Monday, July 16, 2012

Domesticated livestock versus feedlots

On a recent vacation, we encountered the usual feedlots on the western plains of the USA - such encounters are always unpleasant when the wind blows the stench toward the road by which we're passing.  This year, on our vacation we saw a sheep confinement feedlot for the first time!  A distinctly different smell from a bovince feedlot, but still a horribly obnoxious odor.  There are cattle, sheep, swine, and chicken confinement facilities around the nation, as well as the possibility of other species.  All of them strike me as the animal equivalent of Auschwitz for the creatures so confined, forced to live and lie down within their own excretions.  The smell is a clear alarm bell for anyone not numb to the unpleasantness of these facilities - the alarm is for an ecological disaster underway, a scream from the environment:  "What's happening here is terribly wrong!" There have been recent occasions where ponds holding the concentrated excretions of thousands of creatures have been overrun by flood waters, dumping the contents over the surrounding lands and into the rivers and streams.  Imagine that in your backyard!

I often hear from locals that the foul miasma coming from confinement facilities for livestock is "the smell of money" - I disagree strongly with that statement.  I believe it's the smell of greed and an environmental disaster underway.  Humans can get used to almost anything, as demonstrated by those living around Auschwitz.  In order to pack on the pounds for market and survive the experience long enough to make it to marked, the creatures are treated with various chemicals such as growth hormones (for obvious reasons) and antibiotics (to mitigate the threat of disease in the otherwise disease-friendly environment of decomposing excrement).  Such chemicals subsequently arrive in our homes neatly packaged in plastic-wrapped styrofoam packages from our local megamarkets, with no external indication of the "extra" content they're carrying, beyond the meat's nutritive value.

I spent my summers as a boy on a farm in western Illinois - I know where food comes from.  I don't think I'm an urban bleeding heart when it comes to using livestock to feed humans.  I have no problem with it as a matter of principle, although the way meat is produced today isn't ecologically sustainable.  During my boyhood days, the way that farm was operated was what we would call "organic" today - no herbicides, no pesticides, no chemicals unless an animal was sick enough to be treated by a vet.  Yes, when manure accumulated in the barns during the time the livestock overwintered in a sheltering barn, it smelled bad as it was scooped out to be dumped on the fields in the spring.  But it was soon plowed into the soil and provided organic fertilizer for the crops.  This was the first time I encountered that awful smell, and I found myself wondering about the process, even then.  Did the animals find it unpleasant when forced to lie down in straw redolent with their own decomposing shit and piss?  I still don't know, of course, but it hardly seems possible they would choose so, if offered the choice.

Cattle feedlots are designed to pack on poundage (fat) to increase the profit and to put that marbling of fat into the beef that Americans (and others around the world) so enjoy.  The cattle so confined likely spent the early months of their lives in pastures, roaming about and feeding on grass as they were weaned from their mother's milk, but are switched to a diet of corn and chemicals in the feedlot, to bulk up before going to market to be slaughtered.  They must have some sense of an awful change in their quality of life.

Unless I'm mistaken, the livestock taken from the farm where I spent my summers did not go to feedlots, but rather directly to the slaughterhouse.  Thus, in today's terminology, the meat they provided would be called "free-range" and would command a high price.  Back then, that just was the way it was done.

I eat meat from livestock all the time.  I'm no sentimentalist when it comes to that.  But confinement facilities are clearly cruel and cause a cocktail of chemicals to arrive on our dinner plates when we consume meat and eggs coming from them.  They're an open, festering, pustulating sore on the ecological landscape and are virtually certain to contribute to health problems for the consumers of the meat and eggs passing through confinement facilities.  Do we really want this?  I know I don't, and my feelings about that are reinforced every time I pass a feedlot!

1 comment:

Kayleigh said...

Many studies show the influence of nutrition on cattle fertility. However, even cattle feedlots are now concerned by many. If the owners will neglect this, the cattle will be in danger and most of all the people.