Sunday, December 13, 2009


Cows.....methane....vegetarianism.....cows......climatechange......milk.....cows.....cheese.......grass.......conservation.....cows.... ......ooooo and a few million sheep, deer, antelope, bison, buffalo......cows......methane....global warming....

This has been a reccuring theme on tv over the last few weeks......
I have a veggie husband.....yep Pete is a veggie.....he always has been....for over 30 years....and yes I grow meat.....
I have had some interesting anonymous comments posted on the blog from those who want to bash me for murdering my animals, causing climate chaos or a combination of the 2!.....I usually delete them as they cannot be bothered to leave their name or because they are rude!
So I got to thinking and doing some asking around.....what do people really know about ruminants....the vegetarian grazing animals with 4 stomachs that include cattle, sheep, goats, deer, buffalo and antelope to name a few!
They are animals designed to graze and browse large quantities of plant matter, then sit down and regurgitate it, re chew it (chewing the cud) and then swallow it again.
They all belch methane as part of their digestive system....
So why are cattle suddenly so bad, why are we all supposed to go veggie and is it as simple as all that to stop greenhouse gas?

Wellllll.....noooo!
Lets look at it bit by bit...
Cattle (and other ruminants) are designed to eat herbage....grass etc....and if that was all they ate plus hay in winter when the feed value of grass was low, they would be ok, if given a huge area to roam.....about 4 acres per cow...They would be able to produce and feed a calf, but that would be it....just like a bison or buffalo.
However man has developed 'breeds' of cattle accentuating their atributes for rapid growth, big muscules and milk and as a result we have beef cattle such as the Hereford that produces only enough milk for its calf but puts on loads of meat!.....it has a good frame designed to carry beef!
On the other hand there is the Fresian that is a large bony cow that produces lots of milk ....more than a calf can manage and often if not milked for humans can suckle 2 or 3 calves!(not its own as cows generally have one - foster calves!)
So we have beef and dairy cattle.
All cattle breed annually with a gestation of 9 months...so eah year a cow will calve and if a beef breed she will raise her calf and if a dairy breed she will not as the milk is needed for the milk and dairy products industry....
Now the beef cow and calf will be kept extensively on lots of grass, and little corn/grain feed will be given....therefore less methane will be produced as more grain fed to cattle = more methane produced by the digestive system!......The calf will grow on and eventually become prime steak etc!
The dairy cow will also eat grass and hay BUT will be fed huge quantities of grain to keep milk production going as she must produce well..... more milk from less cows is more efficient! She needs a high protein diet containing a lot of protein, usually soya based.
The dairy cows annual calf will be either a beef cross bred (its father being a beefy bull) or a dairy calf (its father being a dairy breed like mum) The beef calves will be reared for meat, the female dairy calves for herd replacements and.....the dairy bull calves.....which are skinny and not at all beefy....are often shot at birth now the veal trade to which they used to go to is not popular....(some are raised as rose veal)

So......the beef animal is extensive, lower in methane, is a good conservation tool as it grazes areas that need cattle to maintain biodiversity, may consume some grain, but not high protein....and provides beef for meat eaters.....however....
The dairy cow needs lush grazing, often rye grass which is poor for biodiversity, needs huge quantities of maize and grass silage, needs large ammounts of concentrate grain feed containing a lot of soya, produces huge quantities of poo.....which is collected in big slurry tanks...and produces huge quantities of......methane!
And the produce.....all vegetarian....plus an annual calf.....

So what can we conclude from this.....?
Well its complex....if we want to eat meat we have to demand local extensively farmed grass fed meat (if its beef or lamb) free range pork and poultry and that is going to be expensive as its been produced slowly and conservatively without a lot of cheap grain feed with a lot less animals to the acre. Therefore the decision must be to eat a lot less meat but make it much better quality meat that has done a good job for biodiversity and has not 'cost the earth'.....
If we want to eat meat every day we must face up to either spending huge amounts of money to feed our meat habit or buy cheap mass produced meat that has been pushed to weight by feeding lots of grains (as in the picture in the cattle parks of the USA and S America)
The dairy cow which produces the milk and therefore the butter and cheese is a bigger producer of greenhouse gas....because of course everyone wants to eat tons of cheese, butter, yoghurt etc and drink gallons of milk and there is the sticky question of the fate of the calf it must produce each year to keep it milking! Therefore there is just as much of a dilemma with dairy products as there is with meat eating!!!
So veggies next time you yell from the rooftops that meat eaters are causing global warming take a hard look as how much you consume in the way of dairy produce!

Personally I don't have any problem with anyone eating anything......so long as they have thought long and hard about the consequences.......food for thought eh?

9 comments:

mherzog said...

Here is a good video on the subject: http://meat.org

The world is vegan. If you want it

Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

Can't help feeling that the sudden interest in animals causing methane is a classic 'divide and rule' strategy by the big agri-businesses who don't want anyone taking their behaviour too seriously! There are issues, of course, and I was interested to read your findings, but the main by-produce of this debate has been confusion. Thanks for clarifying!

Val Grainger said...

Thanks for that link mherzog please take a look folks as it sums up all that is bad about the meat and dairy industry! However as a person who takes my animals personally to the local abattoir and actually waits whilst they are killed I can confirm that its not all like that! My local abattoir does have 'glass walls'....its been filmed on tv on several occaisions and I can vouch for the excllent welfare standards.
I know from experience of many years in the 80s and 90s working with herds of dairy cows that in Britain they are treated a lot better than what is on the video...they are worth a lot of money and are often treated better than humans!
Unfortunately animal welfare is not the highest priority in many countries and this is why, if we eat a diet containing meat or dairy products, and indeed if we wear leather or wool, we MUST demand the highest welfare standards and respect our animals!

dragondays said...

Ooops! Late as usual ...
I try and do my very little bit for the planet - recycling and stuff and not buying food that has been flown half way round the world to end up in my local supermarket - usual sort of things.
I am slightly sceptical about climate change - of course, we are not helping it but it would appear that this sort of thing does happen every few hundred years, but I won't block your blog with that now!
Whether belching and farting animals have an important impact on greenhouse gases - this does stretch the limits of one's imagination. Perhaps we should think about the impact we are having on the Planet every time we go to the loo and use the flush - water is a mega commodity.
Again, the credibility of Copenhagen must be questioned. Have none of these people heard of video conferences? We have this wonderful tool called the internet and the 'leaders' of the world and the 'experts' in climate change fly to Copenhagen.
My husband uses video conferencing very often - we have high speed internet and on the whole it is very satisfactory for mere mortals as ourselves - sometimes the voices become a bit daleky but its 85% okay. Seeing the amounts of money spent on meetings like Copenhagen, I am sure that for a fraction of the cost world wide video conferencing could be set up to be a pretty seemless operation.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

I am so sorry to hear about the rude comments you have received, those that do not have the courage to leave their names and/or discuss have negated their rights to have their views heard.

As for the fate of the male calves you mentioned I don’t imagine for one minute that the great general public ever think of what happens to them or to male chicks either. As for methane production from animals, just think of the number of sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes eaten over the Christmas period... is there a sprout/human/methane measurement we can feed into the Global Warming equation Val?

Laruchka said...

Really interesting. Did you see the Future of Food that was on the BBC a while back? I enjoyed the interview with the beef cattle farmer who pointed out that you couldn't do a whole lot else with his land in scotland. I'm vegetarian and starting to wonder if it's really as clear cut as I thought it was...

Maggie said...

I have only just found your blog, so am rather late in commenting.

The problem isn't the animals, it is the size of the human population. We have vastly outgrown the capacity of the earth to support us as a species.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

Maggie, have we outgrown the capacity of the earth? Look at the obesity problems; look at the groaning supermarket shelves and the food waste (1/3rd) in the so-called 'developed' world.

The tragedy is that we do actually have, at the moment; enough food available to feed the world, what is lacked is the will of those that have, to share it with those that have not.

Maggie said...

Sorry, I have only just made my way back here.

Yes, I do believe that we have outgrown our capacity to persuade the earth to produce food in a sustainable and ethical way.

Current research is showing that the obesity that you cite (along with heart disease and type 2 diabetes and other problems) are largely caused by resistance to insulin caused by over dependence on refined carbohydrates, exactly the type of food that is on those groaning supermarket shelves.

How much of the meat that is on sale is produced in a humane way? Have you read the descriptions in "Not on the label" of how workers in the meat trade are treated, and how salad crops are produced in Spain?

Have you read a description of how beef is produced in feedlots in the US? Feeding ruminant animals on maize which does not suit their digestive system, and causes them to need antibiotics routinely, let alone the pollution problems of dealing with the manure? Prawn farming in the East? Why should we need new potatoes grown in Egypt using historic water pumped from beneath the desert, when Egypt is a dry country and will need that water for its own population before long? Except it won't be there.

People and organisations waste food because the prices in the shops do not reflect the true costs of production.