As we have seen from recent months of “sheltering in place” or “confinement” as the French so aptly call it, we viscerally understand that no one likes to be penned in anywhere. This is also true for the animals we raise. Here are some ideas on the treatment of animals and why it’s important.
Whether it’s dairy cows or beef cattle, their treatment affects the resulting dairy and meat we consume. Animals raised in concentrated feeding operations (“CAFOs”) are crowded, often live on concrete, indoors, and under fluorescent, artificial lighting. The crowded conditions, based on economies of scale are cause for numerous problems. Growth hormones are used to maximize body weight of animals and minimize their growing time.
Exposed only to indoor light and stale air, animals will more easily infect each other, requiring antibiotics and other medications. Crowded conditions in such a poor environment lead to nasty temperaments and behavior: pigs will bite each other’s tails, chickens will fight. Concrete floors ruin hooves and are uncomfortable. Excrement pools in such large amounts such that it is toxic rather than usable as manure. Do you really want to eat meat that came from such a place?
Enter the Pastured Paradigm
By contrast, it is easy to see that animals raised primarily on pastureland are more closely matched to the way nature intended: They have fresh air, sunshine, room to roam, and do not routinely need medical interventions to be healthy. Farmers who allow their herbivores, pigs, chickens, and goats to graze in their natural habitats know that their animals are content. If the animal feels good, we feel good. Fortunately, there is a growing core of “grass-fed” style farms in the US and abroad, as well as consumer support and awareness of the advantages of pasturing animals.
Humane Treatment and Regeneration
The farmers who care deeply for their pastured animals are also focused on the future of farming. Rather than continuing on an industrial path that is truly unsustainable, they are interested in the regeneration of their soil. They engage in “regenerative” agriculture, which means they are actually “building” soil (creating more soil as a result of grazing animals responsibly), often on land that is otherwise difficult to cultivate.
How It Works
Allowing animals to graze on pastureland and moving them periodically mimics the grazing and migratory patterns of centuries of herbivores, like the legendary herds of bison in North America. Called multi-paddock grazing, one piece of land is grazed by herbivores for a certain length of time. When pulled at by herbivores, grasses receive the signal to regrow, while the animals fertilize the grass with their manure. Then moved to another parcel of land or “paddock,” the animals continue to graze while the grazed grasses and soils of the previous paddock regenerate. Farmers thereby harness the ancient cycle of herbivores, photosynthesis, and the sun, without depleting the soil. More soil means better water retention in the soil and less topsoil run-off. The logical result is nutrient density and plant and microbial diversity that is optimized for the animals (in the grass) and for us (on the plate or in the glass). By consuming grass-fed meat and dairy, you are supporting this magnificent regenerative ecological cycle.
Save the Planet
The story gets even better: Regenerating soil in this way sequesters carbon in that very soil. These forward-thinking farmers and their herbivores are actually creating net-negative carbon emissions (a carbon sink), not just net-zero emissions! This means they are effectively mitigating global warming. It’s a win all around. Animals are well raised, well-fed, and content, and so are we. Now that’s what I call “clean eating.”