The Earl’s Conundrum.

Today Earl’s Restaurants announced that they are only serving what they call Certified Humane Beef through their Conscious Sourcing Program. Earl’s claim is: At Earls, we’re committed to conscious sourcing. That’s why all our beef comes from Certified Humane® farms and is raised without the use of antibiotics, added hormones or steroids. After all, it doesn’t just feel good to do the right thing — It tastes good, too.. This beef is not sourced from farmers in Canada. As a cattle farmer, my initial reaction is anger (how dare they infer that the beef I raise isn’t humane?) and then, introspection.

Am I, as a farmer, doing enough for my cattle and to tell people my story? My family spends hours researching new management techniques, how to improve the way we raise our cattle and care for our land. I have 2 degrees in animal agriculture. My husband has an agriculture degree. My sister-in-law is a mixed animal veterinarian. Our farm has an environmental farm plan. We take pride in our cattle and how we take of them and our land.  When we know better, we do better.  To tell others about farming, we have provided time and demo cattle to school events to talk about agriculture, we host groups to tour our farm, news interveiws, and more. On days like today, it seems our voice is not enough.  I encourage anyone that has questions about farming practices to talk to a real, live farmer. Ask me, or check out resources like Farm and Food Care Canada and Ask the Farmers. Talk to farmers and veterinarians about animal care, it’s our life’s passion.

Earls cut steak

Image source : Earls.ca

Why are consumers duped into these programs?  I’m guessing this sells for the same reason many other things do…fear…fear of things we don’t understand. So few people today are directly connect to livestock production, how can you know what is best? Food is a very emotional subject, so selling a fear of other food by inferring that it is “bad” makes a good sale.  Note on Earl’s site, they use the tag line “Cut Steaks, not Corners” to make it seem like anything less than their product is sub-par. As a farmer who cares deeply for my cattle, this is super offensive.

 

 

How is it ethical or humane to withold treatment to an animal that is sick? The Earl’s program is a “Never/Never” program that is stated to that these animal have never been treated with an antibiotic in their lifetime. As a farmer, I take my animal health very seriously. We manage our cattle very tightly, but inevitably, some cattle get sick and I see it as my duty of care to treat the animal as prescribed by my veterinarian to do my best to heal the calf. We also a very careful to follow the directions on withdrawal times to be sure that when an animal is sold, there is no antibiotic left in their system.

How is being less efficient by not using hormones or steroids better for the environment? Keeping producers from using these products is actually worse for the environment. Animals that are less efficient need more resources, feed, land and water, in order to produce the same amount of beef. How is that good for the planet? The safety of these products are clear. It’s safe. The difference between implanted and non-implanted beef is negligible and a drop in the bucket compared to many other things we eat, never mind if you are a woman who uses hormonal birth control.

More technically, I have many questions for Earl’s about how the program was specifically developed, with who (beyond the Creekstone Farm’s plug in the promo video), and how it the program audited? These are big claims for Earl’s to say they are using the Gold Standard in the industry. I am curious to know how they came to the nuts and bolts of the program.

I guess at the end of the day it is about trust. Do consumers trust me, as a farmer, that I am doing the best I can for my cattle and the environment? I’d be crazy not to.

Why farm livestock and not just crops?

I’ve been involved in the Twitter hashtag #farm365 for the past month. It was developed by a dairy farmer in Ontario that comitted to posting a photo on twitter every day in 2015. There has been a lot of debate under the hashtag between vegans and farmers. I am a livestock producer and I believe in raising livestock for human consumption.  My biggest frustration is when they say “Why don’t you simply quit farming livestock and switch over to crop production?” It’s just not that simple. Where would the cattle go? Do vegans really believe cattle that are left free would be better off?  Nature can be very unforgiving, between predators and extreme weather, nature isn’t all Disney woodland creatures and bright verdant pastures.

Biological systems are extremely complex and ending animal agriculture would not end animal suffering.  Every time we displace habitats whether it be for crop production or to meet the housing requirements for growing cities we affect animals.

Not all farmland can produce crops. Some land is too hilly, dry, or doesn’t get enough rainfall produce a grain crop. Most of this land though is suitable for grazing.Globally grasslands comprise 26% of total land area and 80% of agriculturally productive land. In Saskatchewan there is 33 million acres of cropland and 15 million acres of forages and grasslands. Grazing land is amazing. Grasslands capture carbon, provide habitats for wildlife and are pretty darn beautiful. When we manage our grazing lands properly, they are very productive for cattle/sheep/bison as well.

Grasslands near Maple Creek, SK

Grasslands near Maple Creek, SK

Crop production is a very important part of agriculture as well, no question. However, many times crops that are grown for food production don’t make the quality requirements and these crops are fed to livestock; 80% of the barley that grown for malting fails to meet the quality grades and up in livestock feed. Livestock and cattle in particular, are amazing. We take low quality ingredients; use them as animal feed to produce high quality protein products.  How else could one ever convert fiber heavy grass into protein rich beef? Amazing.

Simple Land Nutrient Cycle (Source: Agriculture Canada)

Simple Land Nutrient Cycle (Source: Agriculture Canada)

Did you know cow eat all sort so food byproducts?Here as a list of a few examples:

  • Distillers grains – leftovers from beer production or ethanol production for fuel
  • Potato chips  byproduct- broken, overbaked/underbaked
  • Beet Pulp – byproduct from sugar production
  • Bakers Waste- bread products that are past date etc.
  • Citrus byprodocuts – The extra pulp from your morning glass of orange juice
  • Canola Meal – left over product after pressing out the oil for consumption
  • Screenings pellets – Uses the leftover products from when grains are cleaned for human consumption

These products are not fit for human consumption but are valuable ingredients for livestock. The rumen in cattle and sheep is an amazing organ. Bacteria in it convert fiber in sugars and protein that cows can use for growth and milk production.  Using these fibrous and off quality ingredients in feed products allows the entire food production cycle more efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing the amount of waste in landfill.

Livestock Production Helps Crops. Manure is a valuable fertilizer for crop production and one of the ONLY options for organic crop producers to fertilizer their land. Livestock systems also increase diversity in crops and crop rotations. Planting nitrogen fixing legumes such as alfalfa in a crop rotation helps maintain soil fertility and is an excellent feeds source for ruminants. In many developing countries, livestock are still used for draft power as well.

interactions crop livestock herrero_0

Main interactions in crop-livestock systems

This is why we need balanced system. Crop and livestock production are complementary systems that have very complex interactions. We need both for a sustainable system.