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February 5, 2012

Beef farmers thinking green

I recently attended a couple of regional conferences focused on livestock and grazing. With increasing interest in local foods and more sustainable agricultural practices, our region's livestock producers are in a good position to make the changes that will help them grow.

The two main topics that I found most interesting were the value of improved animal-welfare practices and the environmental benefits of improved grazing methods.

At the Vermont Grazing Conference, keynote speaker Dr. Temple Grandin talked about livestock behavior and how we as an industry need to do a better job of implementing animal-welfare practices. While larger operations out west have implemented many of Dr. Grandin's animal-handling recommendations, smaller farms in our region can still make improvements. Livestock that are happy, calm and comfortable in their environment will grow faster and are easier to work with. Because cattle and other grazing livestock see the world differently than we do, we need to consider what they see and feel when they are moved from place to place.

With an increase in consumer concern for animal welfare, third-party animal-welfare organizations have started to enroll farms in programs that audit their animal husbandry, handling and processing procedures. Large fast-food corporations have actually been leading the way with strict guidelines for the way animals are handled and processed for meat.

For local direct-marketing farms, an animal-welfare auditing organization can help to ensure customers that proper animal husbandry, housing and feeding guidelines have been followed.

At the Winter Green-Up Grass Fed Beef conference in Latham, the focus was on grazing and the benefit to the environment.

For the cows, eating grass and other forages is a more natural and healthier diet. Cows on pasture rarely have the illnesses that cows in feedlots may suffer. With fewer sick cows, the need for antibiotics is reduced dramatically. In many grass-fed beef programs, antibiotics, growth hormones and other supplements are totally eliminated.

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