Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


AUTHOR'S NOTE - All of the premises presented in this series of posts are solely based on personal experience as a livestock producer and strictly as a cattleman (I have a basic understanding of farm commodities markets, but no real experience with such, and cannot speak with much authority from the farm side of things; Though I would think there are going to be some similarities). The information represents my opinion and is based on personal experiences. Any factual information may or may not be referenced, but be aware, the majority of the content is personal conjecture. Dialogue and comment are welcome.

A cattle baron is a man who possesses great power or influence in the activity of herding/caring/selling of cattle. - Unknown

 The Civil War devastated economies in the South and in particular Texas. However, Texas had a distinctly singular and bountiful resource. Millions of longhorn cattle roamed wild across the state. Due to the ravages of the war and the steady stream of immigrants, beef was in heavy but short supply across the nation. To complicate matters further, Texas had plentiful supplies of beef but, no distribution system (railroads)...Kansas (three states and hundreds of miles away) had the rail heads to get the beef to market. 

In the late 1800's, some daring and intrepid cattlemen rounded up longhorns by the millions and herded them north across Texas, Oklahoma, and into Kansas. In doing so they gave rise to two, distinctly American, icons: the Cowboy and the Cattle Drive.

"Driving Cattle circa 1887
(John Grabill)
In less than two decades, following the Civil War, great herds of these longhorn cattle were rounded up and driven north to the rail heads in Kansas. These wild and unpredictable bovines were only worth about a dollar a head in Texas, but upon arrival to the shipping points in Abilene, Dodge City and Wichita, a single longhorn could fetch as much as forty dollars. More than six million longhorns made the three-month trek north. Often referred to as the greatest migration of livestock in the history of the world, cattle drives and the cowboy became living legend. 

Ranch Brands on Marker
 Doan's Crossing, Texas
Learn More
The moving of several thousand wild head of cattle, at one time, over five hundred miles of rugged prairies, encounters with murderous outlaws, and hostile indians brought fame and fortune to a select few. Men such as Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, John T. Lytle, the Blocker brothers, and a host of others took enormous financial as well as personal risk (Loving was killed in an Indian attack while leading a cattle drive) to reap the considerable rewards. 

Legendary ranches were born as well. 

The Y.O., XIT, JA, King Ranch, 6666, Waggoner, and Matador Land and Cattle were among the largest providers of cattle at that time (Side Note: With the exception of the Matador, all of the above named are still active cattle ranches today). These men were literally "Barons of the U.S. Cattle Market" and wielded considerable influence in the pricing of beef.

That was then...This is now.  

The open range became fenced pasture land. Cattle are now "driven" to market in eighteen wheelers via a modern highway system. Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, the XIT, and 6666 no longer influence the pricing of beef. In fact they are now merely characters and entities of a romantic and colorful past...just "history"as they say.

"Driving Cattle" - Modern Day
Today there are only four "cattle barons". Their decidedly unromantic names are Swift, Cargill, National Beef, and Tyson. These conglomerates are well financed, ruthless buyers of beef "on-the-hoof". Together they control and process 69% of the beef produced in the United States. In doing so, these "Big Four" heavily influence the price of live cattle.

Many of the cattle drives were "staffed" by cowboys between the ages of 15 to 20. There was such a shortage of labor that many of the "cowboys" were actually...cowGIRLS. Many of whom cut their hair and made themselves appear as boys to get a job that was dirty, physically exhausting, and paid about a $1.00 per day. 

To learn more about the considerable influence and heroism of women in the American West visit the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.  Learn More Here

PART 3: A Living Wage From Commercial Cattle: What Goes Up...

Thursday, December 9, 2010



AUTHOR'S NOTE - All of the premises presented in this series of posts are solely based on personal experience as a livestock producer and strictly as a cattleman (I have a basic understanding of farm commodities markets, but no real experience with such, and cannot speak with much authority from the farm side of things; Though I would think there are going to be some similarities). The information represents my opinion and is based on personal experiences. Any factual information may or may not be referenced, but be aware, the majority of the content is personal conjecture. Dialogue and comment are welcome.

"When you are ranching and farming, you have to take what the buyer offers." (John Hodges)

Few people are formally trained in the study of economics, but everyone makes economic decisions.
Any attempt by an individual to earn or spend money involves economic decision making. Earning and
spending or buying and selling influence the way our economy functions. It is this economic influence that also makes the cattle market move each day by establishing prices for cattle and putting beef on the consumers’ table.

Economics is also thought to be a mathematical science by many people since economists are
constantly working with numbers trying to predict the outcome of some economic event. Actually, economics is the study of human behavior. Economists try to relate how people will react to changes in supply and demand, to higher or lower interest rates or to increases in the cost of production.

Beef cattle marketing is also a study of human behavior. Cattle prices are determined by how much beef people choose to buy and sell in the market place. If people want to buy more beef than is available in the marketing channel, then the price of beef is bid up rationing the beef among buyers. If producers need to sell more beef than people are willing to buy, then the price of beef will be forced downward to move the excess supply.

Cattle producers often say that to make money in this industry you must buy low and sell high, but that only works when the individual who is selling has some way of influencing the price. Since the overwhelming majority of beef is sold via auction, the price the individual producer receives is thus dictated by commission agents (Buyers) representing the interests of large feedlots and/or beef processors. Which means they will try to buy at the lowest price possible....

We learned (above) that economics is based on human behavior and the supply/demand function of pricing. So, a producer could just hold his/her cattle until demand is high and thus improve the price...simple, right? The cattle being sold today will not be available to the consumer for 6-12 months. The price received today is based on a "best guess" of what consumer demand will be at a future date...which means the "buyer" will hedge the price against unknown factors...thus, no matter what the individual producer does, the selling of cattle in the auction process is nothing more than a "roll of the dice".

PART 2.2: A Living Wage From Commercial Cattle: Cattle Barons - Today

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sometimes, life just seems to make sure you are doing the things that you should be doing...

These past few months have been spent tending to "family"

New postings 
coming SOON!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


AUTHOR'S NOTE - All of the premises presented in this series of posts are solely based on personal experience as a livestock producer and strictly as a cattleman (I have a basic understanding of farm commodities markets, but no real experience with such, and cannot speak with much authority from the farm side of things; Though I would think there are going to be some similarities). The information represents my opinion and is based on personal experiences. Any factual information may or may not be referenced, but be aware, the majority of the content is personal conjecture. Dialogue and comment are welcome.

 "A cattle auction is a place where honorable men try to swindle each other out of their herd." (an observation from my late Grandfather, who was an agricultural commodities buyer)

 An Introduction to the Various Methods for Selling Cattle

The marketing of livestock in the United States is conducted by a variety of businesses and individuals. The participants range from the order buyer who operates out of the seat of a pickup truck, cattle "buying stations" or "auction barns", and now video auctions that sell cattle via satellite television. The livestock marketing business has changed dramatically from the days when stock producers would send their livestock to a terminal market and totally blind of the price they might receive for their stock. Terminal markets and commission agents are still major players, but they now compete with modern day merchants who use computers, video broadcasts, fax machines, and cellular phones to market livestock. The current participants involved in the wholesale marketing of cattle include such diverse operations as feedlots, auction barns, order buyers, dealers, brokers, and video auction companies.


The term "Terminal Market" comes from the days when cattle were taken to the nearest train stop, or terminal, via trail drives and later by truck. Terminal markets usually provided a large area of livestock pens, also known as stockyards. The large meat packing firms would have buyers present to purchase the "meat on the hoof" and then arrange to ship the animals by train to the packing plants located in large metropolitan areas "back east."

 The use of commission agents dates back to the early days of trail drives when ranchers would send their livestock to an agent located at any of the larger stockyards, such as those located in  Chicago, Kansas City, and Fort Worth. These agents would then be responsible for the care and feeding of the livestock and the selling of them once they reached the yard. The agent was paid a commission, by the cattleman, based on how much the animals brought at market.

The Auction Barn
Livestock are consigned to auctions by ranchers, to be sold by an auctioneer. Because transprtation is a major expense, most often the producer will send their livestock to the nearest auction market. These auction markets are usually individually owned, though a few are owned by large food conglomerates. The owner of the auction receives a commission or a per head fee for selling the livestock in addition to charging for the feed consumed while the livestock are in the auction yard. 

In an auction livestock are typically sold by the pound except in the case of animals being sold strictly for breeding. Breed stock are usually sold by the individual head. For example, a breeding bull may bring as much as $2500 or more, whereas a steer destined for the feedlot is sold by weight "on the hoof". Simply put, a buyer  purchases the animal by the pound.

Sitting in the auction arena are the" buyers". They make their living attending  auction sales throughout the week. They may be order buyers working for  a single rancher or a buying syndicate, or they may be employees of a feedlot or a packing house. Order buyers are very knowledgeable and highly skilled at what they do. They are paid on a commission basis, and are responsible for purchasing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of head of cattle each week.

A growing trend in the beef business in the last 30 years is the custom feeding of cattle. This means that a rancher contracts to have his cattle placed in a feedlot. He then pays for daily feed and yardage (cost of using the facilities) expenses. He then sells the cattle to a packer when they reach the weight required for processing. This method allows the rancher to retain ownership of the cattle all the way through the feeding phase. The cattle are then sold on the projected grade of the beef as well as on a weight basis. Simply put, the price per pound is determined by the expected quality of the meat.

Some cattle producers like to sell their livestock through private treaty or "in the country," which simply means that buyers come to the ranch or farm to purchase the animals directly from the owner rather than from an auction market. 

This relatively new tool allows cattlemen to offer their livestock for sale to buyers all over the country through the use satellite television technology. A video of a group of cattle pictures of  a particular
ranch's consignments of livestock are broadcast on the scheduled day, and buyers can view the livestock on their  television, via a broadcast subscription service. While they are viewing the livestock, they can make bids by telephone or internet to purchase cattle through this high tech version of an auction.  

PART 2: A Living Wage From Commercial Cattle
Life at the "Craps Table".

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"I taut I taw a Puddy Tat" (Introduction to a New Series of Posts)

Smokey is going "Unplugged"
This blog is tweaking its focus to the food industry, food politics, and sustainable food marketing (though he will still include healthy eating and "buy local" articles as well). In essence, Smokey is going to give his opinions on both "what is right and wrong" with our current food production system. In addition, he will offer his thoughts and ideas for possible solutions.

"In the cattle auction market, it sometimes seems, you have about as much chance of making a living buying and selling cattle as you do surviving a gun fight while holding a knife." (overheard in a discussion between two old ranchers watching their cattle go through the auction ring)

Tweety Bird and Sylvester The Cat are famous cartoon adversaries. In our society they represent the predator (Sylvester) and the prey (Tweety Bird). In real life, the predator will use  cunning and brute force to conquer it's prey. In the Loony Tunes version Tweety represents the underdog. Despite this perceived disadvantage, he consistently reverses their traditional roles by being nimble, thinking ahead, and able to adjust quickly to the situation. Meanwhile the cat is tunnel visioned and slow to adjust. In a sense, this seemingly silly cartoon is a metaphor for the current agricultural commodity system and, perhaps, presents lessons the agricultural community can learn from.

We, as agricultural professionals, ply our trade in a nation founded on and based upon the free market system. But, in its present form the livestock market presents itself as a formidable conundrum within the free market. In the arena of livestock marketing there are two main players. The producer and the buyer. My particular interest lies with a producer with less than 200 head of "mama cows" and how he/she is to survive in the current system as it exists today. My premise is simple, the cattleman is viewed as prey and the buyer as predator. I know, this may seem a little outlandish, after all the current system provides an auction/bid system where every producer has an outlet and equal opportunity to sell their animals. The system though, is set so as to allow the producer no control over the price he/she will receive and really no reliable way of accurately projecting a true profit/loss scenario BEFORE selling the livestock.

In a free market system, a manufacturer offers their "widget" at a wholesale price that They Set. Any adjustments to the price are made by the manufacturer in order to entice the potential buyer and still make a profit (or at least break even). A cattle producer is also a manufacturer...calves, the essential. ingredient to making beef...except he/she does not set their own wholesale price. Instead, they produce the product, with all it's inherent "production costs", and enter into a buying system with no idea on whether they will get those costs back, much less make a profit.

In the coming posts, I will discuss:
  •  Who and what a commercial cattle buyer is and how they set their price
  •  The economics to the producer and how this affects the consumer
  •  Discuss the "SOLE" movement and how it's principles may improve the quality of life for both producers and consumers
  • Redirecting "Political dollars" to the community and the sustainable economic impact these dollars would create
In the end, I hope to show why we all must become "Tweety" in order to create a sustainable, healthy, and economically viable food system.

Author's Note: All of the premises presented in this series of posts are solely based on personal experience as a livestock producer and strictly as a cattleman (I have a basic understanding of farm commodities markets, but no real experience with such, and cannot speak with much authority from the farm side of things)(Though I would think there are going to be some similarities). The information represents my opinion and are based on personal experiences. Any factual information will be "backed up" with references when possible, but be aware, the majority of the content is personal conjecture.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


WARNING! A Smokey "self indulgent pontification!"
The USDA is a large, unwieldy, bureaucratic, political devil, but,"it's" local public servants can be down right Angels.

I frequently complain about and criticize the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is a politicized, bureaucratic, and often serpentine mess. Yes, the Washington based political wonks that manage this behemoth are often nothing short of idiots. But, I would like for us to take a step back, look out the window, far beyond the carpet lined office, and tell you about the oft forgotten men and women who work for the various agencies and departments of the USDA.

You see, once upon a time, the USDA was not only a proponent of the farm, but a valued source for methodology, economics, and stewardship. The "County Agent" was a member of the community, valued for his or her knowledge, ready to provide advice and education on planting, water resource
management, production, conservation or any manner of innumerable subjects. In recent times, they
have faded from the conscious of many. The bureaucratic "red tape", political wheeling, and, to some degree, the USDA's loss of mission has cast a pall that sometimes casts a shadow on these agents. AND too often, they themselves are ignored or forgotten by "the parent".

I recently attended a major national event by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI). The theme of the conference was "To heighten awareness of the economic and environmental effects of grazing lands". I went to this event with quite a bit of skepticism because the main sponsors were the various departments of the USDA and from the Department of the Interior (DOI). "Probably a grand propaganda event" I was thinking. Boy was I wrong!

The GLCI event was four action packed days of learning sessions, break out groups, and totally geared toward sustainable livestock management. Most of the speakers were the aforementioned "County Agents" and do they know "their stuff". I came away impressed with not only their scientific knowledge, but also with the depth of their "on the ground" experience. As the old saying goes: "they all had dirty fingernails". There was not a single policy or political wonk to be found. In fact, most of the attendees were equally divided between these government employees and individual ranchers like myself. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in attendance had one goal in mind, sustainability. (Ok, enough of the conference stuff...visit the GLCI site if you want to learn more.)

My real point is as follows. In getting our family ranch re-started I have pestered and cajoled my local USDA agents mercilessly. In every instance, they have responded professionally, timely, and courteously. In fact they have "bent over backwards" to help, provide assistance, or get the information I needed. Representatives of the NRCS, SRM, and ARS have not only provided information, but have personally visited the ranch to inspect and gather help ME. These men and women have taken soil and water samples, surveyed and measured, and provided detailed recommendations. They then call regularly to see how things are going or if I have any new issues. Whenever we have had a success, they were right there celebrating with me and when things haven't gone as planned, they said "let me make some calls and I will get back to you with a possible solution"...and they did. For all of this I have paid...NOTHING!(if you don't count my income taxes):)

I thought I was just lucky that my county had some out of the ordinary USDA folks. The GLCI conference opened my eyes. I quickly learned that no matter where you are from, these "boots on the ground" professionals all have the same help and serve the individual

So, while I do not trust or respect the USDA as policy friendly toward the "little guy", I do trust my local County Agents. When it comes to actually caring about the success of the local farmer or rancher, these men and women are absolute ANGELS.

More Info:
"HOPE on the RANGE Video
By SRM (Society for Range Management)

Photos courtesy of NRCS

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'd Like to Buy the World A...Glucose Meter

The 1971 Soda Pop commercial filled our hearts with love and made the makers of diabetic supplies rich.

So, what are you drinking right now? Did you know that recent studies show that the average person drinks 50 gallons of soda a year? That is a little more than 533 twelve ounce cans per year and comes out to a daily average of nearly 18 ounces per day. Soft drinks are one of the largest single sources of calories in the diet of every American accounting for up to 7 percent and for teenagers, even higher at approximately 13%. What does this mean? To put into perspective, these numbers reflect roughly 60,000 EMPTY calories per year...calories that provide little or no nutritional value, but are often stored as sugars in our bodies.

Soda is one of the largest contributors of caloric intake in society today. As we all know, extra calories mean extra weight and that leads to health problems. Problems related to the heart, tooth decay, and Type 2 Diabetes (formerly called "Adult Onset").

OK, so nobody ever said that soft drinks were a health food. But a highly debated 2004 Harvard study concluded that in addition to the bad things we already know about sodas, they may be directly contributing to the nation's increase in diabetes. Since 1980, the incidence of type-2 diabetes has more than doubled  according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now represents about 6% of the total population. AND,  about the majority of that increase has come in just the last 10 years.

No one is saying that our thirst for the carbonated "sugar shots" are the sole cause of the nation's growing number of jello butts and spare tire bellies. But, it is hard not to correlate the huge increase in diabetic incidence to the rise in obesity.

The bottom line here is that you need to analyze everything you eat and drink. You do not have to give up sodas entirely, but enjoy them responsibly and save them as a rare they were originally intended.

Diet Sodas Linked with Health Risks  

Zero calories, same great taste (and heart risks)

And a Companion Piece from the Wellness Tips Blog
Diet Intervention for Overweight and Obese Kids 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010



AUTHORS NOTE: If this article strikes a chord, PLEASE pass this website and article on to as many as you can. Change comes from knowledge. The more who know, the more who will become aware that there are other, viable, options for food shopping and maybe, just maybe, we can start to make a difference.

It is no longer something I can ignore....time to "take the blinders off" and quit pretending. The commercial livestock industry is just plain sick and deranged. For too long I have stood by, ignoring how these gentle animals are the feedlot, at the sale barn, on the dairy farm, and at the packing plant...I convinced myself that most producers were like me. We love our livestock and treat them with grace and dignity.  I have never witnessed any of the many cattlemen I know and work with, subject their animals to cruelty or abuse.  I assumed that if your livelyhood depends on these animals it is in your best interests to treat them, at the very least, with respect and with as little stress as possible. 

Well, "The Truth Shall Set You Free"!

I recently watched the film FOOD, INC. and it was an eye opening experience, even for a livestock producer, like me. I am over 50 years old, a one time college athlete, a proud cowboy. But, during the segments on livestock, I had tears in my eyes. Both from sadness and anger. Then, tonight, I watched a segment on cruelty to dairy cows on the ABC WORLD NEWS with Diane Sawyer.  I'm not going into the gory details, just suffice it to say the callous indifference to the infliction of pain and suffering on these animals is absolutely mind blowing. AND, most of it perpetrated by the dairy operator...( it has created a feeling of betrayal, those who I trusted) sigh(!)...(click on the Diane Sawyer link above for the details). The full story can be found on ABC's NIGHTLINE as well (be warned, some of it is very graphic).

The question now is how to effect change. It is obvious that each of us, on our own, cannot change an entire industrial culture.  After all, well organized and funded organizations that operate both nationally as well as internationally have had little effect except to make these industrial complexes dig their heels in deeper. But as individuals, we can, ever so slightly, create change and it starts with what has been the focus of this local, know who you are buying from, and always ask questions...whether it is about fruit, produce, or meat...if the producer is truly a craftsman (and make no mistake, we are craftsmen) then he or she will show it by the way they answer. Those of us who truly care about the product we produce, have an unmistakably sincere enthusiasm, passion, and love for the land and especially our animals. This passion, this love, cannot be faked.

Here is one thing I can promise. The cattle that I am responsible for are, and will always be, raised and cared for in the most humane and gentle ways possible. We do not brand, de-horn, or "tail-bob". Not a single animal I own will ever set foot in a feedlot. That they will never want for nutritious forage or water and that when the time comes, "it" will be in the most humane way possible...PERIOD!

These are pics of our animals with our Foreman. As you can see they are gentle and curious.




Corn…Just the thought of it makes my taste buds tingle. Eating fresh roasted corn on the cob, (swimming in butter!) is one of my most vivid childhood memories. I used to accompany my grandfather (a “black land” farmer in central Texas) to pick those golden ears of corn, right from the cornstalk. I still love a roasted ear of corn. But, in the current health climate, corn stirs many to thoughts of villainy and hatred. So, I have decided to pull down my sombrero and throw my serape over my shoulder as we take a look at the “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” surrounding corn. (Hopefully, there are a few Clint Eastwood fans out there)


Corn, in its natural form, actually has a lot of nutritional as well as health benefits.

For starters, it is high in fiber which fosters lower cholesterol and is beneficial to a healthy colon thus, helping to fight colon cancer. That golden ear is also rich in folate, providing  B12 and B6 vitamin compounds, integral to the generation of new cells, a big deal before and during pregnancy. Eating moderate amounts of corn has shown to be helpul in the treatment of diabetes, renal dysfunction, constipation, and hemorrhoids.
Also, it contains beta-cryptoxanthin, which helps promote healthy lungs and may even assist in the prevention of lung cancer…


As we have learned, corn, in and of itself can be very beneficial. The “bad” is how the crop has invaded nearly every part of our life through the use of its many chemical properties…or, actually, the chemical change of the inherent properties.

“Big Ag” is synonymous with large scale food production. In the last 50+ years, chemists have discovered literally hundreds of uses for the chemical compounds found in corn and few of them are healthy for us. We have already learned that our meat industry relies heavily on corn as a quick fattening feed for livestock and that a diet of corn is unhealthy for the animal and thus, humans. It doesn’t stop there. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used in nearly any packaged or processed food product you can name. But, it doesn't stop there. As an example, let’s grab a cheeseburger, fries, and a soda…remember, every ingredient listed has some form of corn in it:



THE MEAT: GRAIN FED, IRRIDATED, and possibly treated with a variation of CHLORINE

THE FRIES: HFCS, not to mention the oil used in deep frying


Nearly every one of these products, especially HFCS have shown the potential for causing severe health risks in laboratory testing. 


Where to begin? Let’s start with corn seed. Over the past 20 years, corn has become a genetically modified and engineered crop. The largest producer of GE seed is the Monsanto Company with an estimated 90% market share. Genetically Engineered seeds are resistant to bugs and various crop diseases. While it is true that these advances in seed genetics have radically boosted harvest yields, it is the murky veil of secrecy and heavy handed tactics they use for corporate protection that are disturbing.

The non-profit Center for Food Safety listed 112 lawsuits by Monsanto against farmers for claims of seed patent violations.. The Center for Food Safety's analyst stated that many innocent farmers settle with Monsanto because they cannot afford a time consuming lawsuit. Monsanto is frequently described by farmers as "Gestapo" and "Mafia" both because of these lawsuits and because of the questionable means they use to collect evidence of patent infringement.

As of May 2008, Monsanto is currently engaged in a campaign to prohibit dairies, which do not inject their cows with artificial bovine growth hormone from advertising this fact on their milk cartons.

When the Federal Trade Commission did not side with Monsanto on this issue, the company started lobbying state lawmakers to implement a similar ban. Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolfe attempted to prohibit dairies from using labels stating that their milk does not contain artificial bovine growth hormone, but public outcry led the Governor to step in and reverse his secretary's position, stating: "The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced”. (SOURCE)

Monsanto has also been loathe to release the results of their ongoing lab studies on their products, saying only that both their seeds and the previously owned ARTIFICIAL BOVINE GROWTH HORMONE (rBGH) pose no risk in the food chain. However, independent research is beginning to show that genetically modified corn may be a leading cause of organ damage. (Huffington Post)

In closing, It is clear that an ear of corn has numerous nutritional as well as potential health benefits; that making chemical changes can be unhealthy; and that owning the monopoly on a product can lead to deceit and corruption.

Monsanto and the food giants should heed the warning made famous in a TV advertisement for one of

THEIR first corn by-products: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Back in July of 2009, a major study comparing the nutritional value of organic food to conventional food was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study conclusion was that organic food, was “no healthier” than ordinary food. They also decided there were "no significant differences in nutrient content,” and "there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organic over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

Surprised? Don’t be. The real differences and reasons for eating organic are not wholly based on nutrition. You should actually consider the "who, what and where from" when selecting your food.

Sure, we instinctively know that organically grown food is better than conventionally grown, if only because it is free of potentially harmful chemical residue. But, for the sake of argument, lets accept the study findings at face value. The fact that produce or meat is organic doesn’t change the basic make-up of a food item. A rib eye steak, organic or not, is still beef and broccoli, despite the use of artificial pesticides or fertilizers, is still broccoli. The nutritional value of the food item is still inherent regardless of how it is grown.

The real issue is large scale or corporate farming.

The “Big Boys” have figured out that they can command a premium price for the organic label and now, most of the major corporate producers have either created or acquired an organic division. Up until the last fifteen or so years, organic produce and beef was a small niche market deemed worthy only to "health nuts" and "hippies". Anyone who wanted organic had to buy at specialty health food stores or visit a farmers market that featured locally grown organic crops and commodities. Now, because of growing public awareness that conventionally produced food may have certain health risks, everyone from Walmart to the large regional grocery chains carry organic food. Furthermore, these large retailers don’t get their organics from small, local farmers who take great pride in providing healthy and delicious tasting food. Instead, they buy from large industrial organic farms, many of which are owned by the same "name brands" that deliver the conventionally produced foods . These large scale organic farms aren’t concerned with growing the richest, best tasting products. What they want are products that meet organic certification, can be grown on a large scale, and survive mechanical harvesting. Because of the lead time required for shipping, organically produced foods (just as conventionally produced items) must be harvested before it is truly ripe, which causes it to decline in nutritional value.

Finally, and most importantly, is what society and civilization are losing because of the advent of large corporate farms…..the family farm. It’s a rich part of the American heritage and it is being pushed to the brink of extinction by corporate farm entities and big box food retailers. Local farms are operated by people dedicated to providing high quality foods. They are stewards of the land, that squeeze out a significant part of their income from local markets or direct sales. They pick the crop when it is ripe, ready to eat, and at its nutritional peak).

When you buy local, you are helping to keep a part of history alive while also rewarding a true craftsman for his or her work.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


 Warning: Author’s Opinion and Self Indulgent Pontification

Okay, it is time to step back and take a deep breath. So far, I have written several pieces that take a rather scathing approach to our current food industry. However, I would like to clarify my stance and hopefully, try to limit collateral damage caused by trying to effect change.

It is pretty much a fact that the buying public is being mislead by food labels (a topic coming to these pages soon). It is common knowledge that highly compensated food lobbyists can influence safety regulations, chemical giants continue to promote questionable use of their products for farm production AND giant agri-business continues to push small local (read family) farming to the brink of extinction. We still must look at the big picture.

Whenever I feel my anger over our food production practices I am reminded of the song by the OSMONDS: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch...” (Yeah, I know, I’m showing my age). The point here is that “green activism” often uses “carpet bombing” tactics to try to literally shut down whatever is perceived as an antagonist. Protest, in its varying forms from extreme to non-aggressive, often have a domino effect that may cause unintended harm.

When I write about health dangers in feedlots, the use of chemicals on crops, or “rage against” industrial farming, I have to remember against “whom” I am ranting. The truth is that all the bending of rules or regulations, the promotion of various production methods, as well as the ambiguities in marketing and labeling can be blamed, basically, on the very few…AND therein lies my point.

Industry means employment and employment means economic health. A lot of fine, hard working folks work in industries that many find objectionable. The fact that a person is a meat plant worker, a lumberjack, works on a whaling boat or any potentially objectionable job does not make them evil, cruel, or unjust. Most likely he/she is someone who is a member of the community, feels fortunate to have a job and is just trying to make ends meet while supporting a family. No, our rath should be reserved for the “bean counters and politcal wonks”. Our methods should be geared toward change that is manageable and measured…not radical or extremist.

So, when trying to effect change, aim at the “one bad apple” not “the whole bunch”.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Warning! This is an Author’s Rant and an exercise in Self Indulgent Pontification
When are we (the consumer) going to wake up? All of a sudden “big box” food retailers are jumping on the healthy food bandwagon…sheesh! Everyone from Walmart to Costco and all the big regional grocers are selling organic beef…. and then expect us to pat them on the back for looking out for our well being.


Cattle are grazing animals, which makes them "ruminants". This means cows have a chemical in them, rumen, that turns a non-protein substance (grass) into protein (meat). A grain only diet increases the acidity of the animals digestive system which increases the risk of E. coli infection. Combine this with the animals being confined in large numbers and you have a breeding ground for multiple forms of disease or infections....which means that the animals must be given multiple doses of various anti-biotics to keep them healthy and eating. Furthermore, the animals are given growth hormone implants to speed weight gain which, some researchers believe, is creating a higher risk of cancer in humans who eat conventionally raised beef. Suffice it to say this is why the large feedlot system that provides the overwhelming majority of our beef is making us more susceptible to disease and sickness.

Background and comparison:

This is the major form of meat sold. It goes by a several labels, “corn fed”, “grain fed”, etc, etc. Like I mentioned, 99%...did you get that(?) 99%...of the beef sold in the U.S. came from a feedlot. A typical feedlot has anywhere from a couple of thousand head of cattle to as many as 250,000 (some feedlots are even larger) in pens at any given time. The cattle are confined and fed large quantities of lots of interesting things….corn and other grains, out of date candy, and animal litter (poop!) to name a few. Sometimes, though less likely after the “Mad Cow Disease” scare, other animal parts or ground bones.

(There are varying forms of organic labels, see left sidebar under "FACTS" to learn more)

Organic, hmm, that’s good, right? Well, some may argue yes, but, I say no.
I will quote Jo Robinson of EAT WILD to tell you why:

“When you see the organic label, you know the food is going to be free of pesticide residues, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organisms, and a long list of questionable additives. Few consumers realize that many of the largest organic producers raise their animals in confinement and feed them grain, just like ordinary commercial producers. Feeding large amounts of grain to a grazing animal decreases the nutritional value of its products whether the grain is ordinary grain, genetically modified grain, or organic grain.”

“Similarly, meat from a cow raised in an organic feedlot operation has the same increased risk of E. coli infection as meat from an ordinary feedlot operation…"

The term “grass fed” refers to animals raised in open pastures of tall, waving grass. The results of which lowers the level of saturated fats and cholesterol while raising levels of both omega-3 fatty acids (thought to help prevent heart disease) and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a polyunsaturated fat that scientists believe helps fight obesity, diabetes and cancer. Furthermore, grass fed meat has vitamin E and beta-carotene both of which help fight all manner of disease and ailments. 

Forcing animals who are meant for grazing to eat large amounts of grains is detrimental to the nutritional value of their meat. Simply put the meat has more of the things you don’t want in your diet which could lead to increased health risks.

However, grass-fed meat contains more monounsaturated fat (good fat), less cholesterol and fewer calories. It also has health promoting vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, health promoting omega-3 fatty acids and disease fighting CLA.

So, when it comes time to grill that steak or some juicy burgers, think GRASS!


Saturday, January 9, 2010


It wasn't all that long ago that our fruits and vegetables were only available for consumption based on the season. Today, when we go to the grocery we literally have a plethora of foods to choose from. Any time of the year, we can buy produce that was once available for only a few short weeks out of the year. Fresh berries or squash in December, and corn on the cob, green beans, or even watermelon in February!

How, you ask? Because much of our produce comes from other parts of the world where growing seasons are opposite of ours (or even year long). Places such as Mexico, Chile, India, and the Pacific Rim, ship enormous amounts of commodities to the U.S. While this allows the consumer to buy tomatoes in January, it doesn't necessarily translate into nutrition and certainly not to flavor or taste.

Produce is at its highest nutritional value when it is ripe. But the fruits and vegetables we now buy must first travel a very long distance to get to the store, which means they are picked before being truly "ready to eat". While the produce may gain color and appear to ripen on its journey to the supermarket, nutritional value, which is delivered through the living plant, is lessened. Once picked, a vegetable or fruit will cease to gain nutrition, and (here’s the real kick in the pants!) nutritional value will actually begin to decrease with each passing day!

Obviously, nutritional value and taste are not the real concerns for the large commercial fruit and vegetable farms. In the days when fruits and vegetables were locally grown all that really mattered was taste and everyone  just knew they were good for you. But today, with harvesting handled by machines and the produce literally shipped worldwide, other factors take priority.   Uniformity of size, ability to "hold up" during shipping and eye appeal are really all that matter. While these factors are important to the grower's bottom line (profits), they actually provide less of a health benefit to the consumer. In fact, there are some who will argue that unripened food can be a detriment to health.   

So for your health's sake, go back to the future when you're shopping for produce. Find your local farmers market, or better yet, a farm stand on the road right in front of the farm where the fruits and vegetables are grown. You just won't believe the taste when you do!

If you live in the big city check your local listings or search the internet for farmers markets and health food stores that sell locally produced food in your community. And by all means, support your community fruit and vegetable growers by buying your produce ripe, locally grown, and freshly harvested. Your taste buds will thank you.


Friday, January 1, 2010


  I'm sure most of you are here because your brain went "What?"....."Organic Green Cow Next Door"(??)....and your curiosity got the best of you, eh? Okay, I will explain, but first:

IT IS "ALL THE RAGE": Eat Healthy, Buy Local, Natural Food, Organic, Green, Farmers Market. These and other buzz terms are everywhere; in the news, at the coffee shop, magazines, etc, etc. But, what does it all mean? How do you know which food, grown or produced by which method, is really good for your well being?

I own and operate a ranch in central Texas and I raise cattle. Grass fed cattle. But, this blog is not about my ranch, our cattle or life on a ranch (although I will write about such from time to time). Instead, I will be giving you my opinions on food and the various production methods. the articles will be based upon my personal experiences as a sustainable "ag" producer, as well as those of my friends and mentors in the agricultural business; plus, some actual scientific data, to guide you through the maze of truths, half-truths, and outright falsehoods associated with the “organic, healthy, natural food” movement. In addition I will add information on where to find farmers markets, interesting facts, some interviews, guest articles, photos and other fun tidbits.

There is a growing awareness in our society that our current commercial food supply chain is coming up short on the healthy side of life. More and more people are exploring ways to eat healthier foods AND to know just where that food came from. Many are migrating to local farmers markets, produce stands, and even a few large national retailers who sell “natural or organic” foods. Most believe that they are eating healthier foods and possibly helping save the planet in the process. But, are they really healthier? Are “natural/organic” foods really better for you and does their production ease the ecological burden on “Mother Earth”?

Questions and more questions. Is your head spinning? I will try to answer these and other questions that arise in the coming posts. But first, the answer to the question that brought you here...

There is one simple truth to the natural food movement. The freshest, most flavorful food is that which is grown closest to where you live. Whether it is in a large metropolis or small town chances are there is a farm or ranch nearby that offers the fruits of their labor to the local public. Hence, “The Organic Green Cow Next Door”.