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What is a CAFO and Safe Alternatives

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What is a CAFO?

I first began avoiding meat from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations when I learned that meat from pastured animals is not only safer, but much more nutritious, too. Then when I learned more, it also bothered me how CAFO animals are treated! For the sake of this post, though, we’ll focus on why you really want to know where your meat comes from and how this strongly relates to food safety and increased nutrition.

CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

This means that animals are raised in conditions that are downright inhumane. They may be kept in areas where they’re unable to move around freely, or where there’s no access to the outside for fresh air and sunshine, let alone to eat the natural grass their ruminant stomachs were made to eat. They’re often sick due to these conditions and then receive extra antibiotics, which are ingested by those who eat that meat. (No wonder many of us are resistant to antibiotics when we might really need them.)

“Low Cost Production” is the name of the game, growth hormones are common (or even the norm?), so they get fatter faster. (And our society becomes more estrogen dominant, causing more health issues!) This is all very unnatural, so again, they’re often sick, and get more antibiotics.

In contrast to all that, I keep thinking of a recent visit to a local farm where we buy our meat. When my farmer friend stepped outside and yelled, “Sheeeeeep! Sheeeeep!” they all stopped chewing the grass and came running over to him from the other side of the pasture. There’s something so sweet about that! And I know that he knows what is the natural diet for his sheep (or cows or chicken or pigs), and that when they are fed that natural diet and raised in such a way that they’re content, not only is it the right thing to do, it makes for nutrient-dense “salad bar” meat (as Joel Salatin calls it).

This post was part of a “Get the Junk Out” carnival over at Katie’s place — Read the rest of this article by clicking here and find out exactly how pastured meats are more nutritious. Or keep reading for more on this topic and where to buy safe pastured meats online if you don’t have a good local source.

The best way to sum all this up is to show you the Food, Inc.trailer. I’ve seen it a couple dozen times and still get chills over and over. (If you haven’t seen the movie yet, DO IT.)

Now because I’m all about hearing both sides and deciding for yourself, be sure to check out this link with the “other side” and see what you think: Get the Facts About Food, Inc. As I’m writing this I saw Katie’s Monday post in my inbox and she has more links with another point of view that you may want to check out.

Be sure to read Rachel Ritter’s whole comment there, her opinion happens to be where I fall on this as well. Here’s part of what she wrote:

Families own many large farms, and I wouldn’t vilify them. I believe they generally make a good faith attempt to do the best job they can while remaining financially viable and competitive in the marketplace. Despite this, if you’re feeding your cattle organic grain on a feedlot, confining them, and doing your best to manage their waste, the cattle are still living unnaturally. This unnatural lifestyle is less healthy for them and for those of us who eat them.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Any way you slice it, I’ll stick with a local farm like the one in this video with Joel Salatin – this also gives me chills every time:

Now you may be wondering, what is the alternative to factory farmed meat?

Instead of buying your meat at the local grocery store, the alternative is to find a farmer near you who understands this stuff, someone you can go visit, get to know, see firsthand how your food is raised, and then support these food heroes with your food dollars. If you can’t find one nearby or if there’s something you can’t find locally, you can order from a company who will ship it safely, but this doesn’t let you off the hook. You still need to call and ask them how they raise their animals and get to know them even if only over the phone, so you feel confident and know without a doubt that you are getting high quality, safe, nutrient-dense meat. (We get most of our meat locally, but if there’s something my local farmer doesn’t have, I still feel confident getting meat from this online source because I know and trust them…like beef tallow for one!)

How do we afford Real Meat?

Before I give you my number one answer to that question, first keep in mind what Joel Salatin says, “You think Real Food is expensive? Have you priced cancer lately?” Or Michael Pollan: “Cheap food is an illusion.” Keeping that in mind, still, what I suggest is that you don’t have to eat meat at every meal. Stretch out your meat budget by serving it less often. That’s what they did in the old days or in the traditional cultures that Weston Price wrote about, they didn’t try to justify raising more animals as fast as possible no matter the ramifications just to make it more affordable. (And yes, I realize they didn’t have the technology that we do today, so they couldn’t have done that even if they wanted to back then, but you get my point.) You could add in meals like casseroles with bone broth as one of the ingredients, or nutrient-dense egg dishes, etc. We have quite a few favorite meatless meals around here, and mostly that’s the answer when I forget again to pull something out of the freezer until it’s too late. :)


  1. What a great carnival Kelly! I have found local farmers for pork, beef, lamb, chicken and rabbit now and we spend WAY less on meat than we ever did before even buying CFL animals. I’ve learned how to cure meat and mix my own sausages to keep the costs down but it’s totally worth it and sausages are fun to mix loose but even more fun to stuff. I can’t wait for barbecue season so I can pull out some home-stuffed bratwurst!

  2. This IS a great carnival! Thanks for hosting it Kelly! I am in agreement that good meat is paramount in our diets, and there are ways to stretch out your meat by having meatless meals or by using bone broths, or by using dairy and eggs for protein. Most of our breakfasts in our house are meatless, because we can’t afford to eat bacon, ham, sausage, or whatever else for each meal. We save those special items for weekends when we are all together at the table. I admit we don’t eat a lot of lunch and dinner meals meatless yet, but it’s because none of us are people who do too well health-wise without some type of meat or fish at our meals. I personally need a lot of protein and simply don’t feel as well unless I have eaten some type of meat at least twice a day. I’ve tried it, and I pretty much feel lousy! Still, I do try to make portions smaller and stretch out for the sake of saving money and making food last longer.

    I’m also interested in the concept of most farms being owned by families, which I agree is probably the case. Not all factory farms are owned by big corporations, but I’m willing to bet those farms are heavily influenced by the larger commercial markets. It’s possible that some of them simply don’t realize the benefit to health by raising animals differently, and certainly some of them are probably getting subsidies from the government and therefore may not have the motivation to change (not that those subsidies are hefty, but still…). I know some of those farms are in lots of debt from loans they’ve taken out to meet the requirements of large companies they work for – such as constructing those closed-in chicken houses, etc. which is abominable! It’s hard to imagine how those farmers could possibly get out from under a situation like that, and really quite discouraging when you consider how on earth could the system change when it’s like this.

    • I was raised on a family dairy farm that was a partial grazing farm & obtained a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Ag degrees are one of the fastest growing degrees. Please don’t think that farmers don’t know what they are doing. They’re working VERY hard to bring you a healthy, wholesome product at a fair price with a narrow profit margin. Have you considered how much land it would take to pasture every single animal for the US market? How about the world market? Do we start cutting down forests to accomplish that? Bulldozing subdivisions? Where do farmers get the money to buy the extra land? Farmers cannot feed the world w/ a “slow food” model.

      • Do we eat meat from grain fed cows (animals) and make ourselves sick because there isn’t enough land to pasture cows? No. We Americans will have to eat less meat and the meat that we do eat NEEDS to come from pastured grass-fed animals.

        Grain fed animals (even when a tiny bit of grains) are bad for us, bad for the soil, bad for the environment.

        • Again I say, where do we get the land necessary to grow only pastured meat & enuf veggies, beans, etc to feed a population who you say should reduce their meat consumption to the point all meat can be pastured?

          Meat is not bad for you. Grain fed meat is not bad for you or the environment. Remember that all meat (grain or grass) must pass the same inspections to be sold.

      • Hi Tonya,
        I’m wondering if you have considered that maybe farmers can feed the world on a slow food model. Take a look at restaurants, schools, cafeterias, even family homes, and see how much food goes to waste. We waste SO much food.

        I have even noticed since switching to pastured meats, that I don’t need large portions anymore. I’m eating HALF the amount of meat I used to and feeling more satisfied. And that’s not because I’m eating more vegetarian, I don’t eat any grains at all. If we can get everyone away from the whole ‘fear of animal fats’ movement and eating fatty cuts of pastured meat, that will also cut down on how many animals we need to consume.

        • We don’t eat any grains whatsoever either. We eat veggies, meats and lots of lard, beef tallow, lamb tallow and coconut oil. Eventually we’ll eat butter and ghee again.

          Tanya – don’t think big animals when it comes to grass-fed meats. We don’t need to just eat grass-fed meat from cows or buffalo. There are plenty of small animal meat that we could eat that don’t need lots of land.

          Here’s the thing: I really don’t give a rat’s behind that you eat meat from grain fed animals. I will continue to seek out grass-fed, pastured meats and leave the crap meat for the rest of those who think grain fed animal meat if fine.

        • Have I considered it? Yes. Considered it possible? No. We can’t get people to change their eating habits to “healthy”…how do we get them to change their ENTIRE outlook on food & eating AND change how food is produced in a timely fashion to keep up with demand both in the US & around the globe? (Locavores don’t advocated that we abandon feeding the world, do they?) My biggest fear of locavorism, aside from being able to meet demand is food elitism. How do people afford it?

          Here’s an article about the impossibility of locavorism written by a grad student as a precursor to published research.

          Tina, I have no problem with people who want to eat local foods. Do as you want. What I have a problem with is people who say conventionally produced foods are “crap” & “junk” & spread misinformation about an industry that I grew up in & received formal education in. Trashing something is not the way to promote the alternative. I have eaten a combo of homegrown & grocery store purchased meats, wild game & fish, raw milk & grocery store milk my entire life.

        • Tonya,

          I eat only locally and spend way less money than I did buying food before. We only eat seasonally and cut out the middle man. It’s sad that eating this way IS elitist and I am the first to admit it. I’m becoming much more active locally trying to raise money to start new community gardens and hook up consumers with local farmers who don’t want to sell at the farmer’s market. These smaller farmers aren’t charging the outlandish prices that others are because they aren’t selling to the elitist crowds at the farmer’s markets.

          I also band groups of folks together so that we can buy things at wholesale prices just like restaurants do.

          I present to schools and send handouts home with kids to get the word out, we advertise on Craigslist for our awareness functions and pass out flyers.

          Spreading the real food movement is not easy and I’d love any ideas you have for doing it. Just in the last year I’ve seen prices for local, sustainably raised meats here in Seattle come down drastically as more butcher shops are opening up and sourcing from local farmers. It’s a matter of time before the model will shift but I do see it shifting. Maybe you can help us with new ideas?

        • Tonya, Conventionally produced foods made me sick. I grew up on corn-fed beef and battery chickens. Eating meat from animals raised on pastured made me well again. If I eat corn-fed beef or conventionally raised chicken, I actually get digestive symptoms. How can you say that it’s perfectly healthy for us to be eating this?

          I agree ‘trashing’ conventionally produced food is not a great way to promote the alternative. But I can’t deny the fact that conventionally produced food and the current food system is partly (mostly? all?) to blame for my health problems. Something has to change.

          I’m sure there are farmers who are trying to do things right. I’m sure finishing cows on grain after at least most of their life on pasture is fine for most people. But there are a heck of a lot of farms that are not doing things properly. There is ample video evidence that some farmers are choosing to raise sick animals in poor conditions. Whether they are trapped financially into this style of production or not, those are the ones we need to change. And we all need to support farmers who are doing things right.

        • Kat, until it’s been proven that conventionally produced foods are the cause for your health problems, I don’t think it’s fair to place the blame there. I’ve seen people pin all kinds of cures on real food, but no real evidence. The evidence I have seen is that real food/organic food is NOT healthier nor safer than conventionally grown/raised foods. Even the title of this post says that conventionally produced meats are unsafe. As for conditions animals are raised in…I find it hard to put a lot of stock in “undercover” videos as they’re often the work of extremist & domestic terrorist groups such as PETA. Healthy & gently handled animals yield the best product. I often point to the work of Temple Grandin, an autistic animal scientist who is a revolutionary in animal handling & transport. She was just the subject of an HBO movie & is in this year’s Time top 100 people.

          sustainable eats, I’m in Seattle too. Loving the NW, but feeling disconnected from ag here, as I’m not intimately acquainted with it like I was in my native MI. I am not a “real foodie” by any means. I just want people to know the truths of modern ag. Given that I grew up on a farm, I guess you could say I grew up in a blended real/conventional food household.

          Co-operatives are certainly a good method for farmers & consumers. You must also remember that prices are only as high as someone is willing to pay.

        • Tanya,

          That is great you are here! I would LOVE to get you acquainted with some of our local farmers. And if you want to help make real food less elitist please consider donating your Saturday this week for Spring into Bed as we build 100 veggie gardens for low income families around town. We could use any time, equipment, expertise, money etc that you can spare.

          I believe that we can feed ourselves sustainably using a traditional food model – by eating less meat, all parts of the animal, not wasting anything, densely planting edibles over ornamentals, learning to make more things with secondary items (like soap from excess animal fats rather than throwing them away) and probably decreasing our reliance upon grain-based foods because they are the least nutrient dense foods we could eat.

          By eating less food overall we could make significant strides in opening up valuable farmland or kitchen gardens or family goat runs. And how about not building any more ridiculously sized houses which we then fill up with more stuff than we possibly need? Everything is related and shifting thinking in one area will certainly lead to shifting thinking in others.

          I would LOVE to meet you and welcome you to the NW. It’s a beautiful place and we could use your energy, knowledge and passion here.

          Annette (annette cottrell at

        • “Healthy & gently handled animals yield the best product.” Agreed! This should be the main goal. Supporting local farmers is one of the first steps towards that. I have visited local farmers and seen how their animals are raised. Whether or not they are on pasture, it’s best if they’re in a healthy environment. Relationships with farmers is the best way to get an understanding of how these animals are raised.

          I won’t argue the health benefits thing. I have no scientific proof nor do I have any studies to show you. If I eat a burger made from grocery store corn-fed beef, I get sick. If I eat a burger made from grass-fed beef, I don’t get sick. My decision is made and people around me have been convinced without me even trying to explain it to them.

  3. Hey, Kelly. This is fun! I linked up a post from January (hope that’s okay) where tons of people shared in the comments all about their grass-fed beef sources and prices. It was amazing to read everyone’s perspective. And its not ever too late for people to share, so everyone, feel free!

  4. Great idea! I’m including a post from March on teaching kids about industrial meat. (The post also includes a link to a follow-up piece I did about kids and the movie “Food Inc.”)

    This whole thing is quite complicated. Even small farmers don’t always do it the right way. We have a very popular meat farmer in my region that is basically a mini CAFO, but because the place is small and the farmers show up in person at farm markets and tout the fact that they grow all their own “natural” cow feed (yes, corn), people eat it up.

    The only way to know for certain what you’re buying is to ask lots and lots of questions. We don’t eat meat, but we do eat eggs and dairy, and I spend a lot of time talking to farmers about their practices, visiting the farms myself and independently researching anything that isn’t clear to me. It’s been eye-opening. That’s for sure.

    • Oh, people are so easily fooled. I go to an indoor farmer’s market every Saturday and one of the most popular vendors is a couple selling pork, beef and chicken. None of the meats are grass-fed or pastured. But there’s a line for their expensive products.

      I will say one good thing about grain fed animals – their meat tastes so much better! It’s hard to get used to grass-fed, pastured meats!

      • Really?? You think the grain-fed meat tastes better? I just tried some grass-fed ground beef for the first time ever last week… hubby and I both agreed it tasted significantly better than any beef we’d ever had before.

        • If you are underwhelmed by pastured beef, try another farm, another year.

          The pastured beef we got last July was amazing, better than the beef from the year before. I think it had a slightly higher fat content, which may account for some of the yummy factor. I think the grass last year was better than the summer before. I have high hopes for this years beef as we have had a very long, rainy and green spring here in Coastal California.

          Altho it there is not much fat on pastured beef, compared to commercial meat. When I bake a meat loaf there is almost no fat in the pan. Or when I braise a hunk of chuck roast and chill the broth there is almost no fat to skim off. I won’t name my farm (don’t want more competition, find your own!) but it produces the best ground beef-lots of converts to pastured beef make the jump because of that ground beef.

          I have to laugh though: I find myself religiously skimming fat. The fat phobic culture we live in dominates my intellect. I have read all those studies and papers indicating that pastured beef is similar in “good fat/bad fat” as wild salmon. I can eat the fat on wild salmon and I buy fish oil capsules but I wince at eating the fat on my pastured beef! Shouldn’t I give up the expense of fish oil capsules and just enjoy my beef!

  5. Cheap food is an illusion.


    Right now, the best solution I’ve found is to allocate a portion of the grocery budget just for fresh dairy, produce and meat. The rest I’ll have to compromise on. For now.

  6. I finally saw Food, Inc. a couple of weeks ago when on PBS.
    I have been buying hormone free “natural” meats for a few years now,
    but realize this purchase is just an illusion to better meat. Yes, it is
    probably a tad bit better than regular grocery store meat , but . . .
    So now I am focusing on real meat. I also allocate most of my $$ towards local dairy, eggs, and soon produce, counting down to the opening of our little
    farmers market. Now I will also be focusing on meat.

  7. Interesting comments so far. I agree with Cristina @ Spoonfed that just because you purchase your food outside the supermarket, doesn’t mean it’s what you’re really looking for. Ask, ask ask! That’s the key. And if they hem and haw around the answer you’re looking for, that’s a pretty good indicator that you don’t want to go with them. Newleywed & Unemployed also liked the comment that cheap food is an illusion. I’m ashamed of how much money I’ve spent on junk food (and I’m not just talking sweets here) because they’re cheap. And I have NO IDEA what all I’ve put into my body over the years. It’s time to take responsibility for the food my family consumes. I made English muffins yesterday- the equivalent of 6 packages. They’re cheaper than store-bought, taste better, and I know exactly what’s in them. I never bat an eye if I can get them on sale, but my “buy price” is still more expensive than these were to make. So I sacrifice convenience and packaging to save my money and my health. Hardly seems like a sacrifice. So I’ve got $10 I just saved to add to my meat budget. And I’m not planning on buying $1.99/lb. meat ever again!

  8. I linked an older post that was previously linked to another blog, apologies of this is taboo. I understand the concern for cheaper food- it seems counterintuitive that cheap beef does not lead to better outcomes for lower income populations (or anyone for that matter), making the argument that real meat is better for us a tough sale. I’m still unsure about how the real food movement can be compatible with public food/health policy in the U.S. given the political and economic complexity of the issue.

  9. Great information, thanks for posting! My copy of Food, Inc is finally on hold at the library and I am looking forward to watching it!

  10. I’m glad you put the quote up about not vilifying the farmers. This area gets tricky for us since my husband was raised on a farm and his parents main operation now is beef (and they read our blog! so no big posts from me about on meat, I still have to keep the peace).

    My husband agrees with me about needing to switch to grass fed beef and we just bought an extra freezer so we are on the lookout now for a source but we also don’t want to imply that we think they are evil for what they do – we don’t! While I think many changes have to be made to the system and I’m not comfortable with regular meat, I still cringe when I hear farmer’s unfairly being accused of cruelty.

    To be honest, if my in-laws lived closer to us, I would probably get our beef directly from them. They use antibiotics and regular feed but they are still early in the process and I can see the cows roaming around the pasture from the front porch and the mamas with their calves. The cows are happy and healthy. But they get sold from their fairly early to be finished (at a CAFO?) and that’s where I think things go downhill fast.

    • Thanks for sharing a bit about your in laws’ farm. what makes you think the finish operation they sell their cattle to is patently different than their own?

      • I’m by no means an expert on what they do but I believe that they don’t finish them there at all only sell them to feeder lots. They do feed the cows other things during the winter (it’s north dakota, there isn’t much grass up there in January :-) but by the time the calves come around they are normally out on grass.

        But from my understanding the definition of a feeder lot is the place where they are sent to be fed concentrates and grains to bulk up so that obviously means that they aren’t just grazing, right? At that point they are at a much bigger operation, fed unnatural food and living in close quarters with many other cows so that is where the difference/problems lie.

        • This accords with my understanding, that most feedlot cattle come from smaller, family-owned “cow-calf operations” that do raise them on pasture and probably do take good care of their animals. And using antibiotics on occasion when medically necessary is a far cry from feeding antibiotics continuously to prevent infections from rapidly spreading in overcrowded, manure-ridden conditions common at CAFOs.

          So many of these issues are not as simple as we — and I include myself here — like to make them. It’s easier to talk in terms of stereotypes and shorthand. When I say “small family farm” I’m thinking of Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm, where he considers himself the caretaker, not the owner, of God’s creation. But a small, family farm could be a slovenly, disease-ridden mess, where the animals are treated like economic inputs instead of sentient beings with a natural right to express their cow-ness or chicken-ness or pig-ness. I’m not aware of any humanely run, environmentally friendly CAFOs, but if there were some, I would not mean to condemn them with a broad brush.

          But I think most people when forced to face the question of the treatment of animals by humans would certainly rather that animals weren’t tortured for human meals — they may just not realize there’s any alternative to being a vegetarian. So I’m thrilled that more and more people are demanding change, are taking steps to find out more about where their food comes from and to seek out humanely raised animals and to even start raising some of their own. I’m just a beginner with laying hens but this alone makes all of these concepts come to life. A chicken scratching in the meadow, a cow grazing on pasture, a goat eating both grass and prickly vines — all are magnificent sites that just feel right. The land is meant to be populated with animals on pasture, and not just humans on paved surfaces. We need the open and green spaces preserved by farms, for our own mental and physical health as well as for the animals’ health.

  11. I’ve enjoyed reading the blogs (here and at Katie’s blog) and I’m processing a lot of information right now. I understand the importance of ethically raised meat and would prefer to feed it to my family, but I struggle with the price for grass fed beef ($2.65 per pound hanging weight PLUS processing if I get it locally and buy a side) or $3.50-$6.00 per pound to buy individual packages depending on the cut.

    We are a family of 9 living on a single income. It can be extremely difficult to budget enough for food that is all raised ethically. We try! We eat meatless meals and consume more dairy and eggs to substitute for the higher cost of meat. We still buy feed lot meat because it’s that or vegetarian some months… and I’m just not convinced being a vegetarian is healthy for long periods of time. I know several vegetarians who are far from healthy and are willing to sacrifice their own health for their ideals and ethical treatment of animals. To me, that’s equally as shameful as some of the things you see in the documentaries like Food, Inc.

    Finding a middle ground, a healthy balance, it key for us. Affordability IS a factor when you’re feeding 9 people. That being said, we’re doing all we can to get out of suburbia and back onto enough land where we can raise some things ourselves again. I do believe that is an answer not often considered. The Industrial age moved many families out of rural areas and into suburban neighborhoods to be closer to jobs and schools. That put more reliance on family farms to produce food to sustain an increasing number of families who have migrated away from even vegetable gardening. Zoning laws and restrictions in many rural areas in our area prohibit raising any animals with hooves, even on a much as 2.5 acres! What a tragedy, truly. That puts affordable places to raise your own animals out of reach for many families (like ours).

    We used to keep goats for milk and meat, raise chickens for eggs and meat as well as maintain a small vegetable garden. When we moved to a suburban neighborhood (we could no longer afford the home/acreage we were living on), we had to give that all up. Here, we don’t have enough sun to have a vegetable garden beyond a few patio containers.


    It’s been a long, slow process to get my family back onto whole/real foods, and an expensive one, without the luxury of having those animals and produce on the premises to supplement our food requirements. And trust me, we’re all about rationing around here and do not often consumer more than necessary to meet our minimum daily nutrition requirements.

    Thanks for sharing all of this valuable information… it’s a lot to digest and ponder, and it’s very appreciated.


    • While I, too, know unhealthy vegetarians (and also plenty of unhealthy omnivores), I, personally, have been vegetarian for almost 19 years. And anyone who knows me will tell you I’m one of the healthiest people they’ve ever met. So I think we need to be careful about making generalizations. As with any diet, the key is to be smart about your food.

      • Christina,

        I apologize if my comment came across as a generalization. I didn’t mean for it to. As I said, I am not convinced–but I am still learning a lot. I don’t personally know any healthy vegetarians, but that doesn’t mean I have not heard of them. I know they exist and it comes down to good quality food each and every time.

        Again, I apologize if my comments came across in a manner other than I intended. I’m trying very hard to weed through a lot of conflicting information in my personal quest for a healthy diet for my family, and I’m exhausted. Perhaps it’s time to take a break and do something fun. :)


        • No worries at all! How sad, though, that you don’t know any healthy vegetarians. I’m afraid that probably speaks to the general state of food awareness and education in this country.

  12. There are some interesting comments in my link above “for the love of bacon” that several small meat producers posted, about things to ask, that “pastured pork” could still be fed all grain or worse, etc. It was interesting to hear from the meat producers who are trying to do the right thing. I also had a reader who did a guest post on how to buy meat and things to ask to be sure you weren’t getting fooled that I’ll go back and post. I’ve learned so much the last year by meeting all my meat producers!

  13. We can feed the world with humane sustainable agriculture. Yes, and we can pasture every farm animal in the world. We did it before, when technology was far less advanced. We did it as recently as world war 2, when almost every farm animal in the world was pastured. The current commodity agriculture model, with its feedlots, artificial fertilizer, corn and species inappropriate feeding, began after world war 2, and took some time to get established. The world was fed very well indeed before then, and people were much healthier.

    Even today, two of the largest beef cattle producers today, Argentina and Uruguay, raise enormous herds of excellent beef cattle on pasture alone.

    Animals raised on pasture do not need huge amounts of GMO corn and soybeans to be grown to stuff them for 6 months in a feedlot, which would make a lot of land available for real farms. It would really cut down the profits of the GMO soy and corn industry.

    I spent some time talking to a grassfed rancher recently.He raises wonderful grassfed lamb. HIs family has been raising grassfed and grass finished lamb for generations. We were talking about the poor taste of grain finished lamb, and I asked him why any farmer would ever finish lambs on grain. His answer was very simple – “For the money”.

    Why should we go back to sustainable natural farming? My answer is very simple – For our health.

      • The US government and others have payed farmers and ranchers for many years to restrict their production, to keep prices up. We could produce many times the amount of food being raised now.
        The key to raising grassfed animals is grazing land, not farmland. Grassfed animals can thrive on land not suitable for farming. There are huge amounts of empty land all over the world well suited for grazing, far more land than is used now. If proper rotational practices are followed, the land can last indefinitely. If the animals eat grass, there is no need for raising huge amount of crops to feed them. In fact, a huge amount of the crops grown are fed to factory animals in feedlots Switching to grassfed would free up all that farmland to feed humans. Factory farming with artificial chemicals depletes soil, eventually ruining it for growing crops. Sustainable farming renews the soil. Sustainable farming is actually far more productive than factory farming, despite the misinformation spread by Big Ag.
        There is only one way in which factory farming is superior to sustainable farming – Huge profits, especially for the big companies.

        • So Stanley, you advocate moving the meat finishing industry abroad to ensure the animal are grassfed entirely? Do you also advocate planting all farmland back to grass? Can you explain your understanding of how sustainable farming renews the soil?

        • Tonya, do not misrepresent what I wrote!
          I did not advocate moving the meat finishing industry abroad!
          There is plenty of unused land ideal for grazing right here in the United States, especially in the west and on the great plains.

          I do not advocate turning farmland into pasture. As I pointed out above, animals can thrive on land not suitable for farming, and do so all over the world, including the United States.
          I do advocate the use of farmland to grow crops for people, instead of feedlots.

          As for how sustainable farming renews soil, it involves crop rotation, soil management, rotational grazing, and many other practices. I do not have the necessary space to explain it here. I suggest you review the writings of Joel Salatin, who does a great job in explaining the subject.

          You can also google the words “sustainable, farming , soil,” and you will find literally thousands of articles on the subject.

      • Tonya: To start, return the vast acreage devoted to soybeans, corn and wheat back to perennial polycultures. The section in The Omnivore’s Dilemma explaining the ecosystem of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm is very enlightening. We know about the chickens following the cows around, scratching through the cow patties to get the bugs, thus both dispersing the manure for quicker absorption into the soil and reducing a vector for pathogens to spread *and* providing optimal nutrition for the chickens, and avoiding manure build-up and fertilizing the pastures, all from one policy: rotating the cows through pastures and rotating the chickens through after them.

        Plus, other species can live on these pastures, too. Cows and goats don’t really compete for the same food, for while goats do eat some grass, they also eat a lot of other species that cows don’t. This is just the drop in the bucket. This is not just ‘old-time farming like grandpa’ — there is greater scientific understanding of the biological processes involved and there is an accumulation of wisdom from the past that’s been built upon and added to. If I were back in college trying to decide what to major in, for sure I’d pick animal husbandry, biology, microbiology and horticulture. These are such exciting areas. Check out the work of Carbon Farmers of America, if I remember the name correctly, and various grass farming associations. There is really exciting work going on.

        • My DH and I stopped off to visit our two southern Iowa farmer friends in the fall of 2008. This was after I had read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and tried to follow up on many of Pollan’s footnote leading to peer reviewed scientific papers in Ag journals. It was wonderful to spend time with two farmers who are straddling the line. One is primarily a hog farmer and was one of the first Niman ranch farms when they added pork to their line. The other has a cattle operation. Both have stuck to more traditional farming practices through all the changes in the past 30 years of what was touted as ideal practice. For example neither has plowed fence row to fence row, which practice is now once again considered poor stewardship of the land. Currently in southern Iowa returning land to native grasses, shrubs and trees along watercourses is being actively encouraged with subsidies. The long story there is that after so many years of intensive farming with pesticides and fossil fuel fertilizers a statistically significant uptick in cancers among the population of southern Iowa was noticed. This is a region dependent of ground water for its drinking water. The current thinking is that it is important to leave strips of grasses and shrubs along the water courses to act as filters for runoff from the fields.

          This is just one example of why heavy industrial mono crop farming can have long term consequences. What seemed like a brilliant idea in the 70’s and 80’s, one would be foolish to “waste” that land by leaving it fallow, has meant the people of southern Iowa are paying a huge price for our cheap meat when they lose their lives earlier to cancer and have to purchase bottled water transported in from elsewhere to protect themselves from their own well water.

          Our cattle operation friend has never stopped rotating his fields from crops to pasture and back to crops on a multi year cycle and saves enough on reduced fertilizer costs to make up for any loss of crop yield.

          I stumbled across the phrase “externalizing costs” and would argue that while Tanya and others who maintain that we cannot afford to farm more sustainably and with lower yields that our current system is just as expensive. The full price for inexpensive agricultural product is not reflected in the purchase price but borne across society. We “externalize” much of the cost of our cheap meat. The people who deal with the downstream pollution from feed lots might want to say a thing or two about what cheap meat costs! The people who are dealing with the health issues from bacteria borne disease from mass produced hamburger might have something to say about the real cost of cheap meat. The people who are dealing with heart disease issues from eating fatty meat with a disproportionate ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats might have something to say. The people of southern Iowa who are aware of their increased cancer risk might think the end consumer could pay some of the cost they are bearing.

          Of course we cannot transition in one big jump from our current system to another system. I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the fast transition we made post WWII from traditional farms to mono cropping. When we slap a one size fits all solution onto a problem we have no idea what the long term consequences will be.

          Many of us understand that our current system is not sustainable. But changes are happening as many of us discover and value the benefits of eating more simply & closer to home. There is no one answer and each of us can only do the best that we can do!

  14. Agreed with all the comments in support of grass fed or pastured meat BUT how much lawn do we have in this country? Stop thinking large herds roaming farmland. Everyone with space for lawn should have chickens and/or meat rabbits. They take very little space, are very efficient converters of grass and bugs and are easy to care for and yes, butcher. I bet you don’t have to go very far back in your family to find someone who did this.

    It’s time more of us took responsibility for our own inputs and stopped relying on farmers to solve the food crisis.

    I have friends who have dairy goats in the city (in Seattle you can have 3 mini goats the size of labs essentially and require the same space as labs, and 3 chickens regardless of yard size.) Goats, chickens and rabbits don’t require much setup and aren’t much more trouble to care for than dogs.

    I finally have come around to spending my time not mowing and fertilizing the lawn but instead tending a garden and not walking the dog but raising productive pets instead.

    • re: going back in your family to find someone who “farmed” – i’ve seen reports that society is on the average a minimum of 2 generations removed from the farm. that’s why we in ag have our work cut out for us on educating the consumer.

      in your work with urban ag…how feasible is it to home process chickens & rabbits in an urban setting? I’m mostly thinking of offal disposal.

      • Hi Tonya,

        I didn’t say you wouldn’t have to go back far to find someone who farmed, I said “did this” meaning raise some livestock for their own consumption. I think we need to get away from the notion of reliance on big ag and farming and supplement with our own food, raised or grown in small spaces. I have chickens for eggs and wish my husband would let me get mini goats for milk. This summer I plan to add rabbits for meat. We do share part of a cow and a pig annually as well which we’ve either paid the butcher to come to the farm and kill while we are there to see the conditions, both in life and in death, or I and/or friends have done it. I cure everything and have learned to do the butchering myself. I’ve processed backyard chickens and I believe it’s better to do them infrequently as needed rather than raising them in confined quarters and processing them all at once. There is such a small amount of unused offal that not much even ends up in the garbage. The blood and feathers go to the compost pile, the organs that aren’t used go to the dog, the feet, most organs and bones go into the stock pot or other dinners. The only thing that is not saved is the gall bladder/pancreas. Compare that to what gets incinerated in a large operation, polluting the air and wasting the biomass and carbon that could be returned to the land or used to nourish other life forms.

        It takes 5-10 min to process a rabbit and about that for a chicken, even without special equipment. The plucking takes the longest at around 5 minutes by hand after a quick dip in boiling water with a drop of dish soap to penetrate the feather oils. It’s completely feasible.

        I remember sitting with my grandmother on Saturday morning helping her process Sunday night’s supper in this manner as well. They didn’t have a farm and only culled chickens twice a month perhaps, supplementing with the garden and wild rabbits and fish although I know those things are hard to come by these days.

        So I will continue to get my 1/8 of a grass fed cow per year but I will buy sustainably caught Alaska wild salmon or tuna and my chicken package that I pre-pay a farmer to raise for me each year. They live in a rotating tractor on grass and are fed a no corn/soy diet. They are the priciest meat we eat so we eat them infrequently but I believe in how they are raised because I know my meat ate the food it’s body was best adapted to eating. That is all I can wish for myself and my children as well, that we eat the food our bodies were adapted to eat and not simply what is plentiful and cheap. We eat what makes us feel good and we know that our food lived good lives and had good deaths.

        The only way to truly know that is to take responsibility for your food rather than to “farm it out”, a telling phrase if ever there was one.

        I hope that answers your questions. If you are truly curious I am organizing a rabbit processing class with a local rabbit farmer the first Saturday in June. It’s $15/rabbit and you take the rabbit home at the end of the day. Best to start with the hardest part (the butchering) since raising a rabbit is easy. :) I hope you’ll consider coming.

      • If you have dogs, offal disposal is no problem, but many people also find these delicious delicacies. If you don’t, there are networks of rawfeeding cat and dog owners who would love to take fresh offal off your hands.

  15. I agree, the farmers and ranchers cannot be blamed for our poor eating habits. Most ranchers in actuality do raise grass fed beef and then sell it off to be “finished”. For some reason there is a fear in the industry of change. Our neighbors are more forward thinking and have started direct marketing some of their beef to the folks who want grass fed. Yes, it does require a relationship with a butcher and a little extra time but by being their own middle man, they are able to pocket more profits. One of the basic problems with the farm/ranch industry is that they sell their products at wholesale and buy everything they need at retail. That model doesn’t often pencil out for the family guy.
    Pastured pork is often misunderstood too. Pigs are not ruminants. They cannot survive on a diet of grass and hay. Yes, they can live outside in a pasture but need supplemental food to survive.
    It is my belief that if someone must buy grocery store meat then it should be beef and it should be whole cuts of beef. The average beef cow lives most of it’s life in a pasture in the sun “being a cow”. The same cannot be said of “grocery store” chicken and pork. Even when a cow does get sent to a feed lot and fed an unnatural diet, they are still living outside, within a herd, having a fairly normal cow life. The scary foods for me are the pre-packaged ground meat that comes from any number of animals and has been processed with ammonia. This is not the fault of the rancher, this is a function of mass producing “meat products”. Do not mistake the processor for the rancher. In my opinion, the rancher’s good work is being sold down the river by the meat processor. The rancher takes all the heat, the processors, with the help of the FDA and USDA get to sit back.
    That said, I do procure beef for my family from a steer raised by a neighbor on grass and processed by another neighbor. I buy my lamb and pork from other friends. I milk my own Jersey cow and have laying hens. I don’t eat much chicken because I think that the choices are pretty sub par and I haven’t raised my own yet… I would like to see the meat industry be less defensive and more opportunistic when faced with the reality that their consumers are changing. Even if meat producers think that we are stupid for wanting grass fed, one would still think that they would see a business opportunity when it was presented.

    • ag doesn’t see consumers as stupid. there just simply isn’t enough land to finish all animals on pasture. demand could not be met. prices would increase. ag will happily produce products to cater to all sectors of the market. what ag doesn’t like is the spread of misinformation & the vilification of farmers/producers.

      • I agree with Tonya that farmers need to farm, it seems to be a bit like artists and writers! And farmers will give us what we want, what we offer to pay them to produce. When we vote directly with our farmers by giving them the dollars they need to raise nutritionally dense food that is what they will raise.

        I find that shopping directly from “my” farmers makes all of us happy. I love buying my food, they love growing it. We all can and do vote with our food dollars. More of mine each year go directly to “my” farmers!

        Agri business is not the enemy. We are, when we are too lazy and too cheap to initiate change. Everyone can do something. There are farmers everywhere who are waiting for customers to support them in producing more rewarding food. If you google where you live and CSA or farmers market I suspect everyone reading this will find get results. It does take more effort than stopping by the big box supermarket. It probably will cost more. You will have to cook from scratch.You might be moved to plant a few vegetables or a fruit tree. And your food will nourish you multiple times, when you collect it (from the market stall, or pick up your CSA box or harvest from your garden), again as you prepare it and when you place it on the table to nourish your family.

  16. Since there seems to be so much talk about the quantity of meat consumed, I am surprised no one is bringing up this: if we ate more of the animal overall we’d probably feel less need to raise so many for a relatively small amount of what they can give. Just about every other culture on earth has found a way to eat a lot more of the animal than what we think is acceptable (organs? chicken feet? oxtail? I bet the majority of Americans cringe at the simple thought). So it’s not just cutting down portions, but expanding our palates.
    Also, I will said that from the start I found grass-fed beef to be MUCH more delicious than ye general supermarket cuts wrapped up in plastic.

    • Soli – Excellent point about eating organs and chicken feet.

      Of course, who in their right mind would eat organs from sickly cows. You know the cows fed grains?

      I eat organ meats quite often. BUT I WOULD NEVER EAT ORGANS FROM A GRAIN FED COW! Mad cow disease scares me to death!

      • Do you have evidence, other than anecdotal or opinion, that grassfed cattle are healthier than their conventionally fed counterparts?

        • Um, yes.
          1. Biology … cows are ruminants. They are designed to ruminate. Their bodies, no matter how much we think it’s ok or cool or profitable, are not designed to consume grain. It doesn’t matter that they can, just that they aren’t supposed to.

          2. Check out this article from Science Daily. ( It quotes research from the journal Science about how sick grain fed cows are.

          3. Also, try Google or JSTOR or ProQuest. There’s plenty of research hanging out in the ether from science to food production journals talking about how to manage the illnesses of grain fed cows.

          I don’t even honestly care about the heralded ‘health benefits’ of grass over grain. The simple reality is cows are supposed to eat grass. Our industrial system that forces them to do otherwise (all the while keeping them locked up in shoddy looking mud pits … gross) is a disgrace. I don’t care if you think it’ll feed the world or save the planet or kill the economy. Forcing cows to not eat grass is like giving Creation the proverbial finger. You’re telling G-d, “Nope, sorry, your system wasn’t good enough. Time to try mine”. Cows haven’t evolved to eat grains like humans haven’t evolved to exclusively eat grass. That’s all the proof I really need.

        • there’s always biofuel. even if we limit food transportation, look at everything else that gets transported, even ourselves. i read an article that equates a dog’s carbon footprint to that of an suv, thereby, i own 2 suv’s. how far do we go? how much do we eliminate? do we give up cars? electricity? the internet? cell phones?

          as for God’s creation…i have yet to see where God states or implies that livestock should eat only grass. humans can eat meat but don’t have to. we can consume milk as adults but don’t have to. yet many of us do both. is that going against God’s intentions for us?

          eating grain does not make cattle sick. it can cause acidosis if introduced too quickly or too much, however, diets are managed closely to keep this from happening. if the goal is to produce a finished cow efficiently, having a cow off feed is not going to accomplish that. further, it’s been shown that pastured cattle CAN & DO shed e coli, so grain feeding is not the causative. i will read the actual science article & respond more later. seems i remember this particular review has been discredited. for now, i’m off to a party in support of local businesses.

          i want to remind you all, as you talk about how evil farmers are & how they’re going against God’s will, remember that your very own blogger friend nettacow & her family are farmers. it may be easy for you to vilify me, a stranger, but remember her. how many of you have clicked over there & read what she has to say? a first hand account of what happens on a feed lot that you all seem to know all about (with the sickly cattle wading thru feces). there seems to be a real shortage of comments over there…perhaps because you’ve been left speechless?

  17. Thanks, Kelly! Awesome Carnival! I have yet to take the leap (budget issues are my hold-up) into purchasing only grassfed meat/milk/eggs, but I am always looking for more information on it & working towards that ultimate goal.

    • Sarah (and others who have mentioned the budget constraints), you’ll get there, and when you’re ready to do more, you’ll be ready and know just what to look for! :)

      • About the budget constraints. It doesn’t hurt to ask local farmers. I was a student when I first started getting grass-fed beef. I quickly discovered some farmers are happy to give away some organ meats (especially kidney and tongue). I was getting a few pounds of ground beef and they’d throw in a few pounds of organs. That makes it pretty cheap!

        • When I was ready to make the leap, buying a chest freezer (and accepting the $100/year or so of operating costs) and going in with friends allowed me to jump in at the half an animal level-which definitely brings the cost down to the ground meat price at “my” farm and gives us all the yummy premium cuts that we would never be able to afford. As well as lots of ground meat and braising beef, both of which can be stretched almost indefinitely! Think stone soup. Now I am beginning to work with a wonderful chef/butcher to cut my meat and getting even more of what normally would go into the waste barrels.

  18. I agree with Sustainable Eats. Look around your neighborhoods and see how much space there is. We don’t have enough land to raise healthy animals but we have enough land to keep grass on that just sits there and does nothing? Think about all the food, both meat and other, that could be raised if we even took half of our individual properties and raised food. I agree that this takes a complete shift in thinking, but sometimes drastic times take drastic measures. We have a 1/4 of an acre and we currently have 1 goat (hoping to get another), 17 laying hens, 12 meat chickens and 4 turkeys we are raising, along with our gardens and fruit trees. We have 5 kids that still have plenty of room to play. And there still is room for more. We need to look at land different than we do now.

    • Many people don’t realize that Boston Commons and other urban common areas were originally used to hold livestock (in common) for the community. Urban farming is the coolest thing going.
      Also, Soli is soooo right about using the whole animal. Good point.

  19. Blaire that is so cool! I’m obsessed at this point in my life trying to see just how much of our food we can produce on our 1/5 acre in city lot. I know it will never be 100% but if we banded together and shared crops – maybe one person has good drainage and they grow the grains, one person has shady yard and can grow all the leafy things that want to bolt in full sun, another can grow sunflowers for oil & chicken food and vetch or other things that could be dried into hay for winter forage, etc. In Seattle we have an urban farming collective and we hold barter fairs in the fall. If one person only puts up applesauce for instance they can come bring that and swap for canned tomatoes or jelly or pickles so that we all don’t have to master every trade. It’s encouraging folks to collect all those edible fruits that otherwise fall to the ground and create rodent problems so that they can bring things to the barter. It also lets you buy things en masse so you get good prices (cases of cabbage for saurkraut or boxes of peaches for jam, etc). In this way we are spending most of the money on the canning jars which are re-usable but still eating real food.

    Last fall we had smoked salmon, soaps, local honey, canned goods, homebrew, dried foods, lactofermented foods, bone broths, fruit leather, home made bread and baked goods, lotions etc to trade from. Each year the selection gets larger and larger as we learn new skills. It’s truly amazing and the community we are building is invaluable.

    Perhaps you could start that in your city too? All this awareness for do-it-yourself skills is so catchy and every little thing you can make yourself will decrease reliance on industry.

  20. Hi Kelly,today I asked my Doc about coconut oil,and although she agreed it is healthy for you,she also said it fattens you.She mentioned some group of people who consume it highly,she said yes they are healthy but fat,so if I want to be healthy,how so if I am going to get fatt-er? Thank you

  21. Tonya – Are you implying that because you have an agriculture degree that you know more about raising animals than the farmer with a high school education who has a sustainable farm where animals are grass-fed and pastured?

    How on earth did millions of people raise and butcher animals for meat before agricultural degrees were given out?

    Should I take your word that grain fed animal meat is fine because a professor told you that it was in college? Or do I take your work that grain fed animal meat is healthy because you grew up on a farm where your parents fed grains to their animals? My grandpa raised cows that were pastured in the summer and fed hay in the winter back in Reed City, MI.

    Enough with feeding animals and people grains. Our pigs, chickens, cows, buffalo, sheep, ducks, turkeys, cats, dogs, etc are grain fed. All I see in the local grocery (when I go which is twice a year, maybe), I see row after row after row of grain crap foods.

    Enough with feeding everyone cheap, genetically modified grains! Enough with our Government subsidising wheat, corn and soy!

    My boys and I stopped eating grains and we have never been healthier! I don’t even feed my cat grains for heaven sakes!

    • Tina, I’m not claiming to be smarter than anyone. I am claiming to have first hand experience & formal education in agriculture, because I do. I too grew up in Northern MI on a family dairy farm (roughly 50 animals total). We also had poultry, hogs, & rabbits for our own consumption. Later on we had goats. Our cattle grazed in the summer & were supplemented with grain. In the winter they ate hate we’d put up ourselves & were still supplemented with grain. We sold our milk via the MI Milk Producers Cooperative.

      “How on earth did millions of people raise and butcher animals for meat before agricultural degrees were given out?” Michigan State University, my alma mater, was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first land grant college. Ag degrees have been given out for quite some time & they’re now one of the fastest growing degrees. Today, much of society is 2+ generations removed from the farm. Previously, farming knowhow was handed down generation to generation & increasingly via formal education. Today, since less & less of the population is involved with farming, it wouldn’t be so easy for everyone to “drop everything” and take up farming because they weren’t taught anything about farming by their ancestors.

      Once again I say, I have nothing against grassfed meats or real food. I have issues with people, like you, vilifying conventionally produced food calling it “crap”, “junk”, “unsafe”, etc.

  22. I’m in total agreement that grain-fed animals produce meat and milk that causes inflammation, disease, and a downturn in health. I guess I don’t need scientific studies to prove this to me. Before I converted over to grass-fed meats and dairy products, I was sick and other people I know and knew were sick while they ate these foods. Doctors told me I had to eat a low-fat diet with lots of carbohydrates to be healthy. And yet, I was never sicker in my life than while I was eating that way. My husband and son have experienced the same thing.

    I read about people every day who give testimony to how food cures their health problems. Yes, the majority of studies you’ll find will say conventional foods are fine to eat, that meat is unhealthy for you, and that a low-calorie/saturated fat/cholesterol diet should be the preferred choice.

    If those choices are healthier, then why are so many people sick, obese, and disease ridden? Why was I sicker than I’d ever been during the time I was eating those foods and not now? As far as I’m concerned, a great deal of “scientific research” is just a load of garbage, and after witnessing the things I have, I don’t believe it anymore.

    It’s really critical for people to get beyond scientific research. The fact is that those findings are simply wrong. And many of those studies are funded by big corporations who have a product or commodity to sell, and they have money to spend – more in fact, on the marketing and distribution of those products than the quality of the products themselves. It’s a fact that many big companies spend more on the former than the latter. That’s all the proof I need. As a culture we are duped by marketing and fake science to convince us to purchase a product that’s going to make us sick and kill us sooner, all to to line the pocketbooks of the people running the companies who sell it.

    • I’m with you on this one, Raine. The biggest improvement in my health came when I switched to pasture raised dairy and meat. I have been off meds for rheumatoid arthritis for months now, and every day I wish I had made the switch sooner. I can’t explain the science of why it makes such a huge difference for me; but it does.

  23. Question for those who are raising their own animals for meat. what are your plans for processing them? (Meaning, will you do it yourself or send them out to be processed & where will you be sending them?)

    • The little farm I grew up on – we butchered our own chickens but had a butcher come to our place to do the cattle. He would hang, skin, and gut them, and then tranfer the carcasses to his facility, where he had a temp controlled place to hang the meat for x amount of time before he cut it up. Its doable to butcher small animals oneself, but the big animals are a huge amount of inefficient work if you dont have the skill and tools.

  24. Tanya, I’m probably the only one doing this on here (guessing). Here is how our meat broke down this year: cow farm kill then primal cuts up at Kelso’s in Snohomish, I got enough people together to split an entire cow, butchered into primal cuts and I took it from there; pig farm kill then primal cuts at Silvana Meats but we got 2 pigs so the other pig I helped my friends (who shot it themselves) skin, gut & butcher it. Once we got the primal cuts from Silvana I cured the whole thing myself but I was bummed I lost so much of the lard and fat that I wanted for soapmaking (lost due to my inexperience skinning). Next time I’ll have the butcher do the farm kill and primal cuts and that way I won’t waste what I wanted for soap and/or leaf lard and/or organ meats or jowels that I botched. I feel like with a butcher if you don’t know to ask it’s thrown out. Now I ask “what are you throwing out” first and request to keep it. Tallow? Want that. Trotters? Want those. So much is wasted because most home cooks dont know what to do with it.

    Finally, chickens will be processed at the farm for now, until I can talk dh into raising some broilers and a turkey in the backyard. Rabbits I will process myself at home as needed by this fall. Hope that was what you were looking for.

    My advice for anyone who says they can’t afford good meat – find a butcher just outside the city and ask them for local farmer’s names. Those farmers don’t ever need to come into the city because anyone who lives out there will buy their meat since they are so visible. The meat pricing came down by about 50% once I figured that trick out. You just need to interview the farmer to learn if they are raising the animals in the same way you would like them to be.

  25. Conventionally raised meat is unsafe, crap, and junk. Milk from conventionally raised cows is unsafe, crap and junk.

    I don’t have a formal education in farming and I’ve never ran a farm. But I’m positive if I had the money, land and help it wouldn’t take a formal education to run a one-percent grass-fed cow farm.

    I pay $5.50 per lb for .5 cow that is organic and grass-fed here in the Denver area. If people had to pay around that same price for their beef, they wouldn’t eat as much beef.

    People gorge themselves on cheap CAFO meat. Parents trying to do the healthy thing give their children CAFO organic, ultra-pasteurized milk that is simply nothing more than a junk food;more dangerous for a child’s health than fruit juice (sugar water.)

    If people thought about nourishing their bodies instead of filling their tummies, they would never eat or drink unhealthy, crappy, unsafe CAFO meat or milk!

    Is CAFO meat and dairy gonna harm people right away, no it’s going to take time to do damage just like using drugs, drinking and smoking.

    • Tina, thanks for making my point for me…IF you could afford to farm. Farming isn’t a business that anyone can just jump into. The capital is HUGE. Further, how dare you insult the knowledge & skill of American farmers? What’s junk here is your attitude. I’ve still not seen any evidence to support your claims & I won’t because you have nothing more than your poisoned personal opinion.

      • Tanya – Because most Americans can’t raise their own animals and butcher them themselves, we should just shut up and eat CAFO meat, diary and eggs and never demand better from our farmers? Should we simply be grateful for the crap CAFO farmer’s provide?

        Grass-fed animals enrich the soil. Grain-fed damage the soil. All that grain that cows were NEVER meant to eat ferments in their stomachs and the gas that is produced from the fermentation process pollutes the air and soil. Grain-fed animals are sickly because they are eating what they were never meant to eat. They are given drugs to keep them from dying. The meat from grain fed cows is not healthy and never will be.

        My personal poisoned opinion is the same opinion of many others and becoming more popular. I am hopeful that the more people realize how awful CAFO farms are for the animals and environment and how terrible the meat and diary is for their own bodies, they will take their food monies and buy meat and dairy from sustainable farmers. I give my money for meat, eggs and milk directly to the farmer who raises the animals, sustainably.

        • Tina,
          I’ve never said nor implied you should “shut up & eat CAFO meat.” That’s not the opinion of agriculture either. Ag will produce a product wherever there is demand. That is the nature of business. What I have said is, I’m fine with people who want to eat grassfed/local/organic but I am NOT OKAY with people presenting misinformation &/or vilifying conventional ag to push the alternative as superior, which is EXACTLY what you are doing. I have also said that a locavore/slow food model (alone) CANNOT meet the demands of our evergrowing world population.

          Here’s an article on the environmental impact of conventional ag –

          ‘”The developed world should focus on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries where growing populations need more nutritious food. In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices to make more food with less greenhouse gas production,

        • Tonya,
          re: cows being designed to eat grain vs. grass:
          Doesn’t the 4-part ruminant stomach point to the fact that cows are well-suited for roughage? clearly I cannot eat grass, but a cow can, and can share the nutritional powerhouse of it with me.No, I don’t have a link to a research article, but it just seems obvious – 4 stomachs, grass. Right?

  26. Tonya – I don’t believe in any peer-reviewed scientific research that has been funded by companies who I know have an interest in generating a certain type of outcome, such as “proving” that the foods they sell are healthy to consume. No amount of that is going to prove to me that modern processing and farming methods are superior to the old ways. It’s just common sense. I don’t believe in ANY research, no matter what it is, if it goes against observational and experiential events proving otherwise. For years, peer-reviewed, scientific research told me to eat low-fat, processed foods and diet myself to death, get more and more exercise, and I was sick. Then I started listening to traditional wisdom, which has been debunked and criticized by scientific and modern viewpoints, and low and behold, my health began to improve dramatically!

    Again, I’ve witnessed this in dozens and dozens of other people, and heard testimony of many others I’ve interacted with online. I think it depends on what kind of proof you are satisfied with…ultimately, I’m not satisfied with something a scientist tells me is true when I can see for my own eyes it simply is not. Science can say all it wants about the things it does, but I can see that the population is unhealthy, obese, and disease-ridden. Because of this, it’s more than apparent that the things science have been telling us to do are just not working.

    If a scientist or a peer-review study told you that X was true but you could see for your very own eyes that the reality was in fact the opposite, which would you believe?

  27. Raine, I agree completely. I’ve been an attorney for 25 years. I have seen over and over again how peer reviewed studies can be designed to get the results desired by those who pay for the study. It is common knowledge in the legal profession that each side in a lawsuit can almost always find peer reviewed studies to support their position – even if those studies are so contradictory that is impossible for both of them to be true.
    The agricultural departments of most universities are heavily influenced by the grants they receive form the large agricultural industry.

    My point is, we must think for ourselves, use common sense, and pay careful attention to our own experience.

    I have

  28. Thanks for all the great info Kelly! It’s such an important topic. We need to raise awareness to a broader group of people in order to make the big changes that are needed!

  29. And hey, I’m not saying there are no scientific studies that are valid, there are. But you must always follow the motives and the money when evaluating results in science. Because as foolproof as science is supposed to be, it is still not infallible, and is ordered by human beings. And humans are susceptible to error, malice, and greed, so you must be very careful to find out how something is conducted, look at the results, and then decide.

    If studies are telling you that cattle do just fine on corn and that grass doesn’t matter, why are we having so many massive food recalls from big agribusiness corporations? What about the largest beef recall to date in February of 2008? 143 million pounds? OMG! I am still completely sickened by this occurrence and cringe to think about how all those animals who died to make that meat were raised….not to mention what a massive waste of food it was. That could have been good, healthy meat sold to nourish people. And instead it was done on CAFOs with no care or attention to making sure those animals were humanely raised. And even after the recall, some of the meat still went out and people ate it! If stories like this don’t alter people’s perceptions, I don’t know what will! Something has got to wake everyone up though, and anyone who defends these kinds of environments on farms should have his or her head examined.

    I’m not pointing the finger at anyone in specific here, so please don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying it’s time to realize that a lot of modern farming methods have not done our population, public health, or environment any favors.

  30. Hey all,

    Great conversations going here, it’s helping all of us to learn more on the whole issue. (So far so good, but let’s be sure to keep it friendly, OK?) Also, be sure to check out entry #17 above from Lenetta titled, “Our Family Runs a CAFO.” I think it’s great that she took the time to write this because as always, it’s good to hear from all sides.


    • thanks for pointing that link out. a must click for all the posters here!

      Pay close attention to the very first pic along the left margin. this pic –

      who knows what those cattle are eating?

      & finally quoting from the author:

      What’s the Bottom Line?
      We (our family) don’t believe that we (producers as a whole) would be able to flip the switch and follow all the practices laid out by Food, Inc. and Michael Pollan and others and still produce enough to feed the world….We don’t treat the cattle our family eats any differently than the cattle we produce to sell. Hubs believes that our meat tastes better than what you can buy in the grocery store, and he says he noticed a big difference in taste when he went into the Air Force. We will continue to stay abreast of current research, trends, and technology to provide the best food we can.

      • The big argument that I’m hearing here is that it’s not possible to feed the world on grass fed beef. I completely agree. We shouldn’t be eating entirely beef anyway.

        By eating meat less frequently, and eating beef less frequently we may not need to try. There are so many other healthy protein sources – eggs, dairy, legumes, chicken, sustainably caught fish, occasional pastured pork (meaning access to root in dirt and sun but I realize pigs don’t eat grass), lambs, goat and lastly rabbit, which is full of protein and a very efficient converter of food to meat.

        Thinking we can solve the world’s hunger problems by raising more grain or grass fed cattle is unrealistic.

        So if beef is a luxury, as it should be, then we should be able to occasionally eat grass fed beef, sustainably raised in a healthy environment by someone concerned with their impact on this planet without feeling like we are depriving the less affluent of food.

  31. For thousands of years farmers pastured animals for food. CAFO farming is the alternative to grass-fed not the other way around.

    Tonya, why do you think that we cannot feed people with pastured animals when we have been doing so for thousands of years? Do you not realize that it takes thousands of acres of land to grow the GMO corn and soy to feed the animals? Thousands of acres that could be used for grazing animals.

    I’ve already done hours of research on why CAFO farms are bad for the animals, soil, environment and people. You, too, can do the research if you want to. There’s nothing good that comes from CAFO farming except to fill the bellies of those that will evetually get sick from eating the CAFO meat dairy eggs.

    The demand you’re talking about is for cheap meats and dairy products. And that demand comes from people who don’t know better.

    According to you, CAFO farmers are giving people what the demand – cheap, unhealthy food.

  32. Grain vs grass-fed – copied from Kathleen Wills

    Feed Requirements:

    Grain: Cow feed is very energy-intensive. Since moving cows from field to factory, millions of acres of grassland have had to be converted into soy and grain crops for livestock feed. This has led to the need for massive amounts of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides. In turn, the feed has to be transported great distances.

    Grass: Sunlight and water are all that are needed to grow the grass. Pesticides and fertilizers generally aren’t used.

    Growing Methods:

    Grain: Cows are given grain, soy, supplements, hormones and growth-promoting additives to fatten them up more quickly for slaughter.

    Grass: Cows grow naturally on grass and take longer to raise.

    Human Health:

    Grain: Not only does grain-fed beef have up to 500% more saturated fat and less nutritional value than grass-fed beef, the pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics consumed by the cows are passed on to us through the meat. The implications of this are serious, including premature development in children and our growing immunity to antibiotics.

    Grass: Compared with feedlot meat, grass-fed has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories and is higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Because pastured animals grow at a natural pace, live low-stress lives and eat grass rather than grain, they are healthier animals which negates the need for antibiotics or other drugs. Therefore we are not ingesting these either.

    Climate Change:

    Grain: 99% of U.S. beef cattle are raised in concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs) where liquefied manure systems and the methane released by the cows create more greenhouse-gas emissions than transportation. Fertilizer production for feed emits millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Transportation of all these components adds to the emissions.

    Grass: The trampling of grazing animals helps work manure and organic matter into the soil. In turn, the rich soil and plant’s roots retain water and microbes and keep carbon dioxide underground rather than in the air. So, even though grass-fed cows release more methane, grazing makes them carbon-neutral.

    Animal Welfare:

    Grain: Cows’ stomachs aren’t designed to digest grain so they eventually develop a painful disease called acidosis (one of the reasons why preventative antibiotics are administered). The crowded conditions that the cows are made to live in on factory farms is cruel, they are often abused by the workers, and the diseases contracted from the unsanitary conditions are painful.

    Grass: Cows live stress-free lives grazing naturally in open pastures with plenty of space and fresh air. (This also translates to better quality meat due to the lack of stress hormones.)

    Fields and Forests:

    Grain: Feedlots strip the land and don’t put anything back into it.

    Grass: Rotating cows between paddocks keeps the grass cut which spurs new growth and their manure produces rich soil.

    Large vs. Local:

    Grain: CAFOs have squeezed out smaller-scale farms.

    Grass: Local farms build community, support the local economy and reduce the energy required for long-distance transportation.

    Cost per Pound:

    Grain: Grain-fed beef is reasonably priced because more meat is produced more quickly. Grain and soy kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies and

  33. I am totally blown away by the conversation(s) going on here. I hope everyone reads Lenetta’s post; it’s just the balance we all need to hear!

    Tonya – I hope you get to meet Annette IRL, I will be totally jealous of you! She seems like a truly fabulous woman and a good resource in your area, whether you end up killing rabbits with her or not. Not jealous of that part, by the way. 😉

    I’m always the one to say: what’s the middle ground? How to feed a world that has tripled in size without harming the world at the same time? Is less meat the answer? If so, do we start with changing eating habits or changing farming practices? Seems to me like the eaters have to make the revolution happen, as the farmers are just listening to their buyers.

    ?? Katie

    • Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve skinned a rabbit. 😉 You are always welcome in Seattle. Especially once I have a guest room.

      I like this part of your comment “Seems to me like the eaters have to make the revolution happen, as the farmers are just listening to their buyers.” THANKS FOR LISTENING to “us” (if I’m allowed to speak on behalf of ag)!

      Maybe it’s me personally, but I’m not keen on going w/o for the good of the whole. If we have the technology to make thinks available & affordable then I say “use it”,

  34. I’m not sure I understand why the US has the responsibility to feed the world. The world needs to get back to sustainable farming and those countries that can’t, the rest of the world has a responsibility to help them. But it’s not the responsibility of American farmers to feed the world.

  35. A recent article pointed out to me by Kate @ Kitchen Stew –

    Attention Whole Foods Shoppers
    Stop obsessing about arugula. Your “sustainable” mantra — organic, local, and slow — is no recipe for saving the world’s hungry millions.

    The majority of truly undernourished people — 62 percent, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization — live in either Africa or South Asia, and most are small farmers or rural landless laborers living in the countryside of Africa and South Asia.

    Poverty — caused by the low income productivity of farmers’ labor — is the primary source of hunger in Africa, and the problem is only getting worse. The number of “food insecure” people in Africa (those consuming less than 2,100 calories a day) will increase 30 percent over the next decade without significant reforms, to 645 million, the U.S. Agriculture Department projects.

    What’s so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.

    In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that “sustainable food” in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn’t work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.

    If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we’ve developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.

      • No. I am a prior extension educator, but I’ve decided to explore other interests. I “agvocate” as a hobby & more recently, I’ve considered starting my own business as an “urban ag consultant” for those with hobby farms or those keeping small animals in the city. The latter is more of a dream. Not sure if there would be interest in it.

        • Tonya,

          I see *some* things like this advertised on Craigs List but it maybe a new niche you could provide. There are city farm stores springing up and people who will come help you put down your urban farm animals so who knows?

          One thing I can tell you though is that many urban farmers (including me) are raising their own food precisely because they don’t like what big ag is serving so you’d have to prequalify your customers carefully.

          Rather than fight these food battles we’ve chosen to opt out of the existing food system altogether.

          One other off topic tidbit about grains – it’s common knowledge that feeding grains fattens up animals and I’ve noticed that happens to me as well. Because I make all our food I’m painfully aware exactly what we are eating, how much fat, how much salt, how much grain, how much meat. We still eat processed foods if I make them myself. I only use whole foods so whole milk, real butter, heavy cream, coconut and olive oil and animal fats. Those animal fats and meat are all from pastured animals who live in what paltry sunshine we have here and have room to excercise. It’s amazing how different the meat is in texture and flavor.

          What I’ve noticed is my weight does not go up when we eat fattier meals, it goes up when we eat more baked goods. I’ve been pretty carefully monitoring this for a year and half now, throughout various seasons and exercise levels so I’m confident that is the one common denominator.

          For that reason alone I try to decrease our grain consumption, and meat consumption that was grain fed.

          Please feel free to come to my place for free chicken eggs sometime, but only if you are willing to compare them to eggs from hens efficiently raised in sunlight-free cages and fed predominantly grains. There is a direct correlation between food color and nutrients. Even the pastured eggs from the farmer’s market that cost $6/dozen are ghostly yellow next to eggs from my chickens who have unfettered access to bugs and grass. My eggs are almost red they are so orange. The flavor is sublime.

          I feel like there is plenty of room in agriculture to provide all kinds of meat. I just don’t personally feel like I need to eat something that tastes inferior, has an inferior texture and increases my karmic carbon footprint when I don’t need to, all health concerns aside.

    • T – I’m totally not sure I agree with that article. I’m curious about the background, funding, stats, etc. Other sources say there is def a way to feed the world, sustainably. I think Pollan makes a good point when he says that the current feedlot farming model is also NOT sustainable, partly b/c of limited fossil fuels to transport all that food. ???

    • Tonya,

      I just want to say that I LOVE your passion for feeding the world. Please join us on Saturday: We could really use you! You aren’t going to change anyone’s mind on this forum but you can make a HUGE difference and help build community in Seattle, your new home. We need passionate, caring people like you to make a difference. And it might be a great sounding board to test out the waters for your idea of being an “ag for hire”. We would love to have you!!!!

  36. Tonya – Is it your goal to have every person in the world unhealthy because they can eat cheap GMO grains and cheap meat and diary from grain fed animals? These industrial foods DO NOT nourish people! DO YOU GET THAT?

    Obviously, you’re not reading info on grass-fed animals and why it’s better. I am not going to change your mind and you certainly aren’t going to change mine. I will never believe that what you advocate is even remotely a good thing.

    • to apply your logic of personal anecdotes, Tina, I eat “cheap GMO grains and cheap meat and diary from grain fed animals” & I’m 5’8″ & size 10, 28 years old, no illnesses. My motto is everything in moderation but I don’t believe in rationing (ie I eat less meat so you have the opportunity to buy meat).

  37. I linked to our blog and interview with Bill Hodge, grass-finished beef farmer. He explains the benefits of grass fed beef. I personally believe that the grain-fed meat model is unhealthy for the animals, people, and planet and that it is unsustainable as well. I am putting my money and time where my values are and will be starting my own pasture-based multi-species grazing operation this summer. I have never lived anywhere but city or suburb but I know how to research and learn. Jon and I will be sharing our discoveries through articles, blogs, and videos of our farm. I hope you follow our adventures as agripreneurs. We hope to leave our 11 acre homestead richer and more productive than we find it.

  38. I work for a relief & development organization that does a lot of ag work in Asia and Africa, and I can tell you that the reason people are hungry has nothing to do with lack of industrialized farming methods. Villages where we teach Farming God’s Way (organic, believe it or not, easily accessible even for people who can’t afford high-falutin’ seeds and chemicals) have achieved food security. The issue is much more complex and includes corrupt governments, civil instability, foreign “aid” contributing to a handout mentality (why grow your own when you can get cheap commodities for free?), colonization back in the day convincing native people that corn is the only “real” food (which doesn’t grow very well inthose climates. . . it’s difficult to get people to return to traditional crops like amaranth and cassave but when they do there is much more food security), climate change which is altering growing seasons, and much much more.

    • Wendy,

      I appreciate your contribution with first-hand knowledge of the way things work in underdeveloped countries regarding sustainability and agriculture. Thank you for sharing it.


    • Wendy,
      I second Dana’s thank you. It is soooo good to hear a firsthand experience giving a realistic viewpoint. I was taken in by an article about how the slow food movement is hurting impoverished countries, and then I found out that the author works for Monsanto. Grrrr… You just can’t be too careful.
      :) Katie

    • I was just going to reply with something of the same, even though i have no experience in the matter. Thank you!

  39. quickly breezing the comments… do ASK at the farmers market because it is not necessarily local… or grass fed (beef, cknn or eggs.) the best thing we ever did was buy part of a cow. we REALLY lucked out because..”my brother knows a guy.” (my brother is the type of guy that knows everyone.) and this ‘guy’ decided to raise beef for his girls. and so we get the run off at an incredible price. last time it was $1.70/lb (at hanging) plus processing. And we split w/ a friend and my brother. You need a big freezer to put this stuff in. Twice we have done this and the taste is so incredible..and the smell. my friend and i both comment that the crock pot aromas with this beef is like nothing else. \\

    there are oodles of farms around that sell, at the very least, ground beef in large quantity at a really affordable price. Start asking, join local yahoo groups….I joind a farm to buy whole chickens and eggs. cost $20/year. have to order ahead of time and go pck them up. honestly not cheaper than the grocery but i am assured of quality product that is straight from the farm.

    joinging a CSA this summer..i think. the first time i did this i split a share. is it a better value than farmer’s market..not sure.. but i can’t make it there every week but i can pick up the CSA easily.

    oh and a garden..plant a garden.. this is our first year..mighty expensive produce the first year 😉 hopefully the next years will be better

    should have just blogged all this lol.

  40. Wow. What a good and informative post! In recent years I’ve gone from a freezer and fridge full of packaged goods (frozen waffles for breakfast, Healthy Choice for lunch, frozen lasagna for dinner anyone?) to a diet of almost exclusively real, whole foods. In the process, I’ve lost and kept off almost 100 lbs for over four years. This year, I’ve started taking our food intake to the next step and the more I learn about where the food in our grocery store comes from, the more I’m staying away. It’s amazing what is available locally. Coworkers raise chickens and cows, local farms sell pork and turkey — it’s out there and once we understand the realities of most grocery store meat, I don’t know how we can keep eating it. THe more people start voting with their wallets, the quicker current state will change! Thanks for the post!

  41. A few people have made these points already, but I just wanted to highlight them.
    The term “pastured” meat evokes images of cows grazing on lush fields of grass. While there is nothing wrong with such an image, its not necessary. There is no need to cut down the forest to make pasture – the forest can be the animals pasture. The beef and sheep I grew up eating munched on bushes, flowers, random forest weeds, etc. The cattle are moved around so that they do not unduly disrupt the forest ecology. Bears, cougars, deer, and other forest animals still make appearances. Here in Slovakia people who have animals scythe green stuff from places where it would otherwise be mowed or left – sides of streams and country roads, abandoned properties etc.

    As well, animals can be raised in many places where it is hard to grow crops. My stomping grounds are the northren Canadian Rockies – we can grow rocks. But animals can make use of local human-inedible vegetation in the summer, although hay is grown for the long winter. In many arid parts of the world, goats are used – they eat prickly things.

    Some people have being saying that in order to provide grass-fed meat for a lot of people, we can eat less meat – which may be true. But as someone mentioned, we also need to use our “meat” differently. When my European inlaws butcher their pig, every part of the animal is used except toenails, eyes, and contents of intestines. My mom in Canada, on the other hand, had a freezer full of organic beef bones, but noone to give them away to! A chunk of bone is the basis of a great meal, full of improtant nutrients.

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