Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cowboys Agreeing With Animal Rights Groups?

     A recent conversation began with a person complaining that the feedlot he was working in was putting fresh calves on a straight ration without feeding any hay. The participants of this discussion were all men who take pride in handling cattle with the least amount of stress, and keeping their death losses as low as possible. By the end of the discussion, we all agreed that perhaps we were more in agreement with animal welfare groups and food activists than we are with the cattle feeding industry.

   The basis of this conclusion stems from what we have been told by nutritionists and feedlot veterinarians that the bottom line shows it is more profitable to push cattle too hard on feed than taking two weeks to start them without the acidosis caused stress and resulting death loss. Aside from the fact that this line of thinking aligns directly with views of PETA, HSUS and natural food activists, it is also dead wrong on the profit/loss margins.

   Every animal being treated is a cut into profits, as is every animal that dies. Bud Williams has proven numerous times that it is possible to cut both morbidity and mortality rates in feedlots by 50% just by changing the way cattle are handled.  Despite this, the feedlot industry seems to think they can increase profit by mass treating every pen of calves then pushing them on feed so hard that they are guaranteeing they will lose more cattle and spend more money on drugs (not to mention the overtime for pen riders and hospital crew.)

   One study by Dr. Pete Anderson  shows that pens of 700 lb steers with no death loss gained 13% faster and had 9% lower feed conversion values than pens with 2% or more death loss.  There is a direct correlation between morbidity in feedlots with not only cattle handling procedures, but in the acidosis related stress by pushing cattle onto feed rations too fast. 

   By taking the time to start calves a little slower, and emphasizing low stress cattle handling techniques feedlots would be eliminating half (or more) of their antibiotic costs, over half of their death losses while increasing feed efficiency. This all adds up to higher profits for the feedlots. At the same time, it takes the wind out of the arguments of animal welfare groups and those who want a safer food supply with fewer antibiotics and hormones. 


  1. Well over 20 years ago I came to believe and publicly stated most cattlemen could do more for themsleves and their industry by joining Sierra Club than they would accomplish by belonging to NCBA. I still hold that point of view. Bob, I think your thoughts concerning a more positive association between animal welfare groups and the future of ranching is right on target.


    1. JR,
      The problem is they would probably be driven out, or their membership requests denied. Dan Dagget used to be a member of the Sierra Club and was once on their list of top 100 conservationists, now they cannot stand him. You can see his vies on this at

      Sadly enough it seems that most conservation and animal rights groups make decisions from an emotional standpoint and the cattle industry keeps learning from people teaching them things they haven't done themselves. Fortunately we have people like Dan Dagget and groups like Holistic Management International that are making progress.

    2. I belonged to the Sierra Club back in the 70s. My point is, if we (ranchers) had been there 20-30 years ago, such organizations would not have become so polarized. Now we face a tremendous uphill battle to regain credibility with environmentally concious consumers as well as those on the animal welfare front. I met Dan D years ago and have always been impressed with his writings.

    3. The problem was (and is) that environmental groups basically come out of the box being suspicious or downright openly anti anything that uses natural resources. This makes most ranchers naturally gun shy of them. There is slow progress being made. Another person you should contact is Kent Reeves who has started Cowboy Conservation

  2. Another great post! You're on a roll! Keepg it up.

    1. Thanks JD...And to think the Wannaroo whiners inspired it<);>)

  3. Bob,

    I believe that the way to achieve positive changes in welfare for cattle is to work within the industry to promote good education and understanding. I do not believe that it is best accomplished by working with animal rights organizations.

    As you know, I am a huge proponent of Low Stress Handling and holistic care for my animals. As you pointed out at the end of your post, being a good steward and caregiver to my animals ensures that they are not only healthy and comfortable but also better convertors of their feed and more efficient makers of beef. I believe this, and I manage a cattle feed yard. I manage my feed yard with the underlying principle of limiting stress (of any kind) on my animals, and they thrive as a result.

    I believe this, and I do NOT agree with PETA or HSUS or any other animal rights organization that you can name. I believe that caring for God's creatures is both my responsibility and my vocation. I believe that I can offer good welfare in a feed yard situation.

    I believe that raising animals for the express purpose of growing food is an admirable vocation. If you believe this last statement, then you can not have a basic philosophical likeness with animal right's activists because they do not believe that animals should be raised with the express purpose of providing food.

    I think that working together within the cattle industry to facilitate good care for our animals is imperative. It is not a "us and them" situation (between ranchers and feed yards). It is a collaborative effort to work together to raise the healthiest beef using the fewest natural resources. We can accomplish this by working as a team with a priority on welfare. I encourage you to visit with feed yard operators (both those that do it right, and those that you may believe do not). By communicating with each other, we will all learn and get better. A good conversation within our industry is what we need to get better---PETA plays no role in that, and I am disappointed that you feel as though you have more in common with them than your feeding partners like myself.

    All the best,
    Anne Burkholder

    1. Anne,
      We do not agree with the philosophy of PETA or HSUS. What we agree with is that cattle are being forced on feed, and mass fed antibiotics to compensate for the un-natural force feeding of grain. The study I cited above ( ) states that pens of cattle with no or extremely low death losses were more efficient on feed.

      There is nothing unnatural about cattle eating grain, however it needs to be introduced in a way the bacteria in the rumen can adjust. Pushing them so hard the whole pen gets acidosis, you get both higher morbidity and mortality rates, lowering feed efficiency in the whole pen.

      I would like to see a study done that starts the cattle in a way which the acidosis does not occur, and the medicated pellets are left out, just to see which way is actually more profitable.

  4. Bob,

    I read this post last night and could not quite make sense of what you were saying. After thinking on it all day I realized the issue was you seem to assume, or at least imply that all feedlots operate in a negative fashion as you described in the opening of this blog.

    I could just as easily describe cattlemen as handling cattle incorrectly. I quit hauling cattle for a neighbor that insisted on moving cattle with a pitch fork instead of simply setting up a few gates that would encourage the cattle correctly. We all know that most cattlemen now look at ways to encourage cattle to move the direction we want them to instead of stressing them out by fighting with them about what direction they should move. You have developed some very good methodologies as have others like Grandin.

    From all the feedlots I have visited I truly believe that this is the exception and not the norm.

    I also believe that you know enough about cattle and have visited enough feedlots to know that they are knowledgeable enough to introduce forages and grains at a pace that does not cause an imbalance in the rumen. Instead of trying to divide the industry your business operates in by painting one segment bad and another good please direct your efforts at calling out the bad actors that create a bad name for the majority that are working to handle and care for their livestock to the best of their abilities.

    As far as PETA and HSUS, they have a philosophy of animal rights not welfare. I doubt you would find yourself agreeing that no animals should be raised for food. I believe your blog post would be more accurate if you said cattlemen are more in agreement with animal welfare experts like Temple Grandin, Candace Croney and even yourself.

    Thanks for the post, it got my mind curning.

    1. Mike,
      I'm in the thick of it as far as the low stress cattle handling goes. I am in contact with a lot of people working feedlots and ranches. I am hearing a lot of frustration from people wanting to practice low stress methods who are working for ranches and feedlots that think anyone can be a cowboy, and are hiring people that have never taken care of cattle, and who barely ride a horse to ride pens, or take care of outside cattle.

      This whole conversation began with people complaining to me that the nutritionists and veterinarians are telling them that if they DON'T push the cattle hard enough to get acidois (and treat them with medicated pellets) that the feedlot loses money. I have had that same conversation myself.

      From the feedlots I've worked for, and the pen riders from different parts of the country I talk to, this is the normal way cattle are fed...especially in the large corporate feeders.

      Thanks for including me in the same sentence as Temple Grandin and Candace Croney. If I got your mind churning, then I did my job<);>)
      Thanks Mike,
      Bob Kinford

    2. Whether this is common practice or not, we need to point out the antibiotics you are talking about to control acidosis are class 3 ionophores. Meaning they have no role in human medicine and will never be a cause of antibiotic resistance.

    3. Mike,

      While the class 3 ionophores have no role in human medicine, I look at their use along the lines of other products that have been deemed "safe" without having enough long term research behind them. All you have to do is watch a little television to get an idea of the number of "safe" drugs that are now involved in class action lawsuits because of little side affects of cancer and heart failure.

      While these ionophore do help alleviate the stresses induced by acidosis, they do not prevent them. Stress of any kind directly relates to lower cattle performance. Universities conduct tests to see what kind of feed additives, hormones or chemicals will enhance cattle performance. It is time for them to conduct a control study and see what cattle performance would be by starting cattle in a way that lets their rumen adjust to the hotter feeds naturally, without the stress of acidosis.

    4. Nonetheless, you most remember that if those unfamiliar with ionophores read this blog and precious comments their assumption would be one completely different and out of context since most of Americans outside of agriculture are getting blasted with the messages from the consumers union about how it's the farmers and ranchers fault that there are antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is a completely separate issue and if cattlemen like your friend has a problem with how his buyer is feeding his calves perhaps he should look for another buyer or finish them out himself.

  5. Mike,
    He is contracted to ride health, and do the doctoring in a satellite yard, and wheat pastures.

    While you are correct that they use class three ionphores to reduce the effects of acidosis, most of these same lots will add tetracyclines as a mass treatment. The biggest cause of antibiotic resistant bacteria is actually people. It is surprising the number of people who get to feeling better and quit taking antibiotics before they have finished the treatment regimen.
    Thanks Mike!

  6. Bob, I agree with you that many in the cattle feeding business need to evaluate their feeding programs as far as pushing cattle hard on feed. This not only includes the transition phases, but also the finishing period. I have a blog post going up next week that will express more of my thoughts on that, so I'll save the space.

    I do not agree that the entire feedlot industry should be painted with this brush. I've worked for the two largest "corporate" cattle feeders in the business and while we did use ionophores in our feed rations, all cattle are not mass-treated. And tetracyclines is not the most common drug as you imply in a comment above. Actually, not many cattle are mass-treated at all. When they are treated we had a rotation of medications that constantly changed and included many antibiotics which are different from those used in humans. I think it is important to clarify that difference for readers.

    I'm glad you're willing to voice an opinion on things that need to change. Someone needs to once in a while. A good "self-check" if you will. But aligning ourselves with animal rights organizations would be the wrong way to go about it in my opinion. (yes, what do I know? I'm just a 20-something Junior)

    Ryan Goodman

  7. Ryan,
    I didn't say any of us "aligned" with animal rights organizations...We agreed that, with some of the things we have (or are) experiencing, that in some aspects they are right. If we don't speak up and force a "self check" from time to time we get lax, and some animal rights group comes up with another video.

    Looking forward to your new post Ryan.