Guy’s news: Factories, farming & feedlots

After three months spent eating five tonnes of silage (pickled grass) each, the cows were turned out to pasture last week, putting a spring and the occasional buck into the step of even the most aged. Cows are invariably healthier and happier outside, eating the fresh grass their giant rumen (a kind of onboard anaerobic digester) evolved to make digestible. Taking them to the food, where
they can return the fertility via urine and faeces, makes more sense than burning fuel hauling the food to them and then the muck back out again.

However, energy is cheap and around the world beef and dairy cows are being moved from pasture to confined ‘feedlots’ at an alarming rate (though the practice is forbidden in organic farming). The commercial drivers are the benefits of scale, labour-saving and the predictability that comes with removing the influence of seasons and weather, but all at a cost. The system produces less
healthy meat and dairy (now proven to have the wrong balance of fats) and the increased environmental risks that arise when you move away from traditional, self-reliant farm systems to commercially driven agribusiness, propped up by globally traded grain and fertilisers. Feeding ruminants grain and soya is environmental insanity; if feedlot farming bore all the externalised costs (currently paid for by the rest of us), they would be out of business.

But dogmatism either way seldom makes for good farming. Compromise, ducking and diving and managing risk works better; something family farms are much better at than big business. A few days after turnout we had a downpour and the cows had to come in again as wet pasture is quickly damaged by 1200 heavy hooves. Factory managers love standard operating procedures (SOPs); once you have standardised you can de-skill, up-scale, mechanise, drive out cost and offer the standard product a supermarket wants. But an SOP is no use if it leaves you driving cows through a quagmire in the rain. Attempts to standardise farming have generally not been successful due to its inherent interaction with an unstandardised nature. By excluding nature, feedlots can allow this profit-making standardisation and scale; I suspect we will all be the poorer for it, especially the cows.

4 responses to “Guy’s news: Factories, farming & feedlots

  1. Andrea Bradley

    While folks expect to be able to buy ‘cheap’ beef there will always be those who are happy to provide it no matter what the cost to animal welfare. When you see the way humans behave towards others, I suspect that animal welfare comes low down on their list of priorities, if it’s there at all. And as for the environmental impact, I don’t think that gets a look in. So many people seem ok with littering their own area of countryside – I see this daily when out for a constitutional so hoping they care about what poor animal management does to the world is a vain hope, sadly.

  2. Andrea Bradley

    But we still have to try to encourage good practice and support, through purchasing power, those that try to farm ethically. Sorry – last post a bit negative so thought I should add to it with something a bit more upbeat!

  3. Anna Twinberrow-Carr

    Not so much a response to your latest news comments Guy. Just wanted to say I’m sure we’d have forgiven you for excitedly mentioning Geetie is to be the co presenter, along with Kate Humble of BBC2’s new Tuesday series ‘Back to the Land’. I for one am really looking forward to watching the programme. It’s on at 8pm.

  4. Hi Guy,
    I am not a farmer but even I know that the first rule of farming is to have the ability and skills to keep the Soil fertile and when it comes to animals to do the right thing for them.
    I can not help to observe that post industrial revolution and post social revolution and post second world war many people took to farming who were not farmers before or true farmers from the heart, they lacked experience. During those times around 1930s and post war the modern invention of artificial fertilizers and pesticides took off. It made farming easier (no need for skills). Anybody could be a farmer. Now after only about 87 years later it is quite clear that nobody foreseen then the long terms effects of artificial fertilizers and pesticides on Soil and the effects of “conventional” farming on the climate.
    I do not understand why some do not see that healthy proper farming is the rule in life. Maintaining natural network of life (organic) is the rule to be observed. Anything less is not good enough.
    Perhaps the long term side effects of revolutions and lack of responsibilities and devastating post war effects can be seen demonstrating themselves also in degradation of the Soil and the climate change today. There seem to be no way to speak and plead sense to decision making conventional farmer ( new farmer) as if rules did not apply there.
    However I do understand that people are stuck in this situation and lots of investments and lots of organic skilled people are needed to guide to change over.
    Although Nature is unstandardized it sets standards to be observed.
    I also would like to take opportunity and thank You for Your ways.

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