The Truth About Feedlots

Feedlots are depicted as gross, dirty, small and dangerous. That is not the case at all.A feedlot is a type of animal feeding operation, or AFO. Feedlots actually allow for 125 to 250 square feet of space per animal. This may not sound like a lot, but cattle are gregarious animals. They enjoy the company of other animals. Even cattle in large pastures will group together.

How confining are feedlots?Feedlot pens allow for 125 to 250 square feet of space for animal

Here are some numbers that a farmer who runs a concentrated animal feeding operation calculated.

New York City, NY spans 302.64 square miles and is home to 8,405,837 people which equals 27,775 people per square mile.

Manhattan, New York spans 22.96 square miles and is home to 1,626,159 people which equals 70,825 people per square mile.

The feedlot portion of her farm spans 0.156 square miles and is home to 2,772 bovines which equals 17,769 cattle per square mile.

Cattle are more confined in a feedlot than they would be in a pasture, but that does not automatically mean that they are unhappy and unhealthy.

Why/How are feedlots used?

A feedlot in Texas

A feedlot in Texas.

Feedlots are used to help cattle put on weight quickly. At feedlots cattle are fed grain with varying levels of protein that are adjusted over time. The lowest level of protein and grain is fed when the cattle first come into the feed yard. This provides the cattle’s digestive system with time to adjust to their new diet. This is necessary, not because grain is bad for a cow’s diet, but because completely changing a diet in any animal, including humans, can be unhealthy.

This type of diet allows the cattle to grow quicker than if they had lived off grass for the rest of their life. This provides for the delicious marbling that we love in our steaks. How is this possible? Because “..we focus on providing a readily digestible, high-energy diet; reducing the amount of energy expended to find food, directing more toward growth, and managing the cattle to minimize stress and health problems,” explain Ryan Goodman, in his blog.

The cattle that come to feedlots come from green pastures. That means that all cattle are grass-fed at one time, they just are not finished on grass.

How are cattle treated? Cow horses in a feedlot.

Cattle are not abused at feedlots, they are actually cared for extremely well. In feedlots there are cowboys whose only job is riding around and checking each pen multiple times a day. This means that cattle in feedlots are constantly being looked at, so if any problem arises it is easily noticed and fixed. Some people might even argue that cattle are treated better in feedlots, because they have constant supervision and care.

I have personally seen many feed yards, mainly out west, that proved to me they’re similar to other farmers and ranchers; they care for their cattle every day, no matter the weather.

If you are interested in touring a cattle feedlot, feel free to contact me and I will put you in contact with someone that can help. Or you can visit this website for a virtual tour! After seeing the truth about feedlots, first-hand or virtually, I hope you better understand why and how they are used. Just because there is a higher concentration of animals does not mean that abuse occurs. 


The Truth About Antibiotics in Chickens

Consumers are worried about what goes into the food they eat. And rightfully so, if you’re putting it into your body you should know what goes into its body and why. After my post about the truth about hormones in poultry I was asked multiple times to write a post about antibiotics in chickens, so after a good bit of time (sorry!) and research from trusted sources I hope that this blog will help answer your questions about the antibiotics used in the poultry industry.

The different antibiotics used in humans and beef cattleIn a previous post about antibiotics and hormones in beef I discussed how the antibiotics used in animal agriculture medicine are usually not the same ones used in human medicine. This remains true for the poultry industry as well. A few of the antibiotics for humans and livestock are in the same drug class, but the FDA regulates these and establishes proper use levels along with withdrawal times. When used as directed by the FDA they pose no health issues. So there is very little possibility for antibiotic resistance because of being fed to livestock.

Antibiotics are used in the poultry industry to prevent and treat diseases. One common misunderstanding is that antibiotics act as growth promotants, but they do not. In poultry antibiotics simply dramatically reduce the amount of harmful and wasteful bacteria in the gut of a chicken. Antibiotics keep chickens healthy which therefore makes them more efficient in converting feed to energy.

ucm378110Ray Abner Director of US Poultry Business Unit and Global Strategic Accounts for Phibro explains why antibiotics are helpful, “When poultry encounter harmful pathogens, not only do these bacteria rob nutrients, but much of the chickens’ protein and energy intake must go towards defense mechanisms. This inhibits growth.” By using antibiotics to keep chickens healthy we are aiding in producing more of one of the worlds favorite sources of meat. Also by using antibiotics we are helping keep the poultry industry more sustainable. The University of Georgia did a study to see the impacts of going antibiotic free, ABF, in producing chickens Continue Reading

A Dairy Misconception: Malnourished Cows


Finding these cows similarities, could be difficult but finding the differences are very easy. As for similarities: they are both female cattle (cows) that have calved semi recently. It is obvious in the picture in the right of the Hereford because she has a calf beside her, in the picture of the Jersey (on the left) there is no calf but you can tell that she has calved somewhat recently because of her large udder.

As for the differences, their builds contrast one another. The Jersey on the left looks skinny, as her hip bones and ribs are showing. The Hereford is very stoutly built, she has adequate rib shape and depth. The Hereford is nursing a calf at her side, but produces less milk than the Jersey. Lactation in any animal, including humans, is the single most energy demanding activity.  Hereford cattle produce about 10-12 pounds of milk a day, while Jersey cattle produce around 50 pounds a day, which takes 10x more of the cows energy. The more energy spent to produce milk is less energy that will be used to produce meat. This does not mean that the Jersey is malnourished!! As a dairy cow she just has a different body type than beef cattle. This difference in body type is because of each cows purpose.

A dairy cow being skinny is not her being malnourished, it is actually called dairy characteristics. Dairy cattle are supposed to produce milk, so they expend a lot of energy doing just that. “Producing milk and growing body tissue are different physiological processes, under different controls” says Dr. Keith Cummins a retired dairy professor from Auburn University.

I hope the next time you see a a dairy cow, either in person or in a picture you will better understand why she looks “malnourished” and understand that she is not, she is actually a perfectly healthy cow that is working very hard to produce milk for you and your family.