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Pasture-Based Farming Enhances Animal Welfare

Many of the news clippings below explain how farm animals benefit when they are kept out of the feedlots and allowed to mature on pasture at a normal rate of growth and production. Other items show how factory farming compromises their health and well-being. As you will see, there is a dramatic difference between the two systems of production. Choosing meat, eggs, and dairy products from grass-based farms is a highly effective way to enhance animal welfare.

New term you need to know: “by-product feedstuffs”

Fresh pasture and dried grasses are the natural diet of all ruminant animals. In factory farms, animals are switched to an unnatural diet based on corn and soy. But corn and soy are not the only ingredients in their “balanced rations.” Many large-scale dairy farmers and feedlot operators save money by feeding the cows “by-product feedstuffs” as well. In general, this means waste products from the manufacture of human food. In particular, it can mean sterilized city garbage, candy, bubble gum, floor sweepings from plants that manufacture animal food, bakery, potato wastes or a scientific blend of pasta and candy.

Here are some of the “by-product feedstuffs commonly used in dairy cattle diets in the Upper Midwest.”*

  • Candy. Candy products are available through a number of distributors and sometimes directly from smaller plants… They are sometimes fed in their wrappers…. Candies, such as cull gummy bears, lemon drops or gum drops are high in sugar content.
  • Bakery Wastes. Stale bread and other pastry products from stores or bakeries can be fed to dairy cattle in limited amounts. These products are sometimes fed as received without drying or even removal of the wrappers.
  • Potato Waste is available in potato processing areas, and includes cull potatoes, French fries and potato chips. Cull fresh potatoes that are not frozen, rotten, or sprouted can be fed to cows either whole or chopped. Potato waste straight from a processing plant may contain varying amounts of inedible or rotten potatoes. French fries and chips contain fats or oils from frying operations.
  • Starch. Unheated starch is available from some candy manufacturers and sometimes may contain pieces of candy.
  • Pasta is available from pasta plants and some ingredient distributors as straight pasta or in blends with other ingredients, such as candy.

*This list is excerpted from “By-Product Feedstuffs in Dairy Cattle Diets in the Upper Midwest,” published in 2008 by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Healthy Eggs: What We Knew in 1932

In the 1930s, animal scientists were trying to determine the best diet for cows, pigs, and chickens that were raised in confinement. It was a time of trial and error.

In a 1993 experiment conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, breeding hens were taken off pasture and fed a wide variety of feed ingredients. When the birds were fed a diet that was exclusively soy or corn or wheat or cottonseed meal, the chickens didn’t lay eggs or the chicks that developed from the eggs had a high rate of mortality and disease.

But when birds were fed these same inadequate diets and put back on pasture, their eggs were perfectly normal. The pasture grasses and the bugs made up for whatever was missing in each of the highly restrictive diets.

“The effect of diet on egg composition.” Journal of Nutrition 6(3) 225-242. 1933.

Could This be the Tipping Point?

On January 30th, the Humane Society released a video of extreme animal cruelty taken by an undercover reporter working at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, California. The video shows pictures of sick and injured cattle being prodded by forklifts and shocked with electric probes in an effort to get them to stand up. “Downer” cattle—those that are too sick or lame to walk—cannot be slaughtered according to federal law. The workers were attempting to get around this ruling by forcing the animals to stand up. Click here to see the video. We want to forewarn you that it shows graphic pictures of extreme abuse.

To make matters even worse, meat from this slaughter facility goes to the school lunch program in dozens of states around the country.

Refusing to buy feedlot meat is one way to protest this horrific behavior. Writing to your government representatives is another.

Humane Slaughter

Ranchers who raise their cattle on grass from birth to market do not send their animals to large slaughter houses such as the Hallmark Meat Packing Company where extreme cases of abuse were recently documented. (See post directly above.) Instead, they slaughter the animals on the farm or take them to small, independent slaughter facilities.

Ranchers who drive their grass-fed cattle to an abattoir go to great lengths to keep the animals calm. Some bring along cattle that are not earmarked for slaughter to give the animals the comfort of being with their herd mates. Many ranchers watch the entire slaughter process to ensure that their animals are being treated humanely every step of the way.

Some ranchers practice “field slaughter.” In this case, they approach the animal out on the pasture, making sure not to trigger alarm. Then they kill it with a bullet to the head. The animal dies instantly and has no opportunity to experience pain. Other ranchers contract with a specially designed mobile slaughter facility that comes to the farm and manages the entire process from killing the animals to preparing the carcass for the aging process.

Typically, a grass-based ranch has fewer than 150 animals, and the owners can identify each animal by sight. Their goal is to make sure all the animals are well fed and cared for and do not experience unnecessary stress at any time of their lives.

To find a pasture-based rancher in your area, click here. Ask the farmers about their slaughtering protocol.

Feedlot diets are a recipe for animal discomfort and disease

Consumers are beginning to realize that taking ruminants off their natural diet of pasture and fattening them on grain or other feedstuff diminishes the nutritional value of the meat and milk. But what does a feedlot diet do to the health and well-being of the animals?

1) The first negative consequence of a feedlot diet is a condition called "acidosis." During the normal digestive process, bacteria in the rumen of cattle, bison, or sheep produce a variety of acids. When animals are kept on pasture, they produce copious amounts of saliva that neutralize the acidity. A feedlot diet is low in roughage, so the animals do not ruminate as long nor produce as much saliva. The net result is "acid indigestion."

2) Over time, acidosis can lead to a condition called "rumenitis," which is an inflammation of the wall of the rumen. The inflammation is caused by too much acid and too little roughage. Eventually, the wall of the rumen becomes ulcerated and no longer absorbs nutrients as efficiently.

3) Liver abscesses are a direct consequence of rumenitis. As the rumen wall becomes ulcerated, bacteria are able to pass through the walls and enter the bloodstream. Ultimately, the bacteria are transported to the liver where they cause abscesses. From 15 to 30 percent of feedlot cattle have liver abscesses.

4) Bloat is a fourth consequence of a feedlot diet. All ruminants produce gas as a by-product of digestion. When they are on pasture, they belch up the gas without any difficulty. When they are switched to an artificial diet of grain, the gasses can become trapped by a dense mat of foam. In serious cases of bloat, the rumen becomes so distended with gas that the animal is unable to breathe and dies from asphyxiation.

5) Feedlot polio is yet another direct consequence of switching animals from pasture to grain. When the rumen becomes too acidic, an enzyme called "thiaminase" is produced which destroys thiamin or vitamin B-1. The lack of vitamin B-1 starves the brain of energy and creates paralysis. Cattle that are suffering from feedlot polio are referred to as "brainers."

Typically, feedlot managers try to manage these grain-caused problems with a medicine chest of drugs, including ionophores (to buffer acidity) and antibiotics (to reduce liver abscesses). A more sensible and humane approach is to feed animals their natural diet of pasture, to which they are superbly adapted.

Feedlot cattle succumb to dust pneumonia

Stripped of all living matter, feedlots can become a mud bath in wet weather and a dust bowl in dry weather. When it's dusty, the cattle are at risk for "dust pneumonia," according to USDA-ARS researcher Julie Morrow-Tesch, PhD from Texas Tech University who studies the behavior and physiology of feedlot cattle. She reports that "The level of dust on feedlots can be high, which springs the cattle's immune system into action and keeps it running on a constant basis." She has found that many of the respiratory deaths in feedlot cattle can be attributed to dust pneumonia.

Animals that are kept on pasture do not have "dust pneumonia" because they are in a natural environment where the dirt is carpeted with a dense mat of nutritious grass and legumes.

How much ammonia can chickens tolerate?

preening chickensTypically, large amounts of ammonia accumulate in confinement poultry operations, peaking when the animals reach market size. The levels can reach as high as 50 parts per million. To see how chickens react to ammonia fumes, scientists exposed them to concentrations of 0, 25, and 45 parts per million. Not surprisingly, the researchers reported that the chickens "foraged, preened, and rested significantly more in the fresh air than in the ammonia-polluted environments." The scientists noted that the hens were equally distraught when the ammonia levels were 25 or 45 ppm, leading them to conclude that "ammonia may be aversive to hens" even at very low concentrations.

The preening pastured hens in the above picture have the good fortune of breathing unpolluted air all of the time. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

("The preferences of laying hens for different concentrations of atmospheric ammonia." Applied Animal Behavior and Science, 2000. 68:307-318.)

In the feedlot, it's considered "natural" for cattle to be sick

Feedlot Magazine, a monthly periodical for the cattle industry, offers a candid portrayal of animal welfare as seen from the point of view of the feedlot manager. "Subacute acidosis" is a condition that comes from feeding ruminants an excessive amount of grain, i.e., the amount given to most cattle being raised in feedlots. Animals with this condition are plagued with diarrhea, go off their feed, pant, salivate excessively, kick at their bellies, and eat dirt. But according to the industry, this is a normal and expected situation. "Every animal in the feedlot will experience subacute acidosis at least once during the feeding period," the article notes. It then goes on to reassure readers that this is "an important natural function in adapting to high-grain finishing rations..."

We beg to differ. There is nothing "natural" about subacute acidosis. It's a chronic belly ache brought about by switching animals from their natural diet of pasture to an artificial, high-grain concentrate.

Read the article in its entirety...

Two years and Bossy is hamburger

The typical dairy cow raised in a confinement dairy is injected with hormones to increase her milk production. Then after only two year's on the job, she's slaughtered and turned into hamburger because she's either sick, lame, fails to breed, or is a less than stellar producer. The average cull rate in the dairy industry is 30 percent. That means that each year, almost a third of our dairy cows are slaughtered and replaced with new heifers.

A cow that's treated well, spared the hormones, and raised on pasture can be expected to produce milk for ten years or more. The cull rate in a grass-based dairy can be as low as 7 percent. The money that a farmer saves by not having to replace a third of the herd every year helps offset the fact that a cow free of artificial hormones produces less milk. Bossy gets the respect that she deserves and consumers get hormone-free, nutrient-rich milk.

The low-tech solution to preventing shipping fever? Don't ship them!

Around six months of age, virtually all the calves being raised for the meat market are rounded up and shipped to distant feedlots. About a week after arrival, a high percentage of them come down with "shipping fever," a viral infection that is the biggest killer of beef cattle. The disease costs U.S. and Canadian producers more than $1 billion a year. The cause of the disease is simple. The shipping ordeal stresses the animals, which compromises their immune systems. Then they are thrown in with calves from other ranches, exposing them to a host of new viruses.

To combat shipping fever, the USDA's Agricultural Resource Service (ARS) developed a genetically engineered vaccine, which the ARS then licensed to pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough. Soon, there will be yet one more drug in the feedlot arsenal and yet more revenue for Schering-Plough.

A better way to fight the disease, say producers of pastured products, is to keep the calves home on the range. Calves that stay on pasture live such low-stress lives and are exposed to so few viruses that they rarely get sick.

Grassfarmers experiment with low-stress weaning

Weaning is a stressful time for calves, especially if they are weaned just before being shipped to distant feedlots. Calves that are raised and finished on pasture are not subjected to the stress of shipping because they remain on the farm from birth to market. But the calves still have to be separated from their moms, so a number of grassfarmers are experimenting with ways to ease this transition. One technique is called "across the fence" weaning. In this case, the calves are removed from their mothers but are kept separated from them by only a minimal fence. Because the cows and calves can still see, smell, and hear each other, weaning tends to be less stressful.

Another stress-reduction technique is called "delayed weaning." In this variation, the calf remains with its mother for a few months longer than customary. Ranchers report that the older calves accept separation more easily. There may be advantages for the producers as well. Jim Girt of the River Run Farm in Clatskanie, OR has found that his late-weaned calves were healthier and weighed 90 pounds more at slaughter than closely related calves that had been weaned at the normal time.

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Pastured cattle can follow a natural eating schedule, resulting in less stress and injury

When allowed to range freely, cattle enjoy a twilight grazing session. They like to graze in the early evening because the temperature is more moderate, the flies are less persistent, and the grass tastes sweeter.

Most feedlot cattle, on the other hand, are fed in the morning. This means they have nothing to eat in the evening when their instincts are telling them to graze. This could be why they are more aggressive in the early evening, says animal behaviorist Julie Morrow-Tesch. She believes that the nightly pushing and shoving matches that she has witnessed on Texas feedlots "are a substitute for cattle's instinctive twilight grazing." She estimates that these evening melees cost feedlot operators an average of $70 per head. The cost would be even higher if environmental factors were taken into account, she says, because the disruptive behavior "can raise dust levels above allowable limits."

One possible solution is to feed the cattle in the evening. Morrow-Tesche tested this theory and found that evening feeding halved the number of aggressive incidents. But a more far-reaching solution would be to raise the animals on pasture. Grassfed animals are not only "better behaved," their meat is more beneficial for consumers.

Read more about the Morrow-Tesch study...

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And now—pot scrubbers!

In the "what will they think of next" category, feedlot nutritionists have been experimenting with substituting kitchen pot scrubbers for hay. Feedlot cattle need some roughage in their diet in addition to the grain concentrate or they will become sick and gain weight more slowly. But why bring in all that bulky hay, reasoned investigators, when pot scrubbers might do the trick? To test this novel idea, the scientists fed a group of steers a high-grain diet and then inserted either zero, four, or eight plastic scrubbers into each animal's rumen (stomach). The experiment appeared to work. "From day 113 to 152, steers provided with pot scrubbers had 16% greater average daily gain than those fed the 100% concentrate diet without pot scrubbers."

Wouldn't it be gratifying if the money spent on this questionable study had been spent on exploring the health benefits of raising animals on pasture?

(Loerch, S. C. (1991). "Efficacy of plastic pot scrubbers as a replacement for roughage in high- concentrate cattle diets." J Anim Sci 69(6): 2321-8.)

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Sickness rampant in feedlots

In a 1999 study, Oklahoma State University researchers scrutinized the health of 222 calves that were raised in South Dakota and then shipped to Kansas to be fattened in a typical feedlot. The main focus of the study was a common feedlot disease called bovine respiratory disease or BRD. During the 150-day stay at the feedlot, half of the cattle were treated for BRD, some of them more than once. Even more troubling, examination of the animals at slaughter revealed that 37 percent of the animals that had not been treated for BRD had lung lesions characteristic of the disease. In total, 87 percent of the cattle had been either treated for BRD or had suffered from the disease and escaped diagnosis.

(Gardner, B.A., et al, "Health of Finishing Steers: Effects on Performance, Carcass Traits, and Meat Tenderness." J. Animal Science, 1999. 77:3168-75.)

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A novel way to recycle your phone books

Animal researchers have discovered an efficient way to recycle paper: feed it to cows! In a dubious feeding experiment, scientists ground up telephone books, glossy magazines, computer cards, computer printout sheets, newspapers, cardboard boxes, feed sacks, brown bags, and coasters. Then they soaked the paper in whey to make a sort of paper mache. "Based on in vitro digestibilities," they reported in the Journal of Dairy Science, "we conclude that it is possible to recycle selected paper/whey combinations through ruminants."

Possible, yes. But desirable??

(Becker, B. A., J. R. Campbell, et al. "Paper and whey as a feedstuff for ruminants." J Dairy Sci 58(11): 1677-81.)

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Ascites—a common condition in factory-raised broilers—causes severe distress

Forcing meat chickens to grow quickly, which is standard industry practice, can result in heart failure or "ascites." The underlying problem is that the chickens develop so rapidly that their heart muscles cannot keep pace. Ascites kills millions of birds worldwide and costs the industry an estimated $500 billion per year.

The toll is not just financial. Canadian researchers investigating the course of the disease determined that during the final stages of ascites, birds are severely distressed. "In advanced stages, the birds are unable to reach the drinkers and become dehydrated. Death is usually preceded by prolonged agony, and is likely a result of dehydration, starvation, respiratory failure, and heart failure. Given the severity of symptoms and chronic nature of this condition, the ascites syndrome must be addressed as an animal welfare problem."

("Ascites in Broiler Chickens from a Welfare Point of View" A. A. Olkowski and H. L. Classen. Department of Animal & Poultry Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, S7N 5B5, Canada)

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Compared with factory farms, Tweedy's Egg Farm is a "Chikin" Sanctuary

DreamWork's delightful summer 2000 movie "Chicken Run" failed to convey the abusive conditions found in our modern poultry facilities. In the movie, the cartoon hens are trying to escape from Tweedy's Egg Farm to an idyllic island where they can free range. Although Tweedy's Egg Farm is far from ideal, it is decidedly better than American confinement operations. At Tweedy's, the chickens are treated to individual bunks, roomy coops, and have plenty of room to roam outside. Compared with confinement operations, Tweedy's Egg Farm is what heroes Ginger and Rocky would consider a "Chikin Sanctuary." Our factory birds would be trying to escape to Tweedy's---not away from it!

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Fattening animals in feedlots increases their risk of heat stress and death

July and August are high-risk months for cattle in Midwest feedlots. The heat, humidity, and long hours of daylight can result in a four percent mortality rate. Inadequate shelter is a primary cause of the heat stress. Another is the fact that the animals are standing on concrete, dirt, and manure which trap the heat, making the ground at least eight degrees hotter than a natural, pasture environment.

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Researchers are turning bison into feedlot cattle

Bison are superbly adapted to year-round range feeding. They are extremely hardy, tolerating cold weather better than cattle. In addition, they cope with the limited forage available in the winter months by an automatic slow down of their metabolic rate. Even when confined to a feedlot and fed a constant ration, bison will eat less and put on less weight in the winter months, clinging to a physiology that allowed them to survive on the open plains.

Efforts are underway to sabotage these survival traits. For example, researchers theorize that raising bison under artificial lighting conditions will "trick" them into thinking winter is over, speeding up their metabolism. The animals will then eat more of the artificial feedlot diet and increase their rate of gain. Not mentioned is the fact that they will also pack on more saturated fat and lose more of the rich store of omega-3 fatty acids and selenium they gleaned while on pasture.

Read more about on-going efforts to turn free-range bison into feedlot cattle...

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Let them eat grass!

Although most feedlot diets supply enough nutrients to satisfy minimum vitamin requirements, mistakes do get made. In an incident reported in a veterinary journal, cattle being fattened in a feedlot were fed a diet deficient in vitamin A. (The vitamin had been added to the rations, but had been destroyed by heat and humidity.) Deprived of this key vitamin, the cattle suffered blindness and convulsions. Interestingly, heifers fed this same vitamin-A-deficient diet were free of symptoms, and, when tested, were found to have adequate levels of vitamin A in their blood. The researchers were puzzled until they discovered that the heifers had been able to forage on sparse grasses and weeds found along their fence row. Apparently, the grass was so rich in vitamin A that even these meager gleanings were enough to compensate for the vitamin-deficient feedlot diet.

("Divers TJ, et al, "Blindness and convulsions associated with vitamin A deficiency in feedlot steers." J Am Vet Med Assoc 1986 Dec 15;189(12):1579-82.")

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Raising chicken and cattle on the same pasture benefits both

In sharp contrast to the previous story, chickens and cattle can be of great benefit to each other when raised together on pasture. Ideally, the cows graze the pasture first, followed by the chickens a few days later. The chickens eat the fly larvae that are just emerging from the fresh cattle manure, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fly control. In addition, the chicken manure increases the protein content of the pasture. Glen Fukomoto from the Cooperative Extension Service on the Big Island of Hawaii found that four weeks after being grazed by chickens, the grasses were 37 percent higher in protein. (20 percent versus 14 percent.) The cows were treated to this extra helping of protein the next time they grazed the pasture. And since the chickens were raised drug-free, their manure was free of toxins. The cattle got no hidden surprises.

(For a detailed account of life on a multi-species, holistic farm, read the article on Joel Salatin's Polyface farm featured in the July, 2000 edition of the Smithsonian magazine.)

(Fukomoto, G., "Pastured Poultry Production, An Evaluation of its Sustainability in Hawaii." Livestock Management, April 1999, LM-1.)

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Can bubblegum replace fresh pasture??

In 1999, the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois designed a study to determine the desirability of feeding stale chewing gum and its wrappers to cows. The researchers found that feeding the novel mixture was "safe" and practical. In fact, they concluded that the innovative feed improved the overall diet. "Results of both experiments suggest that chewing gum/packaging material can replace up to 30% of corn-alfalfa diets for growing steers with advantages for improving dry matter intake and digestibility."

Needless to say, the scientists did not bother to determine how the bubble gum and aluminum foil wrappers influenced the nutrient content of the meat.

(Wolf BW et al, "Effects of a return chewing gum/packaging material mixture on in situ disappearance and on feed intake, nutrient digestibility, and ruminal characteristics of growing steers." J Animal Science 1999. 77:3392-7.)

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Cheap chicken. You get what you pay for.

To bring us cheap chicken, commercial producers have been dramatically speeding the growth rate of broilers. In 1950, chickens took 12 weeks to reach four pounds. Today, through a combination of selective breeding, growth promoters, and high-energy feed, broilers reach four pounds in just six weeks. This speedy growth saves us money at the check-out stand.

It also kills a growing number of birds. Commercial chickens grow so quickly that their hearts and lungs can barely sustain them. As the demand for oxygen increases, their hearts beat more rapidly. If the demand continues, their right ventricles become enlarged and eventually fail. Called "ascites," this condition kills millions of birds worldwide and costs the industry an estimated $500 billion per year. (Learn more about ascites...)

More and more consumers are rejecting this false economy.. They are choosing to pay more for healthy birds that are raised outdoors without the use of growth promoters or feed antibiotics. Their families get a richer supply of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in the bargain.

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Switching cattle from grass to grain can be lethal

Few people realize that a diet with a preponderance of grain is an unnatural diet for ruminants such as cattle and bison. Even when a high-grain diet is introduced slowly over a period of weeks, which is the standard practice in feedlots, numerous health problems can arise, including "Sudden Death Syndrome," a lethal disease.

The following experiment is a striking example of the foreign nature of a grain-based feedlot diet. In an effort to better understand Sudden Death Syndrome, researchers fed a starchy, grain-based meal to an Angus steer and a Jersey cow that had been maintained on alfalfa hay. Within hours, the contents of the rumen of the animals became much more acid, plummeting from a normal pH of 7.1 to 3.8. "Both animals exhibited anorexia [an unwillingness to eat] and depression..." The cow developed laminitis (a painful inflammation) and dehydration. After two days of testing, the animals were switched back to hay. It proved too late for the Jersey cow, however. She died despite "fluid, corticosteroid, and antihistamine therapy."

To an animal unaccustomed to eating large amounts of grain, one grain-based meal can be fatal. Grassfed cattle, bison, and sheep remain on their original diet of pasture and hay their entire lives and never have to undergo the stress of adapting to an artificial diet.

(J.R. Wilson et al, "Analyses of rumen fluid from sudden death lactic acidotic and healthy cattle fed a high concentrate ration." J. of Animal Science, 41:1249-1254, 1975.)

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Cattle gain faster on afternoon hay

Cattle that put on weight quickly get to market sooner— increasing profits for the producer. Commercial feedlot operations speed gain by feeding animals grain, treating them with synthetic hormones, and doctoring their food with antibiotics. Grassfarmers have found a better solution: feed the animals the type of food they like. When the animals' preferences are taken into account, they eat more and put on weight more quickly.

A surprisingly simple way to increase weight gain in the winter months is to feed animals hay that was harvested in the afternoon. A USDA study shows that cattle, sheep, and goats will eat 50 percent more of this afternoon hay. Why? Grass has a higher percentage of carbohydrates at this time of day, and the researchers speculate that the animals like this high-energy, sweeter, more digestible grass.

(Data below comes from Shewmaker, G.E., et al, 1999. "Diurnal Variation in Alfalfa Quality and Implications for Testing, Western Alfalfa Improvement Conference Proceedings, June 1999.)

total nonstructural carbohydrates (TNC)

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Feeding afternoon hay to dairy cattle increases milk production just as much as synthetic hormones

Sugary afternoon hay appeals to dairy cows as well. Amazingly, a team of USDA researchers found that feeding hay harvested in the late afternoon rather than early morning increased milk production by as much as 10%—results "equivalent to those obtained by using the hormone bST." What's more, the cows fed afternoon hay gained weight, while the cows fed morning hay lost weight. The researchers estimated that harvesting hay in the afternoon increases the value of the crop by $15 a ton.

With so many concerns about hormone-laced dairy products, one wonders why these observations have not received more media attention. (To learn more, read Late Afternoon Cut Hay Makes More Milk.)

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Dairy Cows Raised on Pasture are Healthier

I n a website devoted to grass-based and seasonal dairying, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) reports that grass-fed dairy cows are healthier than cows raised in confinement: "By getting cows out of the barn, cow comfort is improved. Grassy pastures tend to be drier and cleaner than confinement facilities, and fresh, well-managed forage is more nutritious. Farmers report that they don't have the pneumonia, scours and mastitis they did when their cows were raised in a high-input, confinement setting." To read more about grass-based dairies, go to the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) website.

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Pastured pigs are healthier, too!

Pigs raised on pasture are healthier than pigs produced in confinement. Specifically, they have fewer problems with respiratory diseases, rhinitis, as well as foot and leg problems. A survey of Missouri hog producers demonstrated that hogs raised on pastures had the lowest health costs.

(Kliebenstein, J.B. et al. 1983. A survey of swine production health problems and health maintenance expenditures. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Vol. 1. p. 357-369.)

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Raising chickens indoors under constant light depresses their immune systems

Most of our commercial broilers are raised indoors in crowded sheds with the lights left on 23 hours a day. The constant lighting speeds their growth, getting them to market a few days earlier. But the unnatural light also depresses their immune system by suppressing their production of the immune-boosting hormone, melatonin. A new study reveals that birds with low levels of melatonin are more vulnerable to disease. The response of the poultry industry is to dose the beleaguered birds with more vaccines and antibiotics.

(Kliger et al, 2000. "Effects of photoperiod and melatonin on lymphocyte activities in male broiler chickens." Poultry Science 79:18-25.)

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Feedlot diets subject cattle to varying degrees of gastric distress

In their natural habitat, cattle eat grass, along with relatively small amounts of grain when the grass is going to seed. In the feedlot, they are fed large quantities of grain. Unaccustomed to this starchy diet, the animals can develop a condition called acidosis. According to Todd Milton, Ph.D., Extension Feedlot Specialist at the University of Nebraska, "... we cannot prevent some degree of acidosis during the feeding period, rather we must manage to prevent cattle from the more severe acidosis challenges."

(Milton, T., "Managing nutritional disorders with high-grain rations in beef cattle." Proceedings of the 2000 Intermountain Nutrition Conference, January 25-26. Publication 164 of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.)

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Wild turkeys thrive on grass, bugs, berries, seeds, and nuts

Turkeys raised on pasture have a diet that resembles their original diet. Zoologists studying wild turkeys found that "the youngsters instinctively peck at moving things - which are usually protein-rich bugs or larvae." While adult turkeys "prefer grass and other plant leaves, along with berries and bugs." Click here for more information.

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Grass-fed animal products get a bonus supply of vitamin E

The chart below shows the relative amounts of vitamin E in corn and grass. As you can see, when animals are raised on fresh pasture, they get considerably more of this important vitamin. When consumers choose grassfed products, they, too get an extra helping of this immune-boosting, age-defying antioxidant. Learn more

vitamin E levels much higher in grass than grain

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Feedlot diets low in vitamin A can cause blindness and convulsions

When cows graze on high quality, fresh pasture—their natural diet—they have ample amounts of vitamin A. When they are switched to an artificial grain diet, vitamin A deficiency is common. Very low levels of vitamin A result in "hypovitaminosis A, which is characterized by poor weight gain, ataxia, convulsions, night blindness, and total blindness. When we eat meat from feedlot animals, we, too, have less than optimal amounts of vitamin A. What is best for the cattle is best for the consumer.

(Booth, A., M. Reid, et al. (1987). "Hypovitaminosis A in feedlot cattle." Am Vet Med Assoc 190(10): 1305-8.)

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