Pollan, M. 2006, The Omnivores Dilemma. NY. pg. 185 – 273, The Penguin Press, New York
Who would have thought that people actually farm grass, and no I don’t mean grasses grown for their fruits such as in corn, rice or barley, but “cosmetic” grasses that we are used to mowing and mulching over the tree in our suburban front yards or seeing as huge tufts when we go hiking in our great grasslands. Well, coming from a rural farm in the middle of the mountains, I’m not surprised at all. In my opinion, it happens to be one of the best ways to feed your livestock, at least for the environment and for the animals.
It seems that we have not only changed the way livestock eat, but also how livestock are defined. It is perfectly acceptable in today’s society to know that a good majority of a cow’s life is spent in a pen in a barn feeding on a grain that isn’t a part of the species’ natural diet. It saddens me to see this, since I’m sure the cows would much rather be grazing in an open pasture on long green tender leaves that provide most of the nutrients and vitamins that they require to stay completely healthy. Reading this week’s section of this book showed me that there is a ray of hope for grass feeding to become the norm once again and not something that just small time farmers such as myself practice. In this section, Pollan visits a rancher, Joel Salatin, who truly believes in grass-fed livestock and follows the path that grass-fed beef takes from the pasture to the plate over a course of five chapters. I think that this visit helped Pollan understand the proper way of raising animals, as well as the reasoning behind the choice to grass feed livestock, which allowed him to write an entire chapter of his book on the subject. It’s stubborn traditional farmers like Joel that I tend to have a lot of respect for.
Growing up, all of my family’s livestock were not grain-fed (other than the occasional treat of oats for the horses), but they were set in the middle of an open hay field. This hay field is irrigated by a large irrigation system fed by a pipeline dug into the stone of the mountain. Other than a yearly drive to the Lytton highway hayfields for a load of supplementary high quality grass to feed the livestock in the winter (since we never did cut and bale our own after the year of winter-kill), this was a truly fossil fuel-free way to feed livestock. Of course, with this type of feeding comes great responsibility: the animals must be rotated around the plot of grass to not completely destroy the natural habitat. Also, I can’t stress how important it is to not let livestock out of the enclosure or barn for extended periods of time. They will eat themselves to death on a member of the fabacea family: metacago sativa. Livestock, in my experience, love this stuff and will not stop for anything (sickness included) in order to get their lips on it. I can remember days where I would go around the pasture cutting this crap to nubs with a hand sickle, and throwing it in our compost heap.
Not only does grain feeding animals on corn cause a decrease in nutrients and vitamins in a naturally grass-fed animal’s diet, but the cramped dusty lifestyle they live promotes disease so we must pump them full of antibiotics and hormones, which in turn, we consume on the dinner plate. Grass-feeding these animals in an open pasture requires none of this nonsense, allowing farmers to cut down on medical bills and expensive formulas they don’t really need.
Not only is this change beneficial for the cattle, but it can also be beneficial for us directly as well. I used to take fish oil supplements for my joint clicking during workouts, but they are so darned expensive, forcing me to take alternate routes through diet. I always thought that eating fish and plant products were the only sources of substantial omega-3 fatty acids, but my father surprisingly told me once that eating grass-fed beef yields the recommended dosage of omega-3 as well. I love all seafood, however it’s not always the cheapest option to obtain some of this stuff. Then again, neither is beef anymore…