26 March 2009

Put Livestock Back Out to Pasture

Posted by John Freeland

Grazing livestock would enhance soil fertility, raise healthier animals, and improve public health.

“…an estimated 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics and related drugs are given to animals that are not sick. This overuse of antibiotics contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, with the result that antibiotics we commonly use are becoming less effective in fighting human illnesses, including some life-threatening infections.” Union of Concerned Scientists

In the above photo, courtesy of EPA Region 8, the steel storage bins in the background hold corn for the cows. Corn is hard on the bovine digestive system, which is designed for grass. I’ve seen these kinds of “cow cities” in eastern Colorado and Texas. The business model depends on cheap corn, which puts weight on the cows much faster than green, low-carb grass.

The ground beneath the cows is actually a huge pile of manure. If one views the larger image, it’s apparent that many of the cows are sitting or lying down. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are sick, but that still looks like a lot of cows down.

The implications of this kind of factory farming extend well beyond the aesthetic to a serious public health issue. Antibiotic resistence is recognized as a major problem in treating major diseases such as MRSA, tuberculosis, staph, strep, malaria, typhoid fever, and others. Source: Center for Disease Control.

There is an alternative to this kind of beef. Grass-fed beef is available and found with a bit of searching. Information on producers by state is available from AmericanGrassFed.org and LocalHarvest.org

An additional benefit of growing perennial forage crops, or hay fields, is soil carbon capture and sequestration (CSS). With less plowing of the soil, more soil organic carbon derived from root decay and micro-organisms remains in the soil.

The era of big CAFOs really needs to be over.