild birds show no symptoms but spread the deadly disease to commercial birds. Wild birds have four migratory patterns in the US and three have been infected with AI: Mississippi flyway (Louisiana to Minnesota), Central Flyway (Texas to North Dakota), and Pacific Flway (California to Alaska).

As of May 13, 2015 there have been over 156 avian influenza cases reported in 15 states with over 32.6 million domestic poultry being affected.

Avian influenza, chickensAt this time AI has affected the layer (egg) and turkey industry the most. Iowa has lost 10% of its poultry population or over 24 million commercial turkeys and chickens. Minnesota has lost over 4 million commercial turkeys and chickens.

 If AI is confirmed at a poultry operation, all birds at the farm, even in different houses, must be put down so that it can not be spread anymore. That means people’s entire livelihood could end in less than a few hours, all because of something out of their control. Avian Influenza is a real threat in some parts of this nation, and even though it only directly effects farmers, everyone should be aware of this problem. Because anything that affects farmers will eventually affect you through the food supply. Because it has been proven, if you eat you are involved in agriculture. 

There have been no reported cases of AI being transferred from poultry to humans in the United States, Canada, or internationally. It has also been proven that chicken is still completely safe to eat. 

The Truth About Free Range Chickens

If you have not seen the Geico Commercial about the free range chicken going on an adventure, here ya go.

It’s pretty cute and worth the 30 seconds, especially because this post addresses it.

Let me preface the post with this: while I am a strong advocate for commercial agriculture, I also believe in consumer choice. But I believe the choice should be made after educated research, which means the consumer should research both sides of the argument, not just one.

The Misconception

Free Range ChickensA lot of consumers like to think that free range means that the chickens have the unlimited access to do what our chicken friend in the commercial did. Travel as they wish, on a whim, to anywhere. But that is not quite the case.

The Truth

The USDA says, FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING: “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” The animal does not have to live its entire life outdoors, it just has to have the access to it at some point and time, whether it utilizes it or not.

A study in the United Kingdom found that out of a flock of 800,000 birds only 15% were observed outside during the daylight hours. This is because the open pasture makes them nervous since it provides no protection from sun, wind, or predators.

The Issue

The issue is that less than 1% of chickens are raised as free range, and in the future it will be almost impossible to raise enough chickens to feed the growing world population.

Poultry is the second most consumed meat in the world, not too far behind pork. Poultry is usually the cheapest meat for all the different countries. If all of agriculture switched over to free range chickens it would raise the price of chicken so exponentially, that very few people in developing countries would be able to afford it.

cage raised chicken. Free range chickens. Are cages humane for chickensConventionally raised chicken is often described in a negative way, but it is described that way mostly by people who have never been to a poultry farm. While I will admit that all areas of agriculture, have something they could improve on (because no one or nothing is perfect) I also believe that conventionally raised poultry at the majority of U.S. farms are treated humanely. I believe that because I have seen it with my own eyes.

In conventional laying houses most chickens live in cages that provide them with room to move around and spread their wings. An interesting fact about chickens is they will not produce eggs if they are stressed out! That means the chickens are comfortable and not stressed in these cages, or they wouldn’t produce any eggs.

If you want your chickens to be free range, that is perfectly fine because it is still a part of agriculture. But I want consumers to know the truth about what “Free Range” means for the chicken and for labeling purposes.