A world without cattle?

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is just 11%, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage of that 11%. While cattle contribute a little over 2% of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!

Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.

Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!

Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?

They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”

Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:

  • Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
  • Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
  • Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Not true. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves. When healthy fats from nutrient-dense animal proteins are removed from the diet, additional sugars and carbs are added and these have led us down the road to increased body mass and diabetes.
  • Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not true. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.

The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.

The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.

Our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet by providing necessary environmental benefits.

Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness and appreciation for the gift of life given by the animals and because of the hard work and care they have been given by the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals. This Earth Day, we are grateful for the circle of life and the farmers and ranchers and their cattle, which sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.

A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net.

Learn more about the latest research to measure emissions due to the dairy and livestock industries.

-30-

Images by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

No ‘snow days’ on the farm

cows6781By Sherry Bunting, columnist, Register-Star, Feb. 21, 2015

There are no ‘snow days’ on the farm. “When it is this cold, the simple every day protocols become enduring days of work,” notes Cody Williams of Wil-Roc Dairy, Kinderhook, where 1500 Holstein dairy cows are milked and cared for.

“We change our teat dip when it’s this cold, for extra moisturizing to the skin,” Cody explains. “We also adjust the cow diets to keep our cows in a positive energy balance as they burn more energy to maintain themselves during weather extremes.”

Operating a dairy or livestock farm in the extreme cold is not for the faint of heart. Veteran beef producer Phil Trowbridge of Ghent observes: “We know how to take care of ourselves. We dress in layers and give each other breaks.”

Frozen pipes, pumps, waterers, and manure — as well as difficulty in starting equipment — are commonly reported concerns. When the snow piles up and the temperatures plummet, concerns turn to keeping rooftops clear of a too-heavy burden and being vigilant about the increased risk of fires.

In closed group discussions throughout social media, farmers exchange ideas and seek support from each other.

When the Polar Vortex gripped the northern half of the country in 2014, farmers were up to the challenge.

Last week the mercury hit -14 at Trowbridge Angus Farm, where it is calving season January through March. The family, and their over 300 beef breeding cows, were navigating two to three feet of snow cover.

Twenty miles away near Schodack Landing, temps of -11 went virtually unnoticed by the over 700 Jersey dairy cows at Dutch Hollow Farm. They are tucked away in their barns with retractable sidewall curtains that stay open more often than not for natural light and ventilation but remain closed when the wind chills get this low.

Cattle are cold weather animals, but they do not like wind or drafts. The difference between beef and dairy breeds is the way their centuries-old partnership with man has adapted through specialized breeding and care.

IMG_1939x

Beef breed cattle are kept outside pretty much year-round, coming into the barn only at calving time. Dairy cattle, on the other hand, are typically housed in barns year-round. While beef breed cattle spend more time foraging for their food and seeking the natural and provided windbreaks to lay down, dairy cattle in freestall barns will amble short distances inside from feedbunks and waterers to the deep-bedded stalls that are groomed for them two or three times a day while they are milking.

Dairy cows are accustomed to constant human handling from the time they are calves. 10986660_10206244497857081_5937924373439440151_oThey have a different temperament about the whole calving deal.They aren’t worried about predators and trust the humans they work beside day in and day out to care for them and their offspring.

Beef breeding cows, on the other hand, are more self-sufficient and protective of their young. They raise their offspring for the more hands-off life as a non-milking breeding animal or to spend 80% of their life foraging on pasture with the last 20% of their life in the beef fattening phase.

One thing in common: Both beef and dairy producers focus on the newborns immediately at birth to make sure each calf gets a warm start and enough colostrum for the passive transfer of immunity from its dam.

“When we get real cold weather like we have seen this winter, we spend more time in the calving barn at night. We pretty much sleep here with them when it’s this cold,” says beef producer Phil Trowbridge, who has had 50 calves born since January 1. “The main thing is to get those calves dried off and warmed up as soon as they are born, and to make sure they get enough colostrum. In two or three days, they’re old enough and strong enough to go outside.”

Not only are they prepared for cold weather, they frolic in it. “I took a video with my cell phone of the calves the other day when it was minus-11. We were putting out bedding for the cows, and saw those calves were feeling so good, they were just running through the snow,” Phil relates. “I like seeing that.”

calves

Stockpiled pasture grasses make a nice winter forage as cattle can push off a few inches or a foot of snow to graze it, and they do well getting around in the snow outdoors. But with over two feet of snow cover this winter, the Trowbridge family cuts trails to help the cattle conserve energy. They also put down extra bedding, more often, in the areas with windbreaks and feed more outdoor hay and supplement.

Meanwhile, on a dairy farm, the cows calve year-round. Calving pens are watched through video monitoring or by walk-throughs. The immediate newborn calf care continues through the first few weeks of life in the calf nursery or individual hutches. Newborns often get time in a heat box or wear calf jackets and sometimes earmuffs when it’s this cold, and they are fed more often for increased energy to maintain their temperature and to grow.

heated-box.jpg

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

“Taking care of the animals is pretty much routine. The feeding is very consistent day to day, and the freestalls are bedded twice a week,” says Paul Chittenden of Dutch Hollow
Farm.

“Clean and dry and plenty to eat are what we focus on — regardless of the weather,” he adds. “Cows always have dry sawdust with extra sawdust stored in the front of the stalls. This allows for plenty of dry bedding to stir around each time we groom the stalls when the cows go to the parlor for milking.”

webx073.jpg

Water is critical for drinking and cleaning, so lines are buried underground and drinking tubs are equipped with heaters.

“Cold weather management is really not too complicated,” explains bovine veterinarian and dairy farmer Dr. Tom Troxel. “Cows need to have plenty of feed and water, be out of the wind, and have a dry place to lay down. If they have these things, they can survive an awful lot.”

“No matter the weather, we have our jobs to do here,” notes Cody of Wil-Roc Dairy. “That is itself the reward. Getting our everyday tasks done and looking to see how the stressers of weather and other events can affect our system… That is how we keep improving how we do things all year long.”

Sherry Bunting is a member of North American Agriculture Journalists and has been covering beef and dairy production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows and graded beef cattle for market reports. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net

-30-

GL 022115-2

GL#23(photo-collage)

Dairy and beef cattle are adapted differently, but they all depend on their people for great care during the weather extremes we have seen here this winter. Farming is not for the faint of heart. Everyday tasks take longer to complete but it sure is rewarding to see cows thrive and calves frolic after a good start – regardless of the weather! Photos by Sherry Bunting, Tricia Adams and Evelyn Troutman.

‘Hope’ travels west from Virginia

Photo caption:   40 bred heifers were donated, commingled, preg-checked, and readied for travel by the Rockingham Feeder Cattle Association. They left Virginia last Thursday, Feb. 6 from Rockingham Livestock for the first leg of their journey. With the freezing temperatures and sub-zero windchills in the East this winter, they’ll be ready for western living. The Heifers for South Dakota Project strives to make a difference delivering “Hope with the hide on” and operating by the tenets of Galations 6:10. Photo by Jessica Koontz

Photo caption: 40 bred heifers were donated, commingled, preg-checked, and readied for travel by the Rockingham Feeder Cattle Association. They left Virginia last Thursday, Feb. 6 from Rockingham Livestock for the first leg of their journey. With the freezing temperatures and sub-zero windchills in the East this winter, they’ll be ready for western living. The Heifers for South Dakota Project strives to make a difference delivering “Hope with the hide on” and operating by the tenets of Galations 6:10. Photo by Jessica Koontz

*** Hope is sometimes a fragile thing, yet it can be as durable as the land and the people who are sustained by it.  Heifers for South Dakota has a beautiful facebook page where stories of hope are told. Their latest post is about the recent delivery of the last of the heifers featured in the story below. One by one, people — and heifers — are making a difference.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 7, 2014

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Ever lay in bed at night and get hit with an idea? That’s what happened to Virginia cattleman Lynn Koontz of Spring Valley Farms, Harrisonburg, after hearing and reading about South Dakota ranchers devastated by Storm Atlas last October.

“I read about the number of cattle lost and about the Heifers for South Dakota project. I got to thinking how really blessed we’ve been the past two years here,” said Koontz in a phone interview with Farmshine this week. “We’ve had super crop years, marvelous corn and cattle prices. What better time for us to take advantage of good times to help ones who fell on hard times?”

He recalled how years ago, he and his dad had dry years, “and those boys out West would load hay on rail cars and ship it East,” said Koontz, wanting to return the favor.

So Koontz, who serves as president of Rockingham Feeder Cattle Association, talked to Ty Linger, founder of the Montana-based Heifers for South Dakota project.

“There’s some desperation out there, and they would take anything with a heart beat,” said Koontz. “But we wanted to give of our best. What they really need right now is pregnant bred animals because they need something that will put money in the pocket — this fall — right away.”

The window of opportunity was short because spring calving gets underway in both regions this month. In late December, Koontz put the word out to fellow cattlemen that he was organizing a western cattle drive of sorts. He and his children donated some of their own bred heifers and asked others to do the same.

Koontz received donations of 40 bred heifers and cash from more than a dozen cattlemen in Rockingham and Augusta counties, and local businesses gave toward transportation costs.

“People told me it couldn’t be done — moving heifers out there from the East,” he said. “But I’m a little stubborn and made up my mind to do it.”

He recalled the days when he and his father still had dairy cows — milking up to 120 before getting out of the dairy business. “We used to ship heifers from here to Florida all the time,” Koontz recalled. “I’m just glad we’re able to do this.”

The 40 heifers have been commingled by Koontz at his farm near Rockingham County Fairgrounds. They were preg-checked last week and readied for transport. At dawn on Thursday, Feb. 6, they’ll board a truck at Rockingham Livestock on the first leg of their journey with a stopover at Greenville Livestock near Hugo, Illinois on the way to South Dakota.

That stopover will break the trip into two 12- to 14-hour rides. Lifelong friends Clem and Doris Huber of Illinois — with whom Koontz stayed as a kid in the 4-H exchange program — helped him locate the place to yard the cattle just off the Interstate in Illinois.

“That was the deal maker,” said Koontz. “We can let those girls off for rest, hay and water.”

Bred heifer donations are a substantial investment in young ranchers hard-hit in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. To pay current values at auction ranging $2000 to $3000 due to the national beef herd being the smallest in over 60 years and sky-high cattle prices creating stiff buying competition, makes the donations by ranchers to ranchers through the Heifers for South Dakota project even more significant. The project specifically targets young ranchers to receive the donated cattle under the mantra: “Hope with the hide on.”

To-date, Heifers for South Dakota reports delivery of 714 head of cattle to 68 ranchers with 176 head of pledged cattle still yarded. They have also received about $265,000 in monetary donations to help with transportation costs and to purchase quality bred heifers for donation.

“Value of cattle delivered into the hands of those who are hurting is in excess of $1.25 million,” according to the project’s Facebook page.

While this is a drop in the bucket — in real economic terms — the hope these donations bring has been absolutely huge. For Koontz, it’s not the cattle losses he is focused on. It is the loss of young ranchers he is hoping to help prevent.

“Like somebody told me years ago, when there’s a barn fire, as long as the problem stays in the barn, you’re in good shape,” he said. “With Storm Atlas, the real loss is where we have a young family that has put everything they have into it to get started in ranching.”

Some of those young families lost it all in October just before they would have sold that calf crop, plus they lost the cows to have another calf crop this season. That’s potentially two years without income because the fall sale of the calf crop is the income for the whole next year.

“If we lose those young ranchers out of production agriculture, that’s when we incur the big loss — losing that young person out of farming,” said Koontz. “We can replace cattle, but we cannot replace that person back on the farm. If I had the ways and means, I’d be gathering up cattle until the first of April, but I’m just one person.”

Koontz and his wife Kim operate their cow-calf and cattle backgrounding operation, along with two broiler houses and crops. The participation in Heifers for South Dakota has been a family affair with son Bud and daughters Lacey, Katlyn, Jessica, Cindy and Vanessa all pitching in.

Koontz is working with cattlemen in other parts of the state to do a later round of open heifers for donation this summer. To learn more about Heifers for South Dakota, visit their website at http://helpforsouthdakota.com and “like” the “Heifers for S. Dakota” page on Facebook to see how ranchers are helping across the country.