Are Cows Smarter than People?

Well Being Foundation has a three-fold mission: to promote harmony with Nature, wellness of body, and peace of mind. As I see it, all three are related; if you are not at peace with yourself, it is not likely that you will be at peace with your neighbor and even less likely that you will be at peace with the world at large (or its constituent plants and animals). OK, that might seem obvious in an abstract kind of way, but let’s look a little closer to home.

Are you at peace with your own body? Or are you in a continuous state of negotiation with “you” and “your” body on opposite sides of the table? Your body is ready for bed; you want to finish the movie. Your body has had a full meal, but you want dessert and you recklessly promise that you’ll exercise tomorrow. You don’t really want to work late, but you convince the body to press on beyond exhaustion by offering “it” a future “reward” of a glass of wine (or two) when you finally get home. I could go on, but I’m sure you have your own negotiating styrategies.

Cows don’t do this. When they’re tired, they lie down. When it’s hot, they seek out a tree to stand under. When they’re hungry – which looks to be about all the time – they eat. But they won’t eat just anything. They are in fact quite selective, knowing instinctively whether they need more carbs or more protein and which type of plants in the pasture will provide what they need. You can set out a dozen free-access boxes of different minerals and cows will peruse the offering and eat one and skip the next based on what they actually need to maintain their health. They don’t eat what’s not good for them, except if they have no other choice or if they’re trained to do so by humans.

Most cows start off life in a pasture grazing on grass which is their natural food source. If left on good quality grazing pasture, cows have few problems and they produce the highly prized “grass finished” beef. Cows haven’t evolved to eat a grain based diet. However, after about a year on pasture, cows are shipped to feed lots. In feed lots, cows are fed corn, because it is a cheap (you and I subsidize it through our tax dollars) and because corn is a highly concentrated form of carbs which adds fat to the meat, aka  “marbling” which is spoken of fondly around the barbeque pit. (Not surprisingly, excessive carbs do the same thing to the human body, although it is not as highly valued there.)  One question: Why does the average feedlot owner know this (that it’s not dietary fat; but rather the excessive carbs, that make you fat) and your average doctor doesn’t?

In any event, feeding the cow lots of grain in the feedlot [not to mention chicken poop (which is high in nitrogen), hydrolized chicken feathers (which are high in protein), and GM seed meal (after all the oil has been squeezed out)], will cause the cow to get sick pretty quickly. (I’m feeling a little ill myself just thinking about it.) So feedlot cows are routinely fed antibiotics to keep them alive just long enough to be slaughtered.

Let me briefly sum up here, and let’s see if we can draw any similarities to the human condition. The animal is fed crap food and is kept alive, but not healthy, by frequent doses of antibiotics. Does that sound like anyone you know?

A healthy pasture is dependent on full spectrum soil with its multitudes of sub-surface life forms. A healthy pasture supports healthy cows eating what they were evolved/designed to eat. One may choose to eat meat or not, but for me, I prefer beef that has been raised on clean healthy pasture as Nature intended and not one that’s been fed chicken feathers.

So if you’re going to the supermarket to buy that ribeye, here are some pointers to help you navigate the treacherous terrain of meat labeling.

All-Natural” doesn’t mean anything. I once had a friend who signed his letters “Jack Smith, DMA.” I asked him, “Jack, what does the DMA stand for?” He answered, “Doesn’t mean anything.”

Grass-Fed” doesn’t really mean too much either since essentially all cattle are on pasture for the first two thirds of their life. This isn’t a legally defined term, so it can be, and is, used loosely.

Grass Finished” OK, grass finished, while not a legal term, actually implies that the animal has been on pasture its whole life and has not been fed grain prior to processing. This is good. The fat on a grass finished cow has a much higher Omega 3 content than the fat on a grain finished animal. (Similarly, the butter(fat) from dairy cows that are 100 percent on pasture is different than butter from grain fed dairy cows.)

Hormone Free” This is also a valuable term. Cows in feedlots (and sometimes before) are routinely fed growth hormones to make them grow faster and bigger. Your 9 year old daughter ingests these hormones every time you serve her some hormone-laced hamburger. Ever wonder why so many children reach sexual maturity at such a young age? By the way, you often see chicken in supermarkets advertised as “hormone-free,” but, unlike cattle, it’s actually illegal to feed growth hormones to chickens, so the statement doesn’t mean anything on the chicken package.

Non-GMO” GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. Nearly all soybeans and field corn grown in the US is now genetically modified. Corn and soybeans are prominent ingredients in animal feeds. Unless the meat says “Organic” or at least “non-GMO”, you have to assume that the animal has been fed GM grains (and in many instances other unspeakables). Now non-GMO is an improvement over beef fed with genetically modified (GM) grain, but non-GMO grain can still be produced using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides – it just doesn’t start out as GM seed.

Organic” Now “Organic” is actually a legal term. A licensing and inspection protocol helps to insure that the term means something. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the cow was out on pasture its whole life. It does mean that whatever the cow was fed was Organic, whether that be pasture, hay, or organic grains.

Local” isn’t a legal term, but it may be the most helpful. At least you can drive out and see how the farmer is raising his/her cattle and be able to ask questions. If any farmer isn’t proud enough to show you what is happening on his/her farm, look elsewhere. Here in Tennessee, many people raise cattle because the hilly land is often suitable for grazing and not much else. The cattle are raised locally to about 800 to 900 pounds and then sold to the local distributor who ships them out west to a feedlot, where they are fattened for 4 – 6 months, processed, and then the meat is sent back to Tennessee to be sold in the local supermarket. What is wrong with that picture? Instead, why not talk to your local farmer and tell him what kind of food you are looking for? Who knows? It may be a very productive and informative visit for both of you.

Be Well,

Don Oakley, President

Well Being Foundation