Thursday, December 11, 2008

Old18 - Still Hanging in there and I really think she's Enjoying Her Life

Well it has been much too long since I’ve posted a blog, and it’s been a longer than normal several months for me as well! Does that ever happen in your life? Time just seems to stand still and fast forward all at the same time – no doubt that’s a sign of age, and I suppose approaching that ‘half a century mark’ gives me a bit of an excuse for a blip in my blog posts.

Life is just a big old box of chocolates as old Gump’s Mom would say, of late it’s been mostly those tart cherry filled chocolates that I don’t much like! One after another seems to come my way some days, and those nasty ones that you can’t even identify what’s actually in the middle, they really make me cringe! Yuck, just what is supposed to be likeable about some of those confections? I much prefer nut-filled chocolates, identifiable nuts (gee, if only humans were!) -- a good solid crunch to accompany my enjoyment of chocolate.

And I like the events of life to be a good solid crunch, things I can identify and enjoy, rather than chew on a while and decide to just spit out. Some of life we need to spit out and go on down the road – it’s just a bit hard to recognize those times and we chew too long, while with unacceptable chocolate confections we make the decision just real quick, a few chews and we’re done if it’s just not satisfying those taste and texture buds – it’s one big YUCK.

I sold a bull recently to some folks and they came by and picked him up, which was a good thing, I’m always happy when one of my bulls finds a forever home. But what struck me most, was the lady buying the bull recognized my ‘Old 18’ cow at pasture, she had read my blog about her from last October and guessed correctly that she was Old 18.

Old 18 has shuffled along this past year with no complaints about finding herself sometimes alone, sometimes with young heifers, or young bulls, and both young groups seem to irritate her at times, and sometimes she’s with the whole herd. Trying to rotate pastures and keep this old girl happy and close by creates times when most anything can happen. When she was first with the large bull crop of calves at weaning this fall, she actually seemed to enjoy that. There were two bull calves that were often found resting right at her side, enjoying the comfort of her age and gender, I have no doubt. I could tell Old 18 liked being needed by these weanling bulls, and that was a good period for her and me.

Yesterday, winter set in and left a calling card. We had probably 5 inches plus of snow, which is quite unusual for deep East Texas. The last time I remember a snow that actually stuck and was significant was 1973, I was in junior high in Woodville, Texas about 10 miles south of where I now live.

Regardless of the weather, Old 18 had it all worked out – she had been fed her special ration; she was tucked up in the shed by the big barn here close to the house. But, I put a kink in all that inadvertently. Last night the main cow herd was fairly vocal about this weird snow falling, and I, in sympathy and worry, opened up a gate and let them come on here to the pasture by the house, which also happens to be where Old 18 is always hobbling around.

These much stronger, more agile, cows very quickly usurped Old 18’s position under the shelter of the lean-to shed of the big barn. At about 10PM yesterday evening I checked everyone – as in, I buzzed around in my coveralls in the Ranger trying to see them all, and the windshield was clogging with snow, and I was afraid I could even run over a sleeping calf the evening was so blurry -- so it was a new check-on-the-cows experience. But, I did find Old 18 all the way down the hill with a small group of cows and couldn’t imagine that she would have gone so far from the shelter of the shed, or the wind break of the barn.

This morning Old 18 is not moving so well – she’s as stiff and slow as I’ve ever seen her. And yes I can understand that the colder weather likely has her stiffer and in more pain with her hip, but I think it’s more, and I think I see her faltering much more when she walks. Last night was a trial for her I have no doubt, and she’s appreciated all day every special thing brought to just her to eat, and she’s appreciated having the shed by the barn all to herself again to get out of the cold wind. But, nonetheless, this evening she was all the way to the fence line where I moved the main herd, sitting down and looking toward them, and I imagine wishing she was with them.

I don’t know anymore whether how I handle her age and infirmities is the best approach, the happiest approach, for her – maybe no one does as most old cows are sent to an auction barn. But, I think again of our elderly human loved ones that are in poor health, as I recalled last October when I spoke of Old 18, and I again wonder at our care of an elderly cow, or an elderly dog, or even a new young pup – in comparison to some folks’ care of their elderly and infirm human family.

Without a doubt, my Old 18 enjoys her time with the herd, and maybe even wishes she was with them regularly, she probably does – but her hip wouldn’t have survived all the walking and tussling that goes on regularly. Would she have cared? Does she care? Would she just rather be always with her peers no matter the trials of each day? I will never know – because I can’t ask her, I can only watch her and try to figure out what she needs from day to day.

But, we can ask our human family what they need, what they want, what makes them happy. And we should ask and listen with real sincerity, and we should try to make that answer happen if we can, or do the best we can in that direction. I imagine if Old 18 could talk, and listen, she would likely understand why she can’t be with the main herd all the time, that doesn’t mean she won’t sit at the fence and watch them and wish she was with them.

Too many elderly humans in this world are unappreciated by their children, are not respected for the trials of life they’ve endured to reach that elderly age of Old 18. That is a sad thing to get our heart and mind around, when you watch simple cows and their need and wish for companionship and attention from both their human caretakers and their herd peers, and the absolutely unrelated babes that find comfort with them -- babes that want only their company -- not some empty emotionless benefice from the elderly cow when it leaves this world for the next.

The understanding of the instinct for comfort and love seems quickly lost in humans when their elderly become fragile, as though their higher power of intellect gets in the way of the basics of the mammal’s instinct for family and protectiveness, this higher intellect leaves us with a human more like a cow from a breed that has little trust, runs from you, and hogs the trough – not that any cow wouldn’t hog the trough given the chance.

But, hey, humans are supposed to be of a higher intellect? Why is it that this base instinct of a cow to hog the trough, to not give a care about whether the cow next to them is their Mom or not, or their sister, just hogging up all the food they can becomes paramount, becomes so often today the higher power of humans? What does it say about them? About us?  I really like my cows, they are a fine bunch of girls, and it’s really cool when I see daughters long since weaned hanging out in the pasture with their Mom’s……..

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Are You Wishing for More Heifer Calves from this Spring's Breeding Season? I know I am! Maybe we're feeding them too well during hard times. . .?

Mom's diet may play role in whether baby is boy or girl
By LINDSEY TANNER (AP Medical Writer)
From Associated Press
April 24, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

CHICAGO - Snips and snails and puppydog tails ... and cereal and bananas? That could be what little boys are made of, according to surprising new research suggesting that what a woman eats before pregnancy influences the gender of her baby. Having a hearty appetite, eating potassium-rich foods including bananas, and not skipping breakfast all seemed to raise the odds of having a boy.

The British research is billed as the first in humans to show a link between a woman's diet and whether she has a boy or girl. It is not proof, but it fits with evidence from test tube fertilization that male embryos thrive best with longer exposure to nutrient-rich lab cultures, said Dr. Tarun Jain. He is a fertility specialist at University of Illinois at Chicago who wasn't involved in the study. It just might be that it takes more nutrients to build boys than girls, he said.

University of Exeter researcher Fiona Mathews, the study's lead author, said the findings also fit with fertility research showing that male embryos aren't likely to survive in lab cultures with low sugar levels. Skipping meals can result in low blood sugar levels.

Jain said he was skeptical when he first heard about the research. But he said the study was well-done and merits follow-up study to see if the theory proves true. It's not necessarily as far-fetched as it sounds. While men's sperm determine a baby's gender, it could be that certain nutrients or eating patterns make women's bodies more hospitable to sperm carrying the male chromosome, Jain said.

"It's an interesting question. I'm not aware of anyone else looking at it in this manner," he said. The study was published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British medical journal. The research involved about 700 first-time pregnant women in the United Kingdom who didn't know the sex of their fetuses. They were asked about their eating habits in the year before getting pregnant. Among women with the highest calorie intake before pregnancy (but still within a normal, healthy range), 56 percent had boys, versus 45 percent of the women with the lowest calorie intake.

Women who ate at least one bowl of breakfast cereal daily were 87 percent more likely to have boys than those who ate no more than one bowlful per week. Cereal is a typical breakfast in Britain and in the study, eating very little cereal was considered a possible sign of skipping breakfast, Mathews said.

Compared with the women who had girls, those who had boys ate an additional 300 milligrams of potassium daily on average, "which links quite nicely with the old wives' tale that if you eat bananas you'll have a boy," Mathews said. Women who had boys also ate about 400 calories more daily than those who had girls, on average, she said. Still, no one's recommending pigging out if you really want a boy or starving yourself if you'd prefer a girl.

Neither style of eating is healthy, and besides all the health risks linked with excess weight, other research suggests obese women have a harder time getting pregnant. The study results reflect women at opposite ends of a normal eating pattern, not those with extreme habits, Mathews said. Professor Stuart West of the University of Edinburgh said the results echo research in some animals.

And Dr. Michael Lu, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and public health at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the results "are certainly plausible from an evolutionary biology perspective." In other words, since boys tend to be bigger, it would make sense that it would take more calories to create them, Lu said.

Still, Lu said a woman's diet before pregnancy may be a marker for other factors in their lives that could influence their baby's gender, including timing of intercourse.

"The bottom line is, we still don't know how to advise patients in how to make boys," he said.
On the Net:

Friday, March 7, 2008

Blanco Orejinegro & Bridel Cattle Farm in the Cauca Valley of Columbia

The unique markings of the polled British White, those eye-catching black ears and contrasting pure white coat, are found in a few other breeds of great antiquity around the globe. I have long been fascinated by the global reach of these markings and their antiquity. It seems to me there is a hint of a story, a long and fascinating one, in the wide-ranging presence of these markings and the absolute reverence that is held for the cattle.

One of those breeds is the Blanco Orejinegro (BON), and this very special Colombian breed has a strong future now with the Bridel cattle farm in the Cauca Valley of Colombia, which is dedicated to the preservation of this native Colombian breed. According to Jacques Diouf in August of 2007, ". . .the Blanco Orejinegro cattle breed, known for its longevity, tolerance to high altitudes, and resistance to parasites, is under threat; only 260 animals of this breed remain."
In a genetic study dated November 2003, the BON was found to be quite unique and differentiated from other heritage breeds in Colombia:
"BON is peculiar in that it lacks the most common T3 sequence seen in European cattle and in all the other criollo breeds (cattle breeds of Latin America) examined (Col1). Furthermore, five of the six T3 lineages observed in BON are unique to this breed, including the only sequences with transversions. The genetic distinctness of BON is also manifest in the PCA of CR sequence frequency . At the phenotypic level BON is unique among the breeds examined in having a white coat and black ears (Blanco Orejinegro means "white with black ears")."

Without a doubt, I can't tell you just what T3's and traversions are, but it doesn't surprise me that the BON stood out as genetically unique cattle individuals among the criollo breeds. The study referenced is worth a look, as besides the technical nature of the genetic testing, it provides good discussion on the possible pathways of today's domestic cattle to the Americas.

The following is an excerpt from Bridel's home page, translated into English:

"Bridel is a cattle farm, 100% proud of being Colombian, located in the Cauca Valley. It is dedicated to rescue the breeding, and the strengthening of the Full-Blood Colombian cattle breed " Blanco Orejinegro " as genetic source, in order to explore its hybrid vigor and take advantage of its adaptation to our tropical environment.

We cannot lose these 500 years of natural intervention.

The “Blanco Orejinegro => BON ” is a cattle breed in danger of extinction, therefore it's conservation is our number one priority as a company.

The advantages, characteristics and genetic resources of the BON breed are numerous and are usually under appreciated by the majority of the farms and the Colombian public due to the lack of understanding and marketing of the breed, since other foreign breeds are advertised and have higher commercial reach. Our Cattle farm was formed with special criteria of a company to guarantee its survival and maintenance throughout the years.

The BON has low production costs, great genetic value, fertility, resistance to the environment, adaptability, quality marble meat, and the ability to be cross-bred with other cattle breeds."

Bridel hasn't been wasting any time in ensuring the future of this endangered Colombian heritage breed. Care is taken to ensure the blood line remains pure, with BON Fullblood females always bred to BON Fullblood bulls. At the same time, Bridel is very conscious of the fact that the hardy nature and quality of the BON breed has much value to offer the commercial cattle farms of Colombia, and it is perhaps that value that will ensure the BON's continued existence.

Bridel has an ongoing cross-breeding program with the Brahman, Holstein, and Wagyu breeds. Documenting the hybrid vigor of calves, the quality of the carcass, and the quality of the resulting replacement heifers is the right path to ensuring that future generations continue to recognize the value of the beautiful Blanco Orejinegro cattle breed.

A visit to the Bridel web site is a must -- the Gallery of Photos is filled with beautiful scenery of the cattle and the Colombian countryside. After having a look you may well find yourself wishing for a Colombian vacation so you can visit this inspiring Cauca Valley cattle farm of green, mountainous pastures and quiet contentment.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

American Grassfed Association - Rhetoric vs. Reality

American Grassfed Association - Rhetoric vs. Reality
by Jimmie L. West
February 21, 2008

This past October the American Grassfed Association (AGA) held it's annual conference in Austin, Texas. The event was well attended with folks coming from many parts of the USA to participate in the many planned educational seminars. By far the most interesting, educational, and just plain entertaining guest speaker was the Scottish butcher, Stuart Minick -- and guess what, his finishing program for his organic grassfed beef includes oats and molasses added to the final 30 days of finish.

Stuart Minick said the addition of oats and molasses to the finishing rations gives the resulting fat a smoother, tastier eating experience, and he indicated this method of finish is one of longstanding tradition. It was apparent that the American extremism of 100% grassfed was anathema to him. But is that American extremism of 100% or 99% (you see both purported) fact or fiction?

Prior to attending the AGA annual conference, I would have staunchly defended all AGA grassfed producer/members as 100% forage -- now, I question the integrity of that statement, and left the conference more than mildly disillusioned and just plain irritated. I have for years now rigidly pursued a 100% forage based feeding program, and have made harsh breeding decisions based on animal performance under this regimen. The result has given me a clear picture of what British White cattle genetic lines will best perform under this regimen, so I have no regrets. But, I am irritated.

The USDA had a speaker at the conference to explain the newly created USDA grassfed standards. It was during this gentleman's presentation that I was enlightened as to what is actually taking place on many grassfed beef operations. One grassfed producer attending that presentation asked the USDA representative, "What about molasses tubs . . .?" The USDA rep. responded with the comment that he wasn't aware that was part of the feeding regimen, and the fellow assured him it was and that ". . .everybody fed tubs." I chimed in at that point, asking just what tubs he was feeding, as so far as I knew there were no molasses tubs on the market that were just that - plain molasses. I didn't get an answer, instead another grassfed producer spoke up and said she fed molasses tubs as well and that they were all natural and okay to feed. Okay, I thought, well that's interesting.

Over the past few years I've heard on the grapevine that things like molasses, beet pulp, and whole cotton seed were okay to feed your grassfed herd -- but as it wasn't in the standards I stuck to 100% forage. The enlightening conversation in this meeting, to which no AGA employee or other AGA member objected, confirmed that grapevine information so far as feeding molasses. This past summer my pasture grasses seemed to be lacking some element of nutrition that always keeps my cows fat and happy and ready for winter, and a test of it in early summer showed a low brie(sp?).

This lack of brie or sweetness to my grasses got me thinking about adding molasses to their diet this winter. I had spent a great deal of time a few years ago and more trying to locate a source for pure molasses -- which is what Stuart Minick feeds his beeves in the finish phase, pure molasses -- and I couldn't find a source beyond going straight to a sugar mill in Louisiana and getting it by the barrel to haul to the ranch. After this USDA meeting, I queried one of the heads of the AGA on just where I could get these acceptable molasses tubs, and I was given the name of a manufacturer to contact. I was thrilled for two reasons. One, that apparently the AGA was truly totally okay fine with the feeding of molasses (you can't find the feeding of molasses addressed anywhere on their web site); and Two, I now had a source of healthy molasses tubs for my girls when they needed an extra boost in the winter.

Boy was I disappointed. The manufacturer did not have molasses tubs for AGA producers, had in fact worked with the organization in the past to develop one, but there had never been agreement reached on the content of the tubs. Strange indeed.

Try as I might, I cannot find a single mention in the AGA's "Grass Ruminant Standards" dated December 2006, of the feeding of molasses tubs -- either pure, natural molasses, or molasses tubs with their typical added protein boosters of questionable source. Section 3.2.7 of the Standards does allow for "incidental supplementation" defined as ". . .less than one percent of the total energy consumed during the animal's lifetime." It's from this section of the Standards that we get the 99% grassfed minimum. This 1% is to allow for inadvertent exposure to a dreaded grain, and to provide a little help in maintaining cow health in times of adverse conditions. Quite laudable, but it doesn't provide for regular use of molasses tubs with added energy/protein sources, which is exactly what some members are providing their "grassfed" herds.

The AGA has had a web site up and running for quite some time, has been an established organization for quite some time, has had a set of Standards for grassfed producers for quite some time. But, they have never implemented adherence to those standards with a resulting certification label as AGA Grassfed. The new USDA standards for grassfed meat production also provide a protocol, but do not provide audit of the producer with resulting certification -- it's a voluntary program -- which is obviously what the AGA's has been up to now. Perhaps if there'd been a certification process in place with the AGA, the USDA would have done likewise.

This week we learn that ". . The American Grassfed Association said Wednesday its board has voted to start certifying grass-fed meat operations under a new industry-backed standard administered by Food Alliance (FA), owner one of the most comprehensive agricultural eco-labels in North America." That certainly makes for great press, but what is the back story on this new development?

At the Austin conference the proposal to join up with Food Alliance was on the agenda; with Scott Exo, Executive Director of Food Alliance, being a primary speaker during the discussion session for this marriage between the AGA and Food Alliance. From the get go, the questions from the floor were negative on this proposal. The producers attending had done their homework and were quite concerned that the extensive and whole enterprise encompassing requirements to produce grassfed meats under Food Alliance would leave the small grassfed producer out in the cold. My read on the Food Alliance program was precisely the same.

The question uppermost in my mind was why the AGA needed Food Alliance. The USDA provides for specialty certification for a wide variety of producer protocols, and why not work with them. The newly minted USDA voluntary standards for grassfed production does not preclude the AGA or any other group from implementing a USDA certification program. I raised that question and was told that the bison people tried to do that and it cost them lots of money and they never got anywhere with it -- end of discussion.

There were a variety of questions from the floor put to Scott Exo when he took the podium. The concerns were centered around the obvious need to have a big operation and deep pockets to qualify as a provider to Food Alliance; not only would there be the expected production protocols, but the producer would have to meet various other requirements -- labor issues being one area of a particularly rigorous nature to the small shop producer. Scott Exo apparently tired of these questions from these hard working farmers and actually 'bowed up' at his audience, an expression you hear in East Texas when somebody gets suddenly real defensive.

Scott Exo made the statement along the lines of ". . .we've been courting you for while and we're taking you to the dance. . ." -- something like that, it was quite unprofessional, and his physical posture was one of somebody ready to have a fight. It certainly raised my eyebrows, and my suspicions of just what exactly was at stake here for Food Alliance and for the AGA. Obviously, Food Alliance will garner revenues from the large producers who can comply with all their protocols, but until the specifics of the financial arrangement between Food Alliance and the American Grassfed Association are fully disclosed, we can only speculate as to the root of his distress.

Food Alliance now has the AGA at "the dance"; and AGA affiliated grassfed producers will have to perform the dance steps required by Food Alliance to ever get an AGA label for their product. The small producer whose funds have supported the AGA is potentially pretty much out of the picture. In the AGA press release much is made of the standards that will now be finally implemented via Food Alliance as superior to the USDA standards.

For sure, the new USDA grassfed standards were hotly discussed at the Austin conference and used as a general prop to justify striking a deal with Food Alliance. The press release states ". . . AGA's grass-fed marketing claim standard is intended to exceed the requirements for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's grass-fed standard announced in October, which allows animals confined to feedlots, given antibiotics and growth hormones to still be labeled 'grass-fed' as long as they were fed a forage diet."

Actually, the USDA does provide for Antibiotic Free and Growth Hormone Free labeling, just not within the new USDA grassfed standards, they see it as a separate issue. The important issues with the new USDA grassfed standards are potential feedlot confinement due to loophole type language in the standard, and their wholly voluntary nature. The American Grassfed Association could have implemented their own standards under a USDA certification program to address those concerns, but of course that cost those bison folks lots of money and they ended up with nothing.

Let's get back to those molasses tubs. I still haven't found one that has nothing but forage based protein added to it -- I'm not even sure that's doable, but I'm not a chemist, or scientist, or whatever. But in the AGA press release we find again that "total forage" comment and one can't help but ponder where these molasses tubs fit with the program. The following statement is made, "The AGA standards, on the other hand, are primarily based on four precepts: total forage diet, no confinement, no antibiotics and no added hormones."

Molasses isn't allowed under those basic precepts, although it is not a grain, and has long been a boon to meeting the energy requirements of cattle during stressful periods. In the good old days it was fairly easy in big sugar cane and beet growing areas to get real molasses to supplement cattle in times of additional energy needs. From various things I've read, it appears that adding molasses helps cattle to process high protein diets, like dairy quality alfalfa, more efficiently -- they don't poop out as much of that valuable and expensive protein. As I said before, I'm not a scientist, so don't quote me on that. Depending on what manufacturer is selling what, you can find all kinds of reasons and justifications for why you should buy their feed stuff -- which is precisely why I originally converted to an all grass/forage based cattle operation, and precisely why I wanted to find a source for pure unadulterated molasses.

I don't care for all the gobbly gook ingredient lists and conflicting sales pitches on why something is good for my cows; and I haven't found a molasses tub yet that doesn't have something in it that I don't like. Are they feeding molasses tubs with things like feather meal in them? Sounds too much like eating a chicken, and I don't think my cows would knowingly eat a chicken. But without AGA guidance and oversight, how is the grassfed meat consumer to know whether the steak they have on the grill ate feathers?

What exactly is in those molasses tubs that "everybody feeds"? Open and clear communication with members as to what is acceptable is sorely needed.

So how could molasses fit in to a "total forage" certification program? Is it that open ended 1% of a cows total intake over their lifetime? Is that little item of much greater importance to the grassfed producer than I ever ever considered? At this point, I'm thinking that is one big loop hole that's been jumped on and in by the savvy grassfed meat producer. Calculating that 1% could become as complicated as doing my taxes. The British White cow has an amazingly long and productive breeding life. So what would be the lifetime 1% for my breed, versus 1% for a breed with a shorter life span? Of course, the average weight of your cow herd has to be taken into consideration when calculating this 1% as well. Generally, a cow is said to consume about 3% of it's body weight every day of it's life.

The whole thing just gets really complicated, makes me want to get an excel spreadsheet up and running to work it all out -- but then, without a video camera, how is the grassfed producer supposed to know how much of a molasses tub was consumed by what cow or bull or maybe a pet llama running with the herd? Sounds ridiculous, and it is.

Of course the grassfed beef steer has an average finite life. Generally he'll be ready for slaughter by at least 24 months old, and of course he'll be putting on weight every day and eating incrementally more every day. So maybe what the grassfed meat producer is doing to put that final finish fat on their steers is feeding every bit of that allowable 1% in the final 30 days! Like the Scottish butcher, Stuart Minick, does on his Aberdeen Angus beef operation in England. It makes grand sense to me, and at first thought sounds like it makes it a heckuva lot easier to calculate that allowable 1%. But no, I just gave it a brief thought, got out my calculator even, but darn if it's still somewhat complicated to figure out. Perhaps the Food Alliance protocols will have some hard and fast formula for determining this small, but apparently highly pertinent, loop hole in the AGA standards.

Perhaps I'm wrong about this loop hole providing the opening for these molasses tubs AGA members are feeding; but if I am wrong, then the problems within the AGA are much worse than I concluded they were after attending the AGA conference in Austin, which in general was poorly organized. I would like to be able to say that AGA's partnership with Food Alliance is a great step for the members, but I don't beieve it is. ". . . Exo said those passing certification under the specific AGA grass-fed standards will be able to market products with both FA and the AGA's American Grass Fed seals."

"[Producers] will be getting a twofer," he (Exo) said.

Grassfed producers shouldn't have to get that "twofer". Large and small producers of grassfed meats could have been certified by the AGA itself; and those large producers desiring Food Alliance certification as well, certainly wouldn't have been prevented from garnering that quite respectable designation. The whole concept of grassfed has an inherent simplicity. The AGA's own comments highlight that simplicity, ". . .primarily based on four precepts: total forage diet, no confinement, no antibiotics and no added hormones."

Just how hard would that have been for them to audit and certify? Not terribly hard at all. Now, that "twofer" is forced on the producer who wishes to have the AGA's certification label. Exo calls this simplification, "That is the kind of simplification that the marketplace is looking for," Exo says in reference to growing consumer desire for meats raised humanely, naturally, etc...

I can't find a single thing of great consumer importance that the FA designation provides that wouldn't have been provided by the AGA's own simple precepts: ". . .Total forage diet, no confinement, no antibiotics and no added hormones." The FA certification ". .addresses labor conditions, humane animal care, and environmental stewardship." The labor conditions are usually the owner's own sweat; humane animal care is intrinsic to growing grassfed meats; and the grassfed producer can't be a grassfed producer without environmental stewardship -- it's the life blood of their operation, next to superior feed efficient animals.



American Grassfed Association E-Update
February 20,2008

Grass-fed beef producers approve new labeling standard
Food Alliance may start inspections under new grass-fed standard by May

by Sustainable Food News
February 20, 2008

The American Grassfed Association (AGA) said Wednesday its board has voted to start certifying grass-fed meat operations under a new industry-backed standard administered by Food Alliance, owner one of the most comprehensive agricultural eco-labels in North America.

"We can now begin the process of developing the audit protocols that will allow our members to certify their farms and ranches as grassfed," AGA Beef Director Will Harris told Sustainable Food News.

The AGA represents more than 300 grassfed livestock producers. FA certifies farms, ranches, food processors and distributors for sustainable agriculture certification, which addresses labor conditions, humane animal care, and environmental stewardship.

Certified businesses can use the green, FA eco-label on its products to show off social and environmental responsibility.

FA Executive Director Scott Exo told Sustainable Food News earlier that it could his group could start taking applications and undertaking inspections of producers wishing to be AGA-certified by May.

AGA's grass-fed marketing claim standard is intended to exceed the requirements for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's grass-fed standard announced in October, which allows animals confined to feedlots, given antibiotics and growth hormones to still be labeled 'grass-fed' as long as they were fed a forage diet.

The AGA standards, on the other hand, are primarily based on four precepts: total forage diet, no confinement, no antibiotics and no added hormones. The AGA grass-fed claim applies to ruminants only - cattle, sheep and eventually goats - not poultry or pork.

And since producers seeking FA certification are already assessed against rigorous animal welfare standards including no hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics, Exo said those passing certification under the specific AGA grass-fed standards will be able to market products with both FA and the AGA's American Grass Fed seals.

"[Producers] will be getting a twofer," he said.

Grass-fed meat producers have waited for years for the department to develop certification standards and procedures, like the organic certification and seal, to distinguish grass-fed animals from conventionally raised animals.

And though the USDA did ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in its 'naturally raised' marketing claim standard it released in December, it still leaves out the issue of confinement.

The comment period for the proposed voluntary standard for a naturally-raised marketing claim for livestock and meat was recently extended to March 3.

Still, Exo said splitting sustainable agriculture practices into separate marketing claims can be especially frustrating for producers.

"The problem with slicing things so thinly is that a producer has to put words all over packaging to get his marketing message across," he said.

Exo said with both Food Alliance and AGA grass-fed certification producers are able to have a host of practices assessed to standards that consumers are calling for; all in one certification process and indicated by the FA and AGA seals.

"That is the kind of simplification that the marketplace is looking for," he said.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"How Could You? A Sad Story" Copyright © 2001 Jim Willis

Excerpt: "They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch — because your touch was now so infrequent — and I would’ve defended them with my life if need be."

When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was “bad,” you’d shake your finger at me and ask “How could you?” — but then you’d relent and roll me over for a belly rub.

My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because “ice cream is bad for dogs” you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.

Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love.

She, now your wife, is not a “dog person”…still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy.

Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a prisoner of love.

As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch — because your touch was now so infrequent — and I would’ve defended them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway.

There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered “yes” and changed the subject. I had gone from being “your dog” to “just a dog,” and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.

Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You’ve made the right decision for your “family,” but there was a time when I was your only family.

I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said “I know you will find a good home for her.” They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with “papers.” You had to pry your son’s fingers loose from my collar as he screamed, “No, Daddy! Please don’t let them take my dog!” And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life.

You gave me a good-bye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too. After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked “How could you?”

They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited. I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room.

She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood.

She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured ” How could you?”

Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said “I’m so sorry.” She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn’t be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself –a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place.

And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my “How could you?” was not directed at her. It was directed at you, My Beloved Master; I was thinking of you. I will think of you and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.

Copyright © 2001 Jim Willis
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Travels and Trials of Old 18 - Her Story

"The truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it, ignorance my deride it, but in the end, there it is." Winston Churchill

". . .When close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves. . . Female serial bullies are especially partial to making themselves the center of attention by claiming to be the injured party whilst portraying their target as the villain of the piece. . ." Tim Field, Bully on Sight

Although you hear many people using the term 'stupid cow' or some such, from my observations they are far from stupid. Each member of my herd has particular character traits and behavior that are uniquely their own. Cow family groups are often found grazing together -- the Grandmother, Daughters, and Granddaughters. Most often many traits of the sire and dam in terms of personality and behavior are passed on to their calves. Most cattle breeders are familiar with the term "heritability", and certain behavioral as well as physical traits are quite heritable in cattle. If a cow or bull is inclined to be more curious and precocious, the probability is great that their calves will have some degree of this same trait. If a cow is a pushy sort of girl, then look for that to express itself in her offspring, and so on with the whole gamut of possibilities. Old 18 was, and is now again, a gentle and quiet old girl, easily contented.

While we generally see these desirable behavioral traits of cows passed on to their calves, every now and then the odd one hits the ground -- the odd calf born to very good-natured parents that is inexplicably disconnected from kinship with it's family group, and typically much more aggressive about protecting its personal 'flight zone' space.

My observations of people over the years, and particularly the past several years, is that the odd calf in a herd of cattle that is a Genetic misfit with the parents and other siblings, can be found as well in human families. The destructive types of human misfits explored in this essay are the self-absorbed humans who perceive themselves as more important than anyone else and more deserving than anyone else -- the narcissists -- they close their eyes to the needs of others, and place individuals in their family unit who might be useful to them at a careful and calculated distance -- a human 'flight zone' that is based on how much or how little the individual complies with the misfit human's needs. (See Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder )

You can rarely see it in their eyes unless you are their target -- they just don't have a lot to give of themselves and they like it that way -- and, yes, I'm referring to the few odd cows and calves I've encountered and the human misfits, who are quite often Sociopathic Serial Bullies, which is one of the most damaging degrees of sickness for the narcissistic human misfit. The odd bovine misfits won't be found licking the face of their sisters or their mother, hanging out under a tree with their family group, helping with the care-taking of one another just doesn't happen -- unless of course there is personal gain, but a cow doesn't generally hang with another for personal gain. While they most definitely aren't stupid, they wouldn't conceive of the using or abusing of another's emotions as the path to filling their belly with the best the rancher has to offer -- but without a doubt a human misfit will.

This summer Old 18, a very aged cow, returned to my herd -- I've referred to her as 'Old 18' in an earlier essay, and she is pictured above in November of 2004. I placed Old 18 a couple of years ago with a nice family nearby who could keep her in smaller pastures that wouldn't be so hard on her bad hip. However, this respite from life in a big herd was short-lived, and she was traded into a commercial herd where she was just one of a group of many -- her physical limitations no doubt of little consequence to the new owner. She was brought back to me because she is too aged to be of value to the typical rancher, and I did not want her taken to an auction barn where she would undoubtedly suffer from ill behavior on the part of humans -- and she did not deserve that treatment after all her years of service to us humans. Initially, I was irritated at the cavalier treatment of Old 18 by the fellow that dropped her off in the cattle pens. But upon second thought, at least he had the courage and the care to try to do what was now best for her now that her usefulness to him was over. He could have put her in a pasture corner and simply ignored her until she died a so-called natural death.

Old 18 was mal-nourished , her joints popping loudly through the air with every measured step, and perhaps worst of all, her personality had changed -- she was shy of me, of everyone. You couldn't walk near where she was resting, typically alone in the beginning, without her struggling to her feet and shuffling away. She was a tired and frightened old girl, and I'll never know what human treatment she received to make her so. I thought I was doing the right thing, letting her live in a less strenuous environment; believed that she would be cared for as the special grande' dame British White cow she is, until the day she died -- I was wrong. Perhaps, if she could, she would have articulated these questions during her sojourn away from home:  (Source: Physical and Emotional Response to Abuse
***"Question: I feel so ill and desperate I sometimes have suicidal thoughts?
Answer: These feelings, which include reactive depression, are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You are not mentally ill, but mentally injured and fatigued. The cause is external which means someone is responsible and liable for your condition.

Question: Why am I a victim?

Answer: You're not a victim, you're a target. The bully has deliberately and intentionally targeted you. It is the bully's pattern of behaviour with constant nitpicking criticisms, false allegations and so on which reveals intent."

For several months now I've again found myself in a long term babysit of Old 18. She was pretty much emaciated upon her return to the ranch, but now she has a decent amount of fat cover. While her time away from here greatly worsened her bad hip, her joints no longer pop and creak so loudly. I keep her always in a pasture near the house. At the end of every long day I seek her out and make sure she is okay, that she hasn't taken a turn for the worse, that she appears healthy and at enough of a level of ease to enjoy the remainder of her life. It doesn't take much time really to just check and say hi and make sure she's okay --

[. . . the narcissistic human has no time for such care-giving activity, unless it is perceived as a gainful approach to their selfish goals, such as known reward at ultimate death of the individual, be it parent or child, or the narcissist's projection of their self love in their offspring or parent. Self-love through offspring or parents in the narcissistic human is particularly insidious -- as it is only as constant as the offspring's or parent's constancy of agreement with the narcissist human.]

The days can be long for a rancher, it's not at all a glam pursuit. Most often the days are filled with the more gainful side of one's occupations that support the rearing of cattle -- and at the close of the day as dusk approaches you take that walk and check on those who may be in need of your attention. Sadly, human misfits have so little 'humanity' that they can't be bothered to even take this same little bit of time, this brief walk, with aged or injured human family members -- their own time, their own health, is all that matters.

The human misfit's self-importance is so great that they can't be bothered to check upon and observe the health of nearby family members that have in their view failed to supply or comply with their wishes -- a cow would never be so cold. Old 18 has another cow that has bonded with her and they are now often found together keeping one another company. If I had daughters here at the ranch from Old 18, I've no doubt they would be seen regularly at her side.

Sadly, when it's a human misfit, much harm can be done to the entire family unit when one exceedingly malicious person is born into that fold. When it's a cow that is a bad apple, eventually it's seen and accepted as such by us humans, and we let someone else see what they can do with the cow by way of the auction barn -- just maybe it would prefer different, or better, digs to call home.

With humans, we can't just dispose of the family member and let someone else try to work through their personal issues -- we can only hope the misfit human will win the lotto and just go away and stop causing such unnecessary pain and distress to the other members of the family unit -- or best of all, hope they'll surely come to their senses and be that loving and care-giving human that is a reflection of the family unit. This generally doesn't prove to happen. Instead, that human continues to cause extreme pain and distress to the vulnerable family members who can't fathom the root of their malice, and can't fathom the depth of their deceits.

But it is not theirs to fathom, it is an anomaly of nature -- much better they all would be not to try to fathom the depths of the odd misfit human, but to put them aside and go on, much like one assumes a cow family must surely do by simple animal instinct. But in the daily course of life that realization of one bad apple being a weird anomaly of nature is hard to accept by a human mother, father, or siblings -- painful to work with, and the attempt at acceptance of the misfit human puts other loved ones in harms away, drains away their spirit, and takes away their beautiful smile. . . perhaps forever.

With the misfit cow, we let it go elsewhere so it's behavior won't be a daily pain in the rear, won't perhaps influence the behavior of other cows and calves by example. With the misfit human who just doesn't go away, and most likely we don't want to go away, we remain so hopeful of a return of kindness and care to their character that we allow them to remain in our family unit.

Because of their mutual love of their mother, father, or siblings; the family unit remains in a state of hope that the human misfit will find again the clarity and gentleness of spirit of their youth, that can perhaps be likened to the young calf feeling the strength and the wonder of it's legs as it dashes across the pasture without an agenda at hand. Sounds sappy, and it is, and it's just what your human misfit wants you to do, believe . . .hope. . . there is an end to the emotional pain in sight, if you'll just provide what they seek this time -- manipulation is perhaps their greatest skill.

Old 18 seems to be handling the cold of winter fairly well. I was concerned about her being in perhaps a great deal of joint pain with the change of the season, but so far she seems to be at a constant level of ease. It's not unusual to find Old 18 resting with all the baby calves gathered around her, their dams designating the old girl as the babysitter for the day. Oftentimes, the youngsters make a mad dash to her and run around her, as though they're trying to encourage her to have some play time with them. As long as I see that she is content, she'll remain with me, and with this earth . . . I think she's well worth the extra time and care-taking.

NOTE: I imagine this blog will only bother those people who feel uncomfortable with themselves upon reading it.

The DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder are:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, lack of empathy, as indicated by at least five of:

1. a grandiose sense of self-importance
2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. believes that he or she is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. requires excessive admiration
5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others, (Unless it can be publicly accomplished to further the narcissistic ideal self they strive to project.)
8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder often cross a moral line into Sociopathic Serial Bully disorder.  Sociopathic Serial Bully?  Serial bullies harbour a particular hatred of anyone who can articulate their behaviour profile, either verbally or in writing . . . in a manner which helps other people see through their deception and their mask of deceit. Serial bullies hate to see themselves and their behaviour reflected as if they are looking into a mirror.


"Yet, the prime rule of narcissism must never be forgotten: the narcissist uses anything available to obtain his (or her) Narcissistic Supply. Children happen to be more attached to the female narcissist because women are still the primary caregivers and the ones who give birth. It is easier for a woman to think of her children (or her own mother) as her extensions because they once indeed were her physical extensions and because her on-going interaction with them is both more intensive and more extensive.

. . .Devoid of the diversity of alternatives available to men – the narcissistic woman fights to maintain her most reliable source of supply: her children (or parents). Through insidious indoctrination, guilt formation, emotional extortion, deprivation and other psychological mechanisms, she tries to induce in them a dependence, which cannot be easily unraveled.  But, there is no psychodynamic difference between children as sources of narcissistic supply - and money, or intellect, or any other Source of Narcissistic Supply. So, there is no psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissists. The only difference is in their choices of sources of narcissistic supply."

Follow this link for an online Narcissistic Abuse Message Board.

"Nothing can prepare you for living or working with a sociopathic serial bully. It is the most devastating, draining, misunderstood, and ultimately futile experience imaginable." Tim Field, Bully on Sight