Over 1 million head of cattle are grown in feedlots in Australia. Most beef is ‘feedlot finished’ or ‘grain finished’ for a minimum of 60 days and up to 300 days for the domestic market, up to 600 days for the Japanese export market, and even more than 600 days for Wagyu!
A feedlot is an intensive confinement animal feeding operation (CAFO) for cattle, much like a factory for ‘battery chickens’. Each animal has 5 to 10 square metres of space in a pen of 50 to 200 cattle.
The cattle are forced to stand and sleep in their own dung and urine a very unnatural experience for them and one which they are designed to avoid. The dung is becomes ‘hard pack’, which is like concrete when it’s dry and a sewer slurry when it rains. When it’s dry it becomes a dust of primarily faecal particulate, and this causes respiratory problems for the animals (feedlot pneumonia). The cattle are ‘treated’ for these respiratory problems with antibiotics. Some feedlots give ‘constant dosage’ to prevent respiratory problems.
On arrival at a feedlot the cattle are:
- chemically drenched for worms,
- chemically treated for lice and external parasites,
- have a rumen bolus inserted (growth ‘enhancer’ aka hormones)
CAFO cattle are fed a specially prepared ration (90% grain and protein by products including soy). Cattle are ruminants with 4 stomachs designed to eat roughage (grasses). Instead they are feed a diet of grains, rumen ‘modifiers’ (selective biocides that favour maximum growth), urea (toxic at high levels) and a chemical ‘premix’. Hay or straw is often less than 10% of their diet.
During the normal digestive process, bacteria in the rumen of cattle, bison, or sheep produce a variety of acids. When animals are kept on pasture, they produce copious amounts of saliva that neutralize the acidity. A feedlot diet is low in roughage, so the animals do not ruminate as long nor produce as much saliva. The net result is “acid indigestion.” or “acidosis”.
Over time, acidosis can lead to a condition called “rumenitis,” which is an inflammation of the wall of the rumen. Eventually, the wall of the rumen becomes ulcerated and no longer absorbs nutrients as efficiently.
Liver abscesses are a direct consequence of rumenitis. As the rumen wall becomes ulcerated, bacteria are able to pass through the walls and enter the bloodstream. Ultimately, the bacteria are transported to the liver where they cause abscesses. From 15 to 30 percent of feedlot cattle have liver abscesses.
Bloat is a fourth consequence of a feedlot diet. All ruminants produce gas as a by-product of digestion. When they are on pasture, they belch up the gas without any difficulty. When they are switched to an artificial diet of grain, the gasses can become trapped by a dense mat of foam. In serious cases of bloat, the rumen becomes so distended with gas that the animal is unable to breathe and dies from asphyxiation.
Feedlot polio is yet another direct consequence of switching animals from pasture to grain. When the rumen becomes too acidic, an enzyme called “thiaminase” is produced which destroys thiamin or vitamin B-1. The lack of vitamin B-1 starves the brain of energy and creates paralysis. Cattle that are suffering from feedlot polio are referred to as “brainers.”
Typically, feedlot managers try to manage these grain-caused problems with a medicine chest of drugs, including ionophores (to buffer acidity) and antibiotics (to reduce liver abscesses). A more sensible and humane approach is to feed animals their natural diet of pasture, to which they are superbly adapted.
Why Confine Cattle?
CAFOs are often excused as solutions to drought. Truthfully though, feedlot managers profit from unnatural growth rates, up to 2kg per day and sometimes more. 200 – 220kg steers take only 100 days to grow to 450kg. By comparison it would take a grass fed steer at least 9 months to achieve the same weight gains.
How do I know which is grass fed?
Firstly, it’s in the fat. Grass fed beef’s fat is various shades of creamy yellow, the result of the beta carotene content of the grass. Grain fed beef’s fat is usually transparent white. Grain finishing or feedlotting, changes the omega 6 and 3 ratio from the ideal of 3:1, to the unhealthy range of 24:1 Grass fed beef has the same healthy ratio of essential omega 3 and 6 fatty acids as found in fish. This change happens after only one week on grain.
Secondly, the taste gives it away. Grain fed beef may be more tender but it tastes like cardboard compared to pasture raised beef. When you taste properly prepared grass fed meat, you’ll know it’s good because it tastes good.
About the Author...
A Super Hero and one of many who have realised their true calling as saviors of humanity, healers of our connection with Nature and creators of Heaven on Earth. The Nourisher's gift is the re-spiritualisation of the 'process of recreation' we call eating. Mother of three Super Heroes in training and wife to her God incarnate, The Nourisher hails from the place of feminine healing, Byron Bay, Australia. She gathers together Life Creators from all over the globe at NourishedMagazine.com.au