Kicking the Grain Habit – It Can Be Done
Chair: Caroline Drummond (Chief Exec of LEAF)
Speakers: Andrea Malmberg (Savory Institute), Carrie Balkcom (American Grassfed Association), Sara Gregson (Pasture Fed Livestock Association), Fidelity Weston (Pasture Fed Livestock Association)
I was brought up on a farm and my father saw the transition from grass to a grain-fed diet. My mother’s family came from a line of Swiss cheese-makers.
In the 1980’s the cattle were huge but if we look at a photo from the 50’s we can see they were much smaller – see slide below.
See the feedlot picture – this area used to be some of the finest grassland in the US.
I visited a feedlot and saw the sort of things that the cattle are fed – Twinkies with the wrappers on, even chicken carcasses.
I also read Pasture Perfect by Jo Robinson and I became convinced that this was the way forward.
See some of the photos for the advantages of managing holistically.
I travelled the world to get a better understanding of peoples’ relationship with animals and their food.
We need to focus not on yields but on using sunlight and creating great products.
Most of the beef in the US has genetics from very large animals that are not accustomed to grazing.
I have also been in the dairy goat business. Some goats were bought in and they didn’t know how to eat grass. We also bought in a cow from a dairy feedlot that took two years to figure out how to graze.
There are 762 million grazed acres in the US. 75% of this is degraded and needs proper livestock management to restore it.
It takes on average 6.5 months longer to bring cattle to slaughter when pasture fed.
Slaughtering costs are a huge consideration in the US and many abattoirs have been consolidated with feedlots.
We started the AGA in 2003 as a response to the fact that farmers could feed 20% grain and still be called ‘grass-fed’. They could also feed antibiotics, hormones and confine cattle to feedlots under the grass-fed label. There were no regulations to check.
In 2007, the AGA created the first 3rd party certified grass-fed programme in the world. The AGA works extensively with the consumer base.
75% of the antibiotics used in the US go to livestock and drugs such as Ractopamine (given to pigs) are a problem.
Family farms often don’t have a market for the by-products (such as offal etc.)
Consumers have to get involved in the fight. Pasture-fed is better for the consumer, better for the animal and better for the environment.
Carrie highlighted the forthcoming Slow Meat Festival in Denver, Colorado June 2015
Grassland management evolved with pack animals and predators. We need to mimic this.
Carrie showed this fantastic video from Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Georgia, who provided the following great quote:
‘Nature abhors mono-culture.’
See also this excellent article.
The PFLA was founded three years ago. It looked at pastoral farmers around the world.
We need to produce more 100% pasture-fed livestock and we need to create demand.
Demand is growing and this way of farming is both environmental and animal friendly.
The PFLA is currently gathering proof of the advantages of pasture feeding. There is a 2015 initiative to gather information from suppliers and publish this online with case studies and financial data.
We have preliminary findings from 12 farmers.
Members farm many different breeds and outlets for products vary.
We have a remit to help farmers through things such as training sessions, etc.
Romshed Farm over 70 hectares at Sevenoaks, Kent
Decisions are largely dictated by grants and subsidies
Converted to organic 2000 and then to High Level Stewardship 2010
Never feeds grain to livestock.
Livestock are in the barn over the winter. 15-16 head cattle – fed homemade haylage and hay from meadows, finished at 33 months, out April and calve outside. Also 150 ewes, Saddleback pigs and poultry.
Inputs – very low on cattle and very easy.
Sheep and lambs outside – may bring some in.
It is an incredibly disease-free system.
Sell meat locally and through box schemes etc. Also have a pop-up shop – see video here – although it is hard to sell this way.
We also sell to butchers and restaurants but they will not market it as pasture-fed as they do not want to say no to customers when it is not available.
Sara Gregson introduced the new PFLA certification mark (see slide below):
‘Pasture for Life’
‘pasture for life’ reassures the consumer that animals eat only pasture for the whole of their lives, while the word ‘life’ also connects with the idea of good health
Chris Jones (PFLA member) – we carried out carbon audits and saw a reduction in CO2 emissions when changing from a mixed arable and livestock farm to livestock. A lot of carbon audit programmes do not look at what is going on in the soil! (read an interesting comment from Chris here).
Carrie – grass-fed sales in the US have gone from 1% to 3% in the last 10 years. We are hoping to get to 15% in the next 10-15 years. We need an informed consumer to do this!