Part 1 of 5: An Introduction to Beef Cattle Feedlots

Their names were Harry and Dean, and they were two beef cattle.  Throughout the first twelve months of their lives, the two brothers blissfully roamed the Kentucky bluegrass fields, until the calves’ first birthday, when they were each sent to two distinctly different places.  Harry moved to a conventional Midwestern feedlot, where he spent the next two months of his life standing knee deep in his own feces while eating a mixture of antibiotics, chicken manure, chocolate, cement dust, corn, hooves, and pesticides.  From his pen, Harry observed the unpaved roads and open sewers until the day that he was unceremoniously slaughtered.  On the other hand, Dean was transported to another pasture in rural Kentucky, where he ate a variety of nutritious grasses until his passing.  While both brothers were then processed and shipped to Shaw’s, it was only Dean who proudly wore a label boasting “grass-fed beef.”  The lives of Harry and Dean demonstrate the profound differences between cattle raised in feedlots and grass fed cattle.  Consequently, America’s cows, citizens, health care system, and environment would greatly benefit from an increased consumer investment in grass-fed beef, as unlike its conventional counterpart, grass-fed beef is an ethical form of agriculture (Pollan).

This hypothetical story of Harry is not at all exaggerated from the lives that feedlot beef cattle lead.  Feedlots, otherwise known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are oppressive places, where a maximum of 100,000 cattle are squeezed into a mere square mile (Estabrook).  Trapped in piles of  their own manure, specks of dust, and mud, feedlot cows have no escape, as barbed wire confines them (Estabrook).  Also, feedlot cows are forced to consume a subsidized grain based diet complete with additions such as stale pastry, meat scraps, and brewery wastes (Pollan).  It’s important to note that cows are herbivores, and this grain based feed makes them fatally ill (Pollan).  Due to the cows grain-based diets and their confinement in such filthy places, feedlots account for the administering of approximately 70% of America’s antibiotics to cattle in order to prevent rampant disease (Notaras).

Every time I read that statistic, it continually shocks me.  It’s pitiful that the majority of antibiotics that are disbursed in this country are issued directly to cattle.  With this statistic, you can’t help but question the level of safety and healthfulness these animals experience in feedlots.  Furthermore, despite the absurd amount of antibiotics that feedlot beef cattle consume, we all still hear horrific stories in the news of people suffering from food-borne illnesses, which begs the question, how effective are antibiotics in eliminating questionable bacteria and reducing one’s risk of disease?   Once a single antibiotic is introduced to the feedlot cattle, a process known as antibiotic resistance can ensue (UCUSA).  It’s a vicious cycle that can be prompted when only strands of bacteria become invulnerable to the antibiotic that was intended to eradicate it (UCUSA).  Before you know it, this process results in more antibiotics being needed to obliterate an ever increasing body of resistant bacteria (UCUSA).

I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of us consume less antibiotics than the feedlot cows that provide us our beef supply.  How do you feel about this?  If you could change this, would you, or would you leave things the way that they are now?  Why?  Let me know!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Estabrook, Barry. “Feedlots vs. Pastures: Two Very Different Ways to Fatten Beef Cattle.” The Atlantic. 28 Dec. 2011. Web. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 1 June 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/feedlots-vs-pastures-two-very-different-ways-to-fatten-beef-cattle/250543/>

Notaras, Mark. Our World United Nations University. UNU Office of Communications. 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-shame-of-concentrated-animal-feedlots>

Pollan, Michael.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.

Clancy, Kate. “Greener Pastures.” UCUSA. Union of Concerned Scientists, March 2006. Web. 3 June 2014. <http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/greener-pastures.pdf>

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4 thoughts on “Part 1 of 5: An Introduction to Beef Cattle Feedlots

  1. El

    I am totally disgusted with feedlot beef cattle practices, but I am much smarter
    about my food choices because of the information you provide. Thank you for your research.

  2. Pingback: In the Name of Health…17 Food Intentions to Set in the New Year – Katie Chiffer: Nutrition Advocate, Food Blogger, & Health Enthusiast

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