“And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be satisfied.” ~ Deuteronomy 11:15
Personal Note: My journey back to health from lupus-like symptoms was largely attributed to using grass-fed meat and making nutrient-dense broth (which my husband made possible). I have a passion to see a restoration in our land in the area of healing food, functional and prospering family farms, and a less adulterated way of life. What follows is really an article that speaks my heart eloquently. I have included some of our old farm photos to give a taste of what our culture has apathetically left behind in our head-long rush to prosperity and ease of living…
Splendor From the Grass
Saturday, September 30, 2000
Before the industrialization of agriculture, cattle grazed on pasture during all but the harshest weather. In winter, they ate hay (which is dried grass) or silage (which is fermented grass) or root vegetables; chickens and other fowl roamed freely in the barnyard; and pigs enjoyed the open air, either in pens or verges or woodlands.
The basis of this system was grass, consumed by ruminant animals who turned it into milk. Pigs were fattened on milk by-products, such as whey and skimmed milk. Chickens and fowl feasted on bugs that hid under cow paddies and in composted manure from healthy grass-fed animals. Grain from mature grass was only an adjunct in animal diets, given to chickens to induce more frequent laying and to cattle to fatten them just before butchering.
Today’s system is based on grains (including legumes like soybeans) given to animals in confinement. In the US, almost 90 percent of dairy cattle live their entire lives in sheds with cement floors, never once feeding on green grass under an open sky. Most beef cattle spend more time in feed lots eating grain than on pasture eating green grass. Chickens have been removed from the farm to be crowded together in enormous enclosed pens.
During the time when the cultivation of our animal foods has been transferred from farms to factories, the incidence of chronic disease has risen precipitously. Cancer and heart disease were rare 100 years ago and today allergies and autoimmune problems make life miserable for millions of people. Can the trend towards confinement feeding be cited as a cause for the upsurge in these diseases?
Almost seventy years ago, Dr. Weston Price published an interesting paper in the Journal of the American Dental Association. (1) For years, Dr. Price had been analyzing the amount of vitamin A and Activator X in butterfat. (Activator X, which Price discovered, is similar in structure to vitamin A and a powerful catalyst to mineral absorption. It is now believed to be the fat-soluble vitamin K2). He noted that these nutrients were most plentiful in the spring and fall, when cows had access to rapidly growing green grass. During the winter and the dry summer months, levels of these vitamins in butterfat declined or disappeared completely.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Price traveled throughout the world studying isolated groups of human beings. Those that consumed the products of land animals—meat and milk—put great emphasis on the quality of pasture. The Swiss recognized that the butter from their cows contained the most life-giving properties when the cows were feeding on the brilliant green pasture of early Spring. These peoples enjoyed splendid health, not just freedom from infectious and chronic disease, but also splendid bone structure and strength. They were free from tooth decay and had wide dental palates and straight teeth.
The fat-soluble vitamins A and D in butterfat from grass-fed ruminant animals aid mineral absorption and support endocrine function, allowing optimum physical development and lifelong good health.
Pasture-raised animals have better mineral status. The diets of animals in confinement are fortified with synthetic vitamins, which are more poorly absorbed. (2)
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another nutrient found in the fat of ruminant animals that feed on green grass. CLA has been found to be highly protective against cancer. (3) In addition, CLA promotes the deposition of muscle rather than fat. In a double-blind study with human volunteers, those given CLA had a significant 15 to 20 percent decline in body fat compared to those given a placebo. (4)
It’s no accident that the New Zealand All Blacks, the national rugby team composed of players who grew up on pasture-fed New Zealand butter, is so hard to beat, even though most of the teams they play come from countries with a much larger population base.
Cows on pasture typically live through eight to ten lactations (or births) for a total of ten to 12 years. Cows in confinement, fed grain and soybeans, average 1.8 lactations. When they become unable to produce milk, or when their ankles can no longer hold up on the cement floors, they are shipped off to the butcher. About 25 percent of the meat consumed in America comes from these “downer” cows. The problem of downer cows in confinement dairies is increasing, even though antibiotics, drugs and nutrient supplements are routinely added to animal feed. We hear that in some confinement dairies, the typical cow is milked through one long lactation and then slaughtered. This eats into profits and has the vets throwing up heir hands in defeat.
Soil specialist Jerry Brunetti (6) explains why the way cows are fed today causes them to suffer from a range of health problems. Dairy cows are fed grains and soybeans, which have high caloric and nitrogen values. Sometimes rations even include bakery waste, such as out-of-date donuts, candy and pastries. It lowers the pH in the rumen, causing acidosis. The colostrum (first milk) of such acidic cows has very few antibodies because they are immuno-suppressed.
When cows eat high quality forage in green pastures, the pH of the rumen returns to normal and the cows enjoy good health and produce superior quality milk. They also have less miscarriage and better rates of live birth.
Confinement chickens and hogs suffer from the same problems. Antibiotics and other drugs are fed to keep the animals alive until the moment of slaughter and steroids are used to get them to that point as soon as possible. (Athletes consuming meat from hormone treated chickens have actually failed their urine tests for drugs!(8) So delicate are the immune systems of confinement pigs that workers must shower and don sterile garments and masks.
The government’s answer to the problems of confinement feeding is to speed up the process for drug approval. In fact, drug manufacturers are now allowed to supervise the testing procedure for their own animal drugs in order to get them to market as soon as possible. Their solution to the growing problem of salmonella and other pathogens in meat products is formaldehyde rinses and irradiation; pasteurization is no longer sufficient to destroy many of the pathogens in milk, so ultra-pasteurization is recommended.
The only long-term solution to these problems is pasture-feeding. Farmers who have gone from confinement to pasture feeding have been amazed at the improved health and increased fertility of their herds. Vet bills and drug bills decline, especially over the long run as the animals accustom themselves to traditional forage.
And production need not suffer. Joel Salatin (10) and other farmers have developed pasture feeding systems for chickens and other fowl that result in high egg yields and good growth. Hog farmers who have reverted to the old ways have seen fertility go up and diseases go down. Solar-powered moveable electric fences, pioneered in New Zealand, allow farmers to move their animals every day to new pasture, thereby preventing overgrazing and ensuring continuous fresh forage.
The highest milk and butterfat yields have come not from cows in confinement but from cows on pasture. In 1952, Carnation Milk Farms’s herd of 135 cows produced at least 1000 pounds of butterfat each per year. Its champion milker produced 42,000 pounds of milk and 1,500 pounds of butterfat. These yields came from cows eating green grasses, with supplements of silage, root vegetables, hay, minerals and molasses. Less than 2 percent of the diet came from a diverse mixture of grains.
In 1997, Roman Stoltzfoos, owner of Spring Wood Farm in Kinzers, Pennsylvania spent almost $87,000 per year on feed, mostly grain, for his dairy cattle, amounting to 38 percent of gross operating expenses of over $225,000. When he told his neighbors that he was going back to grass feeding in order to eliminate grain purchases, they said it couldn’t be done. In two years he brought his feed costs down to about $36,000 and now they don’t believe him. He also lowered his vet bills by 50 percent and made almost $8,000 on sales of composted manure. In spite of reducing calorie-rich grain feeding, his herd actually produced slightly more milk. Operating costs went from $12.95 per hundred weight to $11.76. By the year 2001, Roman reckons his feed costs will be down to $10,000, mostly for mineral supplements, while composting will net him $12,000. If production continues to climb, his net operating costs can be reduced to under $6 per hundred weight.
Alan Yegerlehner of Clay City, Indiana switched to a grazing dairy operation a few years ago and has seen his profits rise. When he had a confinement dairy, he spent $30,000 yearly for grain; now he spends just a couple of thousand, mostly for kelp and mineral supplements. Vet bills have also declined and fertility has gone up. He even has hopes of paying off all the debts he incurred while running a confinement dairy. And, he says, he is having a lot more fun.
Joel Salatin raises pastured beef cattle, poultry and pigs on 100 acres of mediocre soil quality in Swoope Virginia. He nets about $750 per acre. His biggest expense is still grain, which he buys from local farmers. He notes that cows can be raised on 100 percent grass, but hogs, turkeys and chickens need supplements, especially chickens, which require grain to grow quickly and lay abundantly. Nevertheless, the system Joel has developed completely eliminates the need for antibiotics or hormones.
Increased profitability is not just the stuff of anecdotes. A study of dairy farmers in Vermont revealed that cows on well-managed pasture earned $579 net income per cow over two years, compared to $451 per cow in the most profitable confinement dairies.(11)
Long range benefits to farmers who graze their animals include reduced exposure to toxic chemicals, reduced medical bills for their families, elimination of orthodontist bills for their children and higher energy levels for all who work on the farm. The increase in productivity that occurs when farmers put their livestock on grass applies not only to the animals on the farm, but to the people who work there as well.
The success of pasture-feeding operations depends on the quality of pasture, as many farmers have discovered. Cows have difficulty going onto pasture land that has formerly been intensively cultivated with monocrops such as corn or soy. It takes a few years for fields to rebuild plant diversity and healthy root structure.
Properly organized, with rotation of grazing areas as well as rotation of types of animals grazed, grass-feeding can actually improve pasture quality, encouraging diverse species and stimulating biological activity below the soil.
Cows will self-medicate if they have a sufficient variety of plants in their pastures. A number of “weeds” and hedgerow trees and shrubs are extremely rich in nutrients as well as medicinal characteristics. When fields are divided with rows of shrubs and trees, the need for pesticides is reduced.
Thus, wise grazing practices ultimately result in the division of large fields into paddocks, each sown with a variety of seeds at different times of the year, and separated by rows of trees or shrubs. The result is splendid landscapes, pleasing to the eye and the soul, the kind of landscapes that inspired the Impressionist painters in France and the idyllic descriptions of visitors to the hedgerow country in England.
The focal point of beauty in the American farm landscape has been the barn, red-sided or topped with cupolas. In the corn and soy wasteland that fills much of the American plains, beautiful old barns are falling down with neglect. Instead, grain goes to huge cement silos to be fed to animals housed in row upon row of ugly sheds. But grazing operations have barns, and income to keep their barns in good repair.
Grass feeding is the first step toward the rebuilding of small towns, the restoration of health and the return of that sense of community America has lost. For grazing operations to prosper and flourish, consumers must be willing to buy from the source as much as possible. Modern technology that gives us freezers and refrigerators—and trucks and airplanes—makes it possible to buy meat, butter and cheese directly from farmers, even if these farmers are thousands of miles away; vegetables, eggs, milk and cream should come directly from a local farm, through a co-op or share system.
For more on this topic, go to: http://www.westonaprice.org/farm-a-ranch.html
1. Weston A. Price, DDS Journal of the American Dental Association, September 1932, Vol XIX (Bulletin 118).
2. D B Mutetikka and C D Mahan, Journal of Animal Science, 1993, 71:3211
3. C Ip et al, Cancer, 1994, 74(3 suppl):1050-4
4. Erling Thom, Federation for Applied Science and Experimental Biology (FASEB) national meeting in New Orleans, 1997.
5. L M Lowery et al, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1998, 30(5):S182.
6. Jerry Brunetti, President, AgriDynamics (610) 250-9280
7. T H Herdt et al, Vetinary Clinics North American Food Animal Practices 1991 7(2):391-415
8. A T Kicman et al, Clinical Chemistry 1994 40(11Pt 1):2084-7
9. Michael Worsham, “Chicken is Bad for Your Health” www.ChetDay.com
10. Joel Salatin You Can Farm 1998 Acres U.S.A., 1-800-355-5313
11. Jon Winsten, et al, “Economics of Feeding Dairy Cows on Well-Managed Pastures” email@example.com.
About the Authors
Sally Fallon Morell is the author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (with Mary G. Enig, PhD), a well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods with a startling message: Animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.
Mary G. Enig, PhD is an expert of international renown in the field of lipid biochemistry. She has headed a number of studies on the content and effects of trans fatty acids in America and Israel, and has successfully challenged government assertions that dietary animal fat causes cancer and heart disease. Recent scientific and media attention on the possible adverse health effects of trans fatty acids has brought increased attention to her work. She is a licensed nutritionist, certified by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists, a qualified expert witness, nutrition consultant to individuals, industry and state and federal governments, contributing editor to a number of scientific publications, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition and President of the Maryland Nutritionists Association. She is the author of over 60 technical papers and presentations, as well as a popular lecturer. Dr. Enig is currently working on the exploratory development of an adjunct therapy for AIDS using complete medium chain saturated fatty acids from whole foods.