Desperate Farmers Are Feeding Cows Junk Food
- Wednesday, 03 October 2012
Some cattle and dairy farmers are so desperate for feed that they are buying feed that contains junk food. Yes, you read that sentence correctly! The drought plaguing big swaths of the U.S. has caused the cost of corn and soy feed to increase. A Reuters article reports that some cattle and dairy farmers are buying feed from brokers made up of such things as "cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, Froot Loops, orange peels, even dried cranberries." The article characterizes dairy and cattle farmers as "scrambling to keep their animals fed."
Feed is expensive. As the article puts it, it is "generally the largest single production expense for cattle operators." The majority of livestock in the U.S. are raised in "crowded animal factories," or confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and are fed cheap grains, namely corn. The problem with giving cows feed is that they are "designed to digest grass," as the advocacy group, Sustainable Table puts it. A corn-based diet causes health problems, the UCS claims, which include "excessively acidic digestive systems and liver abscesses." Sustainable Table believes that pasture-raised cattle "makes sense" not only for the cattle but for humans who eat beef.
If pasture-fed cattle are better, why do so many farms give them feed? As pointed out above, most U.S. livestock are raised in CAFOs. Sustainable Table answers the question quite bluntly: Factory farms are "profit driven," and as such they "use the cheapest feed available to fatten up their animals." The factory farm system relies very heavily on cheap grain, and the grains fed to the cattle are so cheap because the U.S. government gives large subsidies to farmers that produce grains such as corn and soybeans. Livestock eats 47 percent of the soy and 60 percent of the corn produced in the United States.
The drought in the U.S. has uncovered just how unsustainable it is to rely on grains to feed cattle. As a consumer, you can support the sustainable practice of pasture feeding cattle with the power of your wallet. You can choose to buy beef and dairy products from pasture-raised cattle.
Photo credit: Flickr user, C.K. Hartman