Genetics Matter, Why we raise the type of livestock we raise. - Part 1,
So how did we get here?
Man has been selective breeding livestock for desired traits as long as we have been shepherds and herdsman. At first nature had selectively bred the livestock in the wild to survive in the elements or environment in which they lived. But as man began to domesticate animals some traits were more desirable than others. So if man was raising cattle or sheep and the momma cow or ewe gave more milk than her offspring needed we could drink that milk or make cheese and butter with it. So you could see that giving more milk would be a desirable trait. So we might keep her offspring to breed more of them to have more livestock with this desirable trait. Makes sense. Man did this process of thousands of years producing many different types of breeds of livestock and animals to meet our various needs. This went along very well for a very long time.
Until WWII we were still pretty close to our food supply. We didn't have big box grocery stores that in-turn produced big box slaughter houses, that in turn produced big box farms. When the industrial revolution came to our food supply and our prosperity removed us from knowledge of the food chain, we started to replace the farmer with the farm manager. Someone who's job it was to watch the bottom line of the corporate food manufacturing business. I want to take a slight detour here to mention I am a capitalist and believe in profit and believe a farm that is not profitable should go out of business. But I also believe I am a steward of God's creation and this little piece of earth I manage and the livestock on it. There needs to be a balance there. So with that said as our farm managers began to try to be more profitable we developed the CAFO. The Confinement Animal Feeding Operation is a title to a farm that really is a food factory that was developed(post WWII) to produce the most tons of food the quickest and cheapest. Some examples of CAFO are large feedlots of cattle you see and really high density, or the chicken coops that house tens of thousands of birds so close together they cannot walk. These CAFOs have brought about 3 very bad trends in our food supply. I will briefly mention 2 here but will spend the rest of this series discussing the third which is the genetic changes in livestock that are bred for CAFO operations.
The first change in our food supply that has adversely affected the quality and purity of our food due to CAFO operations is the proliferation of antibiotics and medication in our food supply. If you have raised children you know how many colds they can bring back from school because of how close the contact is at school. Well when you bring thousands and tens of thousands of heads of livestock together in very crowded conditions 2 things happen. The first is communicable disease is very easily transmitted because of the closeness of the livestock. It also spreads quickly because, just like in humans crowds cause stress, stress causes a negative immune system response so that not only is there more disease that is "going around" the livestock are less likely to fight off the infection or bug because their immune response is compromised. So the industry response to this is to dispense antibiotics in high numbers and dosage to prevent the livestock from getting sick. Sickness costs money so to prevent sickness the industrial food supply has chosen to treat it rather than prevent it.
The second change is a quality issue. We have lost flavor and nutrient density of our foods. You ask why have we lost flavor and nutrient density because of CAFO operations? You are what you eat! So is your food. As we have developed large feeding operations we now feed just about anything to an animal to gain weight. We are not nearly as interested in flavor as we are size. The farm manager want 3-4 lbs a day gain on their steers or they aren't making money. So we see CAFO's feeding scrap pasta, bakery waste, out of date candy. Just about anything that will put weight on. You have heard of empty calories. That's what we end up feeding our livestock. Garbage in = Garbage out. If we don't put nutrient dense foods into our livestock, we won't get nutrient dense food out. So we are what we eat as well. I will tangentially touch on this a little more talking about genetics. But for now let me say that CAFOs are NOT feeding livestock the breakfast of champions. I mentioned flavor as well. Besides the loss of their natural diet, In an effort to get the livestock to grow quicker they lose flavor. Typically the older an animal is the more flavor it has. Over centuries we humans have determined the optimum age to slaughter animals made for meat is about when they become sexually mature. Most chickens become sexually mature in 16-20 weeks, your average grocery store broiler is 7 weeks old. That is a lot of flavor loss. It is my job to hit the happy medium between flavor and tenderness (the older they get the tougher they get as well).
I want to wrap up this weeks post bringing us back to selective breeding and why we use the breeds we do. So as CAFOs became the prominent style of livestock food production man began to selective breed for traits in livestock that thrived in that environment and not their natural environment. Like a chicken that can go from birth to harvest in 42 days, Like cattle that reach 1300 pounds in 13 months. Typically the 42 day old chicken doesn't have all of its feathers yet, but they don't need feathers they are in an artificially lighted, temperature controlled housing unit. Next week I want to start with poultry, specifically our broilers or meat chickens and discuss the difference between conventional breeds and the breeds we are using. If you have followed our farm for a while I have been talking about switching the breeds of chickens we raise and what we are finding. I will bring you some of those results and what we plan for this year and what it will mean to you. Thanks for listening.