No bull - what a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate
June 15th, 2012
01:15 PM ET
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Ryan Goodman is a generational rancher from Arkansas with a degree in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University in Animal Science, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, studying beef cattle management. He is one of many farmers utilizing social media to bridge the gap between farmers and urban customers. Follow his story daily at or follow on Twitter (@AR_ranchhand) and Facebook.

How does our beef travel from pasture to plate? Can you describe this process from the time a calf is born to the moment your knife slices a steak?

In this country, we are blessed with a great group of farmers who care for their animals and a food safety system to ensure things work properly. There are farmers who do things various ways for good reasons for both their customers and their farms. A good balance of science and communication can go a long way in sustaining this process.

Let me go ahead and put it out there: modern farming has been under scrutiny of late from animal rights organizations, mainstream media journalism, and consumer groups. There is a gap of understanding between what happens on the farm and how the customer perceives it. Farmers make up less than two percent of this country’s population and we are partly to blame for not keeping you, the customer, informed on how our food is grown, what the impacts are on food and the environment, and why it is grown that way.

I come from a family farm in Arkansas. I was raised with cattle in lush, green pastures. Fresh eggs were collected from the barn, vegetables came from the garden, and I fed a few pigs and calves to have meat for my family’s table. This may sound like a historical account of farming, but in reality, this describes most modern farms. According to the Cattlemen's Beef Board, 97 percent of cattle farms in this country are family owned and operated.


It would have been easy for me to stay in my own little corner of the world and assume raising cattle was only the way I was taught. I did not know it when I left home for college, but I was on my journey to learn how cattle are raised across the country. I worked for a ranch in Wyoming where cattle were marketed for natural beef programs, and for a variety of farmers in Oklahoma and Arkansas where farming is not their primary occupation. While in Texas, I worked for two of the largest cattle feedlots in the country. There is a multitude of different places out there, all with different ways of managing cattle. With my experience has come a great deal of learning.

First: raising cattle is a lifestyle for all of these folks, a family affair in most cases. Farming takes hard work, dedication, and a passion for that work. Raising cattle can be far from the romantic image of cowboys on the range huddled around the campfire or grandmother’s farm with a red barn and chickens in the yard. We still have the same goals and values of raising animals and producing food, but there are many tools that allow farmers to do their job more efficiently. It is because of the modern farmer’s work today that most Americans can pursue their own ambitions and many choose them off the farm and outside of the home, make many advances in a modern lifestyle and not have to worry about hunting and gathering food for the family.

Second: raising cattle must be economically sustainable. Large or small, farming is a business, as well as the lifestyle for most of us. Farmers have families to feed too. Some get wealthy in agriculture, but most do it because they are passionate about rural America, producing food for their communities and working alongside family. We choose to provide food on the table, provide proper care for our animals, and improve our environments.

ryan goodman

We lose thousands of farmland acres each year to competition from urban development. Farmers have learned to become more efficient by embracing technology and better management tools to produce more beef on fewer acres. In doing this, we have also improved our environment by reducing our carbon footprint by 16 percent since 1977.

My journey has also taught me that farmers are not perfect. Most all the people I have met are genuinely good people, but we make mistakes. A good farmer learns from those mistakes and improves upon them. There are bad apples out there, as there are in any way of life. Farmers do not accept cruel treatment to animals. We should not allow cases of animal cruelty or journalism’s portrayal of such acts reflect on the entire farming community.

Many people in America today trust farmers, but not necessarily modern farming practices. I am here to encourage you to get to know a farmer, not just one, but farmers from a variety of places. We are people who do our grocery shopping in town and take our kids to ball practice just like many of you. The future of food and agriculture relies on a new generation of farmers. Will you shun them and tell them what they are doing wrong or join a discussion to learn about how food is grown and what we can do to make things better? If you do not know how to find them, I would be glad to help through the social media networks I have built. There are lots of us willing to have conversations about how this works.

Farmers need to do a better job of reaching out and listening to your concerns, our customer, because your opinion matters. Get to know where your food comes from. Do not tell farmers what they are doing wrong; rather ask what it is farmers do, let farmers ask questions, and in the course of conversation there will be better understanding on both sides.

Got questions? We'll try to get you some answers. Leave your questions in the comments below, and we'll do our best to get a farmer to share some insight.

Previously - Five sustainable lessons from a family farm

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    June 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  5. Jessica

    Most cows in feed lots are born at smaller family ranchers. If you don't like the mass production that urban America has forced our food providers into there is a simple solution. Start building buildings up and not out so there is less competition for space and water and EAT LESS. If Americans weren't the most obese country in the world we wouldn't be forced to produce the amount of food we do.

    January 15, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  6. Timothy

    Why do you give your cattle growth hormones and antibiotics.? In case you did not know.. that contributes to human immunity to antibiotics which is a huge problem in hospitals. And breasts forming on girls younger than they should have. I understand that is what you do to make profits.. but it isnt what I want. I will drink soy milk or almond milk, which has none of that BS, and is full of more vitamins and protein than cows milk will ever have. Humans arent supposed to drink bovine milk anyway. Sorry Chum! Almond, Soy, and Rice milk... Its much healthier,. So screw yourselves with all the politics about the whole thing....I'll drink almond milk...!!

    December 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Ryan Goodman

      You blame foods like beef for hormones, but you drink soy 'milk' because it has none of those things in it? Cool, but you ought to know that things like soy 'milk' and birth control contain far more estrogens than a piece of meat could ever hold.

      April 5, 2013 at 6:32 am |
  7. Rednip

    The article is titled "No bull – what a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate" and I seen not one word about that topic. What I see is a guy who hides a bunch of whining about 'outside interests' amongst some flowery words about his profession/business. He mentions 'concern of modern practices', but answers them by telling the reader to 'get to know a farmer'. Am I supposed to ask the profession of random people and then start quizzing the two percent who might be farmers on steroid use in cattle? An honest rancher might tell you that he'd be in a competitive disadvantage to skip such treatments individually, and that meat would cost more if banned altogether (but his lobby would keep that from happening). However, chances are that he'd just grumble something about 'liberals' or 'the media' and walk away.

    June 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Ryan Goodman

      Was there a question in there somewhere? I'm more than happy to answer if you have one.

      If you are asking about hormone use in cattle, I've written about that one too –

      April 5, 2013 at 6:27 am |
      • Edwin

        Yes, there was a question in there. Where's the article your headline promised?

        May 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  8. schwinn voyageur r21

    I do like the way you have framed this specific issue and it does indeed offer me personally a lot of fodder for thought. Nevertheless, because of everything that I have seen, I really trust when the reviews stack on that folks remain on point and not start upon a tirade of the news of the day. Still, thank you for this superb point and though I do not agree with the idea in totality, I respect your perspective. Schwinn voyageur bicycles r21

    June 27, 2012 at 3:17 am |
  9. Marc

    Maybe I read the headline too literally, but I thought the article would explain the "process" of getting the beef into our grocery stores and our homes. This is a piece on the people and places where it begins. I appreciate the hard work, dedication, and passion of these farmers for their profession. Now tell us, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the REST of the story".

    June 24, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  10. Sean Brady

    The implication in the article is that knowing your farmer is helpful. As we all know, without farmers, there is no food. They are necessary. However, the assumption that farmers know best what animals need is tricky; farmers definitely know what is needed to use animals to make a profit and use them as a means to make a living. However, not so sure that farmers treat animals the best. There are no laws on the books that farmers must treat animals good. Farm animals don't laws written; the laws for pets are strong; farm animals don't have these laws. Some farmers treat animals great; they make a profit and treat animals respectfully and the animals lives are full but yet profit is full. However, there are always incentives in the non-organic close quarters production to increase profits; high profits go with shortcuts. The margins on animal products are low; the key is large volume and treating them like products on an assembly line (OK for computers or cars production, not good for animal production). Farmers know a lot more than me about what is needed to keep animals healthy enough to get to slaughter and they do enough to get most of them there. But, sadly, farmers with animals are the equivalent of slaveowners. Just as some slaveowners treated their slaves good and some bad, but all knew how to get the most output of their belongings, so do farmowners with animals. I fully respect hunting, fully respect all done at PolyFace farms (and their ilk), but fully disrespect the large scale factorization of farm production (where 99% of farm animals are produced).

    June 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Juliane j shaw

    We have a cattle ranch in Etna Maine. We just started this almost a year ago and cannot imagine life any other way.
    your article summed our thoughts exactly in a nut shell.
    Thank you for voicing out!
    Juliane Shaw
    Shaw Farm

    June 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  12. What?

    Ryan, I suspect that as you were preparing this article you knew that the responses would follow a very strong – and very ‘tight’ – bi-modal distribution, and that has definitely been the case. Many have wanted a “broader brushstroke” that simply was not possible given the space restrictions. Many of the responses have explored this broader area, which may very well not have been what you had in mind.

    There is a good possibility that I have contributed to the discussion hitting some of these “side tracks”, and I want to apologize to you for that. That was never my intention. The larger group of us, as food producers and processors, have for too long remained silent while the sensationalists, extremists, and con-artists have attacked what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. Ten years ago this wasn’t the ‘big deal’ that is today, because we could reasonably count on “the latest big scare” to just dry up and blow away after it ran its course, which would usually happen in just a couple of weeks, if not less. Today, however, with essentially universal access to the internet and social networks, the scare-mongering takes on a life of its own, and the days of just “letting it ride” are over, if we are to have any chance at all of having ‘our side’ even heard, let alone believed.

    You took a pro-active step to try to establish a dialog with those who are interested in knowing more about where meat comes from. I took a reactive stance to those who were posting misinformation or outright lies. This is not something that I make a habit out of doing, but this one happened to be ‘right down my alley’, so I had trouble staying out of it, especially the “cows are still alive when they are skinned and eviscerated” garbage. I truly hope that I haven’t undermined what you are trying to do.

    Keep up the good work!

    I hope that those of you who truly are interested in knowing what really happens in producing the beef and the meat that we have in this country will find a reputable source with qualifications beyond “I wrote a book” from whom to get your answers.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Ryan Goodman

      Thank you What? I appreciate that. You may find this 3-part series of posts I did last year to be helpful. –

      June 22, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  13. Ryan Goodman

    The comments and conversation on here have been great. Not necessarily constructive in all cases, but a conversations none the less. Thank you to all of you who have expressed your honest thoughts. Many have expressed their opinions that my writing is a piece of fluff, propaganda, and basically doesn't address the concerns you wanted to hear about. Take note in this piece, I'm asking that everyone seeks information and conversation, not working to explain the entire process from pasture to plate in one article. There's no way on this planet anyone will ever do so.

    So I ask you this... What are your questions? What do you wish I had covered in this article about where your beef comes from so it wasn't useless to you? What questions can cattle farmers answer to help everyone hear a side of the story that's not always told by others? I'm not looking for a preaching to, just your questions. If the folks at CNN will allow me to respond in another article, I will do so. If not, I will for certain answer your questions on my personal blog.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Prepare for round two!

      June 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  14. Jacqui

    @burlington11 – well, you've just proved how naive and singleminded some people choose to be. (Thanks for your support, What?)

    We have 1000 acres of natural pastures and very happy cattle. Our cattle go straight from these pastures to the abattoir (100 km trip in a truck). No feedlot. Those are the facts.

    I'm not sure where you get your information from, but I very strongly suggest that you do your research more thoroughly than you have before making such broad statements. It just proves that the propaganda machine of the Animal Liberationists is working overtime, brainwashing people to make them believe that all cattle are raised in feedlots and live sad, worthless lives.

    We live in one of the most productive areas of Australia and I only know of one private feedlot around this area – raising Waygu cattle to export to Japan. We have the strictest animal welfare practices in the world with everything strictly monitored. We have electronic eartags that trace beasts back to the property of origin so every single beast has a history from paddock to plate.
    And as for your lesson in nutrition, if you are so learned, you would also know that grass-feed beef/lamb contains 'good' fats as opposed to lotfed (grainfed) beef. It is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids which are good for the heart, is higher in CLA (nature's anti-carcinogen) and has up to 4 times more vitamin E than grain-fed beef.

    If you care to come take a drive in my part of the world, you WILL see paddocks, with grass as far as the eye can see, with fat, happy, contented cattle grazing in them. If you choose not to open your mind to these facts, then it's your loss I'm afraid. I myself would hate to admit my naivete so I make certain that I know the topic that I'm discussing and don't blindly quote incorrect facts.

    All we can do is try to educate the uneducated but I'm afraid there are more and more people like you who blindly believe what the (very powerful) animal welfare lobbyists would have you believe, which in turn creates mass hysteria about the food we eat.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  15. jayc123

    soooooooooooooooo how does beef go from the pasture to my plate?? terrible article, at least pick a new title sheesh..

    June 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm |

    My parents had a small hobby farm 5 acres. Over the years we had chickens, rabbits, ducks, geese and a couple of cows. We bought a 3 day old calf. My dad hand fed her. She thought dad was her mom. He couldn't go out the back door of the house without being spotted by the now full grown cow and she would cry until he pet her. We milked our cows. We occassionaly raised one for beef for the freezer. One young bull died in an accident one year and my dad cried. He loved animals. And they loved him. He grew up during the depression on a farm in alberta. He had great respect for animals. We had a calf born on our property. We learned respect for animals too. My mom was a big influence too. She was always finding more humane ways to demise the chickens for the freezer. Treating animals humanely was taught to us at an early age. We had our pets and some we raised for food. That was life. Dad enjoyed even cutting the grain for them with a scythe and if he took the cows from the back pasture to the front pasture, some how they always managed to get into moms garden! Their favorites the cabbage and the corn. We secretly knew dad let them in the garden for a quick nip! ha ha!

    June 21, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • What?

      Are you sure it was the CORN that they were eating? I only ask because about a third of the posters here insist that cattle don't/won't eat corn. You couldn't possibly be mistaken about this, could you?

      Because . . . I mean . . . if you're not mistaken, then that means . . . (gasp)

      [fearfully] Did any of the stalks ever have ears of corn that had already formed on them? Oh, please, (gulp) please tell me that the cows didn't try to eat the ears.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
      • Thegoodman

        I apologize What?, it seems as if you read every word absolutely literally. Then you take this acute interpretation of words out of context on purpose, build yourself a straw man, and then beat it to death. Please read a little about logical fallacies and how to construct arguments, because you are not good at it.

        I know cows are capable of eating corn. I know cows will eat corn if given the opportunity. I also know that corn fed beef is not as healthy as grass fed beef. Cows have not evolved to survive on a diet of corn and it is not good for their bodies, just as eating chicken nuggets and drinking soda all day are not good for a human's body.

        Source: google "livestrong nutrition of grass-fed beef"

        Every time I post with a website included it never gets approved.

        June 22, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
        • Thegoodman

          The two last bastions of big beef have won. I will now forget and dismiss every scientific article and publication I have read on this topic. I will ignore my instincts of distrusting the bias individuals whose life is supported by an industry I do not think is trustworthy. I will assume you have the health of our nation as the forefront of your business, rather than earning as much money as possible while you can. I will ignore the inefficiencies of eating meat, of feeding animals with food produced using many fossil fuels, and countless other things that are contrary to the betterment of mankind.

          Thanks for setting me straight cowboys. I'm going to go enjoy a steak now.

          June 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
        • What?

          A little more 'detail' on "distiller's grain" for those who aren't familiar with it. "Been There" was kind enough to post a typical finishing ration. For those who are reading, it could easily appear that this ration contains approximately 85% "grain" – 45% corn + 40% distiller's grain. That's not the way it is.

          "Distiller's grain" is not 'grain'. This statement is both true and false. (We will concentrate on 'corn' here.) Distillers do use plain old ordinary corn to produce alcohol, so from a very general perspective, yes, distiller's grain is 'grain'.

          When someone makes the statement that "Cattle weren't meant to/don't eat corn", what they are really saying is "Cattle weren't meant to/don't eat starch". Corn is high in starch, but the fermentation process converts the starch to ethanol. It doesn't matter whether the ethanol is for drinking or for fuel, it's made by fermenting starch. Commercial fermentation processes are quite efficient, and result in the conversion of around 90% of the starch into ethanol. The ethanol then is "distilled" out of the 'mash'. Since corn isn't 100% starch, not all of it ferments. The unfermented portion that is left after distillation is what is called "distiller's grain". There is little starch present in this product, so from both a "compositional" and a "nutritional" perspective, "distiller's grain is not grain".

          June 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
        • Been There

          I'll add a little more to What?'s excellent comments on corn. Now I know you say that just because a person posts that they do "this" or "that" on their farm doesn't mean that's how it's done everywhere, but in this particular case, as it pertains to feeding corn, I can assure you it is true across the industry based on the principles of ruminant nutrition 101 that no cattle feeder feeds solely corn in their ration. Everyone in the business knows that of course is not the thing to do. So while I can only vouch for what my family does, in this particular topic, again, this would generally be industry-wide in the feedlot/cattle finishing business with variations from operation to operation, yes, but also generally the same concept. When we load a load of what we call "finishing ration" which is the ration used to "finish" the cattle to market weight, this particular ration has the highest percentage of corn in it, but not only corn. When we load an 11,000 pound batch (which depending on current per head intakes, will feed anywhere from 300 to 400 cattle their daily feed–very generally in the ballpark), that load consists of 4,900 pounds of cracked/rolled corn, 1,400 pounds of good quality, ground alfalfa hay, 4,400 pounds of distillers grains (byproduct from the ethanol process which is more nutritious and more palatable than corn), and 450 pounds of protein/mineral/vitamin supplement. (NOTE: For those on the antibiotics bandwagon, notice I made no mention of that being an ingredient in the daily ration!!) Point being 1) it is not solely a corn diet, even in the feeding stages where they will get the most corn they will see in their lives on a daily basis. 2) I am not being holier than though as you accused me of being, just trying to get the point across. and 3) you can still have your opinion after being enlightened with the foregoing facts, but make no mistake about it, THIS I can assure you is generally industry-wide with no exceptions. If there is a handful of producers out there feeding SOLEY corn–they are not producers in my opinion and should not be attempting to be in the business because, yes, they are not doing the cattle any justice at all. Now some feeding programs will not be exact to ours-I obviously recognize this, as there are many nutrition programs out there, but they ALL revolve around this central theme. As I stated in another post, if you don't believe me, I have been around other operations to know this and it is further proven by a vast number of university studies, research by various feed companies, etc.

          June 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
        • What?

          (The ‘tirade’ is over, and there really is no “emotional” factor involved at all in composing this post.)

          Your first paragraph here is somewhat “out of context” as far as its location, but we both know what you are referencing. I want you to go back and read your first two paragraphs; I’ll even “boil them down” for you here: P1 – “We know what we’re doing, and it’s fine” a.k.a. ”It isn’t broke”, P2 – “There’s nothing wrong with how things are being done now” a.k.a. ”It doesn’t need fixing”. Now slowly read P3, sentence 1 where you ‘summarize’ these thoughts and link them to who you did, the way you did. Now read P3, S2, which is – and I’m being objective here – one of the most condescending and dismissive statements “in context” that has made on this entire thread. Now tie this to the fact that you referenced me specifically in P2, and I’m having trouble seeing the “fallacy”. I will practically guarantee you that over 80% of people who read [present tense] those first three paragraphs would arrive at the same ‘conclusion’. I can accept that that may not have been your intent, but you are guilty, at the very least, of an appreciable lack of ‘tact’.

          I thought about this a good bit yesterday, both before and after I posted ‘that’ reply. The more I thought about it, the more I decided it wasn’t really your perceived ‘dismissal’ of me that was so irritating, but it was the “slap in the face” you gave to all the hard-working folk out there who weren’t fortunate enough to be able to enter a “professional” field. You take P3, S’s 1&2 and have them stand alone, or put them in any context, anywhere, and there is no getting around the ‘air of superiority’ that you convey by your choice of words and how you arranged them. [Constructively] You might think about trying to work on that.

          My entire point in that post WAS to beat your “logic”, or lack thereof, to death, so as to leave no doubt that I’m not ‘just’ John Q. Farmer talking about “what I know” from my one little, teeny-weeny corner of the country, with blinders on concerning what goes on outside my “silo”. I trust it was ‘mission accomplished’.

          Only one thing to add regarding the ‘pertinent’ response to the post immediately above:

          You’ve made this statement – “Cows have not evolved to survive on a diet of corn and it is not good for their bodies . . . ” – or something similar to it several times now. It’s a rather ambiguous statement; it could be construed as “Cows aren’t supposed to eat any corn at all” or as “Cows aren’t supposed to eat only corn”. The former option is completely disingenuous and – if that is your intent – really exposes your complete lack of knowledge of anything to do with ruminant nutrition, even though the “Cliff Notes” version has been supplied here. If the latter option is the intended interpretation, then you are correct. “Cattle are not meant to be fed a diet consisting solely of grain corn.” It has already been stated here several times that this is not done – and it isn’t – so if this is the true intent of your statement, in light of the fact that you continue to use it, it shows you are either unwilling to or incapable of accepting the truth. I guess this isn’t what Michael Pollan wrote in his book, though, and since you’ve decided that he’s more believable than the people posting here, including the soon-to-be-multiple-degreed author of the article and the already-multiple-degreed author of this post (well over 20 years ago), then “the facts” must be wrong.

          I did post the promised follow-up to the “tirade”, but I changed it up from what I had originally planned. It is one of the ‘tamest’ things I’ve posted in this string, but it’s “stuck in moderation”. It won’t surprise me if they ‘quarantine’ this one, too.

          June 23, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  17. What?

    "The slaughterhouses are also a hellhole where plenty of cows are skinned and dismembered while still fully conscious." Oh, my, "It's deja vu all over again". Haven't these responses already 'been there and done that'?

    June 21, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • Say What

      That is simply a stupid remark,You obviously have ZERO knowledge of the process, Come back when you can contribute something that is not a bald face lie,, Show your PETA card at the door please

      May 2, 2013 at 2:54 am |
  18. Paul

    Yes indeed, I've met farmers. And I've worked on farms (when I was quite young and before my adult ethics had developed–I now consider it to have been a form of abuse, of me as well as of the animals). I've met farmers, and I've worked with them, and that is exactly why I will not consume "meat" (flesh), milk, "leather" (skin(, or any other animal-derived product, and have not done so for about three decades. I know exactly where it comes from, and I have seen personally the mind-bending vastness of the vicious cruelty that is involved.

    June 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Manny

      Meat is murder. The farmer's aim is to kill his livestock. Arguments about humane treatment prior to death are absurd.
      (Vegan for 35 years)

      June 21, 2012 at 12:07 am |
      • Been There

        @Manny: I'll tell you what's absurd, and that is general, uninformed, ignorant conclusions like you just posted. Take the time to get the real story. You don't have to convert and start eating meat, but at least get the real story. You are entitled to your opinions as long as you at least know both sides of the argument, which you clearly do not. That's the whole point of the article.

        June 21, 2012 at 12:22 am |
      • Matt

        Perhaps you should look into how many animals are killed plowing and harvesting a field for vegetable crops...

        June 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
      • Eric

        All those plants ripped from the ground and chopped down in the prime of their lives. Oh, and I hope you don't eat bread–those yeast getting baked alive.

        June 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • jayc123

      many of you people on this chat board are F*****G morons. First off who gives a flying F**k if someone is vegan, its their choice they can eat whatever the hell they want. same goes for people who eat meat, but ill get to that. first, to people who are vegans because "meat is murder", im sorry i cant even come up with an expression to properly describe how dumb that is. i can respect somebody being vegan in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle but to do it because they are cruel to animals? come on.. chickens dont exist in the wild, they are bred to be eaten.. cows are bred to be eaten. its called the food chain people. we are on TOP, we get to choose what we want to eat. what is the difference between a lion cutting down a fleeing gazelle and tearing it apart limb by limb, and humans raising an animal for the sole purpose of eating, slaughtering that animal and eating it with a knife and fork or on a bun? its nature people get over it! bunch of god damn hippies!!

      June 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
      • Manny

        Wow! You have anger issues. Could your rage come from eating dead animals along with their fear at the moment of death? Humans bred animals into docile "food". If left alone, animals will gradually return to their native state. Killing is a choice. By the way, "goddamn hippies" helped stop the useless slaughter in Vietnam. Peace out!

        June 22, 2012 at 12:33 am |
      • Thegoodman

        While I disagree with the tone, I do agree with your overall sentiment burlington11. I am a vegan and killing animals is not murder, nor is it wrong in any way. It is, however, unhealthy. Medical studies have proven that eating meat greatly increases your chances of being overweight, diabetic, having heart disease, having cancer, and numerous other afflictions.

        June 21, 2012 at 5:47 pm |


    June 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  20. Calm Down

    Farmers – sure you work very hard and assume a lot of financial risks.... but no one put a gun to your head and said "BE A FARMER OR IT'S CURTAINS FOR YOU!" Go into selling insurance or any one of the thousands of other professions out there if you want... sheesh.

    I see a lot of bumper stickers that say "No Farmers No Food". I get that in essence. Not to be a total wiseguy... but... we have a huge problem with obesity and cardiovascular diseases in this country. Maybe having less food around wouldn't be so bad?

    June 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • FarmerTeacherMother

      @Calm Down, I can understand your sentiment if you don't want people to become defensive or argumentative but could you think about what you just wrote, please, and a little bit from my perspective (or other farmers):
      1. It is not the fault of farmers that there is an epidemic of cardivascualr disease and obesity in this country. We raise healthy food. Red meat can be a part of a healty diet. But if you take meat, vegetables, grains or fruits and you process them so that they can be stored longer or cook them in ways that smother all nutrition with fats then serve them in amounts three times that of what people actually need, then you'll have problems. None of that is the farmer's fault. I grew up drinking whole milk and eating beef and pork everyday and my blood pressure and cholesterol are lower than most people's. I eat healthy because I can recognize my food. Sorry if that started being too much of a rant, but maybe #2 will explain that.

      2. Do you really want to tell me, my husband, my father or any other farmer that we shouldn't do what we love? Did you seariously suggest that because some people don't agree with our livelihood we should just give it up and do something easier like sell insurance? Yes we feel defensive. How many insurance agents out there get vilified by media or special interest groups for trying to make a living and trying to produce a high quality, affordable product? No it's not easy, no we don't make a lot of money, yes a lot of people don't understand what we do and take our products for granted, but we knew what we were getting into and we love it. It's not just a job, it's our lives, our families, our history and hopefully our children's futures. I hope that others don't take yourr viewpoint and tell their children that if the career or life they love is hard or some people don't understand or like what they're doing, they should just give up and find something easier to do. Instead we should try to work together to help each other understand.

      3. Consumers need to understand where their food comes from and how it is produced so they can make informed decisions about their food choices (as this article was pointing out) and farmers need to understand the desires of consumers and the needs of society in order to meet those demands and operate sustainably. Sustainability three components and everyone needs to understand that – economics, community and ecology. If you can't make money, if you aren't a steward of your resources, or if you don't meet the demands or address the concerns of society, no business – family farm, large feedlot, restaraunt, retail shop, whatever, will not survive. Education and communication are key to helping bridge the gap between producers and consumers, stopping all the name-calling and fear-mongering and creating a society where sustainability can be a reality, not just a buzzword.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
      • Calm Down

        Yes, very well written. I actually really like the way you worded the health part – I think that's a great point.

        However, I am not saying give up what you love for something 'easier'. I am simply saying give up the "oh, woe is me" act, because it's tiresome. Do what you love, and do it well. Don't do what you love and then talk about how hard your life is because of your choice.

        June 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
      • Ann Murphy

        Well said!

        June 21, 2012 at 8:08 am |
      • Jacqui

        Hear, hear. Very well written!

        June 22, 2012 at 9:52 am |
      • Thinking things through

        Several excellent points here. Thanks.

        June 28, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  21. Calm Down

    Americans demand cheap beef. Our collective tastebuds crave it....

    To get a lot of beef cheaply, cows are going to be raised and slaughtered in a highly industrialized fashion. Simple as that.

    The vast majoirty of Americans want a dollar menu at fast food joints, not a $5 grass fed menu. This is why the system works this way. If the VAST majority of Americans want bean burgers or grass-fed beef burgers, these items would become ultra popular and sell well.

    I am not saying this is good for American health or ethical, it just is that way, a la Bruce Hornsby.

    If you have an ethical problem with cheap beef, don't eat it. Very simple.

    June 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Kelvin Thera

      Correction: "That's just the way it is." al a Bruce Hornsby.

      June 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Thinking things through

      "If you have an ethical problem with cheap beef, don't eat it. Very simple"

      I agree, and I vote with my stomach. I don't buy cheap industrial beef, but will buy (in limited amounts due to pricing) pastured beef. If I am a guest in someone's home, I'm not rude and will eat what I am served, but in vastly limited amounts, and even there I definitely limit ground meat products.

      If enough of us step beyond eating the industrial crud, all to the good. I think if we have opportunities to make informed choices, many of us will, even if it means not eating meat every supper. Artificially low food prices, whether meat or corn, is not sustainable.

      June 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  22. Leslie H.

    Reblogged this on taking shape: making progress and commented:
    Thanks to CNN for inviting Ryan to post on Eatocracy. I'm an urban consumer. I volunteer for several animal welfare concerns, including HSUS. I consider myself part of the "food movement." How fortunate it's been for me to find Ryan's blog. Ryan and his readers, mostly other hands-on agriculture practitioners, engaged with me in thoughtful, respectful information exchange. It has been very exciting and I want more!

    Although Janice in the comments above says "Ryan can be on horseback in a pasture somewhere and still tweet," I appreciate that less ambi-dexterous ag folks must take time away from their animals and crops to engage with me via social media. I have children, pets and houseplants to care for but my livelihood doesn't depend on those living things. I can imagine that extra dependency could influence my values, too.

    The longer we can keep each other talking - staying on the line - the more we can learn. We can use that information to our own advantage, to further the agenda of our choosing, whether that's selling more beef cattle, converting everyone to vegan or just getting labels on GMO-containing products.

    I've read all of Michael Pollan's books. I subscribe to Food Democracy Now, Civil Eats, Marion Nestle, Cooking Up a Story and EWG. I've added #agchat and #agproud to the Twitter streams I watch. Join me.

    June 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  23. Leslie H.

    Thanks to CNN for inviting Ryan to post on Eatocracy. I'm an urban consumer. I volunteer for several animal welfare concerns, including HSUS. I consider myself part of the "food movement." How fortunate it's been for me to find Ryan's blog. Ryan and his readers, mostly other hands-on agriculture practitioners, engaged with me in thoughtful, respectful information exchange. It has been very exciting and I want more!

    Although Janice in the comments above says "Ryan can be on horseback in a pasture somewhere and still tweet," I appreciate that less ambi-dexterous ag folks must take time away from their animals and crops to engage with me via social media. I have children, pets and houseplants to care for but my livelihood doesn't depend on those living things. I can imagine that extra dependency could influence my values, too.

    The longer we can keep each other talking - staying on the line - the more we can learn. We can use that information to our own advantage, to further the agenda of our choosing, whether that's selling more beef cattle, converting everyone to vegan or just getting labels on GMO-containing products.

    I've read all of Michael Pollan's books. I subscribe to Food Democracy Now, Civil Eats, Marion Nestle, Cooking Up a Story and EWG. I've added #agchat and #agproud to the Twitter streams I watch. Join me.

    June 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  24. Thegoodman

    Michael Pollan is a well respected investigative journalist who has done his homework on this topic. He has personally interviewed and documented many farmers, farming operations, and food producers. He has sought answers to many of the questions people ask in this thread and provided them to us through many books, films, and articles.

    Now, we have a handful of "real life cowboys" in this comments section telling anyone and everyone who has an issue with the industrial military complex that is the meat industry in America that we are ALL wrong. That Michael Pollan was wrong. Why? Because they lived it. Hmm, let me see. We have the option of anecdotal evidence or multi-sourced/cross examined evidence. I am going to have to go with Michael Pollan on this one.

    The experience of a single farmer can certainly provide insight, but that experience cannot sum up the entire beef industry in our country.

    Also, stop with the "Don't attack farmers!!" mantra. No one is attacking farmers. Farmers work their butts off and do not make nearly enough money doing it. Farmers provide their consumers with what they want, and what American wants right now is beef that is cheap and dirty, no matter what the cost. My arguments here are for the consumers of beef. The consumer has to change before the supplier does.

    June 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Been There

      So you are putting your faith in a journalist versus real people who farm for a living, many of which have been doing so for decades. Let me tell you won't EVER truly know the ins and outs of farming until you have LIVED it! You can at least consider the points of view of farmers that have posted here and if you actually take the advice of the article and connect with one yourself. However, unless you have gone out and spent a considerable amount of time "out here" you have no place to discredit those who have posted facts that have come from years of production EXPERIENCE.

      So what's your job, buddy? If you have one, that is. Taxi cab driver? Factory worker? Subway operator? Nose picker? What? Let me know so that I can start bashing your occupation even though I know nothing about it, but will act like I do and that you who have done your job for years have no clue what you are talking about.

      June 21, 2012 at 12:31 am |
      • Thegoodman

        I have not discredited the jobs of many posters on here. I simply say that they are not the authorities on the topic. Every farm is different and there are a lot of ways to skin the cat. Very few people, even farmers, have worked on multiple farms. A journalist who goes to many farms across the country and speaks to these farmers can offer a much more broad perspective. As I said, experience can offer insight, but that experience may not be the same as someone else's.

        I am an engineer. "Taxi cab driver? Factory worker? Subway operator?" What is wrong with any of these jobs? Is your profession more noble somehow? So you think you are better than people who do these things. The company I engineer manufacturers many products that are exported. The factory workers in my plant work their butts off for 8-10 hours a day 5-6 days a week in 95+ degree heat 250 days a year. They also work harder than any farmer I have ever met (and I have known/met many).

        June 21, 2012 at 8:51 am |
        • Thegoodman

          A few farmers posting here have said "Well this is how my farm does it..". They are certainly experts on how their particular farm does it. A few others here have said "Well this is how my farm does it, which proves there is nothing wrong with the cattle industry", of course I am paraphrasing.

          What? and Been There seem to be promoting the farm industry to no end. You have not acknowledged a single thing wrong with the industrial farming process or with corn fed beef. My point is that there are many things wrong with both of these subject. They are not ALL bad, but they can definitely be improved.

          The mentality of "its not broke, don't fix it" is very prevalent amongst blue collar individuals. While I can appreciate that, it is not a path of continuous improvement. When data shows the damage of industrial farming, or feeding beef corn, or benefits of being a vegan, ignoring that data for childish reasons is simply stupid.

          One farmer in particular said that because his family had provided corn fed beef for 100 years, it must be good. Tradition is hardly a scientific validation of a practice. We have the scientific ability to scrutinize any and all practices, whether that be medicine, farming, industry, or our diets. To not do that based on tradition is ridiculous.

          So no, just because you run a farm it does not mean you know the best way to farm. I am not saying I know the best way to farm, but anyone who is passionate about their field will always seek ways to improve it. The paradox with farming is what is actually considered "improvement"? More profits? A better product? More volume? Preferably it would be all 3. The farming industry in the US has settled for profits and volume and let product quality fall to the wayside. The cattle industry does not benefit from a better product because of the supply chain that exists for beef from farm to consumer. We don't know where it comes from, how it was made, and what makes it good or bad. So how can the consumer make an educated decision on what is better when there is no visibility in the production process?

          I have said this already, but I do not trust the meat industry in our country. I personally feel they are doing a disservice to us all by not putting quality (and visibility) first for the consumer. The game of shadows they play with the production process is disconcerting and I want no part in it, so I am a vegan. This sentiment is reinforced when CNN produces a fluff piece such as this to convince me otherwise without providing good information. I feel like I am being sold a piece of crap car from a used car salesman, and I don't want to buy it.

          June 22, 2012 at 9:59 am |
        • What?

          Apology accepted. Thanks. I guess we're both passionate about our particular stances, and we let it get the best of us at times. I try to be restrained, but "kindler and gentler" was never my 'forte'. I apologize for "unloading" on you – I kind of let you have it with 'both barrels'. I responded in the other post before seeing this, because apparently it was being 'moderated'.

          This 'time lapse' garbage due to 'quarantine' is getting kind of old.

          June 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
        • Thegoodman

          @What? I wasn't calling anyone blue collar (which is not even an insult if I did, it just is a quick descriptor of the field you may work in). My father is a mechanic who owns a few acres that are farmed out each year. We had a few livestock when I was kid for fun. I grew up in a crappy trailer in the middle of the sticks and every person in my immediate and extended family has worked in a factory or on a farm for most of my life. The company I work for today was started by many blue collar AC mechanics and many of their attitudes persist in our company today.

          "If its not broke, don't fix it" may not be a blue collar theme now that you point it out, but it is wrong regardless. I apologize if that was taken as a slight, it was not intended.

          June 23, 2012 at 12:07 am |
        • What?

          Upon further thought, I have decided not to pursue the grass-fed vs. grain-fed discussion. I have a feeling that Ryan may be doing something along those lines in the future, so there’s no need for me to do that here now. Even a ‘basic’ discussion of all the pertinent facets will be article-length.

          Since you are into ‘researching’ this topic, though, I will leave you with a list of things you should look into if you really want “the scoop” on the differences; the debate isn’t quite as ‘cut-and-dried’ as you seem to believe: 1) USDA “quality grades” for beef – pay particular attention to the ‘components’ of the quality grade, as they will be important later, 2) caloric density of “grains” vs. “grasses”, 3) feed conversion ratios on “grains” vs. “grasses”, and 4) pasture density. This is by no means a ‘comprehensive’ list of the things involved, but together they constitute a pretty decent starting point.

          June 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
        • What?

          Just because one isn't an "authority" on the entire range of a very broad subject doesn't mean that they don't know exactly what they are talking about in one – or more – specific areas of that subject, does it?

          June 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
        • Been There

          I have nothing against any of the occupations I listed. I was in a hurry during that post and those were jobs outside of ag that came to mind as I was typing. Those are all jobs that I would know nothing about, as is the case with you being an engineer, and I respect those that hold ANY job because every job in this economy is vital to its success and abilty to move forward.

          My point gets very frustrating when those of us in the industry try to explain what we do, bust false myths, etc, only to continue to have people talk or type over us saying, "nope, this is how it really is!" So I asked you what your occupation is as part of my point to say that, ok, you are an engineer, that's great. What would you say if I continued to make accusations as to supposed adverse things engineers do when in reality I don't have a clue? Or I am just going off of misleading youtube vids? What would you say after a while of listening to that? You would share my frustration, I guarantee you.

          As for me, I spent time away from the family operation when I was young, working for neighboring operations, as well as an operation 100 miles from home for a period of years. Some things were done differently, no doubt, and some I found were better than the way we were doing things at home as we fed cattle in the feedlot. I took those ideas home and incorporated them and saw immediate improvements to the business, not that it was bad, but as you said there is always room for improvement. As I have in other posts, I chose the handle "Been There" for a good reason!!

          Do you understand my point? Thanks.

          June 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
        • What?

          Wow! So now I’m a “blue collar individual”? Are you serious? No, you didn’t say that EXPLICITLY, but what you said in both your lead-in to and in Paragraph 3 implies that inescapably and undeniably. What size is that ‘superiority complex’ you put on every day, Mr. Engineer? If it’s a hat, it must be about a size 10 ½. If you have direct reports, they must love working for somebody who ‘respects’ them so much.

          Go back and look at my posts and see where I have “promoted the farm industry to no end”. I have tried, for the most part, to keep ‘opinion’ out of this – although it has gotten the better of me at times – but nowhere have I said “I/We do it right and nothing should change”, or even anything to that effect. I have had very little to say about the “farm industry”, actually, other than to correct serious misinformation when it was posted, yours included.

          You talk about “continuous improvement”. What do you want to talk about? X-bar charts? R charts? Cpk’s? Number of defects vs. number defective – you’re an engineer, so you should know these aren’t the same. What kind of sample size do you propose that one should use? What about sampling frequency? Small operations typically only sell calves once a year, if that helps you with your decision. Should we be using subjective data or only objective? Is a discrete scale acceptable or must we use a continuous scale? So many variables to investigate and the ‘turnaround ‘on the data is so slow. Should we use a partial factorial design instead of a full factorial? What about a Plackett-Burman, so we only have to include the potential min and max levels of our variables, thereby significantly reducing the number of ‘runs’ we have to make to collect our data. How in the world did a mere “blue collar individual” come up with all this?

          Quote: “The paradox with farming is what is actually considered "improvement"? More profits? A better product? More volume? Preferably it would be all 3.” You are obviously forgetting the old engineering ‘paradox’ – faster, better, cheaper . . . pick two.

          Quote: “One farmer in particular said that because his family had provided corn fed beef for 100 years, it must be good. Tradition is hardly a scientific validation of a practice. We have the scientific ability to scrutinize any and all practices, whether that be medicine, farming, industry, or our diets.” You say you have “done your research” into this topic. Perhaps, then, you can tell us what the prevailing results are from the body of research work that has been done over the last 30-35 years at the land-grant universities in this country who have studied grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef. Most, if not all, of these SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH PROJECTS will have included organoleptic evaluations of the two (if you don’t know what that is, look it up – this “blue collar individual” knows). If you are producing a product that isn’t as widely accepted as another, similar product in the marketplace – especially if it’s food and it doesn’t taste as good – it won’t sell, regardless of how good it is for you.

          You do have valid concerns about corn-fed vs. grass-fed production practices. I am going to comment more on that in another post.

          June 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  25. BWB

    I grew up in a farming area of Ohio, farmers are very hard workers who don't really get paid enough or can't really make a great living for the type of work they do every day. One summer I worked for a farmer "making hay", we started at 9 in the morning and worked until the sun went down, his wife made us a sandwich for lunch and then for dinner we ate 2 plate's of food. One of the jobs I will remember for the rest of my life.

    June 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  26. Gopherit

    My family was involved in agriculture of various types and I've lived on farms not owned by my family. The article is more of an apparent attempt to defuse the arguments of those who want to convert the U.S. and the world to become totally vegetarian than an explanation of how the beef processing chain works.

    That having been said, people involved in famioy farm agriculture int the U.S. work hard and assume considerable financial and other risks in producing food products which, at least in the U.S., consume plrobably the least worldwide percentage of the average family's income in getting food onto peoples' tables. Farming in general requires large capital investment in equipment, seed, and other inputs, the weather is an uncontrollable factor and often is hostile, prices received for what is produced often are higfly variable and are at the mercy of commoditise speculators and traders which are beyond the control of the agricultural producer – the list goes on and is extensive. Generally, the percentage of consumer food expenditures which is received by farmers is tiny in comparison with what processors and retailers get while farmers assume nearly all of the risk involved in production. Farming people generally live miles from needed services such as doctors, hospitals, schools, dentists, shops and stores, etc. If the farming operation involves animals there is the high cost for any veterinary care which is needed and there is an increasing shortiage of vets, labor costs for hired help can be probibitive. Yet family farmers embody the qualities which have given rise the the U.S. stereotype of people who are honest, trusting, inventive, self-sufficient yet willing to help neighors in need, and caring for their environment..

    There are cable (and presumably satellite TV channels either dedicated to agrucultural news and life and others which show programs having to do with agriculture, It would be worthwhile for non-agricultural people to make use of these and other opportunities to learn more about family farm agriculture and even that which is more corporation-based.

    June 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Calm Down

      "Generally, the percentage of consumer food expenditures which is received by farmers is tiny in comparison with what processors and retailers get while farmers assume nearly all of the risk involved in production"

      Agreed, that is rough. Darned 1 percenters.

      But hey... no one has a gun to your head forcing you to farm... you can be a ballerina, an insurance salesman, join the army, or become a pilot... etc...etc...

      June 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
      • Gopherit

        Well, it's true that there is no gun-to-the-head compuslon to be involved in agriculture at least in the U.S., but if everyone who is farming and ranching decides to chuck that and do something else you'd better get ready to plow up and plant your back yard and hope that you can suvive! LOL . . .

        June 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  27. quantumelf

    Nice try, adn dripping with bul__t. 97% of the farms may be family-owned, but 90% of the cattle comes from large feedlot producers, where they are unnecessarily fed grain and corn, needlessly pumped full of antibiotics (whicn are creating hugely adaptive superbugs). The only reason they are fed antobiotics is that they are choking on their own filth, crammed in there from greedy producers who view animals as statistics and commodities. The human population would be much better off not eating beef at all, which is high in saturated fat, concentrated toxins, raises your homocysteine levels, contributing to global warming. The slaughterhouses are also a hellhole where plenty of cows are skinned and dismembered while still fully conscious. Remember Fast Food Nation? None of the slaughterhouses in the US would allow filming any scenes within. What's to hide? The horrible nature of it all, that's what. Less dollars for the beef industry. But - keep eating people. Eat yourselves into the ICU and nursing homes.

    June 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jan

      How many farms have you visited? You seem to confuse comments about *farms* with *slaughterhouses* – not the same. But then I suspect that, like the majority who connect the two, that's intentional. And I suspect that the bulk of your exposure and focus is on negativity in animals rights videos, as that is what you want to see. Have a great day anyway.

      June 22, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • tjkelly

      This just goes to show how little you know. You think that cattle spend their entire lives in a feedlot? Is that where they are born and raised? No.

      June 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Been There

      Read the posts below. Lots of factual information on how meat is produced told by people who are in the industry. Do what the article says and connect with someone in the business to find real answers. You tube videos put out by HSUS and PETA are the real lies. I've been around cattle all my life and can't believe the falsehoods that are out there. University studies, articles on farm related websites, etc are excellent sources of real information. Instead of spending your time spouting off lies that you are taking as facts, go get some real facts, then come back here and have some half way intelligent discussion.

      June 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
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