When responses get too long… I had a comment on my post about McDonald’s new farmer ad campaign this weekend and my response became a bit lengthy. I guess it just hit a spot when people start assuming things about cattle feeding operations and that real farmers aren’t out there in the pasture with their cows, they’re actually pumping them full of antibiotics in the feedlot. After working for two of the country’s largest cattle feeding operations, having my family feed thousands of cattle in these feedlots, and touring many more, I have a bit of an inside view on how these things operate. At least enough to know these cattle aren’t knee-deep in mud.

So here’s the response to the comment. Take it as you will. If it brings up ANY questions at all, PLEASE leave them in the comments section or email me and I will share my thoughts. I hate when people spread false ideas without having first hand knowledge.

1) Most cattle finished in CAFO‘s (feedlots) today are there on an average of 120-160 days.

2) Prior to the finish-feeding phase these cattle are raised on grass. Most of the cattle herds in this country can be found on ranges of lush pasture during the growing season, and fed stockpiled or stored forages during the winter.

3) After working for two of the largest cattle feeding operations in this country, I can attest to their pen conditions and health. No, the cattle are not standing knee-deep in their excrement. There is a lot of planning that goes into form the floor of the pen with the right slope and even mounds in the middle for good drainage. And the feedlots are located in regions with more arid climates, so the excrement dries fairly quickly to form a dry base.

4) These cattle are NOT pumped full of antibiotics. That is only reserved for HSUS and Chipotle propaganda. When I was working with a vet crew at the feedyards we had several steps to make sure we never overdosed the cattle. Each animal’s temperature was recorded and unless the animal was showing clinical signs of illness he/she did not receive medicines. We had consulting vets on call at any time to reference and a chain of supervisors looking over the records. And when we saw an increase in sickness in a particular group of cattle, we would look at how we could change our management (feeding, handling, conditions) to reduce that. An animal on medicine withdrawl never ever left the yard. So I can assure you the beef product would be safe from those feedlots.

5) Actually I am kind of jealous of the cattle’s diet during their time in the feedlot. They are fed a specially formulated diet that is highly palatable, and are fed on a regular schedule. Yes the diet contains corn because it is a readily available form of energy in the form of sugars. But the ration also includes forages like alfalfa, wheat silage, corn silage (which is the actual stalks), and grass hay. Plant bi-products are also a part of the ration like brewery distillers grains, and can include parts of soybean, cotton, and rice plants just to name a few.

You should probably take a look at this bloggers POV from a feedlot. Feedyard Foodie. You’d learn a lot about the operation from a foodie’s POV and she’s very open to questions. You can also reference back to my posts in 2010 during my time at a feedlot.
Believe it or not many of these feedlot operations are family owned and operated and many are willing to answering questions, if you ask in an approachable manner. Cattle production is very sustainable and we’ve been working hard to significantly reduce our resource consumption since 1977. Take a look at this paper from Dr. Jude Capper for more on that.

So all that to say, No the McDonald’s ad is not misleading. That’s how cattle production looks today.

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