Food · let's visit · On The Ranch · Personal

#AskARancher

let's talk about food

This is something that has been on my heart for a long time. And this is a long ole post, y’all, I know. In the future, though, I’ll be sharing short and sweet posts on my Instagram and I’ll try and keep the novels to a minimum.

All around us, in this age of the Internet, we are surrounded by information about everything. Which, you know, is really stinkin’ cool in a lot of ways. We’re so connected, and that’s something that I love because it helps me feel less isolated out here. But, there are a lot of things I, like a lot of people, don’t love about the Internet, and the at the top of my list is the misinformation spread by people who pretend that they know what they’re talking about.

Spoiler: they don’t always know. Not so much. I mean, come on, people are eating Tide Pods. It’s a crazy world out there, folks.

Unlike eating Tide Pods, eating food is important. It’s *literally* what keeps us alive. So, I understand the heated debates and the emotions that surround food and how it’s grown and made. But, it breaks my heart to see people being scared about the safety and quality of their food or how it was raised based upon information they found online, put there by someone who either a) has no idea what they’re talking about, b) might know what they’re talking about but has an agenda or is sponsored by a specific product or company, or c) is also just freaked out and is acting accordingly and sharing anecdotal evidence like it’s verifiable, evidence-based science.

And listen, I know there are lots of people online who are totally, 100% qualified to talk to you about your food, and I’m so glad. But to me, it feels like for every one of those, there are ten more who are the modern-day equivalent of medicine show guys with their bottles full of sugar and heroine. It seems like the very, very passionate voices on either end are drowning out the reasonable, voices in the middle, and that’s no good.

 

Please, I implore you, if you have a question about beef production, ask a (real) cattle rancher or farmer. If you have a question about fruits, vegetables, or other foods that grow out of the ground, ask a (real) farmer. If you have a question about the nutritional content of anything, ask a (licensed, non-biased, professional) nutritionist. If you are concerned that your diet is incomplete or that you are unhealthy, ask a (board-certified) doctor or consult a (registered, accredited) dietician. Use your best judgment to choose players for your team who are going to give you the best, most inclusive information. Do not turn to people sitting behind screens who harp upon the dangers or benefits of things they don’t know about, or who are peddling products or a lifestyle that doesn’t suit you. When you read articles, look for the science. Look for the proof. Look for the citations, and where they’re from. Learn about who’s doing the writing, and why. And if they are evangelizing their food choices to others to scare them, belittle them, or make them feel poorly about their own choices, I would choose to be wary of the information they are offering up.

However, wariness aside, I am absolutely not here to attack others. I am not here to tell you that you should eat beef, or what kind of beef you should eat. I’m here to show you that the people who raise your food are just like you. We are wives and husbands and parents and business owners and sports fans and Netflix enthusiasts and environmentalists and democrats and republications. We love our communities, and our people, and want to meet you and know you and welcome you into what we do, because you have a share in this, too. We love our jobs, and our ranches, and our farms, and our animals. And we want you to trust us, because this is our life’s work, and where our hearts live. It’s not a hobby, it’s not something we are merely passionate about. Growing food for you is what consumes our days, in one way or another.

I know we’re not usually the loudest voices on the internet. Part of this might be due to the work-intensive nature of agriculture, or our lack of reliable cell signal or internet.  Part of this might be due to the huge amounts of dollars some of the louder voices have behind them. And it’s scary to put ourselves out there because the internet can be a mean place, where people forget that we are all people deserving of dignity and respect. And sometimes it feels like we have a whole lot more to lose because this isn’t just a job, it’s our whole life. We don’t sit behind laptops in an office to further our agendas and then go home to our house that isn’t connected to our business. We live where we work, and the agriculture industry is already risky enough; it’s scary to open up and add more risk. I’ve had people that I know tell me, unequivocally, that I’m personally killing the planet and should be ashamed (I’m not and you cannot make me feel shame for my life, ps). I’ve had strangers tell me that I’m a bad mother for raising my children where and how I do. I’ve heard offensive and unspeakable things said to people that I respect and heard comparisons about what we do to what we do to the Holocaust (I’m not kidding, people are that classless and crass.) So it’s scary. But, you know, telling the truth is necessary, so we keep sharing, in the hopes that someone will listen to us instead of someone on Facebook sharing photoshopped pictures of animal abuse.

That’s why this blog is here. And guess what? This isn’t the only blog like this. There are piles of blog and Instagram accounts and YouTubers who share the real story of ag, and most of them don’t have an agenda. They just want to share, and to invite you into their lives and communities, and know that the more good, reasonable, smart, forward-thinking, kind voices we have in this community, the better.

You’ll find that most of these folks are like me: raising a family, raising beef, and proud to help feed the world. Here are just a few of the highly qualified folks that you can turn to about your beef, and food in general.

Buzzard’s Beat: Brandi is a wife, mama, rodeo-er, and all-around #girlboss who also happens to have a Master’s in Animal Science. She’s one of my favorite sources for no-nonsense insights into beef, even the hard stuff.

Girl Carnivore: Do you like meat? Do you want to know how to fix it and make it so delicious? Then head over to Kita’s site and get your fill of meaty goodness and gorgeous photography. This girl can grill. 

Cowgirl Boots and Running Shoes: Michaela is an ultrasound technologist-turned-fitness coach (among about ten other things) and she and her husband are raising their three children on her husband’s family farm and ranch in Nebraska. She’s my go-to for beef from a perspective of nutrition and fitness, and is so motivating!

Agriculture At Its Best: Mike has decades in so many aspects of the beef industry from livestock production and sales to 4H and the Extension Service. And, surprise, another Master’s!

Faith Family & Beef: Terryn and her family live in the Sandhills of Nebraska where they raise cattle and have an amazing pack of ranch dogs. She has a background in feeding cattle and shares what everyday life is like on a ranch in the Sandhills with three kids, and also has a ton of great recipes.

Meet Your Beef: Brooke is a fourth-generation rancher, and is also an animal health company territory manager and runs an amazing boutique (do you see the #girlboss theme here?).

Johnny Prime Steaks: Steakhouse reviews, killer photography, irreverent humor, and now a butcher shop. If you like steak–or food–at all, he’s your guy.

Arizona Beef Blog: This is the blog of the Arizona Beef Council. It showcases families and ranches from around the state to show how Arizona does beef. It’s run by Tiffany, who found a love a cattle through her love of horses.

The Circle L Ranch Blog: Naomi and her family raise cattle and horses, and also runs several businesses including a feed store and a rodeo production company. Another #girlboss who talks about everything from cooking to rodeo to parenting to ranch life, and features other dynamite women in agriculture.

Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom: Nicole and her family run a farm where they raise crops like wheat and soybeans as well as cattle. She shares recipes, stories, and what it’s like to run a diversified farm operation while being a mama.

Kellie For Ag: Kellie is another diversified farmer who raises crops and beef cattle in Iowa. She grew up in a farming family and has always wanted to be a farmer, and her passion and knowledge of the industry is plain!

Blessed by Beef: Tierra has an amazing story, and raises Angus cattle and bulls on her family’s ranch in Oregon. She’s also a photographer, and has a background in livestock marking.

Blue Eyes and Cow Pies: Kiah is a seventh-generation California cattle rancher (yes, seventh) who now lives and works in Kentucky. She knows her stuff, y’all.

Wag’n Tales: Val is a mama of four boys who farms crops and cows in North Dakota. She writes about everything under the sun, including what it’s like to be a farm mama to a little one with a serious medical condition.

Scott Stebner Agricultural Photography: Do you want to see some absolutely gorgeous photos? You do. You really, really do. His portraits move me to my soul. Head over to his site, you won’t be sorry.

Ag on the Forefront: Kelsey, her husband, and her son raise Red Angus cattle in Eastern Colorado. She’s another sharp-as-a-tack gal with a Master’s and has some amazing posts. I especially love her posts on animal welfare, and antibiotics.

The Truth About Ag: Michelle talks about some really hard things, and tackles head-on some of the most controversial aspects of ag. Her posts are well-researched and are a resource I often turn to, myself!

Dairy Carrie: Carrie and her family are dairy farmers in Wisconsin and I love her blog because she unflinchingly and very directly tackles some of the misinformation out there. I don’t know a ton about dairy (we raise beef cattle), but what I do know I’ve learned from reading her blog. It’s made me smarter!

Mom at the Meat Counter: Janeal (or Dr. Janeal as I refer to her in my head) is a bonafide meat scientist at the University of Arkansas. If you want to learn more about meat, she’s your gal, and a really excellent teacher and resource.

The Cow Docs: Jake and Carolyn are (mostly large animal) vets who also raise cattle. They blog about cow things, industry things, life things, food things…lots of things! But seriously. Two vets. With a blog. Check em out!

So, when in doubt, #AskARancher. #AskAFarmer.

let's visit

Myth vs. Fact: FAQ Edition

Every Wednesday, I’d like to visit with you about beef. This week’s post is a general myth vs. fact sort of affair, addressing things either I or Bert hear often, or see on social media regularly. I won’t lie to you and say that some of these don’t really grind my gears, because they do. But it’s no use fussing about it, let’s get right to it.

Calves are born in feedlots where they live on corn until we eat them. All calves are born on ranches and farms. I’m not exaggerating–calving cows in confinement doesn’t work very well, so we tend not to do it. Calves stay with their mothers, on pasture, drinking milk and eating grass, until they are weaned at 6-8 months of age, then typically go to a stocker or a backgrounder and then on to a feedlot. Cattle spend 4-6 months in a feedlot, where they have plenty of room and top-notch care, and are fed a ration of various types of food, including hay. They don’t eat just straight corn!

Beef Lifecycle.jpgsource

Ranching takes land away from farming. Honestly, this one kind of kills me. 85% of land used for raising beef cattle is not suitable for farming. I’ve often heard that we should get rid of cow herds and farm the rangelands to support a global plant-based diet. While maybe it’s a nice idea in theory, it doesn’t work in reality because you literally can’t farm most of the places where cows graze. The soil isn’t good for growing crops like the Sandhills of Nebraska which are, you guessed it, very sandy hills; or the ground isn’t suitable for being farmed like mountains of the American West, or the swamps and everglades and bayous of southern coastal states, or the deserts of the southwestern part of the country. We’ve lived in places where the growing season is too short to support farming (North Park, Colorado), or where the soil is too poor and the climate too dry to support anything but native short grass (Capitan, New Mexico), or where it’s too rocky and steep for anything but non-native grasses to thrive (Cameron, Montana). The really neat thing about cattle is that they’re taking a resource that humans can’t use for food–grass–and making it in to something that we can.

Grass-finished beef is better for the environment and grass-finished cattle are better cared-for. The science says no. I’ve heard both ends on this one, but I’ll ask you to consider this: grass-finished cattle can take twice as long to reach a (lower) slaughter weight than conventionally-raised cattle. That’s a whole year longer to consume resources like grass and water, and produce waste. More space, more time, more resources, for less beef. In fact, if we consumed the same amount of beef but it was all grass-finished, we’d need over 60 million more animals, 131 million more acres of rangeland, and would produce 135 million tons more greenhouse gases. Article here! Also, grass-finished beef can still spend time in a feedlot eating a diet of grass, forage, hay, or silage, and can still be given antibiotics or hormones. They aren’t cared for any better or worse than any other cattle, either! We do our best to take care of all of our cattle, regardless of how they are finished or marketed. Someone might tell you that I’m just shining you on, but spend some time with any rancher (I can find you one near where you live!), or on this blog, or come on down and visit me, and you’ll see that we really do our best by every cow we raise.

Grass-finished beef is better for you. I see this often cited with Omega-3s in mind. It’s true that grass-finished beef has double the amount of Omega-3s than grain-finished beef but it’s still not a good source. A serving (3.5 oz) of grass-finished beef has about 80 mg of those good ole fatty acids, whereas the same size serving of salmon will have 1,000-2,000 mg. Another thing to note is that salmon contains the “better” fatty acids EPA and DHA, while beef contains mostly AHA.

Beef is a huge cause of global warming. There’s a lot of controversy about this since there are many different studies with many different approaches. I use the EPA’s numbers, which say that beef production accounts for 3.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Full stop. Things like transportation and wasting food (we waste 40% of our food in this country, guys!) have a much larger impact. Also, properly grazed rangeland environments can actually act as carbon sinks, so that’s pretty cool. Another thing that’s pretty cool? We keep getting better. We keep decreasing our impact and increasing our efficiency year after year.

Beef is bad for you. Again, nope. Beef is a great source of protein, especially for the calories, and provides nine vital vitamins and minerals. I’m not saying to go out and stuff your face with a 20 oz steak, because moderation in everything is key, but don’t feel like you’re killing yourself by eating beef, either. You’re fueling your body with some good stuff!

Beef Nutrition
source

All conventional meat has antibiotics in it. Even if an animal was treated with antibiotics, you aren’t “eating” those antibiotics when you consume that meat. All antibiotics have withdrawal periods before an animal can be slaughtered to prevent residues from ending up in meat. USDA inspectors then test the carcasses at the packing plants to ensure that residual guidelines are strictly followed. There’s literally a National Residue Program for this, and programs for continuing producer education like Beef Quality Assurance. There’s also a publicly available list of producers who have more than one residue violation. It’s updated weekly, and the USDA will use it to take extra care to inspect meat from those producers. Cattle buyers also use it to know if any of their suppliers have residue problems so they can be extra vigilant or choose not to work with that supplier. It’s a big deal, y’all, and we take it very seriously.

Draxxin

All cattle in feedlots or not in an antibiotic-free program are given antibiotics. While sick animals or at-risk animals that need antibiotics will be doctored and cared for by an experienced professional–most feedlots have at least one veterinarian on staff–this doesn’t mean that all animals not in an “antibiotic-free” program are given antibiotics. From the ranch to the feedlot, beef producers are careful to use antibiotics only when they are needed for many reasons, but especially because it’s the right thing to do, but also antibiotics are expensive and take valuable time to administer so producers have no incentive to use them otherwise. That antibiotic pictured above, albeit one of the more expensive ones, costs nearly $5 a mL, and the dosage is 1.1mL/100 lbs. So, that $1200 bottle might treat about 35 weaned calves, or 25 yearlings. For a business with small profit margins–especially on the ranching side–that’s nothing to shake a stick at. It’s not like when you or your child is sick, and you go to the doctor and maybe only have to pay a copay, if anything. The producer is bearing the full weight of the cost of that drug, so you bet your hiney they’ll be using it judiciously. Lest you think that money is the only thing that matters in beef production: nope. The main thing here is that if an animal is sick, we are going to try and get it better. That might mean repeated treatment, or even a costly vet visit. We are not, however, going to throw away money by treating animals that don’t need it. Balance.

We’ll leave it there for now. I know it’s hard to navigate food. It’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not thanks to junk all over social media and regular media (hey Netflix, get you some better documentaries), and it’s hard not to worry because it’s food. It quite literally gives you life. You want the best for your family and for yourself. Oddly enough, so do we. On these Wednesday posts, I hope we can walk a little bit together and that I can help you know a little more truth about some of your food!

Up next week: beef choices, and how to find beef that fits what you’re looking for.