Backyard Animals & Store Bought Meats
From Chapter 26 of "Healthy Garden Healthy You" by Milo Shammas
Consuming animal meat is a reality and a part of most people's lives. The majority of animals and humans consume meat. Most of the animals we consume for meat are not raised in humane ways. Today, animals are more than likely to be strictly confined, fed genetically altered grains and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Feeding animals with organic, healthy produce in open spaces will ensure the healthiest meat possible for consumption. If you raise your own animals for consumption, give them a healthy diet, sunshine and the freedom to roam. These conditions will reward you through the healthier food they ultimately provide you. Unfortunately, commercial agriculture has discovered short-term profit in confining animals to unnatural environments indoors or in pens and stalls.
Many people cannot or will not raise their own animals for food. You may have more space but live in a city where domesticating animals is restricted or impractical. You may have no such limitations but not have the heart to butcher anything you raise. It is hard to kill an animal you raised unless you grew up on a farm where slaughtering is just a part of daily life. If you are not going to raise any animals, you will probably buy your meats from a butcher, a supermarket, or I hope, a local farmer. The choice of meats you bring home and feed to your family or pets determines your health, your family's health, and ultimately the health of the environment.
Healthy Animals Equal Healthy People
Raising an animal in a healthy manner is just as important as growing healthy crops. You must provide that animal with proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, micronutrients and, most importantly, compassion blended with sunshine. Micronutrients are critically important to animals, especially during development so they can grow to their fullest potential and maintain their health. Just as in people and plants, animals need nutrients in differing amounts. Allowing an animal to roam and graze freely ensures it will consume all of the needed macronutrients and micronutrients in a well-balanced manner. Once again, the right balance is the key. If you over feed an animal any kind of nutrient, you run the risk of toxicity. Too much or too little of any one element throws off the balance.
You might wonder: If grazing freely is a great way to nourish livestock, why don't the large commercial farms and ranches do it? It is not because penning animals in huge warehouse-like barns and pumping them full of growth hormones and antibiotics is "better." Rather, this factory-like arrangement saves time and money. More animals can be raised faster at lower cost per pound than the traditional, healthier way. We have inferior, factory-produced meat in our grocery stores and butcher shops, because it is efficient to produce, and because not enough of us—yet—have insisted on something better for our health.
I keep writing about balance. The essential meaning of organic is balance. While the scientific meaning of organic relates to the element carbon, the essence of the organic method is balance. Balance is the key to the health of every living organism on earth. Even antibiotics (which mean “against life”) have a place in our lives when needed. When used as a last measure to save lives and relieve pain, the role of antibiotics is also to restore balance.
In animals, micronutrients play critical roles in activating key enzymes and coenzymes. Coenzymes facilitate communication between enzymes by transferring individual molecules or larger chemical groups from one enzyme to another. Enzymes present in each animal cell play a major role in enabling the proper functioning of many glands and organs. Enzymes are catalysts for many functions including metabolism. Deficiencies in micronutrients can cause detrimental effects to animal growth, productivity, fertility and overall health.
Some farms administer micronutrient treatments underneath the skin of the animals in containers that allow slow controlled release. In this fashion, animals theoretically can receive any one or combination of micronutrients to optimize their growth. For example, pigs receive iron subcutaneously (just beneath the skin) to promote optimum growth and prevent an iron deficiency, which is common in developing pigs. Therefore, it can be a lifesaver in certain situations. In others, it allows farming corporations to raise livestock in overcrowded areas with GMO byproduct foods that lack proper, well-balanced micronutrients.
Micronutrients From Your Backyard
Generally, we can provide livestock with most, or even all, of the nutrition and micronutrients they need. It starts with the soil. Livestock need diets based on energy consisting of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. The relative amounts of needed micronutrients differ between and within species depending on factors such as season, energy output, pregnancy and stage of growth. Most commercial livestock receive a diet of commodity grains such as corn, wheat and the ubiquitous protein-providing plant, soybeans. Other elements, including cottonseed, feathers, blood, meat, bone, kelp, fish meal and supplements, are added to livestock feed to give the animals what they need.
Wouldn't it be nice if all animals received a complete set of micro- and macro-nutrients by consuming plants they ate when their species evolved? How simple that would be. Just let them roam and graze. The nutrients are right there in the environment. Why supplement it? The problem is animals are fed crops that are nutrient poor, because they were grown in nutrient poor soils. This directly affects animal health and growth.
This loops everything back to soil health. If the food fed to all animals is grown in healthy soil, the plants will contain ample micronutrients that adequately meet the nutritional needs of all animals including the livestock intended for human consumption. In theory, soils are the multivitamin. They contain diversified and complete nutrients needed to feed all living things on earth. The less we artificially supply nutrition to animals, the better. The ideal, safest approach is to consume animal meat raised on healthy plants harvested from healthy soil with no need for artificial supplements. Artificially administering any nutrition should be a last resort considering the risk of nutrient deficiencies or toxic concentrations. Also, the research on the proper micronutrient densities in animals is not conclusive. We do not know the best concentrations to add to animal feeds. Conversely, healthy plants grown in healthy soils naturally have the proper ratio of micro- and macronutrients. This relieves us of the concern of any inadequacies of purchased supplements.
By now, I hope you understand and can appreciate how complex, yet subtle is the science of nutrition. To do carefully controlled studies in the real world outside of a laboratory, where you change only one thing and see what difference it makes in order to get absolutely clear conclusions, is harder than it sounds. This helps explain why we so often read of contradictory studies and recommendations concerning human health and nutrition. Sometimes the best advice is the simplest and most natural: Choose a wide variety of foods grown in the healthiest, most natural soil, and cook them as little as you need to make them appealing and digestible.
In a sense, deficient soil leads directly to the need to add supplementary nutrients in livestock feed. Micronutrients are just as important for animals as humans. If we can deliver the right combinations of micronutrients to all livestock, whether grown in our backyard or on the farm, we will contribute to the health and welfare of both animals and humans.
Healthy Feed, Healthy Livestock
Buying organic, grass-fed beef is the healthiest option. Cows did not evolve eating corn or grains. When I eat at a restaurant and see a menu that specifically offers beef that is "100 percent grain fed" I know the management has not done their homework. To accept that grain-fed beef is a consumer benefit is to fall into the marketing scheme of the feedlot producers. This ploy has been designed by the agribusiness giants to deceive us into believing that grain-fed beef is better and contains more nutrients. The suggestion is false. Corn is not what cows evolved eating as their primary food. They are much better at digesting high fiber grass and plants than high starch grains. Eating large quantities of grains like corn causes cows' stomachs to be abnormally acidic and could cause a condition called lactic acidosis. This disrupts stomach functioning and can make cows more susceptible to bacterial illness. If continuously fed grains until slaughter, cows can develop an acid resistant version of the harmful bacteria E. coli. This further perpetuates an acidic environment that invites a host of diseases that weaken the animal's immune system, requiring more nutrient supplements and corrective treatments to keep the animal healthy.
Here's how it works. Cows are put in small feedlots with no room to graze or burn any fat. Next, they are fed corn and other grains to fatten them and promote a marbled texture that makes the meat tender and seemingly desirable. This combination of growth allows the farmer to take the cow to slaughter in half the usual time while improving his profitability. The consumer is not told that most of the animal's diet is GM corn and other GM ingredients. Even more troubling is the fact we are also not told that these cows are fed other animals including other cows in the form of blood and bone meal. Even worse and more disgusting, some people speculate feedlot cows may be fed domesticated animals in the form of "meat meal" that may contain the carcasses of dogs and cats. The subject is highly debated and deserves further investigation if consumers are to comfortably support any particular brand of pet food.
Those who run modern agricultural operations suggest farming has become more civilized in our time. For these large-scale producers, gone are the days when a cow roamed the fields and ate grasses that naturally grew without applied chemicals. However, local suppliers of free range and organically raised livestock do exist. In fact, these businesses are making a comeback and are becoming profitable, because people are willing to pay a premium for clean-quality, GM free beef that is raised humanely.
I love to see chickens scratching the soil looking for bugs to eat. This is the way nature intended them to live. Birds are a great complement to any garden. They are beautiful and have great personalities if you watch them carefully.
When I was a child, I raised chickens at my grandparents' ranch. There were no cages or confinement of any kind. The chickens roamed freely, then returned to roost at night. This model of raising chickens works well and accomplishes many things. Chickens receive a wide variety of nutrients. The free movement of the chickens helps keep the garden or farm free of pests. Chicken manure and beneficial nutrients are distributed back into the soil, creating a mini ecosystem throughout the yard or farm. Most importantly, free-range chickens do not require antibiotics or hormones, because they are not stressed from confinement. Because they are not slaughtered quickly, they do not need fatty grains for rapid growth. Gradual growth is the humane way to raise these animals.
The chickens I eat are exclusively free range, organic and free of antibiotics and hormones. I raise them myself, when I can, on the Dr. Earth ranch. This is the sustainable and humane thing to do. Good practice leads to nutrient rich meat and eggs. If you intend on raising a few chickens, make sure to give them plenty of room to roam so they do not decimate your garden. Raising chickens in close quarters can lead to parasitic loads. I recommend a good book devoted to small animal farms to make sure you completely understand all of the variables. A local feed store can suggest one of the many books available on the subject.
Free-Range Living and Bioaccumulation
Many farmers adopt ethical and sustainable practices in raising their animals, because it is more profitable. More farmers are starting to support sustainable methods in something of a return to the past. Sustainable farmers are keeping cows on traditional grasslands, allowing grazing on native sustenance. They are also no longer implanting growth hormones and feeding antibiotics to animals. As a result, cows raised this way are left to develop at a more natural pace with low stress. They end up healthier.
With healthier cows, farmers don’t have to invest in initial antibiotics or other costly and unhealthy preventative measures for disease control. In general, these cows also require less treatment for illness than if they were fed concentrated corn. Cows in a high output regimen endure much more physiological stress that is correlated with a higher susceptibility to infection and disease. While pasture raised animals produce less milk and leaner meat than feedlot animals, farmers can make up the difference in reduced overhead costs and a higher sale price for healthier meat.
Pasture raised, grass-fed meat contains less bioaccumulated environmental contaminants than grain fed meat. Since we consume these animals for food, we want to make sure they are exposed to the least amount of treatment as possible. Bioaccumulation is a problem for humans, since we are highest on the food chain. We consume just about all things, both clean and toxic. Substances accumulate and are stored in our organs, such as our liver, muscle and fatty tissues and bone marrow, causing many health problems. The cleaner and less toxic the foods we consume, the less we accumulate any environmental toxin. That is why environmentally aware nutritionists advise eating only small amounts of tuna meat. They also suggest eating smaller fish. Some fish accumulate heavy metals such as mercury, lead or zinc. Bioaccumulation in the tissues of larger fish occurs over their longer life span. Larger fish have bioaccumulated toxins of the smaller fish they eat. This explains why shark meat is downright toxic.
Grass fed cows tend to bioaccumlate fewer toxins and contain more "good" fats like omega-3 fatty acids. The beef also has much higher vitamin concentration. These cows are eating grasses that are nutrient rich and dense. If you are what you eat, it follows that you will be less healthy consuming most feedlot animals. If these animals are fed monoculture grains that are synthetically farmed with simple N-P-K fertilizers, chemical pesticides and genetically modified crops in nutrient deficient soils, what kind of nutrition do you think you will get from eating them?
When animals are raised through intensive farming such as feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a concentrated space. After a short time, the manure must be collected and transported away from the area. To cut transportation costs, the manure is often dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with concentrated nutrients that are not absorbed for plant growth. The concentration can cause ground and water pollution. Conversely, when animals are raised outdoors on pasture, manure is spread over a wide area of land. Instead of becoming a waste management problem, the manure is a welcome source of organic fertilizer to support the growth of more pasture grasses. This is a natural cycle.
Bioethics and Our Food
I studied theology and ethics extensively at a Catholic preparatory high school in Los Angeles. I took away an appreciation of subtext in these studies as I reached adulthood. I have good insight into the underlying meanings of language and can read the meaning beyond the literal words.
I often sense that in modern religious teaching, especially Catholic and Protestant, animals do not have a telos. Telos comes from the Greek for "end," "purpose," or "goal." This belief that animals do not have a purpose or goal may explain decisions to treat animals without higher regard. It becomes possible to disregard the screams and cries of monkeys, dogs, cats and all animals as they are literally dissected without anesthesia. We explain it away as the mechanical response of a soulless body responding without self-consciousness to a physical stimulus. As their living tissue is being dismantled, can animals not feel on a higher level? If they do not have a telos or self-consciousness, are we justified to do as we wish with them? This form of thinking baffles me. It should confound every thinking person, whether they love animals or not. It should give discomfort to vegetarian and carnivore alike. There is no need for such suffering. You don’t have to be an animal lover to understand this.
If animals possess no purpose of their own, many modern religions find it easy to conclude animals cannot suffer. On this basis, humans can infer that the "purpose" of animals is to serve human needs, especially our nutritional needs. Confinement, unnatural environments or experimentation become means to the justifiable end of advancing the human race.
This is a philosophical discussion that has evolved over the last few hundred years. It requires much more detailed coverage than this book can offer. However, ethics are a valid consideration, whether buying meat or simply making a pet food purchase. What you buy helps support the methods by which it is produced.
Animals are used for all kinds of testing. Many products now carry "cruelty free" labeling. Buy these products when possible. Many large companies do not operate with the highest ethical standards. Others revere profit over all else and have no concern for animal suffering. In such a context, animals are manipulated not unlike an automobile part might be adjusted to achieve speed or cost savings.
Do the agribusiness giants believe these animals don't suffer, because they have no telos or purpose beyond serving human needs? Or can they take the justification a step further? Can they assert the animal’s purpose is not only to serve nutritional needs but the more deeply selfish desire for profits among owner/stockholders? This self-serving thinking is not for the modern ethical person.
I do not suggest we all stop eating meat. I just want animals raised and slaughtered in a humane way. Genetic engineering plays a role in animal cruelty as well. Some animals are born with intentional deformations as part of bioengineering experiments. The bioengineer knows the animal has no way of being born normally. This situation creates a major ethical concern and debate. The bioethics of genetically modified animals might be saved for an ethics book. For now, be alert to the realities of modern bioengineering companies and the giant agribusiness companies. Many people support their businesses unknowingly. These are some of the practices they engage in to pursue profits. The fact that an animal is intentionally altered and manipulated genetically and suffers as a result appalls me. The best we can do as conscientious human beings is to create a better environment for all animals that we keep and love as pets and animals we intend to consume. Support farmers who share your beliefs. Consumers are the final decision makers. We vote with our pocketbooks when we decide not to spend in support of companies with no ethical standards.
In fairness to the many brilliant, dedicated minds in the field of bioengineering, I do not believe bioengineers are evil people who intend to make animals suffer. Many study this field because they think they develop new technologies to help mankind, feed the hungry, eliminate disease and make the world a better place. I do not condemn bioengineers. I simply want the freedom to choose – or not to choose – genetically modified foods.
Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator